As a fan of the Airplane and its many offshoots, this is a big loss. Politics -- and everything else -- will just have to wait while I pay tribute to this great artist.
I was only eleven years old in 1969 when the band played at Woodstock, so I obviously missed its glory years. Later, in the late 1980s, I had tickets to see KBC Band at the Vic Theatre on Sheffield. The group, consisting of Kantner, Marty Balin and Jack Casady, cancelled for some reason. (Oh, well; at least I got to see Jerry Garcia play with the Grateful Dead at the Rosemont Horizon around that time.)
Kantner wrote “Wooden Ships,” above, among other songs. Although he is somewhat overshadowed by his ex-wife, Grace Slick, it's still a good version. (That's Casady next to Ms. Slick and Jorma Kaukonen, I believe, on the far right.)
Now I know what you're thinking: Hey, didn't Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young record “Wooden Ships” first? Actually, it was a tie: both bands performed the song in their respective sets at Woodstock.
It was written in 1968 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on a boat named "Mayan" owned by Crosby, who composed the music, while Kantner and Stills wrote most of the lyrics.
Due to contractual reasons Kantner was not credited initially.
The song describes the horrors confronting the survivors of a nuclear holocaust in which the two sides have annihilated each other. A man from one side stumbles upon a man (or woman, as in Jefferson Airplane's version) from the other side and asks him/her, "Can you tell me, please, who won?" Since the question has no real meaning in the circumstances or even at all, it is left unanswered. To stay alive, they share purple berries that, presumably, have not been poisoned by radiation. The lyrics beg "silver people on the shoreline" (described by David Crosby as "guys in radiation suits") to "let us be." As wooden ships (whose wooden material includes no metal that could possibly be dangerously irradiated) are carrying the survivors away, radiation poisoning kills those who have not made it aboard. That grim tableau is described thus:
Horror grips us as we watch you die
All we can do is echo your anguished cries
Stare as all human feelings die
We are leaving you don't need us