The left over baggy of the seeds and stems of Haight Ashbury’s purple haze daze, and the tie-dyed Summer of Love have long since gone up in smoke. It was a dime bag time of rolling papers, roach clips, and badda-bing, badda-bong pipes. Tim Leary, the High Priest of The United Psychedelic States of America, told us it was high time to turn on, tune in and drop out. If you had some spare time, along with your spare change, you could also Kick Out The Jams, Brothers and Sisters! Pot, protest and politics, combined to create a strange ménage a’ trois of bedfellows, and the cast of cannabis characters is the stuff of killer weed legend.
Hemp, Hemp, Hooray!
Marijuana, mayhem and the movies were a magical mixture created in the soul kitchen of Hollyweed that manufactured recipes for some classic celluloid cannabis cinema. The semi-fabulous freak brothers, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in “Easy Rider” took us for a gas and grass two-wheeled shotgun road trip through the deep fried, deep south world of southern fried brutality and hospitality. It became the counter cultures roadmap through Mainstream America where the asphalt highways and byways were laced with acid, weed, necks of red and loads of buckshot.
In the film “Alice B. Toklas”, Alice wasn’t just the Baroness of Brownies of her day, but a hemp happy Martha Stewart. “The Magic Christian” with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, had one of the characters, Lawrence Faggot (Fah-go!) tossing “damn hemp cigarettes” aside in disgust! The teen-angel badass, bad-angst full throttle afterburner of the Fab Fifties, gave us a full kilo of delightfully delirious and slightly deranged delinquent doper dramas. Hot Rods, hot chicks and marijuana sticks collided in a tangled wreck of high-speed and high weed.
All of these films owe their potency to a 1930’s pot “high” camp classic silver screen smoke dream marijuana machine called “Reefer Madness”. This is the preposterously hilarious propaganda classic that dared tell the pulp fiction truth. and nothing but the truth about…Marijuana! The Killer Drug!! Marijuana! The Assassin of Youth! One puff leads to murder, rape, insanity and a one way straight jacketed ticket to ride to the looney bin aboard the Lobotomy Express! This film is the good golly Miss Molly great ganja granddaddy of them all. Released in the mid-1930’s as a church film decrying the inherently evil properties of the killer weed and it’s deleterious effects on all decent citizenry of the Republic. It was originally released with the title “Tell Your Children”. After a brief run it was purchased by Dwain Esper, a maestro of the exploitation genre,, who took his meat cleaver and hacked out scenes with the skill of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, inserted new ones, added graphic violence and sex, a brilliant, overacted touch of insanity and a demented piano player and voila! The reefer recipe for success and madness!
After it’s uninhibited run in the Prohibition Thirties (the social experiment that gave rise to Organized Crime!) it ended up in storage and forgotten until 1971, when Keith Stroup, founder of NORML bought a public domain copy for under 300 bucks. The print was cleaned up, the film re-released primarily to college campus audiences, and it became an instant hit. A cannabis midnight cowboy movie to be savored by stoned audiences who cheered wildly at every scene tossing sobriety out the theater doors!
Marijuana is still with us, and so is the prodigal cinematic child of pot parentage, “Reefer Madness”. The original film is still available in it’s original black and white incarnate form, as well as a new colorized lava lampoon version. The just to prove that people are strange production was a 2005 release of “Reefer Madness: The Musical” a show tune belter that was exhaled and released after a roach clip run on Off-Broadway. There’s No Business, Like Dope Business!
Julius Caesar was a rank amateur when it came to ruling a vast empire. Nero was no hero either, and I Claudius had to make way for I Cannabis. In the power play annals of history and conquest, kingdoms, kings and conquerors, there are only two who can measure up to the tokin’ task of total and absolute rule. Cheech & Chong…The Crowned Heads of the Holy Rollin’ Empire!
California born Cheech Marin and Canadian Tommy Chong emerged as the Laurel and Hardy of the Reefer Revolution. Lighting up the radio dial in 1971 with their first album, and it wouldn’t be long until the big screen went ‘Up In Smoke” in 1978. Over the years they have remained as the Stoner Poster Children of the counter culture and have taken their rightful place in the Hemp Hall of Fame and Infamy.
Cheech met Chong in a comedy club in Vancouver in the post-Woodstock year of 1970. Chong formerly was a musician with Canadian rock bands, eh, and decided to take a stab at comedy, and when the hemp plant planets were in perfect alignment Tommy traded in his Maple Leaf for the Green Leaf and a pairing of historic proportions was conceived. The act was a hit and they decided then to hit road with their act. “Up In Smoke” was the dynamic doobie duo’s big screen debut and featured this oddball couple as Anthony “Man” Stoner and Pedro de Pacas. Produced by none other than Lou Adler it also featured Strother Martin of Cool Hand Luke fame (“What we have here is a failure to communicate!”) and Edie Adams, Mrs. Ernie Kovacs as Tommy Chongs Mom & Dad! Tommy, Man Stoner, gets kicked out of the house and heads for the ocean where he meets son of a beach Cheech in his Chick-Mobile and from there on it’s horsepower, joint jokes and homegrown fun…as they try to keep one toke over the borderline, (driving a van made of marijuana from Mexico to the United States) from Sgt. Stedenko of the DEA, played to bumbling perfection by Stacy Keach.
Eventually, in a pop premonition of the low spark of high heeled leather boys in “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, the Bong Boys end up on stage at LA’s Roxy Theater with a fetchingly attired Cheech in a garish pink tutu and Tommy dressed as a giant red Quaalude! The times, they may have changed, but the lude dudes are still scoring big on the streets with continued sales of those vintage albums and cult classic movies. The best part is, they only seem to get better with age.
If smart bombs and Black Hawk helicopters fill the Pentagons battlefields to overflowing with the tools of war, then rolling papers, water pipes, lava lamps and bongs are the weedy weapons of choice in the head shop arsenals of the United Altered States of America. Getting bombed on bongs, stoned on joints and getting as high as a caterpillar on hookahs is as American as red, white and blue napalm and the cache of nuclear stars and stripes weaponry of mass destruction at our disposal.
Rolling papers have been a staple since they first appeared in 1854 on a European battlefield! It was during the Crimean War and the Battle of Sevastopol that a French Zoave soldier broke his clay pipe in the heatful exchange with the Russkis. Clay pipes were the vehicle of choice for smoking tobacco in those times, so in order to enjoy his daily smoke he simple tore some paper from his gun powder bag, folded it, placed a line of tobacco in it and rolled his own. The idea caught on with others and the rest is hempstory!
This new way of smoking wasn’t just confined to the battlefields, and seemed to catch on back in the toney town of Gay Paree. In 1894, two enterprising brothers, Maurice and Jacques Braunstein, developed and patented a unique process of interweaving cigarette rolling papers. The process was called, simply, zig-zagging and the company became the legendary Zig Zag Company. Zig Zag Papers were such a hit, that they took the Gold Medal honors in 1900 at the Universal Exposition in Paris. So, whatever became of that soave Zoave of fancy France? Next time you pull out your Zags to roll a Godzilla sized doobie, look at the logo. Yep, that’s him. High times have immortalized his Royal Reefer Headness and he’s been helping us all to ride high as a kite for over a century.
The lava flow of the Vesuvian Sixties didn’t race down a Mediterranean mountainside. Instead, it flowed through the inner mind with heat and hot sexy colors performing their ballet of bubbles. The original liquid in motion lights, as they were called, was the brainchild of a native of Singapore, named Craven Walker who called his first light, The Astro Lite! A Roswellian name to be sure to light the path for the invasion of the UFO’s of the Flower Power Ganja Galaxy to come!
During WWII Walker was a pilot with the RAF fighting the flying metal of Messerschmidts during the Battle of Britain. As the world tried to put the pieces of the political puzzle back together after the fall of Berlin and atomizing of Hiroshima, Walker went about his tinkering and by 1963 light up London with the first loads of lava lamps. The lamp lit up one of the trade shows in Germany and two marketing suit and tie types bought the US light rights to the little Astro. In 1965 the first marketing eruption occurred as the inaugural light was sold in the United States. The psychedelic lava flow had begun. Craven Walker died in London at the age of 82 in 2000 and once said of his little light, “If you don’t like lava lamps, you don’t like sex either!”
The weed seeds of the counter culture of the spare change Sixties were planted a long time ago in a compost pile of history that goes back thousands of years. The early American Colonists were no stranger to cannabis and we can trace the nations hemp lineage from Washington and Jefferson to Cheech and Chong!
Hemp, Hemp, Hooray!
Written by Mike Marino
Photo courtesy of Stock.Xchng