“Blows Against the Empire” by Jefferson Starship – What happened to “the Revolution”?


This Jefferson Airplane/Starship album was released in 1970. The album was bold in it’s title but the countercultural revolution portrayed in the album was merely for the counterculturists to escape the empire on an actual starship in order to restart a new humankind elsewhere. Jefferson Starship was still claiming something revolutionary ( namely inner transformation and societal transformation via the influx of “eastern” religious thought) would happen when several years later on “Dragonfly” they sang

Look to the summer of ’75

All the world is going to come alive

(from the song “Ride the Tiger“)

Well the summer of ’75 came and went and if egocentricity is a form of the “world coming alive” then I suppose that with the narcissistic blooming of the “Me generation” the world came alive!  It is fitting that the Starship’s huge hit “Miracles” in which the transformation of such world changing magnitude that the Starship had sought earlier had basically become reduced to personal sexual satisfaction. The lyric speaks of “moving heaven and earth” in order to achieve this “love.” This seems to betray the transaction that occurred for most of us – we traded world changing hopes for private and personal satisfaction.  And most all of us have been complacently living in this age of personal “Miracles” ever since! (Please pardon my cynicism regarding such a tame and tempting revolution with all its damaging consequences!) Don’t get me wrong – I believe that love and personal fulfillment regarding the good things in life are important, but for America the scale was more fully tipped to confirm the unbridled culture of narcissism that had begun with the automobile and television culture materialism that followed WW2. In short, the revolution could not overcome the consumer materialism of the empire but instead succumbed to it.

Therefore it is ironically fitting that a form of privatized escape had actually become the answer as early as 1970, seeing that the counterculture did not really have any true “Blows against the Empire.” Literal escape on Jefferson Airplane’s “Starship” was merely a metaphor for the private escape of the masses from empire. We voluntarily succumbed to what Aldous Huxley portrayed in “Brave New World” in which the masses are kept effectively complacent through the totalitarian governmental technological provisions of sexual satisfaction, hallucinogenic escapes, and sensual entertainment. Does it make any real difference if our complacency  before a dehumanizing empire is voluntary or enforced?

A recent song by Emmylou Harris provides a lyric that narrates the history of this failure:

We came from apple pie and mom

Thru Civil Rights and Ban the Bomb

To Watergate and Vietnam

Hard times in Babylon

Rallied ’round the megaphone

Gave it up, just got stoned

Now it’s Prada, Gucci and Perron

Doin’ time in Babylon

(“Time in Babylon” written by Jill Cunnliff, Daryl Hall, Emmylou Harris)

Nevertheless, I always especially liked the song “Have You Seen the Stars Tonight” on the album. It is a beautiful song that in spite of its naivete expresses worthy aspirations for freedom from the dehumanizing tendencies of Empire.

A few questions:

  • What happened to the Empire?
  • What happened to the revolution?
  • Did the counterculturists “just get stoned” and then become more fashionably dressed for dinner in Babylon?
  • Is there any way to overcome the Empire?

Questions, comments, critiques, are always welcomed! Thank you,

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

One thought on ““Blows Against the Empire” by Jefferson Starship – What happened to “the Revolution”?

  1. Bryan says:

    I was, like most of us, was never any revolutionary, but like most of us that experienced “the revolution” hype of the 60’s and early 70’s, I felt a sense of letdown and disillusionment when things like the summer of ’75 came and went and the world seemed to remain the same. When the song “Miracles” came out I remember thinking “so this is Jefferson Airplane/Starship’s revolution?” And so I went on my own search for a private “Me generation” answer. Perhaps that is what many did – since the world would remain the same perhaps I could change my world. I suppose the revolution was merely a modernist utopian dream of societal progress, which became supplanted by the postmodern dreams of individual/private progress. The problem is that the postmodern dreamers are more and more finding themselves in a more controlling system/empire than that of the 60’s and 70’s.

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