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Redemption Song

Chances are, if someone were to mention the name Jorma Kaukonen, it wouldn’t ring the same bell as, say, Jimi Hendrix or Jerry Garcia. But should you spend any time with footage of the Summer of Love and the tumultuous scenes of the Vietnam War, you’ve heard Kaukonen’s guitar playing in the background and forming [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Chances are, if someone were to mention the name Jorma Kaukonen, it wouldn’t ring the same bell as, say, Jimi Hendrix or Jerry Garcia. But should you spend any time with footage of the Summer of Love and the tumultuous scenes of the Vietnam War, you’ve heard Kaukonen’s guitar playing in the background and forming the sound of Jefferson Airplane, a band synonymous with the San Francisco revolution and the counterculture it established throughout the ’60s.

With Airplane, Kaukonen has been inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, and even designed his own signature guitar, but in his new biography, Been So Long: My Life and Music, the mythology of Jefferson Airplane and their importance in the evolution of rock, takes a backseat to the reflective nature of Kaukonen’s writing. Here, there are tales of Altamont, his first acid trip, meeting Bobby Kennedy, and playing alongside Janis Joplin before she took off, remembered with a refreshing lucidity that forgoes gossip or exaggeration. After all, as Kaukonen notes, “in memory everything is dimly seen across a smoke-filled room,” so trying to provide an accurate timeline is impossible. Instead the focus in on the guitarist’s journey as a “bystander,” trying to find a voice after leaving Airplane and starting the more blues-oriented Hot Tuna—all while battling addiction and financial instability through the ’80s.

The final third of Been So Long is the story of redemption. With the onset of fatherhood and sobriety, Kaukonen’s interspersed journal entries show a man who is modest about his legacy and incredibly humble about surviving it all intact. Having lived on his Fur Peace Ranch in Meigs County since 1991, we can officially call Kaukonen a true Buckeye. There, along with his wife Vanessa, he runs a compound that includes guitar clinics, live performances, and a café. It’s a place where the next chapter of Kaukonen’s life is being lovingly written as I found out in my conversation with him from the ranch last month. 

Have you read the other Jefferson Airplane books? Do they align with your memories?

I’ve read Grace’s (Slick) and I have read the others. Grace is my sister-in-arms and I love her dearly, but she’ll be the first to admit there’s a lot of b.s. in her book. Jeff Tamarkin’s book was really well-researched, but was just a particular snapshot in time. For those of us who were there, you just have to honestly admit, even if you fact check a lot, it has to do with how we see things. If I read a book that’s written by someone who “was there” I don’t really want to read about historical information, I’d rather see an emotional track built by the writer.

In the book you say at one point, “My world should have been golden, but nothing seemed to give me a vision of a future in which I would find fulfillment.” I didn’t read this as a book of regrets, but if you had the chance to change a path in the ’60s, what would you have done?

You’re right. It’s kind of pointless to say “what if,” because I’m happy with who I am and I wouldn’t be here if all of that didn’t happen. However, I probably would have told my Airplane bandmates I was quitting so that we could have done a farewell tour and made some money. I made a lot of bad adult decisions that could’ve gone differently, but that was just how it was.

You also talk about being more of a “bystander” in those days. Why was it difficult for you to participate in the creative process with Jefferson Airplane?

Anytime you get around a bunch of artists, ego is a big part of it. That’s okay. But it wasn’t that I was being submerged by the egos around me, it’s just that I wasn’t a creative artist at that time. To me I was just a kid playing guitar and I didn’t see what I was doing as art. The good news is that I was surrounded by these really incredible artists, in Marty, Grace, and Paul, and even though they could fill every project and more with their stuff, they always left a space for me to do something. It was a real process to become that artist and make music that made people take notice.

You touch on the counterculture and politics of the time, but don’t really theorize on how or why society changed. What do you think is the greatest lesson learned from that generation?

Well, that high horse is a really dangerous horse to get on. A lot of my generation thinks they invented sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. We definitely changed rock-n-roll, but we didn’t invent sex and drugs. I think every generation, when they come of age, thinks they are the first ones to try anything. It’s interesting though—I took my 12-year old daughter to Bethel to see Woodstock, and I realized that the big difference is that the art, whether it was the literature, spoken-word, the music, was so intertwined with the social fabric of that era. I just don’t see that today. Now I’m not going to get on my high horse and tell my daughter that her generation sucks, because it doesn’t, but if there was one thing left from that time it is the idea of dreaming, and that if you’re able to follow that dream, amazing things will happen. Does that change the world? I doubt it—but individually, that concept is good for the soul.

The book doesn’t feel like an end for you, so what’s the next “adaptation” that you refer to in the epilogue?

Peter Wolverton, the editor who I worked with on this book, told me after a show once that he was glad that I could write so he didn’t have to lie to me. And then he asked if I had ever written fiction. Of course I hadn’t but I love to write. Will I write fiction? I’d like to try, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. When I finished the book I didn’t decide to pat myself on the belly with a shovel and be done with everything. The story is not over. •

Jorma Kaukonen will be celebrating the release of Been So Long on Sunday, October 7 with two special performances (sold out) and a book signing at Lost Weekend Records. Visit  jormakaukonen.com for music, tour dates, and more information.

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(614) Music Club: risik

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Photo by Zak Kolesar

Every week, (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist consisting of songs that have inspired their sound, tracks they’re currently jamming out to, guilty pleasures, and favorite Columbus musicians. They also stop by to answer a few burning questions and plug any upcoming performances or releases.

This week’s playlist is brought to you by the DJ risik. Originally from Rochester, New York, risik’s music makes you feel like you’re walking through Blade Runner’s universe. Her colorful blend of dubstep, DnB and IDM represents some of the most unique bass music coming out of the Midwest. The DJ is also known for her contributions to the mental health and female musician communities. With news of sexual allegations against one of the biggest names in the EDM community leading for that DJ to step down, risik took time to discuss her timely thoughts on the subject and share her personal playlist with (614).

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5DMQg7ADEAG3PtN03g4nvH?si=Kva-3FJ5TnaZ6xFe7HQVHw
Photo by Zak Kolesar

Can you talk a little bit about some of the songs you selected for your playlist and how they may have shaped your music career?

I went the “all-time-favorites” route with this one. The playlist starts off with some music that I listened to in my teens, progresses into when I first got into electronic music, and (then into) a little of what I’m listening to now. I tried to put them in order of when I first heard them, but every song in this playlist is filled with nostalgia, and I draw a lot of inspiration from these artists. If I hear any of these songs in a club, you can guarantee I’m losing my shit.

During the past few months, how have you been able to stay creatively busy? Did you pick up any new skills or hobbies?

I won’t lie, it’s been hard; especially the last few weeks. I’ve been designing graphics here and there for people, and I’ve painted a little bit. DJ mixes have been my most creative outlet lately. Putting mixes together and playing streams has been a lot of fun. I’ve also started working with DOMEOFDOOM on DoDTV, an upcoming video/Twitch project, and I did the branding and some overlays for that. At the beginning of lockdown I was laid off, and I’ve taken the extra time to learn Adobe Premiere to make my visuals –which has been fun!

What do you think separates the Columbus music scene from major industry hot spots like New York and Nashville?

Most of the people I’ve met in Columbus aren’t from here. So you get a lot of different perspectives in one place which makes the art more rich, sort of like NYC, but the cost of living is affordable. A lot of touring artists come through Columbus because it’s right in the middle of so many big midwest cities. So we get pretty big national shows happening almost every night of the week, without the big city price tag, usually in a much smaller and more intimate venue. That makes it a lot easier to get involved in the scene and make friends. 

You use your platform to push positive messages that uplift women and those struggling with mental health issues. Why is that important to you? Have you felt like there’s been a positive change in those regards in the electronic and dance music communities?

I think representation and visibility is one of the most important parts about making the music industry inclusive. It inspires women in the crowd to think, “I can do that!”, and it’s an amazing feeling to be confident in yourself. I want other women to fall in love with making music the way I did because it’s fun and empowering. 

I also think that having such a steep one-sided perspective in music is problematic. When the lineups are all men, when the compilations don’t feature any women, you’re missing out on a woman’s voice. You’re limiting the art and the industry to only men, therefore limiting the possibilities of the art itself. You’re ultimately hindering your own business. You’re missing out on the necessary checks and balances needed for a healthy community. If there are all guys in the green room, they may not pick up on how uncomfortable someone is making someone else, or be aware of the dangers that exist in that kind of environment the way a woman is. 

I’ve struggled with mental health issues my entire life and only recently have I started to feel like I’ve got it under control. I want people to feel comfortable talking about their mental health because it isn’t a taboo or something to be ashamed of. Neither is treatment, whether it’s therapy or medication. Music and mental health go hand in hand; it’s one of my favorite coping mechanisms, as it is for many others. 

I do feel like (there have) been positive changes in the music industry. I think GRL GANG has been a really positive experience for a lot of women, including myself. Jeanie is great at getting everyone on lineups, (and) making sure everyone in the group is heard and seen, which was lacking for a really long time. I do want to see ALL promoters and talent buyers take initiative to not only book women but to book and invest money into POC and LGBTQ+ artists as well. We have a lot of work to do, but we are making progress in the meantime.

Photo by Zak Kolesar

The news cycle has been sporadic ever since George Floyd’s death was brought to light. It’s even rippled into another wave of “Me Too,” with many artists, primarily males in the EDM scene, being accused of sexual abuse. The biggest of these DJs, and quite possibly the one with the biggest modern following, Bassnectar, recently stepped down from his position after old allegations came to light. 

When the news first broke, what were your initial thoughts and how do you feel now after having a week or so to think about it?

There have always been rumours surrounding Bassnectar’s conduct, but finally seeing girls come forward and share their stories on the evidence instagram was triggering for me. The stories were all too familiar and sounded exactly like my experiences with the abusers I’ve known in my own life. What hit the hardest was hearing the recorded conversations he had with one of the girls involved. It’s one thing to hear a victim’s story in their words, but actually hearing his voice gaslight and attempt to manipulate her into keeping quiet by saying her actions would result in him “going to live forever in a Tennessee jail for me to be raped and beaten to death.” It hurts to see someone who once inspired you a lot turn out to be that kind of person. I think all of us are going through stages of grief right now, whether you’re a self proclaimed “basshead” or just somebody who enjoyed his art and thought he seemed like a genuinely good person. I’m experiencing a lot of shock, mostly at him stepping down from his position, but it’s a sign of positive change in the industry. I have faith that there are enough influential people in dance music to make a difference. I also hope it gives other victims courage to speak up about abusive artists and people in power in the music industry. They will be heard. No one should ever feel unsafe at a rave. I’m disgusted that he used his power to hurt young girls.

Something that was brought up in an episode of the TV show High Fidelity was the argument of whether to shelve someone’s music if they’ve committed unforgivable acts. Michael Jackson was the topic of this conversation, and the main character brought up a point about not holding producer Quincy Jones’ music hostage because the person who sang over his tunes ended up being a serial child molester. 

I feel the same way about Bassnectar. I have a hard time disassociating things, but I also know that a big reason why Bassnectar was such a massive movement was due to the community behind it, which is a very philanthropic community. In your opinion, if an artist does something unforgivable, is it OKto still listen to their music? Will you ever spin a Bassnectar track again?

I will never spin another Bassnectar track, just like I stopped playing songs of other artists who turned out to be abusers. It comes down to a personal choice and how you feel listening to that artist, knowing what they did. I don’t feel good about it, so I don’t do it, but I wouldn’t be mad at someone else for doing it. I also think it's different to listen to a track vs. play it out. When you’re listening to it, it's for you. Music leaves an imprint on us throughout our lives and is deeply ingrained in who we are. Maybe a certain song got you through a hard time, or takes you back to a particularly meaningful event in your life. It makes the music feel like it belongs to you, not the abuser. However, when you play it to a crowd of people, you’re using that music to represent yourself. That audience knows what that artist did, and now they associate you with that artist. Plus you’re profiting off of an abuser’s art, and potentially making them money too, which is like double shitty. 

Another question that arose out of that scene in High Fidelity was one of the character’s defenses for still continuing to listen to Kanye West, a person with subjectively toxic political opinions. Kanye may have shitty politics, but I think there’s a big difference between having a “bad” opinion and being a “bad” person. Where do you think we draw the line in cancel culture?

To my knowledge, Kanye hasn’t sexually assaulted anyone, and that’s about where the line is for me to cancel someone. Cancel the serial abusers, the rapists, the murderers, the predators. I don’t believe in cancelling somebody just for having a different opinion and being outspoken. I don’t think having a different opinion and being outspoken about it is bad. As long as that opinion isn’t encouraging ignorance and intolerance. I don’t think voting Kanye for president is smart or good though. I want to make that clear. 

We see sexual misconduct happening in any major music scene that’s male-dominated, which just so happens to be most scenes. How do we change this behavior? I brought up the idea that nothing will change until we hold people accountable at all levels, whether they’re famous or not. Also, why do you think we’re just now seeing people standing up against this in big numbers?

You basically said it yourself - the problem seems obvious, “male-dominated industry”. We NEED diversity in lineups and other positions in the industry. We need more women, LGBTQ+, and BIPOC artists, agents, promoters, security guards. We need the people who are in power right now to STEP UP and look around. If your lineups, compilations, and playlists are primarily white males then you need to go out of your sphere and look for artists that don’t fit that description. There are an endless number of talented artists ready for that spotlight, and there are numerous resources you can use to find artists. Reach out to people in your area, or reach out to me. I can send you lists of people ready to play. I want to see artists like CloZee and Tokimonsta rise to the level of influence that Bassnectar and Space Jesus once had because they are good people that ravers can look up to. I want to know that the show I’m playing or attending is being run by a diverse group of people who care about the safety of everyone involved, and who are looking out for each other all night. I think once we’ve reached that level of community the behavior will change. 

It has to be a group effort. I think we are seeing a lot of people stand up to this for the same reason that I believe in getting more women on stage. When you see someone like you successfully doing something that you’re afraid to do or don’t think you can do, whether it’s coming forward about an abuser, learning a new skill, anything at all, it sends a message that you can do it too. That inspiration is contagious. When one woman speaks up, other women gain the confidence to speak up. When a woman gets on stage in front of a crowd, other women gain that confidence. The same goes for any other marginalized person. Representation begets representation. We need to continue down this path of diversifying dance music. If we continue to build this momentum, then I have faith in the future of dance music.

risik will be playing Turing Fest 2020, a virtual music festival taking place on July 18 and 19. You can find more out about the event here. The DJ will also be playing GRL FEST during the same weekend. You can find the event here. risik will also be playing a Wormhole livestream. You can find the July 29 stream here.

Here is where you can find risik on the Internet:

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(614) Music Club: Joey Aich

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Photo by Zak Kolesar.

Every week, (614) Music Club teams up with your favorite local artists to build a playlist consisting of songs that have inspired their sound, tracks they’re currently jamming out to, guilty pleasures, and favorite Columbus musicians. They also stop by to answer a few burning questions and plug any upcoming performances or releases.

This week’s playlist is brought to you by hip-hop artist Joey Aich. Originally from Woodmere, Ohio, Aich has called Columbus home since 2017. Since then, Aich has observed a city going through growing pains. His thoughts are present in his original work and even more poignant in his June 2020 release, Open Treehouse. The retro, introspective nature of the album shines through on his playlist selection and through his answers, both of which you can find below.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0HAmWoTgLUo3hhsGh8QKjj?si=CZoCOG1STyi3_qSefVLKJA

Can you talk a little bit about some of the songs you selected for your playlist and how they may have shaped your music career?

The way I crafted the playlist is into three sections: current, Columbus, and classics. 

The current section (consists of) songs that describe the rollercoaster of emotions I have dealt with amidst the heinous murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery due to police brutality and racism. One moment I’m crying in bed listening to Marvin Gaye hoping the violence stops, and the next moment I’m full of rage, and proud, scrolling through social media and seeing peaceful protests along with protests that include people burning cars and looting stores to make sure their voices are heard. Music has helped me during this time and these songs reflect where my head has been. 

The Columbus section includes songs from the Columbus-based artists that are featured on my upcoming album, Open Treehouse. Outside of them being featured on the album, they are incredible friends and amazing talents who push me to be better. Dom Deshawn, Trek Manifest, and Sarob are my “carried by 6 brothers,” and I’m glad we were able to make more music together. 

Classics! These are a few songs that will forever be in rotation for me. Believe it or not, I wrote a book for a class assignment in elementary school, and the title was “Living my Life Like it’s Golden,” because I loved (“Golden” by Jill Scott) when I was a kid. I have a personal attachment to these songs and each artist has had an impact on my genre choice, rapping style, and approach to music. 

During the past few months, how have you been able to stay creatively busy? Did you pick up any new skills or hobbies?

It’s been tough but I’ve enjoyed it. Since I’m in the middle of an album rollout I’ve had to scrap a lot of plans and figure out new ways to make it happen. I told myself I don’t want to come out of quarantine without testing my creative abilities or learning a new skill. Quarantining has stopped a lot of my writing process because I write off of experiences, and being in the house with roommates isn’t that exciting, to be honest. But I’ve found other ways to fuel and channel my creativity. 

I’ve been sipping wine and painting as a way to free my mind and put thoughts to canvas. I was inspired by my friend and Columbus legend, Hakim Callwood, to start painting a while ago, and I challenged myself to take this time to get better and keep myself at peace because I find it to be very therapeutic. 

With a lot of my plans, including music videos, being axed, I’ve been filming music videos on my phone and editing them in iMovie. The process is hard and a bit of a headache, but I’m proud of what I made and my progress with it. I’m glad I stuck with it because now when I work with a videographer I can bring some new ideas to the table. 

Overall, I think I’ve been having a good time with my creative process. I love the challenge of having to work with the situations at hand and make the best of it. 

What do you think separates the Columbus music scene from major industry hot spots like New York and Nashville?

Definitely not the talent. I believe the talent is here, but the infrastructure isn’t as solid as the other big cities. Oftentimes artists here in Columbus and even Ohio as a whole have to go somewhere else and get some type of name recognition before being accepted here in Ohio. I also don’t think that’s technically a bad thing as long as Ohio gets its respect as a place that breeds talent. 

How do you think the Columbus hip-hop scene can carry the momentum it had going into 2020 and turn a positive spin on the latter half of this year?

Continuing to do what we have been doing, but amplified and more polished. Again, I believe the talent is here, but we just have to take the next steps...I subscribe to the “trial and error” method of attempting to do things and learning how to do it better the next time.

To turn a positive spin on the latter half of the year, I think we should continue to be creative and adapt to the new normal because we don’t know how long quarantining will last and what normal looks like after. Maybe we don’t have shows until mid-2021, (so) let’s figure out how to still be effective whether it be live streams or create a novel way to bring the experience to the audience. I like where Columbus hip-hop is headed. I think we have a good group of artists that are right there and at any moment lives can be changed. 

Aich’s latest album, the June 18 release Open Treehouse, is available to listen to on all streaming platforms and available to purchase on Bandcamp here.

Here is where you can find Aich on the Internet:

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Rockin’ in a F-150

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Truckbound concert series reaches the city’s most vulnerable with music

The chances are, you’ve seen live music performed in venues of all sorts. From the historic Pabst Theater, to outdoors on the shore of Lake Michigan, to a sweaty mosphit in your second cousin’s basement.

Somewhere most of us have likely never seen live music though, is in the bed of a pickup truck while it’s parked outside your front door. But the Curbside Concert Series is trying to change that.

Organized by Can’t Stop CBUS —a group that formed this March with a viral tweet and aims to connect and better the city of Columbus through a series of community projects— the series brings 10-15 minutes performances to the homes of elderly Columbus residents in order to foster community spirit and unity in those who may need it most.

According to a statement from Can’t Stop CBUS, the goal of the series is “To create much much-needed moments of levity and connection for our elder neighbors,” for older Columbus residents “Who might not connect with others online through video chats or live events the same way that the digital natives of younger generations do.”

Friends or loved ones of elderly Columbus residents can request a concert online for a couple or individual they believe would benefit, and if selected their home (or assisted living facility) will be included as a stop on the four hour concert shifts musicians undertake Friday through Sunday every week. Those requesting a concert are even able to request a specific style of music and add a personal message that’s delivered from the performer

And for Curbside Concert musician Amber Knicole those moments of levity are very real indeed. “There’s a moment where you can actually see people light up. They’re so grateful,” she said. “There’s so much going on in our lives right now, and to see people let some of that go for even a few minutes is amazing.”

Knicole — who also serves as the vocalist for Columbus neo-funk group Mojoflo—actually began her tenure with the concert series as a driver before taking on performances as well. “I’ve always been familiar with larger vehicles, so I was able to step right in.” 

Musicians are carted throughout the city on the flatbed of a glossy, slate-gray Ford F-150 donated by Ricart Automotive and fully equipped with a battery-powered speaker system. And while this allows the music to quite literally show up at your door, according to Columbus artist Steven Paxton, it presents a unique set of challenges as well.

“You’re always trying to find the right spot to park, because that matters,” Paxton said. “And last week it didn’t rain so everyone was outside mowing their lawn. That kind of stuff can get in the way.”

He ultimately sees the truckbound performances as being able to reach Columbus citizens in a unique and compelling fashion. “One elderly lady was confined to her bed and she wasn’t able to come outside, so we pulled up right beside her window.” And it’s moments like this where he says the spirit of the series shines through at its brightest.

“The response we get is great, people just light up. They’ll often come out of their houses or the houses nearby, or out into the parking lot. It seems like everyone is just glad to have the interaction.”

Last weekend, Paxton even got to put a show for one of his biggest fans: his own Dad. “It was nice, this last week we ended our set earlier and was close to where my Dad lived, so we stopped by and did an extra show for him in Groveport,” he said. 

And while there’s not much you can do in the bed of an F-150, the series has been able to show off a nice cross-section of musical talent. While Paxton sings and plays keyboard as accompaniment, others will bring a guitar. Fisher only performs vocally, but she finds a way to make things interesting by singing over pre-recorded backing tracks to songs. “I try to find the ones that are the least amount of cheesy,” she says laughing. “But sometimes with covers you can find a track that really presents the song in a different way, which people appreciate.”

And the Curbside Concert Series benefits more than just those who hear the shows. One of the sponsors of the concert series, the Great Columbus Arts Council, pays artists for their performances.

“Being a full time musician means you need to have about six part time music jobs. Now, most of the venues are closed, so anything like this we can find  is even more important,” Paxton said. “It really is a blessing.” 

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