The autobiography of Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen is now out in paperback, a book so beautiful it quite literally attracts butterflies.
Been So Long charts the musician’s journey from his transient childhood as the son of diplomats, through the American folk circuit of the ’50s and the turbulent San Francisco scene in the ’60s, where the band briefly lived together in a shared house; “There was some logic to this at the time, but I’m not sure what it was.” Still one of the world’s greatest guitar players, he now lives on a ranch teaching guitar, where he’s currently live-streaming lockdown concerts. It sounds idyllic but this being a rock memoir, it wasn’t always so.
Kaukonen was arguably one of the more stable members of the Airplane, and his stories are still completely wild. He speaks with the same matter-of-factness about his wife attacking him with “various household items” as he does the technical specifications of his motorcycles. Most of the anecdotes end with someone firing a gun or getting crabs, and thanks to heavy drug use he seems largely unfazed.
Through all of this Kaukonen never stopped playing, and writes about his love of music as beautifully as he plays the guitar; “I never lost sight of the hope the guitar held out to me as a teenager.” As Jefferson Airplane became Jefferson Starship, Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady jumped ship and went back to their folk-rock roots with the band Hot Tuna, born out of low-key jams in hotel rooms.
Along the way he takes up speed skating, heroin and Judaism, all recounted with the wisdom, poetry and reflection found in his songwriting. The book also includes all his lyrics, which are moving enough without accompaniment, and immaculate to hear him play.