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*6.13-REJOYCE (Jefferson Airplane)

Jefferson Airplane

LISTEN

Chemical change,
you’ve shattered the warning amber light.
Make me warm, let me see you
moving everything over.
Smiling in my room, you know,
you'll be inside of my mind soon.

     There are so many of you--
     white shirt and tie, white shirt and tie, white shirt and tie,
     wedding ring, wedding ring.

          Mulligan stew for Bloom,
          The only Jew in the room.
          Saxons sick on the holy dregs
          And their constant getting drunk
          throw up on his leg.

          Molly's gone to blazes;
          Boylan's crotch amazes.
          Any woman whose husband sleeps with his head
          All buried down at the foot of his bed!

               [Break]

               I've got his arm.
               I've got his arm.
               I've had it for weeks.
               I've got his arm.

          Steven won't give his arm
          To no ghost on mother's farm.
          War's good business, so give your son
          and I'd rather have my country die for me!

     [Break]

     There are so many of you.
     Sell your mother for a Hershey bar
     Grow up looking like a car.
     All you want to do is live,
     All you want to do is give
     But somehow

                    It all falls apart.


On the whole, critics have not been kind to Rejoyce, either in 1967 or 45 years later. I, however, value it as among the best of the "experimental" music that came out of the classic psychedelic era. Its structure is complex, going through, by use of piano with accompaniment, four different song forms and melodies, returning to the second and third verse in mirror fashion to crescendo without repeating the introductory form. Few songs held such formal complexity at the time. I believe it favorably compares in this collection with the Mothers of Invention's Brown Shoes Don't Make It, the Doors' The End and When the Music's Over, the contemporary Beach Boys' Surf's Up and Heroes and Villains, and the Incredible String Band's Mad Hatter's Song and Eyes of Fate. It compares well with Joni Mitchell's formal talent five years later in such songs as Down to You. I think some of the criticism might have come from, despite the fact that Carole King had been writing hits for quite some time, a prejudice against the a woman's capability to have the intellectual creativity to compose art. Carole King would only become a public figure later. Joni Mitchell's career would start developing shortly after Grace Slick's psychedelic compositions; in a matter of a couple of years, women songwriters would become fashionable. But Slick's reign as the best known female contributor to classic psychedelic music was a lonely one. Slick's contemporary females closest to her in the pop market, sharing some of their same audiences, were Cass Elliot and Janis Joplin, neither known for their skills at songwriting.

The invocation announces a "chemical change", and then addresses that chemical change as if in prayer. On the other side of this introduction is a rumination full of literary allusions to James Joyce's Ulysses. There is no need to return to the way that one entered the song. What happens in this altered state is a lot like the wordplay that Joyce's Ulysses is fraught with. Every word is considered on a granular level for its effect and often altered in the process.

In the second verse, the singer worries the image of a stereotypic businessman like a grain of sand in the oyster of her song. Through a nonsense process imitating a reading of Joyce, the song moves into a fourth verse where the music suggests a snake charmer, and I imagine the singer of "I've got his arm" to be moving her arms around her head in arabesque patterns as she brags "I've had it for weeks!" But breaking from that reverie, the song returns to Joycean delirious madness that allows the brilliance of a line "War's good business so give your son / And I'd rather have my country die for me!" A blogger mentioned of this song that the line was inspired by a 1967 bumper sticker: "War is good business / Invest your son." Still, here is a flash of a revolutionary spirit (the foundation of which was protesting the war in Vietnam) which would come out strongly in Jefferson Airplane songs by 1969 in the album Volunteers. As the singer sobers she returns to her worry ("there are so many of you") and transforms the following lines into such nonsense that people dispute not only their meaning but many of the words themselves. Nobody seems to have come up with anything that makes any sense, but the lyric seems to have freed her from her worry so that she could express her desire. Of course, the vision then falls apart with only the song Rejoyce as evidence that the experience ever occurred.

Like Joni Mitchell around her Blue period, Grace Slick wrote an interior journal of an experience and used Rejoyce like a snapshot of that experience about the time that it happened. The Beatles' Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane in contrast, make fitting snapshots of a long stored memory, equating childhood with LSD enlightenment. Ironically, one of the best songs other than Rejoyce, in relating a nearly immediate LSD experience is Country Joe and the Fish's Grace, but the focus of the song is on the vision of Grace Slick, who is outside Joe MacDonald. (Another interior LSD experience is made philosophical in the Byrds' Fifth Dimension.)

I find the musicians in this piece masterful in producing varying tones, textures, and changing beat. Someone on Wikipedia commented rightly on Jack Casady's stentorian bassline. The horn work adds various colors to the song at different moments. The crescendo of the final line makes sense to the ear even though its melody appears out of nowhere.

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