By The Landlord
“When you smoke the herb, it reveals you to yourself … The herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction.” – Bob Marley
“It really puzzles me to see marijuana connected with narcotics dope and all of that stuff. It is a thousand times better than whiskey. It is an assistant and a friend.” – Louis Armstrong
“The biggest killer on the planet is stress and I still think the best medicine is and always has been cannabis.” – Willie Nelson
It stimulates feelings and causes conversations that float from the profound to the preposterous, the wide-eyed and inspired to the woozy. Cannabis, also known as marijuana, and many other names, is a plant that, like a dream, fills us with spontaneous ideas and also makes us immediately forget them. It's been leaf crop used by humans for more than 3,000 years, but mostly illegal for only about the last 80 It can be painkiller, a relaxant, bring euphoria, but also paranoia. Like all the most stimulating things, it gives and it tokes.
After having been introduced to it by Bob Dylan, the Beatles were, according to John Lennon, high, and no doubt also quite giggly on it when they received their first honours - MBEs - from the Queen at Buckingham Palace in October 1965. They met with disapproving looks by many others present whose disdain had nothing to do with what they were on. A previous recipient of such awards, Colonel Frederick Wagg, even sent back 12 medals he had earned fighting in both world wars, and resigned from the Labour Party because the prime minister, Harold Wilson, who represented the Liverpool constituency of Huyton, had lobbied the Queen to honour the group. "Decorating the Beatles," wrote Wagg, "has made a mockery of everything this country stands for. I've heard them sing and play, and I think they're terrible." A high for them, a low for him. But I’ve gone off on a tangent. Already. Now, where was I? Oh yes, there's loads there's more to say about cannabis, but just a for a minute I can't quite recall …
… Ah yes. So this week the Bar is taking a slightly Amsterdam-style turn, offering you a choice of products of various strengths, flavours and forms, from all about the world consumable in all sorts of ways from rollups to pipes and bongs to leaf teas and some delicious hash cake - metaphorically of course! We’re talking about music here! In other words we're focusing (or at least trying to focus) our attention on songs that mention this plant in its many forms, from buying or selling it, to the effect it has, and perhaps also any music in which that effect is clearly a major influence.
Mow I say Dutch, but this week perhaps Canadian would be more topical, as that country has this week become the first G7 country to legalise the drug, although has been decriminalised variously for medical or small recreational purposes in other countries such as the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Portugal and some US states, but in other places possession can lead to long-term imprisonment and even the death sentence. People in severe pain have been prosecuted for using it as treatment, but the law as regard alcohol, and all the harm that causes, is highly contradictory, the reasons of course always connected to vested interests.
The key psychoactive part of cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), most potent in oil and resin, but your songs suggestions could focus on other parts of the plant, including the leaves, seeds and hemp products. There are so many words for cannabis and all of its equipment from African broccoli to Bob, chess to chocolate, doobie and draw to electric puha, freakus to ganga, harris to hay, insangu to Jimmy, Kevin Bacon (kine bud) to lemon G, Mary Jane to moss, nay nay famous to Old Tody, pot to reefer, Sampson to skunk to sweet G, tweed and tiger fear to wee, wizard, wheat, and zig-zag.
While illegal in most countries, most people have some experience or contact with cannabis directly or remotely. In reference to Bill Clinton’s famous quote all those years ago about not inhaling, Barack Obama said: ““When I was a kid I inhaled frequently. That was the point.” I’m not a smoker myself, but cards on the table, when I’ve eaten (by accident of course, officer) a couple of the my friend's delicious hash flapjacks, nothing quite compares. Walk down the street, and every 20 yards is a revelation. It's as if time is broken up into series of new moments, freshly reborn into renewed sensations. And yet while appearing to be slow, the perception of time is different. Throwing a frisbee, as sometimes happens on a summer afternoon, instead of frantically running and snatching, you move and catch the thing with graceful economy. In that moment of retrieval there is simply nothing else - your mind is all there, and there only. That’s how some musicians operate in long nights of songwriting and recording.
With distinct cloud of the herb hanging in the air, and the gurgle of bongs audible, nsurprisingly this week’s theme has attracted a variety of celebrities, past and present, to the Bar, all of whom have something to say at length about this topic. Here’s the comedian Bill Hicks: “Why is marijuana against the law? It grows naturally upon our planet. Doesn’t the idea of making nature against the law seem to you a bit . . . unnatural?”
“Absolutely,” says big Arnold Schwarzenegger. “That is not a drug, it’s a leaf.”
But what about the creative effects of the plant?
“Hashish will be, indeed, for the impressions and familiar thoughts of the man, a mirror which magnifies, yet no more than a mirror,” says Charles Baudelaire
“Yeah my man Charles!” says Allen Ginsberg. “Marijuana is a useful catalyst for specific optical and aural aesthetic perceptions. I apprehended the structure of certain pieces of jazz and classical music in a new manner under the influence of marijuana, and these apprehensions have remained valid in years of normal consciousness.”
Now here’s the novelist Norman Mailer: “One’s condition on marijuana is always existential. One can feel the importance of each moment and how it is changing one. One feels one’s being, one becomes aware of the enormous apparatus of nothingness — the hum of a hi-fi set, the emptiness of a pointless interruption, one becomes aware of the war between each of us, how the nothingness in each of us seeks to attack the being of others, how our being in turn is attacked by the nothingness in others.” That’s deep.
“Well, says, the ever wriggly and hungry Hunter S. Thompson. “I have always loved marijuana. It has been a source of joy and comfort to me for many years. And I still think of it as a basic staple of life, along with beer and ice and grapefruits - and millions of Americans agree with me.”
And William Burroughs also has no shortage of experience. “Unquestionably, this drug is is very useful to the artist, activating trains of association that would otherwise be inaccessible, and I owe many of the scenes in Naked Lunch directly to the use of cannabis.”
“Everything counts in large amounts,” said Depeche Mode, but with cannabis smaller amounts are better and safer. So what do the doctors say? “The evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS — or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day,” says MD Jocelyn Elders.
“I have found in my study of these patients that cannabis is really a safe, effective and non-toxic alternative to many standard medications.” says Dr Philip Denney.
And the neurologist Oliver Sacks reported on his experience: “I was fascinated that one could have such perceptual changes, and also that they went with a certain feeling of significance, an almost numinous feeling. I’m strongly atheist by disposition, but nonetheless when this happened, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘That must be what the hand of God is like.’”
Cannabis does have religious or spiritual side, also known as an entheogenic context (try remembering that word when high), from the Ancient Greeks (Heroditus was a bit of a toker, or at least wrote about it) to shamanic rituals, Atharda Vede in India and Nepal to the whole Rastafari movement (of the people). So ideally your music suggestions will span the ages and the globe.
But a smoky, rambling Song Bar topic intro would not be complete without taking in a few favourite cannabis-related film clips. The 1930s propaganda film Reefer Madness was meant to put young people off, but it was so entertainingly absurd, it probably encouraged it:
“Make the most of the Indian Hemp Seed and sow it everywhere,” said the historic US president and smoker George Washington. This certainly helped inspire the kids in Richard Linklater’s wonderful Dazed & Confused:
In Easy Rider, Jack Nicholson joins the bikers for an evening and with his first go, starts telling us about the Venusians:
You should never smoke weed and drive. That’s what Cheech and Chong found out in Up In Smoke:
Most of these examples are American, but let’s has a joint of a distinctly British empire flavour. The London-based Australian writer and editor of the notorious Oz magazine said: “Is marijuana addictive? Yes, in the sense that most of the really pleasant things in life are worth endlessly repeating.”
And if anything is repeating it is this, from Withnail & I, with apologies, one of my very favourite films and moments within it. Let it light up your day. It will no doubt be familiar to many of you. It requires a craftsman. Genius. ;)
So then, rolling up to sit behind the bar this week and handle your high-quality herb songs is the marvellous megadom! Place your doobies and every other form in the big box below in time for a relaxed bell donging at 11pm on Monday in time for playlists published next Wednesday. I’ll be a joint effort and I’m sure we’ll only make one sort of a hash of it.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.