How much did you really miss?

Oh, the blessed web! All those once-unanswerable questions that now can be: What would’ve happened if? How badly did I blow it? Thanks to the web, we can now find out.

Even if it’s been over forty years—which is how long since the Jefferson Airplane concert I’ve been kicking myself for missing. I mean, yes, I was there, but I missed the whole thing anyway. But that doesn’t matter anymore. Now it’s for sale on Amazon and CD Universe.

It was November ’69, at the Fillmore East. One of my all-time favorite groups was playing. We had tickets, we had acid—surely a musical revelation awaited me!

Alas, not exactly. Turned out I spent the whole show fretting because I couldn’t achieve lift-off. Instead of psychedelic epiphanies, the songs just sounded noisy. (A genuine sixties moment, that, if only I’d known it.)

Surrealistic Pillow was the first non-Beatles album to change my ears, to broaden my whole notion of musical possibilities. Jefferson Airplane’s distinctive mix of delicate, folk-inspired guitar and lush vocals with hard-edged electric guitar, bass, and drums hit me right in my sweet spot. Gracie Slick belted out “When the truth is found to be lies—” and knocked me breathless.

Crown of Creation blew me away, too. So in the fall of my junior year of high school, when I heard that the Airplane was giving a concert in New York on Thanksgiving weekend, I jumped on it. And I was far from the only one.

One of our group had a mom who lived in in the West Village. The plan was to meet at her apartment, drop the acid, and walk over to the East Village together. And afterward, our friend’s mother agreed to let us all crash in her living room; she was always a good sport.

(Looking back, I’d call her darn near saintly.)

As Thanksgiving approached, my excitement grew. If LSD could turn clouds into gauzy snowflakes, I couldn’t wait to find out how it would enhance the experience of hearing live music from a fantastic band.

But alas, when the time came, I had no pot with me. And, as we made our way crosstown, no one offered me any, either. This was frustrating; my experience with acid was that if you wanted to take off on schedule, you had to kick-start it with a little grass.

But that didn’t happen. In line to enter the theater, I stood between the ropes one hundred-percent straight and frustrated to the same degree, while a tall crazy-haired guy in a red velvet vest with tattered embroidery stood just outside them, chanting hash acid grass hash acid grass hash acid grass, which segued seamlessly into hare krishna when someone straight-looking walked by. Not that there were many of those.

I took my seat in the concert hall, stewing about how I wasn’t tripping yet, and how it would take only one toke—just one toke!—to reach lift-off. But no. Throughout the concert, I sat there waiting and wishing and hoping for the acid to kick in, and the music, when I could spare any attention for it, sounded loud and boring, the vocals shrieky, the instruments mashed into one great wodge of noise. And I’ve always assumed that the fault lay with my unfortunate and distracted frame of mind.

Yep, there it is, my one and only genuine live-concert-on-acid experience, the quintessential sixties ambition, and it was a cosmic bust. And I’ve always blamed myself for this failure. But hey, guess what? The show was recorded! And samples of Sweeping Up the Spotlight: Jefferson Airplane Live at the Fillmore East 1969 can be heard on CD Universe.

Which I just listened to. And golly gee, I was right all along. They sucked.

The official review is charitable: “Jefferson Airplane were less focused in 1969 than they had been in the Summer of Love two years before,” it begins, and goes on to note that the band was coming apart by then. “In the era of Cream and Hendrix, the Airplane had become entwined with jazz-influenced improvisation and the distorted, electric end of the blues; the softer, folkie side of the band was nowhere to be found.”

You can say that again.

Amazon’s editorial review is also generous: “In concert, the Airplane were always more rough and ready than on their acid-hued vinyl.” Rough, certainly. Someone expecting the subtle delicacy of “Comin’ Back To Me” or the force and clarity of “White Rabbit” might indeed feel disappointed. That night, Jefferson Airplane played loud and without polish; they screamed rather than sang.

And so, after forty-plus years, I’m ready to let this one go. LSD would not have enhanced this experience. With or without acid, I got it right. Oh, the blessed web.