Grace Slick Talks Painting, Expression & Madonna
A member of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, multiple GRAMMY nominee Grace Slick is one of the most iconic voices in the annals of rock – the woman who led the Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship in such enduring hits as “Somebody To Love,” “White Rabbit,” “Miracles,” “Jane” and more.
Now primarily retired due to both health reasons and personal choices, Slick is adamant her retirement is permanent, as she feels rock is a “young person’s game.” So these days she lives in Malibu where she spends most of her time painting.
She may not be a rock star onstage anymore, but in every other sense she is a full-fledged rock star. Opinionated, outspoken, charismatic, hilarious and more rebellious than a thousand 20-year-olds put together, she is still the embodiment of what a rock star should be as evidenced by this fun and insightful conversation.
How is it in Malibu today?
It’s just gray and kind of fuzzy.
Does that inspire a different kind of painting for you?
No, I’m kind of contracted in the sense it goes on in my head, it can be raining or sunny or anything. I prefer it sunny because the colors are truer with sun. I can only work at night, unfortunately, if I already know what colors I’m going to use. But I wouldn’t choose them at night. Incandescent bulbs and LEDs and whatever else goes on are not good light. It depends on the light, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the weather really.
Do you paint every day now?
Oh yeah, up and down, up and down, I have the weirdest life. I sleep for an hour and a half, get up for two, sleep for one, get up for three, sleep, got up for half an hour. It’s up and down for 24 hours. I haven’t slept for even four hours straight in I don’t know how long. And it has to do partially with being an old person, I’m 77, and also I have three deadly diseases, so they may contribute to it too (laughs).
Are there songs you hear now in a totally new light?
When I listen to it, I go to where I was at the time. So I don’t change and a lot of your personality doesn’t change because you’re determined, in a great way, by genetics.
We also spoke with Judy Collins recently and she talked about how she has changed what she feeds herself so much as she has gotten older. Are you that regimented?
No, I’m terrible. I’ve never taken care of my health at all. I eat what I want to eat and I go where I want to go and why I’m alive is a question mark. I don’t exercise, I hate exercise. The only exercise I like is laying down and it’s with somebody else and we all know what that is. That’s good exercise. I had to take water polo, when I was 15, before I even started smoking cigarettes, it was first period in the morning, eight o’clock, water polo for an hour. I went to a private girls school, and the rest of the girls would get out of the pool and they would go, “Oh, that’s so refreshing.” I got out of the pool and I went, “I’m going to die. This is hideous.” So I’ve never been an athlete and don’t like it, it makes me feel awful. People say, “Oh, I get a buzz when I run five miles.” I wouldn’t run five miles if there was a tiger after me.
At least you are honest about it.
My daughter does all this stuff, she’s vegan and all this other kinds of stuff, and I’m just this mess (laughs). The only exercise I got was, like I said, lying down, or wandering around on a stage. I didn’t jump up and down, I just sort of wandered around for a couple of hours singing and that made it so my lungs apparently are really strong. I still smoke cigarettes, which is really stupid. A lot of the things I do are stupid though, that is just one of them.
Looking at the Forbes column you wrote about the Chick-Fil-A protest, is it exciting then for you to know there are other ways for you to make your voice heard in protest and encourage musically?
Mostly what I do now is paint and I will encourage people or not encourage people depending on who I am talking to. But also this is a period of time where I’m sitting back, which is fine. I don’t care, I can be in a room with 20 million people or nobody, doesn’t make any difference to me. It’s just two different ways of being. And when you are older, generally, you’re a bit quieter. It’s not a loud period of time. And I think, this is just my opinion, rock and roll is for young people. It’s a young expression. It’s strong, loud, ironic, a whole bunch of things young people are, same thing with sports. You don’t see anybody 77 doing anything except playing a bad game of golf. The guys in the band used to hang out with athletes, football players and basketball players cause we have the same kind of jobs, which means you’re really on for a couple of hours. Then you might not do anything for a couple of days, then you’re really on for another couple of hours.
There are artists though, like David Bowie, or Lou Reed who aged gracefully. So are there artists you admire the way they have grown?
I think my favorite musicians, they’re younger than I am but they’re older, are Peter Gabriel and Sting. And Peter Gabriel especially because he can go all the way out there. I love those guys. As far as just a good set of pipes obviously Barbara Streisand, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga has a pretty good voice. What they’re saying may or may not be relevant. But just the instrument itself, like an Amati, an Italian violin, is nothing unless somebody plays it. So Celine Dion has a beautiful instrument, her songs are kind of stupid, but her instrument is good. I’d love it if somebody would write her some good songs. Or she’ll sing “My Heart Will Go On” and she’ll pound with her fist on her heart and I’ll think, “Oh, don’t do that, you’re voice is good enough you don’t have to be corny.” Stand there and sing. Whitney Houston did that, we were rehearsing for some award show, this is about 25, 30 years ago, she came into the rehearsal and she stood in the middle of the stage and sang the song. She just sang the song and she has the voice to do that. She doesn’t need exploding chickens or midgets running around, she just sings. And if you don’t have a very good voice then get a lot of dancers like Britney Spears, have them march around. There are all kinds of ways of doing it and everybody belongs. Britney Spears is fine. But if you’ve got that voice box that’s just a knockout like Celine Dion and Barbra Streisand and those people you don’t need dancing girls. You can just stand there and sing and it’s mesmerizing.
Who have the most unique stage shows you’ve seen?
One I just saw on the tube, a hour and a half, I didn’t see it live, but it was really well done, was Madonna. I didn’t like her when she first came out and I saw this thing the other day and I thought, “Man, somebody knows how to do a production.” It was fantastic, dancing boys and explosions and shit going on, but it was all really well staged and well costumed. She was actually good. She’s not a great singer, but she’s a good performer. And she did a beautiful job on this thing. There are people who do well with exploding chickens (laughs).
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on an abstract. I don’t usually do abstract, but that’s one way of pushing yourself because with the abstract it’s all about how it’s placed on the page or canvas, as the case might be. I’m looking at this thing and there’s something wrong about it, there’s something wrong about the way it’s placed on the page and I don’t know what it is. And what I do is I put it in front of me, there’s a television behind it. So I’ll watch television and I’ll look at it some more and eventually I’ll figure out why I don’t like it (laughs). Then I’ll change it, but I don’t have a style. I have about 15 different styles and that drives the galleries crazy because you can’t go, “Oh yeah, that’s a Grace Slick.” You can usually tell Ronnie Wood’s stuff, you can usually tell Jerry Garcia, most people develop a style and I never have. I don’t want a style.