Skip to main content

Hedonistic strains

How American Bandstand sold the rope

Hedonistic strains

Paul Kantner and Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane perform in 1967. (Michael Ochs/Archives/Getty Images)

March 20 was the 40th anniversary of the day in 1978 I went to work in Wilmington, Del., as a novice speechwriter for DuPont’s president and CEO. I took the job to support my family but also as a kind of penance for my Communism, which ended five years earlier when I realized God exists and Lenin was wrong.

Oddly, my five years at DuPont taught me Lenin was right about one thing: “Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” He believed corporate leaders would see only one move ahead in a chess game where it’s important to take into account the next several.

Marxists are economic determinists, but Christians understand the importance of worldviews that direct personal behavior. Healthy companies need people who have a sense of purpose that leads them to be sober and drug-free, people who will sublimate their own desires to build an organization, people who aren’t exploiting each other sexually. Backing whatever will bring short-term profit is rope-selling.

And thus we come to an extraordinary eight minutes you can watch on YouTube—not a stupid pet trick or smart baby episode, but the appearance of a revolutionary band in June 1967 on American Bandstand, the ABC show that featured teens listening and dancing to Top 40 tunes introduced by Dick Clark.

The segment began with Clark, then 37 but looking like a teen himself—he preternaturally kept that look for decades—sitting next to a high-school-age girl and asking, “Ever been to San Francisco?” She said, “Yes,” and Clark replied, “There’s a whole new scene now … and we’re going to talk to some people who are making it happen. … Jefferson Airplane.”

The camera moved to group co-founder/guitarist Paul Kantner in a dark cowl and power-voiced Grace Slick in what looked like a nun’s habit with the suggestion of a cross necklace. She sang a militant pro-psychedelic song, “White Rabbit,” with lines about how “logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.” The song ends with the command, “Feed your head.”

‘Feed your head,’ Grace Slick sang. Not bow your head before God.

Clark told the audience, “This has got to be one of the most unique and unusual recordings ever.” Then came song No. 2: “When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies, don’t you want somebody to love? Don’t you need somebody to love?” The pile-driving tune makes love seem like rape, and each stanza again ends with a command: “You better find somebody to love.”

Slick’s father worked in investment banking. Her mother was a Mayflower descendant. But Jefferson Airplane was pushing cultural revolution. As the teeny-boppers applauded, Clark said to the band, “Older people worry. They see the way you’re dressed. They hear your music. … Do parents have anything to worry about?” Kantner replied, “I think so.”

Television networks sold the rope: Jefferson Airplane offered its powerful propaganda even on The Perry Como Show with its older demographic, but the major audience was baby boomer teens. Kantner later said he was amazed how quickly teens moved from “prom gowns and tuxedos” to “nude mud love-ins.” Given the big media push, with both hippies and playboys pushing drugs and sex, that should have been no surprise.

Jefferson Airplane was just one band, but many others presented a similar message, using conventional TV shows to sell the rope of cultural revolution. Baby boomers went slip-sliding into a cesspool. “Feed your head,” Grace Slick sang. Not bow your head before God. Forget earlier concepts of truth, joy, and perseverance. Consume sex and drugs.

The U.S. Supreme Court reflected that cultural change and soon legalized all abortion, all pornography, and all purportedly consensual sexual conduct. That had a depressing effect on democracy: The Supreme Court took millions of ballots out of the hands of ordinary citizens and made all these issues dependent on nine votes. In 2004 Republicans celebrated an election victory, but when cultural analyst Michael Adams analyzed the returns in his book American Backlash (2007) he said the big story was how politically disengaged most Americans were—and the truly significant event was the television ratings success of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice.

Americans, he wrote, had embraced hedonism. Major corporations pushed it. Now, with continued shortsightedness, many are pushing the LGBT agenda—and the band plays on.

Comments

  • BROOKE TREY
    Posted: Wed, 04/18/2018 07:49 am

    There is no shortage of us clamoring for a length of rope. We only receive what our itching ears want to hear.