By Dale Y the Green Guy
The new age has arrived! The battle fought for the legalization of marijuana, that began in the 60’s, has now been won with the legalization of pot in both Colorado and Washington state. With more than 20 other states either decriminalizing weed or allowing its use for medicinal purposes, you can thank the counter culture movement of over 50 years ago for setting the wheels in motion for this long overdue jurisdiction.
The people back then were the warriors, and the musicians were their muse. A major petition was raised in England and signed on July 24th, 1967, that began by saying, “The law against marijuana is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice.” 64 of the most influential people in British society were on that list, including The Beatles, and not only did it attempt to legalize marijuana for recreational use, but it also wanted cannabis to be studied for medicinal use as well.
This, right there, was the beginning of the modern acceptance of marijuana both recreationally and for medical use, and it has taken all those many years after for that dream to come true.
When you think about it, it’s silly actually. Drugs have been a part of human culture since there WAS a human culture. Musicians and artists of all genre’ know that certain drugs enhance the ability to create. I mean, there was a reason that Native Americans mellowed out when they smoked peace pipes, and why a bit of the Amanita Muscaria mushroom caused Lewis Carrol to write, “Alice in Wonderland.” Drugs can and do influence thoughts, and when taken as a creative stimulus, the results can be profound.
Modern music began with jazz in the 1920’s and 30’s, and weed was the drug of choice. The “Reefer Man” by Cab Calloway, was done in the 30’s, and unless you were into the jazz scene, you didn’t get it. The folkies and the beatniks of the 50’s and early 60’s took up where the jazz musicians left off. Jazz musicians were more worried about the beat, but by the time of serious social issues like racism, the cold war, the bomb and the beginning of Vietnam, grass became the tool to get your thoughts together.
People sitting around in groups would smoke weed and wander off onto different tangents about the world that surrounded them, and then afterwards, songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” and “If I Had A Hammer” were written.
It wasn’t until arrival of Bob Dylan on the scene that pot began to go mainstream. Not that it wasn’t known about in the most hip places, but it was still fairly exclusive and reserved for musicians “in the know,” as it were. Dylan’s contributions to the folk scene cannot be understated, with songs like, “The Times They Are a Changin,” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Now, they may have not been written on weed, but weed certainly influenced the the lyrics, that’s for sure. But we’ll get back to that in a minute.
Before all of this folk awareness, in pop music, alcohol was the king, and the biggest musical icons of that period, like Frank Sinatra, wouldn’t go on stage without a few drinks to “loosen up a bit.” This was a very accepted practice that almost every entertainer subscribed too, and alcohol is a much of a drug as is anything else. Add to that, in those days, a little tablet of “speed” might be taken, like Dexedrine, Preludin or another type of amphetamine, to wake up after a hard night of partying to get ready for the next nights gig. This was standard operating procedure in those days, and no one thought anything of it.
But it was the creative aspects of drugs that began to take center stage in the 60’s, and the music would be forever changed because of it. When Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to pot in August of 1964, it became a defining moment for pop music of epic proportions. There was a reason why the opening note in “I Feel Fine” was guitar feedback. It sounded cool, especially stoned, and from that moment on, feedback became a musical note all to itself, instead of a plague that had always been controlled and eliminated.
The Beatles music changed overnight, and as other musicians listened and wondered why, they had to find out for themselves. It wasn’t long afterwards that everyone who was any kind of musician was smoking pot, and the pop music of the world changed, virtually, overnight.
In the dawn of this age, marijuana had names like Acapulco Gold, Maui Wowie, Columbian, Jamiacan and Buddha, to name some of the most popular. This stuff was almost always imported, and you get an idea of this by listening to Arlo Guthrie singing the song, “Coming Into Los Angeles,” with the lyrics of “bringin’ in a couple of keys…” which is telling the story of smuggling in some pot.
It wasn’t long before these musicians began to sing about how good it was to be high, but they couldn’t make it obvious, so the lyrics were disguised. But everyone who was aware knew what the gig was all about. Songs like “Mary Jane,” by Janis Joplin, “Mr Tambourine Man,” sung by Dylan and covered by The Byrds, and the Beatles (Paul McCartney’s) “Got to Get You Into My Life,” which was his self proclaimed ode to pot. Yes, the music was changing, and once again, so were the drugs.
On October 6th, 1966, LSD became illegal in California, and by 1968, it was federally banned from possession. But that didn’t stop the artists from using it and then creating with it in ways that could never be achieved with marijuana.
LSD was so powerful it could literally alter your mind and cause you to be a part of your subconscious dreams. You could see musical notes and hear colors, all the while watching the blood pump through your veins as you sat there waiting for the thousand years it took for the trip to wear off. When the Stones sang, “2000 Light Years from Home,” that was exactly how it felt during a trip to the nether regions of your mind. You could literally get lost in your brain, and some people never made it back.
It was rumored that the reason why Jimi Hendrix could do what he did with a guitar was because he took an acid trip and literally BECAME the guitar. Once inside of the strings and the frets and the body, he understood everything that a guitar could do, and every noise a guitar could make. John Lennon once said that “A Whiter Shade of Pale” perfectly describes an acid trip, and the Beatles version of an acid trip is called, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” The famous Monterrey Pop Festival in 1967, was one long acid fueled musical extravaganza, which was supplied by the best LSD at the time, called Owsley Purple, manufactured by the greatest LSD purveyor of all, Owsley Stanley. That acid was so pure and beautiful, of the thousands of people that ingested it, there was not one bad trip or overdose. Hendrix took two hits before he went on stage. Everyone at that festival was wasted, and it was glorious.
This was music on drugs, when experimental ideas, sounds and lyrics were all fueled by the chemicals of the day. There is no doubt that the music we know today, in any genre’, had it’s beginnings with the drugs of the counterculture, and our current musical tastes are better for it. And for all that was said and done to legalize marijuana back in the day, the time has come to rejoice in the freedom that was pioneered by the musical artists, and because of that, we are only now beginning to see the results.
“Comin’ Into Los Angeles,” with Arlo Guthrie.
Take a stroll with Janis Joplin and “Mary Jane.’
Srangeness, stoners, Brian Jones on another planet, and the Rolling stones “2000 Light Years From Home.”
Procol Harem and “A Whiter Shade of Pale.’
By Dale Y the Green Guy