Watch below as Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick becomes the very first person in history to say “fuck” on American television on August 19th, 1969—the day after Woodstock—on The Dick Cavett Show. Technically the whole band pretty much sings “fuck” if you want to split hairs. Someone had to do it first, I’m glad it was the Airplane.
“We Can Be Together” was the lead-off number on the band’s politically radical Volunteers album and the B-side for the “Volunteers” single. Due to the group’s unique contract for the times—they had complete artistic control—RCA had to go along with whatever the Jefferson Airplane wanted, including “shit” and “motherfucker” appearing in their lyrics. For the single, the “motherfucker” was mixed low, but not actually bleeped.
The song’s music and lyrics are credited to Paul Kantner, who claimed to be inspired by the Black Panther Party’s use of the “Up against the wall, motherfucker” battle cry, itself a phrase 60s activists often heard coming from police and national guardsmen during that tumultuous era.
Kantner also cribbed some (nearly all) of the lyrics from something called “The Outlaw Page” that appeared apparently first as a leaflet and then in the East Village Other underground newspaper. “The Outlaw Page” was a polemic written by a guy called John Sundstrom, who was a member of an anarchist/Situationist-inspired Lower East Side-based “street gang with analysis” called the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers [UAW/MF] whose name came from a poem titled “Black People!” by Amiri Baraka. The Motherfuckers, whose unprintable name made them virtually press-proof, were involved with storming the Pentagon, setting up crash pads in New York City for counter culture types and the occupation of Columbia University. Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse’s stepson, Tom Neumann was an early member.
Sweet young Joni Mitchell had just finished singing her lovely, lilting “Chelsea Morning,” when big bad Grace belted these words out to an unsuspecting America:
We are all outlaws in the eyes of America
In order to survive we steal cheat lie forge fuck hide and deal
We are obscene lawless hideous dangerous dirty violent and young
But we should be together
Come on all you people standing around
Our life’s too fine to let it die and
We can be together
All your private property is
Target for your enemy
And your enemy is We
We are forces of chaos and anarchy
Everything they say we are we are
And we are very
Proud of ourselves
Up against the wall
Up against the wall motherfucker…
And here’s the original text, as written by John Sundstrom as it appeared in the East Village Other: