Marty Balin: 1942–2018 (Founder of the Jefferson Airplane. Member 1965–71…when he was gone, they were gone.)
When I was an English major at FSU in the early eighties I had what’s called an Article and Essay class. We studied the finer points of grammar and wrote essays on the subjects of our choice which were then subjected (anonymously and randomly) to class critique. Later on, whether there was a public appraisal or not, we would each meet privately with the professor and he would tell us what was really wrong. We had to submit nine essays during the semester and he told us up front that he only gave one or two papers an A per semester.
Sure enough, on my nine essays, I got a mix of B and B+ grades. (I got an A for the class due to acing my grammar tests, thus preserving my 4.0 average in my major by the miracle of doing spectacularly well in the one area where I was generally haphazard, preferring, as I did, to make up my own rules–turned out all they had to do was make it an actual test).
I had two papers critiqued publicly. The first passed with the general positive commentary from the less shy students (my habit, in that class and every other, was to offer no word, good or bad, at any time), a gentle admonishment or two from the professor and a good nod all around.
The second was about my favorite band, then and now, the Byrds.
If you’ve ever been in one of these type classes, or any of the real world situations for which they are supposed to prepare you, you will be familiar with the blood-in-the-water concept that can overtake even the nicest people.
English majors, as it happens, are not the nicest people. Not the worst by any means–but not the nicest.
Especially when everybody knows the subject under discussion wasn’t produced by them.
For whatever reason–and my own surly professor later assured me it really had nothing to do with the quality of my paper (which he gave the usual B)–he and the rest of the class decided the blood-in-the-water moment for that semester of Article and Essay was going to be dedicated to ripping apart the only paper I wrote in my entire, illustrious college career (there were awards, I assure you, not to mention the nearly-automatic one-per-semester instance of hearing one of my papers read aloud by yet another teacher who had decided mine was the example everybody needed to hear so they would know how it was done) which I cared about.
The professor started in.
Then all the students who usually spoke up and some of those who didn’t, started ripping away, not at any aspect of the writing, but at the arguments I had actually made, which they didn’t find convincing, somehow, and where was my evidence and who were these Byrds anyway? Raga-rock? Was that really a thing? How come nobody ever heard of it? Wasn’t country rock more like the Eagles?
“Yeah,” my professor said. “1968. That’s about when I stopped listening to the radio.”
I didn’t bother to point out, then or later, that 1968 was just about when the Byrds stopped being played on that radio he stopped listening to. Why bother, when the real kicker had been my assertion that the Byrds, who were psychedelic before the San Francisco groups (like, you know, the Jefferson Airplane), were also the source of many gentler, more melodic sounds associated with the West Coast (like, you know, the Jefferson Airplane).
All those kids who never heard of the Byrds, circa 1982, had sure heard of the Airplane.
And what kind of boob thought they were ever gentle or melodic (and, okay, I think I threw the word “meandering” in there for contrast–I wasn’t being entirely generous toward any band who wasn’t the Byrds in that piece, because, circa 1982, my whole point was the Byrds were the Byrds and everybody else was just a band).
None of that brought me out of my personal space, either in class or in conference with the professor.
I was just there to get a grade.
These days, if I think about those days, I mostly just smile and shake my head.
Hey, it wasn’t as bad as the time in Ju-Co History Class when a kid argued “Herman’s Hermits and them” had invented rock and roll (by way of proving the Beatles had not).
Life goes on, etc.
But somewhere tonight, I hope Marty’s with Gene Clark, writing a few brand new songs together.
And singing a few of those he left behind.