The Song of the Lorelei

In the summer of 1978, Jefferson Starship headed to Europe for a tour. The lineup at the time was Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin, David Freiberg, Peter Sears, Craig Chaquico and John Barbata. The German leg of the tour turned out to be an experience none of them will ever forget, for reasons that will be spelled out below.

Each of the band members had plenty to say about Germany '78. In fact, they all considered this trip to be such a turning point in their history that I considered using the event as a lead-in to the book. The brief intro below is the original introductory chapter, which didn't make it to the final book. Following that is the complete, uncut story of Lorelei. The way I set up the chapter initially, I spent the first part telling the story, and then I let those who were there tell it in their own words. In addition to the band members, the speakers include Jefferson Starship manager Bill Thompson, Grace's husband Skip Johnson, group publicist Cynthia Bowman (who was also Paul's girlfriend at the time), office manager Jacky Kaukonen Sarti, Marty's father Joe Buchwald, Marty's girlfriend Trish Robbins, and road manager Bill Laudner.

Jacky Kaukonen Sarti, a Lorelei Survivor,
with a Souvenir of the Ill-Fated Gig, 1999
(Photo by Jeff Tamarkin)

I do not know what it means that
I am so sadly inclined,
There is an old tale and its scenes that
Will not depart from my mind.

In the German folk tale of the Lorelei, a young, ravishing woman sits on the cliffs above the Rhine, where she sings an unearthly tune, her mellifluous words wafting into the air unendingly. Her haunting voice beckons the startled sailors below, and her tantalizing beauty causes them to lose sight of where exactly in the perilous waters they are, sure doom for any seaman.

She hears their screams and she sees them thrashing, their wooden ships reduced to matchsticks. She is aware that she is the reason for their terrible ordeal, she can imagine their disappointment. She is even somewhat bothered by it all; she knows this is not a good thing that is happening. Yet there she stays, at the edge.

The Lorelei, it seems, has problems of her own; her heartbreak overwhelms her living soul all of the time. Her life is not all magnificence and sweet song. She is cursed, possessed. Demons reside within her and they have no plan to depart any time soon.

She too has lost a loved one, it seems, a sailor who abandoned her and took to the sea, and now she searches for him, gazing at the horizon for a sign. This is the real reason the Lorelei, though she feels their pain, can not worry about all of those guys damning her as they drown. She has more pressing concerns, to go on being the grudging temptress with the voice of a goddess, driving people mad, waiting in vain for her lover's return, or to just be done with it all and hurl herself to those very same rocks below.

She knows where this is all going. Her defeat will come soon. But it will be on her own terms. In the end, the only one who can bring down the Lorelei is the Lorelei herself.


Jefferson Starship, 1978
(clockwise from left: John Barbata, David Freiberg, Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Pete Sears, Craig Chaquico, and Marty Balin)

Grace Slick was in Germany, and she was drunk. A recipe for trouble if there ever was one, a lethal combination. Take her natural penchant for shock value, fuel it with the one substance that never fails to set her off, and plunk her down in Germany, all of whose residents, Grace still believed some three decades after the second World War, were responsible for the atrocities committed, and there was no telling what might happen.

She'd always had a thing about Germany. Once Grace had written a song, "Never Argue With A German If You're Tired or European Song." The other party in the altercation in question could have been her bandmate, Paul Kantner, the iron-willed former altar boy, whose forebears were of German extraction and who was at the time her lover, soon to be the father of her child. Or it could have been Grace's German-built Mercedes, which, following a night of excessive imbibing, she'd recently driven into a wall at over 100 miles an hour, nearly wiping herself out in the process. The point was, all things Deutsche brought out the worst in her.

Now here she was, in Hamburg, Germany, the belly of the beast, the very nation she had so often derided, drinking herself into a stupor and taking the entire populace to task, reminding them of World War II and poised to start the next.

Jefferson Starship, the group that had evolved out of Jefferson Airplane four years earlier, had been booked to perform two nights earlier at the Loreley-Freilichtbüühne (Lorelei Amphitheater), near St. Goarshausen, not far from the site of the legend's origin. Lorelei Rock, it's called, and tourists come from all around to see the place where the fair maiden once serenaded the sailors.

But on that night, June 17th, 1978, there would be no rock echoing in Lorelei, no siren wailing. As in the legend, there would be the cries of screaming men, but theirs were screams of anger, not of pain and fear. And there would be the terrifying sound of smashing, not of sailing vessels below the cliff but rather of beer bottles hurled onto the stage.

And there would be fire, a hellish conflagration taking with it the stage, the band's equipment and everything else in its path, causing the musicians to hide from the mob, and to escape under cover of darkness.

The screaming men had come to see the siren, to bask in her radiance. But the enchantress was nowhere to be found.

Grace Slick was back at the hotel, and she was in no condition to sing.

There had been an omen before the band had even left the United States. One of their limousines had caught fire, giving them quite a fright, adding to a feeling of dread that had already been mounting for some time, a feeling that something monumentally creepy was about to happen, soon.

Then they arrived in Europe. Grace spent a good deal of her time in Amsterdam, a couple of nights before Lorelei, drinking, but this was hardly a news flash. More shocking would have been a report of Grace Slick remaining sober for any considerable length of time.

That first concert went ahead without incident but Amsterdam is in Holland, not Germany. Once they crossed that border, Grace was off and running.

By the time they reached their hotel in Wiesbaden, which was to be the Starship's base of operations while in the area for the Lorelei show, Grace was in a pathetic state. But it wasn't the alcohol, she told her husband, the Starship's lighting director, Skip Johnson, she really was sick this time. Didn't know quite what was wrong with her, maybe a stomach bug. Food poisoning, she thought.

It didn't matter, she wasn't getting out of bed and that was that.

This wasn't like her at all, Skip thought–alcohol usually placed Grace at the center of the party, not shirking away from it. Something wasn't right. Maybe it really was her stomach. He called in a local doctor, who pronounced Grace too sick to perform.

Appendicitis, that was his guess. But it was nothing to worry about, he informed them. She could still sing.

The doctor neglected to mention, when he made his diagnosis, that he worked for the concert's promoter.

But whatever it was, Skip told the others, they would have to cancel the concert or play it without her. Grace wasn't moving.

Paul Kantner was having none of that. Belly ache, drunk, come on; she'd always been able to stand up on a stage and sing. He would get to the bottom of this and haul her ass out to the venue. You didn't miss a concert because your tummy hurt and you certainly didn't miss one because you were too high. He'd seen Grace drunk before, many, many times before, and he never knew her to be too far gone to make the gig.

She'd been boozing since she was a kid, she'd been drunk for countless Airplane gigs and recording sessions. She had always been able to perform drunk and few outside of the band and crew were ever the wiser–she had a remarkable constitution, and her ability to function even after having consumed enough liquor to put down a large mammal was renowned within the band's circle.

And even on the rare occasions when Grace was just too marinated to give it her best, she'd always managed at least to entertain in her own inimitable way, making abusive comments about the audience and her fellow musicians, conjuring up long, rambling monologues apropos of nothing, finding new and unusual ways to improvise onstage, keeping the band on its collective toes.

Paul insisted that Grace get her act together and get ready for the show, and stop this nonsense immediately.

But Skip was standing fast. The doctor said that if she performed Grace could be seriously hurt. She wasn't going anywhere.

Paul wanted to see her himself. He wanted to see a Grace Slick that was too incapacitated to sing. He had known her for more than a dozen years, he had lived with her, he still believed they were soulmates. He knew her better than anyone, especially this lighting director who had wedged his way into her life and now called himself Grace's husband. And if there was one thing he knew about Grace Slick, it was that she could sing under the most adverse of conditions.

Somewhere not far away was a venue already filled with 10,000 people who had come to hear Jefferson Starship. Jefferson Starship with Grace Slick, not without her. A beautiful setting it was, too, on a hillside near the towering cliffs leading down to the Rhine.

The opening acts, progressive-rockers Brand X and the guitarist Leo Kottke, had already done their sets. Kottke, in fact, had played an hour and a half longer than he was scheduled to play, at the request of the promoter, who was by now nervously pacing. Other American bands had canceled before, and the crowd would not stand for it if another one pulled out.

The fans continued to wait for Jefferson Starship, but they were becoming increasingly rowdy, and Skip Johnson was still saying that Grace Slick would not perform. At the moment the band was scheduled to take the stage, she was still in bed back in Wiesbaden.

"Why don't you just go on without Grace?" Skip asked Paul.

"Would the Rolling Stones go on without Mick Jagger?" Paul retorted.

"Apples and oranges," Skip said. "You don't need Grace. You still have two other singers."

Paul was through reasoning now. He'd heard enough. He had already graduated to shouting and swearing and now he was ready for yet another method of persuasion.

Paul jumped him, throwing Skip Johnson down a short flight of stairs and grabbing him by the throat, shocking even those who'd seen Kantner's Teutonic temper at its most virulent.

Bill Thompson, the band's longtime manager, pounced, grabbing at the two men, trying to break up the brawl. "What are you, crazy?!" he shouted.

As Paul and Skip went at it in the hotel hallway, tearing at each other, Grace Slick managed to rise from bed. Opening the door to her room–she looked like a ghost, Thompson remembers–she stood there in a blue robe, observing a struggle she couldn't believe was taking place. Her longtime lover and her current husband were doing a Popeye and Bluto number in front of her eyes.

Which one would she side with? The one who had given her a daughter and had stayed by her side for so long, or the one who had become her new companion a couple of years ago, who had given her a new outlook on life and gotten her through some difficult times.

"Leave my husband alone!" Grace shouted at Paul, as loudly as a sick woman could.

Paul Kantner, at that moment, knew that Grace Slick would not be performing that night. More than that, though, he knew that he'd lost her. She had used the word husband.

At the amphitheater, Bill Laudner, the Starship's road manager, was backstage. He had gone ahead to the venue with a couple of the band members to try to explain to the audience what was going on back at the hotel, that Grace Slick was too ill to perform. First, Laudner and David Freiberg, one of the band members, spoke to the audience, in English, and they seemed to understand. But when the promoter followed them to the stage, speaking in rapid-fire German, the mood turned. They began shouting and booing and then Laudner heard glass.

First, it was just one bottle, thrown from the audience and hitting the concrete stage in a rain of broken glass. Then there was another, and another. Those who didn't have bottles threw rocks. A Starship crew member was hit and taken to a local hospital. Others, trying to salvage the group's equipment, quickly gave up, deciding that keeping their heads intact took precedence over dodging bottles to save an amplifier.

Some of the touring party hid in boxes until the carnage was finished, for what seemed like hours later. Others, including Laudner, managed to escape. Freiberg, a Jew, said there was no way he was hiding in a box in Germany, and found a way out. Driving away from the scene, Laudner looked back up the hill toward the concert site, and saw the red glow of the fires that the outraged music fans had started. He didn't know it yet, but the stage, and all of the band's equipment–a million dollars' worth in all–was providing the fuel.

In the '60s and early '70s, Jefferson Airplane had been no stranger to inciting riots, riling up the fans to oppose dancing restrictions, unfair curfews, oppressive police presence, antiquated dope laws. Now Jefferson Starship had incited a riot by skipping out on a gig; they, the band, not the police, were the intended target–the pigs.

The Starship left immediately for Hamburg, piled onto a bus being driven at an agonizingly slow speed by a driver who couldn't stand Americans. Grace and Skip weren't on it though. They flew ahead, Grace greeting the others with a large smile when they met up. She was feeling much better now, she told them all, ready to go back to work.

Laudner, Thompson and the others charged with the responsibility of making things happen, scrambled to borrow equipment. The band had left Wiesbaden with nothing: their guitars, amps, everything was lost in the fire or stolen. They borrowed from local musicians and music stores, from sound companies and, somehow, by the time of the show, they'd put together what they needed.

Returning to the band to tell them the good news, Laudner took one look at Grace and knew she was as drunk as he had ever seen her.

Cynthia Bowman, the Starship's publicist and Paul's new love, was dispatched to Grace's room by Thompson to try to keep her under control. But it was too late for that. Cynthia was close to Grace and Thompson reasoned that Grace might listen to another woman, but when Cynthia arrived at the room, she found a wild animal, throwing bottles, refusing to get dressed, kicking and screaming, demanding that more booze be brought up by room service, which had received explicit instructions not to comply. Cynthia recalls Grace and her almost coming to blows, potentially complementing the Kantner-Johnson heavyweight fight of two days earlier.

The concert at Hamburg's CCH on June 19th was one they all remember. "You could just see all the life drain out of the group," Bowman said. "It was just a horrible, empty, bad, dark night."

Although recorded for broadcast on the German Rockpalast TV program, the show never aired. One thing Germany's citizens did not need coming into their homes was the sight of a drunken American rock singer taunting the audience about World War II, calling them Nazis, sticking her fingers up audience members' noses, repeatedly giving the "Heil Hitler" salute.

She had done this routine once before, in 1969 at New York's Fillmore East, the SS uniform, slicked-down hair, Adolf mustache and all. That the venue that time was operated by Holocaust survivor Bill Graham, a friend and former manager of the band, must not have occurred to Grace as she goose-stepped back and forth. Or maybe it had.

But this was Hamburg, not New York. They took this sort of behavior as a personal affront here. Grace had finally become not only an embarrassment but a liability. The others in the band had put up with it for years because she was Grace Slick, the one bonafide legend they had in their ranks. But now here she was, not only insulting an audience justifiably touchy about its past, but making it impossible for the band to concentrate.

Onstage, as they were playing their solos, Grace groped and fondled Craig Chaquico, the young guitarist who had joined the Starship at its inception. And she was constantly needling Marty Balin, her vocal partner, who'd harbored a resentment toward Grace ever since the media began focusing on her rather than him when the Airplane first broke out nationally during the Summer of Love more than a decade before. Onstage they made love together, he had often said, but Marty blamed Grace for getting all the attention she did, attention he felt he should have shared equally with her. He felt that she had stolen his band. He'd wearied of it all a long time ago, and it hadn't been an easy decision for him to join another band with Grace and Paul after leaving the Airplane.

Now Marty watched Grace doing her look-at-me-I'm-drunk act and he experienced deja vu all over again. But unlike the relative newcomers, Marty knew how to handle her. When Grace moved close to him to sing in harmony, Marty grabbed her tightly in a hammer lock, held her by the hair and wouldn't let go. Grace, unable to move, smiled as Marty kept her there. She was enjoying it. So was the band. Freiberg says it was his favorite Marty moment throughout his tenure in the band.

Still, a familiar sadness came over Marty as he watched the fiasco taking place around him. He thought back to Altamont in '69, where he'd been beaten by a Hell's Angel after he jumped off the stage to try to save another man. He thought back to the night in 1970 when Janis Joplin died. The Airplane had a gig scheduled the next night and went ahead with it. Marty couldn't.

After that show he withdrew. This was not the way he'd wanted it to be. Now he felt that way again.

After Hamburg it was on to England, for the Knebworth festival. The band, from all reports, put on a great show, Marty pulling out all the stops. But this one they did play without Grace. Following her Lorelei and Hamburg escapades, a decision had been made to send Grace home, to give her a chance to dry out and consider whether she still wanted to be a part of this band.

She didn't. It was time for her to get out of the game. She was almost 40, old age in her book. She would still make music, she decided, but on her own, not with a band. She'd done the rock band thing already, it was time for a change. After more than a dozen years, first with Great Society, then the Airplane, then finally Jefferson Starship, Grace Slick told the others she wasn't coming back.

Three years later, she rejoined the band.

But not Marty. Returning from Europe, Marty kept his thoughts to himself. He remembered why he'd left the Airplane, why it had stopped being fun for him, why it no longer had the meaning it once had. He didn't explain it to the others; they'd already heard it too many times. What good would it do to say it again?

On his way to a rehearsal one day in San Francisco, Marty turned his car around and drove to the beach instead.

Grace Slick and Ex-husband Skip Johnson


Germany, June 1978

Bill Laudner: Thompson and I had gone over in April, and we were looking at places. We'd found in the early days that you're constantly lied to, by promoters and by venues and by hotels, and so the only real way to get an idea of what you're getting into with new venues that you've never played before is to go there ahead of time.

We looked at these European venues, and several of them were really beautiful. The one in Berlin was fantastic, the one in Knebworth was out in the countryside and had a castle, and the one at Lorelei is a beautiful venue in itself. It's up on the top of a real windy portion of the Rhine River and the cliffs in that area are about 600 feet high. On the top of the cliff, on this point sticking out into the bend in the river, in a nice flat field, they have an amphitheater built into the hillside. So the audience is looking out over the stage and across the Rhine River.

Craig Chaquico: We get over to Europe, and I'm diggin' it, man. Amsterdam and all these wild places. Jet lag, what's jet lag? Let's party! Whoo-oo!

Bill Thompson: We took a train that went through Holland and along the Rhine River. Grace had been drinking in Amsterdam. I knew that. The hotel we stayed at in Wiesbaden, I later
found out, was one of Hitler's favorites.

Cynthia Bowman: We were all pretty excited about that trip because it was a big tour and we were gonna be playing in England at Knebworth. We were thinking we were gonna have a lot of fun. We were staying in some great hotels. We got to Lorelei and everything was great and everyone was looking forward to the show and there were thousands of United States military people there. Then word came down that Grace wasn't gonna do the show.

Skip Johnson: The doctor told her she could hurt herself seriously if she even got out of bed. And when people doubted that, that really set off a trigger. [Grace was saying] "I'm sick here and you're telling me how much money we're going to lose." I think that really set her off.

Bill Thompson: To this day, I don't know if she was drunk or not. She says it was food poisoning.

Cynthia Bowman: Thompson was saying he didn't care if she was sick, she had to play.

Paul Kantner: I think she got sick and then drunk. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt.

Grace Slick: I was sick and I couldn't go on. Paul said he wasn't going to go without me. I don't know what Marty was doing because I was in bed, but it would have been fine with Marty.

Pete Sears: Marty said that he'd do it without Grace, but not without Paul and Grace.

Marty Balin: She says she was sick but she wasn't sick, she was drunk. She wouldn't go on stage and Paul wouldn't go on without her.

Joe Buchwald: Everybody in the band but Paul wanted to go on. Paul's attitude was that if one band member can't make it, then we don't perform. Whether it's Grace or him or Marty it didn't make any difference. But Paul absolutely refused to go out and perform.

Paul Kantner: That's true, I'll cop to that. I didn't think we should play without Grace.

Joe Buchwald: A lot of the people that came for the concert were U.S. soldiers. They had traveled miles, it had rained all day and night.

Pete Sears: Craig, Barbata and David went over with Bill Laudner in the afternoon, to watch the other bands. I had Jeannette and our one-year-old son Dylan in the hotel room so I elected to go in the later car, the six o'clock car, with Grace and Paul and Marty and Bill Thompson. So, at six o'clock I bounded the stairs ready to go. I knew something was up so I went over to Grace's hotel room. Skip and Grace were in the hotel room and there's Bill Thompson sitting there with Paul and Marty, and a representative of the promoter. And they're all arguing about whether we should play or not, without Grace, because Grace is–well, nobody could quite determine what was wrong with Grace. She didn't come out of the room.

Grace Slick: There's friction between Paul and Skip, because Skip was saying she's sick, just go on without her.

Skip Johnson: They didn't want to just believe me that she was sick, they wanted to go in and quiz her. But, look, she's sick. That almost came to blows in the hallway with me trying to keep mostly Paul out of the room.

Paul Kantner: I went up to Grace's room to see if she was really sick or if she was drunk or not. And Skip was protecting her, "No you can't come in the room," so I just sort of picked him up and threw him out the doorway. And went in and checked with Grace. She seemed a little disparate, but I still couldn't tell.

Bill Thompson: Skip came out and said something, and Paul said, "You fucking asshole, you're the reason this all happened." There were like three stairs that went down, and he grabbed Skip and threw him down the stairs, and he was jumping on top of him.

Grace Slick: I could hear Skip and Paul right outside the door but I don't know what else was going on.

Trish Robbins: She was screaming at them and they didn't like it so much. It was frightful.

Marty Balin: They're fighting, they're doing this big to-do. Big soap opera. And I'm sitting there, just waiting. What are we going to do, go on or what? The promoter is talking to Paul: "Paul if you don't go on, these people are going to riot."
And I'll never forget these words. Paul said, "My people will never riot."

Pete Sears: We were trying to explain to Paul, which I knew from previous experience playing in Germany, that they could riot. They could go completely mad. The promoter's assistant was in
tears. She knows. She's on the phone communicating with the promoter, freaking out. The opening band's finished, the audience is getting jittery. Paul held out. He held out, I think, for good reasons. He just felt that the band shouldn't go on without Grace. I mean, obviously she's the lead singer of the band. It's an honorable thing he was doing. But it was just a bad decision. In the States it probably wouldn't have had the same result. But we felt that in this situation it would be advisable to do something, to go to the audience and say, "Look, Grace is extremely sick." They might not be happy about it, but...

Paul Kantner: It would be like the Rolling Stones playing without Mick Jagger.

Grace Slick: But they only have one singer.

Paul Kantner: That's a reasonable answer. I'm not justifying what I did. Sometimes you just make decisions and that seemed to be the right decision at the time. It wasn't made out of any malice or lack of forethought.

Pete Sears: As soon as I knew it wasn't going to happen, I said to the promoter, "Get me on the phone. I want to get a call to Barbata and Craig." I called down there, I said, "Tell Barbata and Craig and Freiberg to wait there. I'm going to come down right away and we're going to do an instrumental version or something and we'll get tomatoes thrown at us but not bricks."

Craig Chaquico: I had gone there early with David Freiberg and John Barbata. All our equipment was set up onstage and we were getting ready to go out and play. And then we get this message that Grace is ill and is not going to come to the show. So everybody backstage goes nuts and says, "Oh, you can't cancel the show, there'll be a riot!" Because, apparently, there'd been some history of American bands being advertised and then not showing up.

David Freiberg: I would always go out early because I would rather hang out with the crew, with the real people, than hang out at the hotel and pretend I'm a rock star. So I went with Laudner, and it was a cool place, it was great, but all of a sudden I saw the promoter going crazy. I saw this guy go from happy and color in his face to ash white. I actually saw it, he just turned pale. And then he hung up the phone, and I said, "What's going on?"

He said, "Grace is not going to play! You guys must play, you must play." He said, "You don't know German crowds. If you don't play, they will go crazy!"

And so I said, "Well, what am I supposed to do?"

And he said, "Well you could play, couldn't you?"

Craig Chaquico: John and I split before the announcement was made because somebody said it was going to be bad. David stayed to tell everybody, but what was translated was, "We're not going to play." David didn't know what they were saying. He was trying to be the nice guy. Back then we all believed that if you just did the right thing, the right thing would happen.

Pete Sears: David courageously went onstage with Bill Laudner and the promoter. They told the promoter to tell the audience that they could have their money back and that we'd come back and play later on. Apparently, the promoter left the bit out about giving the money back.

Bill Laudner: The audience started yelling and booing and sounding pretty upset and he finished what he was saying and we walked off the stage.

David Freiberg: Then I found out what had happened. The Atlanta Rhythm Section and a whole bunch of other bands had been advertised before the show. So whatever it was that the promoter said in German, then the beer bottles started to fly. A beer bottle came up, immediately, hit Paul Dowell, one of our roadies, smack in the head, and he was off to the hospital. They wanted to take me and put me in this bunker, built out of stone, with bars on the windows, and he's trying to tell me that I should be locked inside of there because you don't know what the crowds are going to do to you.

Bill Laudner: About a thousand bottles hit. And it was a concrete stage so they all broke. The rain of bottles continued until everyone had thrown their bottles. It was touch-and-go there. The bottles were bouncing off the fabric structure behind the sound stack where I was. And I thought, I'm either going to get beaned with one of these things or I'm going to retreat. I retreated far enough so the bottles wouldn't hit me, and the carnage went on for hours and hours.

Craig Chaquico: There were 10,000 people in the audience, and because it was near a military base, some of these people had come with the idea of wanting to make some kind of political statement and start some kind of a riot. So when we didn't play, when the announcement was made, it was an excuse to let all hell break loose. And hell did break loose. People somehow found gasoline and set the stage on fire.

Pete Sears: It was just completely mad, it was nuts. Our guitar roadie managed to salvage the guitars. He hid them in the bushes, and left them there. He figured it was safe, because he didn't have any way of getting them back. When he came back the next day they had all just disappeared. The next day we went back and it looked like a bomb had dropped, literally.

David Freiberg: They threw the piano off the stage, which saved the piano, or it would have been part of the bonfire. They couldn't lift it back up on the stage. I just took my basses, put them in the trunk of the rent-a-car, and just changed my coat and started walking around, watching what was happening. Nobody paid any attention to me. One of the sound guys picked up the mixing console and walked stealthily off with it, made it look like he was stealing it, and he
saved it that way.

Marty Balin: They took all the equipment and they threw it over the cliff into the Rhine. I cracked up. I just fell out laughing. I got up and walked away, went to my room.

Pete Sears: Somebody got up with an ax and started smashing the drum kit up and then they poured gasoline over the drum set, burned everything. It was a blazing inferno. The two big compressed air cylinders holding up the lighting trusses exploded. It's amazing nobody was killed. The fireman showed up and got bricks thrown at them and just left. They just turned around and left. The police never showed up.

Bill Laudner: We got out different ways. Some of the guys walked out and some hitchhiked and after it got dark, I got my rent-a-car and gathered up the band members that I had with me, and I jammed 'em all in my Mercedes and made the run through the back gate and mixed in with a whole bunch of other vehicles trying to leave the area. We looked up and the fires that the audience had built out of a lot of the stuff that was onstage were glowing and fluttering and flickering against their own smoke, and it looked really medieval. And I thought, this is medieval. There's a castle right over there.

John Barbata: One of the roadies told me that a drunken GI was coming at one of the cops and the cop pulled his gun out, it was going to be another Altamont. He was going to shoot him. And the GI took his stick and pushed his gun aside and said, "You don't have to do that," and proceeded to beat him up with the stick. Anyway, Craig and I jumped into a limo, we were going 145 miles an hour getting out of there.

David Freiberg: We went back to the hotel and everybody is sitting in the bar. "What's going on up there?!" I said, "You should have played."

Joe Buchwald: We were staying in Wiesbaden and we couldn't get out of there. They told us not to go to the railroad station because they were waiting there to get us, and so they got a bus for us to leave. But the promoter would not give us the bus and let us leave until we paid him back all the money. So Thompson gave him back over $100,000 in American money that we had gotten for the concert. Then they let us out of there.

Cynthia Bowman: We were basically smuggled out of that part of Germany in the dark of night, into another part of Germany. There were very plain buses, darked-out buses. They were really sneaking us out.

David Freiberg: First the promoter insisted that we had to get on this bus and go see what we'd caused.

Bill Laudner: That was mainly for the purpose of Grace seeing it, but in fact Grace and Skip had taken a plane to Hamburg.

David Freiberg: So he drove us out there and there was nothing left. There were these aluminum pillars that were cemented in to the stone stage, melted. They were gone. All of the speakers–there was nothing left but the rings, the magnets. They burned the whole PA system, the lighting system which we were carrying with us. But every instrument that I played made it through. Is that karma or what?

Pete Sears: The whole band was shell-shocked. And the promoter is screaming that it's the band's fault and threatening lawsuits.

David Freiberg: This fucking bus that this guy got wouldn't go over 40 miles an hour, so we're being passed by people that are going 140 miles an hour.

Pete Sears: The bus driver hated us, and he drove deliberately slowly and stopped to have something to eat and didn't tell us. We finally went in because it was a long period of time and we were hungry and he said, "Ach, we have to leave now." He'd already finished eating. So we just sat down, at that point, and said to hell with it, and we ate. He had to wait for us.

David Freiberg: We got into Hamburg at like 3:30 in the morning. And then we had to get up and do a press conference at 10.

Marty Balin: We all go out and sit and Grace is real demure and nice, "Oh, I was very sick and I had a stomach boo-boo." And they all ask, "Well, will you be there tonight?" "Oh yeah, everything will be fine, we had a good night."

Bill Laudner: The guys made a bunch of phone calls, our crew guys, and we all were in touch with a number of people, trying to arrange to borrow equipment, which ultimately successfully happened.

Bill Thompson: Grace arrived in Hamburg fresh as a daisy, happy. And then she gets drunk. That's the unforgettable thing about that whole deal.

Bill Laudner: I was amazed when I came downstairs and walked through the dressing room, just prior to the show, and I saw Grace. I knew as soon as I saw her that she was drunk. I didn't have to ask her any questions or anything. I just turned and walked away and thought, well, I wonder how this is going to work?

Marty Balin: I came walking in and I can see it on everybody's faces, "Here we go again." Grace is on this lounge, slurring her words, "Marty, I can't do it. I don't feel good, Marty, please." I was like, "Grace, c'mon, get up. We've been through this before. Let's go. Let's put on a show. You told everybody you'd be there."

Cynthia Bowman: She's locked up in her room and she won't come down. Thompson sent me up there and I was dealing with a wild person. I'd never seen her like this. She was just fucked up drunk. Grace will tell you she's five-foot-seven, but she's not. She's a pretty small person. I'm a pretty tall person. But dealing with her was impossible. I was trying to get her to put her pants on and she was throwing bottles around the room and screaming. She was kicking me. I clearly remember being in the elevator and thinking, this is it. This is gonna be it. And it was. It was horrible. She was goose-stepping across the stage, sticking her finger up people's noses, calling people Nazis. The crowd started to leave.

Grace Slick: I dressed like a Nazi and went totally nuts. What happened was, at the airport, they had one of those old-fashioned dresses, like Heidi, little white sleeves and a bodice and big skirt–typical German-Swiss milkmaid kind of deal. So I bought this and I said okay, I'll do this, because it ought to be funny with my personality to dress like what the hell's going on.

So I start getting ready to go on for the show, and I was drinking while I was getting ready. And by the time I was ready I looked in the mirror and said that's so not me, I'm not gonna do it, I'm gonna go the other way and just be what I think they were during the second World War. I'm still busy hanging out in the second World War. I'm in Germany and I'm gonna get back at them for Dachau or some dumb drunken decision. That's what that night was about, dumb, drunken decisions. So they started walking out but they kept coming back, like maybe she'll do something really hideous and we will have missed it. A freak show.

David Freiberg: She didn't do her credibility any good by getting fucked up in Hamburg. She was probably too drunk to sing, I don't know. What it seemed like to the band was that she was deliberately trying to fuck everything up.

Jacky Sarti: It was insulting, considering all that we had gone through. All this nightmare. For her to get out there and to go get drunk–she couldn't even remember the words. It was dreadful.

Marty Balin: I'm holding her up through all the songs and she's going, "How many more?" Then she got into it and started yelling things at these people. And at first everybody got up and just started to walk away, leave this disgusting thing. But then a lot of people came back and sat down and just watched her do her swan song.

John Barbata: That was a nightmare. I think she created punk rock that night. That was pretty bizarre. Paul was crying after the show because he knew it was over. I knew it was over.

Cynthia Bowman: After the Hamburg show, we thought we were gonna be crucified. It was unbelievable that she had done this twice. She was in no shape to be working, she was really sick.

Bill Thompson: At that point, we were pretty sick of her and what she'd done.

David Freiberg: The next thing I remember is being up on the rooftop bar and hearing that Grace is going to go home. "Well, what are we going to do next?"

"We're going to go to Knebworth and play without her!"

We got back to England. It felt so good. At the Hamburg Airport there were all those soldiers with submachine guns and everything. When we got back there, Pete and I went to the BBC and did a radio interview and the first thing out of Pete's mouth is, "Oh, it's good to be back on Allied soil."

Marty Balin: We went on to Knebworth and played another gig, where they said we were great, that I held the show, we blew them away.

Cynthia Bowman: Marty was a prince. When push comes to shove, Marty really comes through. She was gone and I think it was his turn to really rally. And he did. It was a great show, but very sad because everybody kind of knew that was that.

Paul Kantner: That was a morphing end. It orchestrated itself. Too much too soon. Too much everything. Spinning apart, like our universe does after the Big Bang. There's a certain level of existence that the spinning apart eventually spins so far apart that it becomes a bunch of something else.

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