Highs And Lows

Grace Slick grew up in Palo Alto, Calif, the daughter of an investment banker. She attended Finch College (along with Tricia Nixon) and in 1966 joined the Jefferson Airplane. Her first album with the band Surrealistic Pillow sold 2 million copies and Slick's song, "White Rabbit," with its famous last lyric, "Feed your head," became an anthem of the psychedelic generation. Dubbed the "Acid Queen" by the press, she was said to have "the voice that launched a thousand trips." Eventually, though, it was her drinking that caught up with her. She is now a recovering alcoholic and lives in Mill Valley, north of San Francisco, with her husband, Skip Johnson. Her daughter, China, by Airplane founder Paul Kantner, is now a VJ-- video jockey--on MTV.

When I took acid in the '60s, I wanted to open up and explore life. In the '70s I took alcohol to close down and shut out the "noise." The former experience was a kind of reaching up. The latter was a downward spiral. Both experiences taught me worthwhile lessons--lessons that proved valuable when my daughter, China, was growing up and finding her way.

In 1965 I was a new singer, a new adult and a member of a generation trying to develop new ethics. We thought we were invincible. But as the '70s melted, and the world didn't go in the right direction fast enough, some of us crawled into a bottle or a needle looking for peace. Wrong move. Long-term peace--except maybe "rest in peace"--is not found in a chemical. Being half conscious always slaps back. In my case the blow was administered in a roundabout way. In 1977 I was a heavy drinker and a fast driver. A car, "the California necessity," was my way to exercise personal freedom. So when the highway patrol said quit drinking or you lose your driver's license, I decided to get sober. That was 13 years ago. I am now 50.

Nobody knows for sure what makes someone get high. In some cases, they're genetically predisposed. Or they may be environmentally conditioned. Either way, the result is the same--you go nowhere fast, though I didn't realize that until later in life. As a kid, the times I saw my father open up were when he was drinking. He would sing, laugh and generally enjoy himself when he got loaded. Looked like a good deal to me. Of course, I didn't have to feel the pain the next morning I didn't feel the depression, humiliation and loneliness that every alcoholic or addict experiences sooner or later.

Kids start using drugs earlier now. Many of them sober up, or die from an overdose, by the time they're 14 or 15. China drank for six months, but because I had been open with her about my past--and because she had gone to support-group meetings with me ever since she was 7 years old--she was able to recognize the symptoms of alcoholism in herself.

One night when she was 16, I picked China up from a party at a friend's house. She got in the car and said, "Mom, do you know what I've been drinking? Cooking sherry. And I threw up about 10 times and I was kissing this guy I don't even like and calling people on the phone and crying. I think I need to raise my hand at a meeting."

I was surprised--not that she had been drinking and certainly not that she had decided to confide in me. What surprised and pleased me was that she had been so quick to catch her own error. I felt a great sense of relief that she had skipped all those painful years of floundering before recognition of her problem. She's now 19 and has been sober for three years.

There's no telling how things would have turned out if China and I had had a different relationship. Most adults have a way of fording it over their kids, and that keeps the kids from telling their parents what's going on in their lives. But China and I have always hung out together. She is an honest friend as well as a daughter.

No subject is off-limits. She tells me things I never would have told my parents, and I tell her things my mother wouldn't have dreamed of telling me We express our feelings--sometimes negative, sometimes positive, but always no holds barred She feels free to call me on my bullshit, and often she is able to get me to see when I'm of the mark. When I'm in the middle of a lot of pontificating, she calls me "Mom Dass," after the spiritual leader Ram Dass. And to her credit, she is usually able to see the truth in a situation, even if it means she is wrong.

Hiding things from children--or worse, lying to them--inevitably leads to a phony set of manners. If I had played the uptight parent about drinking and drugs, nagging China with an "I know what's best for you" attitude, neither of us would have been much help to each other. Instead I chose to tell her about my experience and let her do whatever she must with that knowledge. Hopefully, as she continues to grow, she will remain open to a wide variety of ideas, rather than restrict herself to the sanctimoniousness of one individual.

I know I've just thrown a lot of words at you, and I realize that every family has its own dynamic. But platitudes notwithstanding, part of the reason China and I feel like whole individuals today is because, simply we get what we give. Consider your child a friend, not a possession, and things will lighten up considerably.