Less Talk, More Rock

You're doing some late-night Saturday channel surfing, and on VH1 you come across the last quarter-hour of Jefferson Airplane: Behind the Music. You watch it because everyone is right about the Behind the Music series - they're well-done, addictive, and you can end up watching an hour on bands you don't even care that much about (especially when the band includes Susannah Hoffs.) It occurs to you that Jefferson Airplane typifies those sixties-boomers types all too well:

They did overrated shit in the sixties - strident folk/acid/San Fran/whatever stuff that gets increasingly dated every year.
Singer Marty Balin got beat up by some Hell's Angels at Altamont - yet another thing that was pretty damn funny about peace, love, and understanding.
They tried to find themselves in the seventies, going through all kinds of breakups and turmoil in the process.
They then sold out in the eighties (though I'll take Jefferson Starship's "Jane" over any Airplane stuff), eventually making embarrassingly slick corporate rock and appearing in videos all bloated and haggard. It all reached its nadir with the horrible "We Built This City" song - recorded by the generically-named Starship.

Behind the Music ends with Paul Kantner wishing to reform Jefferson Airplane (hey - they could play their first gig at a Hell's Angels convention) and Grace Slick vowing never to perform again. You go, girl!

You then flip over to PBS, stumble upon the late Doug Sahm with the Texas Tornados playing on Austin City Limits. Accordions, steel guitar, Fenders, fiddle, horns, Tex-Mex, ballads, polkas, R&B, and rock 'n' roll all mixed together and brewed to a kickass simmer. You find yourself wanting to hear Freddy Fender sing "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights," a song you hated as a kid. He finally does, you sing along. The rest of the time you're tapping your foot or pumping your fist or grinning as Augie Meyer plays an infectious, cheesy organ.

The set ends, and some clips are shown from previous Sahm performances going back to the mid-seventies and early-eighties. There's a run through "She's About a Mover," which is everything "White Rabbit" isn't (has a melody, catchy, fun, danceable.) You haven't heard much of Doug Sahm's music, all you know about him is that: 1) He was the guiding force behind the Sir Douglas Quintet; 2) He was one-fourth of the Texas Tornados; 3) He's done a bunch of solo albums; and 4) He guested on Uncle Tupelo's last album. You become more and more intrigued while watching him perform.

They show clip after clip of Sahm performing, you dig them all. And you're not particularly interested in his rise, fall, chemical-abuse troubles, relationship problems, family squabbles, record company hassles, writing blocks, band feuds, image crises, personality conflicts, divorces, or rehab scenes. You make a mental note to look into his albums - because you don't want to get behind the music of Doug Sahm, you want to get into the music of Doug Sahm. Is that too strange these days?



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