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Music

Remembering the career-changing moment when Grace Slick was arrested for violent assault

There can be no doubting Grace Slick’s place in the pantheon of rock. One of the first women in popular music to stick it to the men and show them up, the unrelenting frontman of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship is loved as much for her incredible musicianship as she is her larger than life character. She was a captivating orator at shows, and in interviews, she was one of the leading figures in the counterculture, and a person who helped us forge a new path ahead and look into the future.

Although she is a brilliant mind, Slick is also one of rock’s most consistently surprising characters, with countless tales to tell, as is a requirement of someone who has seemingly seen and done it all. With a penchant for jeopardy, the stories of Slick’s life are nearly as famous as her music.

One of the most infamous and pivotal moments in her life came back in 1994 when she was arrested for violent assault, something that many, even those who were aware of her somewhat erratic behaviour, were shocked by. 

Officers were called to Slick’s Marin County home on March 5th, 1994, when an “apparently intoxicated man” phoned the police to alert the police that “a drunken woman was firing a shotgun in the house”. The caller, 58-year-old Ira Lee, allegedly met the officers by shouting “kill me!”, before being subdued. 

However, this was only just the beginning. Allegedly, Slick met the officers by pointing a shotgun at them, ordering them to get off her property. Per the official police report, there was a brief but tense standoff which was concluded after “officer Bob Rossi was able to wrestle the gun away from her when her attention was diverted”. 

Slick was arrested and charged for the felonies of assault and of threatening a police officer with a weapon. Later, the typically unphased Slick laughed and replied “of course” when reporters asked her if she was drunk at the time of the incident. She told San Francisco Chronicle: “They said, ‘Put the shotgun down, Grace.’ I told them, ‘Not until I know what’s going on.’ So, one of them did a body roll and knocked me down. It was a good move”.

For Slick, it was just another indicator that it was high time she quit the bottle. “I can’t drink anymore because I’m so bad at it,” she admitted to the Chronicle. “If I had continued, I’d be dead by now. There isn’t any other drug that can turn you into an ass in just three hours. I love it. It’s fabulous. But I just can’t do it”.

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Luckily for Slick, the law would punish her with fairness, sparking real growth on her end. At the end of April, she appeared in court, pleading guilty to the charge of brandishing a firearm. As part of the verdict, she had to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, submit to random drug testing, abstain from alcohol and perform 200 hours of community service. 

“My lawyer got me off, where all I had to do was community service,” Slick later explained in Counterpunch. “Now that’s a good lawyer. He was real pleasant, and didn’t charge me that much money. I would have paid him way more than what he charged me to stay the fuck out of prison. But I’ve always had really good lawyers. So I don’t have the bad experience with them that other people do.”

Interestingly, the event would have a career-defining effect on Slick. Her sobriety led to her walking away from her musical career, telling the New York Times in 1998 that “you either evolve or you don’t”.

“I don’t like old people on a rock-and-roll stage. I think they look pathetic, me included,” she added. “And the fact that I represent an era means I can’t just go out there and do all new stuff. They would all say, ‘Sing ‘White Rabbit,’ and I’d say no? That’s rude. But can you see me singing ‘Feed your head’ as a practising nonalcoholic? It doesn’t make sense now.”

Even though this violent encounter could have ended much worse for all those involved, we’re glad it didn’t and that Slick managed to turn it into something positive. She always was one of rock’s most eminent realists, and despite her subsequent decision to leave music being a glum one for her fans, the self-awareness she espoused in doing so only adds to the great respect with which she is held.

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