Book Review: Jorma Kaukonen ‘Been So Long’

Ron Wray on October 11, 2018
Book Review: Jorma Kaukonen ‘Been So Long’

Jorma Kaukonen, an architect of sixties creative dominance as a founding member and lead guitarist of Jefferson Airplane, and still touring with the legendary Hot Tuna,  is now taking us on a deeply personal musical journey through his life in his memoir, Been So Long. “Music seemed to be the reward for being alive,” Kaukonen said, “to me, nothing has the power to evoke a place in time like music”


Since he’s not only one of the world’s best guitarists, but also a fine writer, he takes the reader on a thoughtful trip through the psychedelically-colorful and catastrophic sixties and seventies and on to his musical ranch in rural Ohio.


“My first memories of light in the world,” he says, “seem to be about two or three years of age, and I remember this because that light came to me in the form of my mother’s song.”


In his early days in rock and roll, he describes meeting many others who would go on to rock stardom, like Janis Joplin: “That Janis was destined for greatness was undeniable. …  And Janis in that incarnation – well, I had never heard anyone like her. No one had!”


And, he gives vivid depictions of famed music festivals, including Monterey, Altamont, and, most of all, Woodstock, “one of those amazing occurrences that could not be planned and could never be re-created. … “all (of us) accidental tourists in parallel universe.”


He also shares painful details about his addictions and recovery from drugs and alcohol: “We used to think that if you just chipped (occasional use of opioids), you weren’t an addict yet. It was the same line of thinking that considered cocaine a “recreational” drug,” he remembers. Later, he says: “You write about what you know, and even though I chose not to recognize this, my world was becoming a darker place.”


Later, Kaukonen meets his true love, and second wife, Vanessa, while playing a gig in Florida. They marry and make the unusual decision to move from San Francisco to rural Ohio and develop the musical mecca, Fur Peace, featuring a guitar and songwriting workshop-retreat, rock-and-roll museum, and a cozy concert hall.


A gifted writer, Kaukonen shares insight into a life well lived, with a certain amount of luck, a great deal of determination, and a towering love of music. “As my friend Chuck says,” Jorma quotes, in a phrase that might describe his own music and life, “wings, not anchors.”