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White Rabbit
Song

White Rabbit

Jefferson Airplane
Album:
Surrealistic Pillow

Song Meaning and Background of White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane


The song that brought acid rock to Middle America written by vocalist Grace Slick after taking LSD and listening to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain.

She said “Our parents read us stories like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz. They all have a place where children get drugs, and are able to fly or see an Emerald City or experience extraordinary animals and people.… And our parents are suddenly saying, ‘Why are you taking drugs?’ Well, hello!”


"White Rabbit" is a song written by Grace Slick and recorded by the American rock band Jefferson Airplane for their 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow. It draws on imagery from Lewis Carroll's 1865 book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its 1871 sequel Through the Looking-Glass.

It was released as a single and became the band's second top-10 success, peaking at number eight on the Billboard Hot 100.


"White Rabbit" is one of Grace Slick's earliest songs and uses imagery found in the fantasy works of Lewis Carroll—1865's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its 1871 sequel Through the Looking-Glass—such as changing size after taking pills or drinking an unknown liquid.


Slick wrote the lyrics first, then composed the music at a red upright piano she had bought for US$50 with eight or ten keys missing—"that was OK because I could hear in my head the notes that weren't there" —moving between major chords for the verses and chorus.


She said that the music was heavily influenced by Miles Davis's 1960 album Sketches of Spain, particularly Davis's treatment of the Concierto de Aranjuez.


She later said: "Writing weird stuff about Alice backed by a dark Spanish march was in step with what was going on in San Francisco then. We were all trying to get as far away from the expected as possible."


Slick said the composition was supposed to be a slap to parents who read their children such novels and then wondered why their children later used drugs.


She later commented that all fairytales read to little girls have a Prince Charming who comes and saves them. But Alice did not; she was "on her own...in a very strange place, but she kept on going and she followed her curiosity – that's the White Rabbit. A lot of women could have taken a message from that story about how you can push your own agenda."


Slick added that "The line in the song 'feed your head' is both about reading and psychedelics...feeding your head by paying attention: read some books, pay attention."


Characters Slick referenced include Alice, the White Rabbit, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, the White Knight, the Red Queen, and the Dormouse. Slick reportedly wrote the song after an acid trip.

 

For Slick, "White Rabbit" "is about following your curiosity. The White Rabbit is your curiosity." For her and others in the 1960s, drugs were a part of mind expansion and social experimentation.

With its enigmatic lyrics, "White Rabbit" became one of the first songs to sneak drug references past censors on the radio.


Even Marty Balin, Slick's eventual rival in Jefferson Airplane, regarded the song as a "masterpiece". In interviews, Slick has related that Alice in Wonderland was often read to her as a child and remained a vivid memory well into her adulthood.


In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Slick mentioned that, in addition to Alice in Wonderland, her other inspiration for the song was Ravel's Boléro. Like Boléro, "White Rabbit" is essentially one long crescendo.


The music combined with the song's lyrics strongly suggests the sensory distortions experienced with hallucinogens, and the song was later used in pop culture to imply or accompany just such a state.

The song was first played by the Great Society in a bar in San Francisco in early 1966, and later when they opened the bill for bigger bands like the Grateful Dead.


They made a series of demo records for Autumn Records, for which they were assisted by Sly Stone.

Grace Slick said: "We were so bad that Sly eventually played all the instruments so the demo would sound OK." When Slick joined Jefferson Airplane later in 1966, she taught the song to the band, who recorded it for their album Surrealistic Pillow.


"White Rabbit" is in the key of F-sharp which Slick acknowledges "is difficult for guitar players as it requires some intricate fingering"


Lyrics of White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane


One pill makes you larger

And one pill makes you small

And the ones that mother gives you

Don't do anything at all

Go ask Alice

When she's ten feet tall

 

And if you go chasing rabbits

And you know you're going to fall

Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar

Has given you the call

Call Alice

When she was just small

 

When the men on the chessboard

Get up and tell you where to go

And you've just had some kind of mushroom

And your mind is moving low

Go ask Alice

I think she'll know

 

When logic and proportion

Have fallen sloppy dead

And the White Knight is talking backwards

And the Red Queen's off with her head

Remember what the dormouse said

Feed your head

Feed your head

Release Date

1967

Songwriter/s

Grace Slick

Producer/s

Rick Jarrard

Label/s

RCA Victor

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