"White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane is one of the most important pop songs of the twentieth century. It ranks up there with "All Along the Watch Tower" and other Dylan, Beatles and Rolling Stones tunes. All the parts, including lyric, instrumentals, and vocal, work together to achieve a valuable, meaningful, and coherent whole. I want to review this song and its perceived meanings in the light of contemporary trends in human behavior.
In the 70s, I took a college class where the book Cat’s Cradle was reviewed in amazing metaphorical and literal detail. The professor tweaked amazing hidden symbolic interpretations from every word in the book. It seemed to me at the time that the author could not have and probably did not intend for the book to enclose so much metaphorical interpretation. So, I asked, did the author really plan, design and intend the book to have such far reaching interpretation? The answer was, well, Vonnegut is not here, is he? We are, so it is up to us to suck out the meanings as we wish.
So, this is the technique I want to use reviewing "White Rabbit". Vocalist and lyricist Grace Slick is not here, so I will read into the lyric and the music and the vocal as I wish. Furthermore, I do think it is possible that an author can write a lyric with a deeper meaning than intended. After all, the mind is a complex and many faceted thinking and creating tool. It is likely that unrealized or unknown metaphorical content was added when the lyric is written. Who knows what went on in the mind of the writer at the time?
With this in mind, I shall review the music, vocal and lyric.
The music is loosely based on Ravel’s Bolero. The lead guitar and bass work portray this mysterious sounding music beautifully. Along with the military sounding drum work, all of the instruments contribute and support the lyric perfectly. I don’t think this aspect of the tune could be done any better. Supporting the vocal, the music becomes increasingly strident and terrible, thereby expressing a warning to the listener. The bass and six-string guitar blast the meaning of the lyric into your head. In the end, the sound is a warning to wake up and get smart about what you are doing to your mind and body.
The vocal also supports the lyric perfectly. In parallel with the band, Slick’s voice becomes more and more insistent, strident and cautionary. Wake the hell up, and stop acting out this insane behavior, she almost screams. You can almost hear the siren’s blaring a warning: stop, look out, take heed. (I hear the same siren in "All Along the Watch Tower")
The lyric written by Grace Slick is a warning for our time. It compares expectations, desires, and needs with reality. She says you think something interesting will happen if you mess with drugs not carefully and scientifically tested. She all but shouts that your experience will result in more and more insanity. In the light of contemporary alcohol, heroin and cocaine use what she has to say is real and valid.
Line by lyric line, I can support what I just said.
One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small.
You think the pills/drugs you are using are predictable, but they are not.
And the ones that mother gives you, don`t do anything, at all.
Mother is safety. She knows what she is doing. Trust what you are learning from her wisdom and no harm will come.
Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall.
Well, this is impossible. This predicts an absurd outcome. Alice just thinks she is ten feet tall. Reality says otherwise.
And if you go off chasing rabbits, and you know you`re going to fall.
"Chasing rabbits" is a metaphor expressing that if you think an untested and unsafe drug will help you find what you are seeking in life, you may well already suspect that disaster is on the horizon. You already know you are going to fall, i.e. fail.
Tell ’em a hookah smoking caterpillar has given you the call.
So, you are choosing to do something insane, and you know it. Your justification for this mind wrecking behavior is some imaginary thing you heard from a caterpillar (i.e., some other foolish drug user). You are trusting the wrong people.
Call Alice, when she was just small.
By now, you know that Alice’ experience tells you nothing about the reality of what you are choosing to do to yourself. You have jumped down the rabbit hole, get ready for insanity.
When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go.
Well now you are in for it. You are high, or rather think you are. But insanity is taking hold. The men on the chessboard are telling you what to do. Seriously? You are in the dead zone now.
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom... and your mind is moving low...
Some of the drugs you are taking lead to thinking about suicide. Is that where you really want to go? How did that heroin shot help you? How does your ongoing addiction to alcohol help you?
Go ask Alice.. .I think she’ know.
Yea, man, she knows. Why on earth can you not learn from the horrible experience of someone else? She did something stupid, why on this beautiful earth are you doing the same thing?
When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.
Wow, insanity and illogical behavior are now working in concert. Nothing makes sense anymore. You are addicted and ready for any whacked-out behavior. Are you going to rob people to support your habit? Is increasing addition going causing you to ruin your body and eventually murder yourself? Did you mean for all of this to happen?
And the White Knight is walking backwards
Well now all reality is bent and disturbed. The white knight, your ostensible hero who is supposed to rescue you from the evil Red Queen, is running away. You are stuck with your terrible choice: there is no rescue.
and the Red Queen`s off with her head.
Sorry dude, your head is already gone. You screwed the pooch.
Remember what the dormouse said...
Wake up and take some good advice BEFORE you make the deadly and destructive decision to experiment with drugs and alcohol.
Feed your head! Feed your head!
And the advice Grace Slick gives is: gain knowledge, pay attention to the terrible experiences of others, learn that heroin, cocaine, and alcohol are dangerous addictive drugs. There is no place for these things in a happy life. Finally, know yourself. Find and deal with your weaknesses. Get knowledge and set yourself free.
You can say I went too far with my interpretation of this brilliant song. As for me, it helped me avoid many stupid and self-destructive behaviors. This is an important song for the twenty-first century as well as the last. I wish others would listen.