To mark LGBT History Month, 2013, Polari asked its contributors to recall a song that had an impact on their own stories.
‘Volunteers’ – Jefferson Airplane
by Walter Beck
I was first introduced to Jefferson Airplane by my older brother, who like me, had got his primary musical education from our old man. Dad, being a child of the late ’60s and early ’70s, had introduced both to the harder-edged sounds of Grand Funk Railroad, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and yes, Jefferson Airplane. My brother had me listen to Jefferson Airplane with the magic words, “Dude, trust me, this is cool”. Even though at the age of nine, the concepts of the ’60s social revolution eluded me, the music still stuck in my head.
By the time I was sixteen, my activism was quickly picking up. It was in the immediate aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision Lawrence v. Texas, so my emerging sexuality was beginning to mix with my vicious political addiction. I wasn’t hitting the streets yet, but I was laying the groundwork, spending many hours researching groups, cases, tactics and looking into our enemies, all with an increasingly radical soundtrack that included Buffalo Springfield, Rage Against the Machine and Jefferson Airplane.
I started organizing and going to demonstrations in college, first at Vincennes University and then at Indiana State University.
One of the things I learned in my time as a camp counselor was that music was one of the magic keys to keeping people’s spirits up, so I started working that heavily into my activism work, lugging around one battered radio or another. ‘Volunteers’ quickly became a staple, the bright sounding guitar riffs keeping our spirits high on the hot concrete.
That’s what sets this one apart from so many other classic protest anthems – it’s not dark, it’s not angry, the bright riffs of Paul Kantner and Jorma Kaukonen and pounding rhythm of drummer Spencer Dryden and the hopeful words “Hey I’m dancing down the streets/got a revolution/got to revolution/Ain’t it amazing all the people I meet/got a revolution/got to revolution”. This is a revolution of peace, love and togetherness; our collective spirits will free us from the chains of homophobia that weight us down.
From the streets of Terre Haute, where we faced the Westboro Baptist Church to the night before the Day of Silence rally, when we were making our signs and even now, as we gather to open the gates of the Boy Scouts of America, this song is a vital part of my activism toolbox, it’s part of the sonic fuel that keeps us going until we reach that final mountain peak.