Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Turner Classic Marijuana Movies

TCM is airing marijuana propaganda films in the early morning on Saturday/Sunday, July 16/17. Along with the well-known Reefer Madness (1936) is another film from that year, Marihuana. It stars fresh-faced Harley Wood as Burma, a teenager who feels neglected because her mother dotes on her older sister. ("All I hear is Elaine, Elaine, Elaine," she yells in a Jan Brady moment.)

Burma goes bad when she gets turned on to weed after the requisite older gangster guy invites she and her friends to a party at his beach house. "We tried Tony's giggle water, let's try his giggle weed," they figure, and the party gets racy, with the girls disrobing and skinny dipping in the ocean, squealing all the way. They pay dearly for their fun when one of the girls drowns and Burma gets knocked up.

To earn money so that he can marry her, Burma's boyfriend smuggles dope for the nasty Nick and is killed by the police. Nick helps Burma with her problems while plying her with champagne and turning her into a marijuana peddler who also pushes "C" and "H." Interspersed with headlines like "Wave of Brutal Crime Laid to Marijuana Smoking," the now-corrupt Burma is shown gleefully adorning herself with furs and jewelry. At one point she takes a woman's engagement ring in exchange for a package of heroin, and then concocts a scheme to kidnap her sister's child for ransom. In a plot twist, her past comes crashing down on her in an almost poetic way, a bit unlike the campy, heavy-handed Reefer Madness or She Shoulda Said No—the 1949 film starring Lila Leeds, the actress who'd been arrested for marijuana with Robert Mitchum.

According to IMDB, the script for Marihuana was written by Hildegarde Stadie, who, "despite her wholesome appearance, led a colorful, bizarre and unpredictable life. She was the niece of a patent medicine peddler, and as a little girl, she traveled with him all over the United States, selling their cure-all, Tiger Fat. Part of the presentation involved a pre-teen Hildegarde, appearing fully nude, with a python draped around her shoulders. Though she did not draw upon this particular anecdote, her experience with her uncle greatly influenced her script for Narcotic (1933)."

Harley Wood as Burma in Marihuana
Stadie and her "notorious exploitation filmmaker" husband Dwain Esper made films that "remain so bizarre and prurient that it is hard to imagine a husband and wife with two children producing them." Stadie was 98 when she died in 1993.

Wood went on become a songwriter as Jill Jackson Miller with her husband Sy Miller, penning songs like "Keep in Touch With Your Heavenly Father" and the popular "Let There Be Peace on Earth (and Let It Begin With Me").

Also showing on TCM are two short films, "The Terrible Truth" (1951), wherein "a juvenile court judge investigates the tragedy of marijuana addiction," and "Keep Off the Grass" (1969), an educational film in which "the dangers of marijuana are outlined."

Sunday, July 3, 2016

June Eckstine: Lady With a Pipe?

When I was last in my hometown of Pittsburgh, on my way to meet the fabulous Theresa Nightingale of Pittsburgh NORML, I happened upon a State Historical Marker commemorating the birthplace of jazz great Billy Eckstine. Looking him up, I may have found another Tokin' Woman, or just a woman who was repeatedly harassed over marijuana: his first wife June.  

Billy Eckstine won a talent contest by imitating Cab Calloway (he of "Reefer Man" fame), and became a popular and accomplished singer. In he 1944 formed his own big band, which "became the finishing school for adventurous young musicians who would shape the future of jazz." (Wikipedia) Included in this group were Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Charley Parker and Tokin' Woman Sarah Vaughan. Davis claimed in his autobiography that Eckstine supplied the band with cocaine.

Eckstine was a snappy dresser who later had a clothing line, and a bevy of female admirers dubbed "Billysoxers." He and June were married in 1942. She sang with the band and was described as "glamorous" and "sultry." The couple were frequently photographed together for lifestyle pieces.

According to the book Mr. B: The Music and Life of Billy Eckstine by Cary Ginell, both Billy and June had run-ins with the law over marijuana in 1947, just after the band had an altercation with a racist audience member (for which Frank Sinatra wrote him a note of congratulations). Billy was at a party with a Honolulu-born dancer named Louise Luise at the apartment of "Chicago playboy" Jimmy Holmes when the place was raided. Holmes had 183 "reefer cigarettes" and Eckstine was caught with a .45-caliber revolver. The headlines read, "Maestro-Crooner Arrested with Pretty Sweetheart in 'Weed' Den." Eckstine's lawyer claimed his client had found the gun in a wastebasket and that he was unaware of the marijuana. His charges were quickly dropped.

June "was the target of the more salacious accusation of sodomy" at a "weed party" in Ardmore, Pennsylvania later that year, Ginell's book claims, putting her age at 25 at the time. An 18-year-old girl from Bryn Mawr reportedly said June "persuaded her to ingest marijuana and then raped her." June vehemently denied both accusations, claiming she'd been framed. A grand jury cleared her of the charges and the case never went to trial, but not before sensationalist headlines screamed that June had been arrested for "dope and unnatural acts."

In March of that same year, Tokin' Woman Anita O'Day was arrested for pot after two undercover policeman came to her home during a party at which Gillespie was playing from the branches of a tree in their front yard.

June was photographed smoking one of Billy's pipes shortly after they divorced in 1952 (above), and targeted soon afterwards for a second marijuana arrest. "Singer June Eckstine, the attractive 27-year-old former wife of crooner Billy Eckstine, was arrested in her plush Hollywood apartment with three white friends and booked on a charge of possession of narcotics," said  a Jet magazine item on July 29, 1954. Charges were later dismissed against June for insufficient evidence, but Roberta Kahl, described as "a 34-year-old blonde model" who had a joint in her purse, was held for trial.

June had a small speaking role in the  movie "Carmen Jones" with Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte in 1954. She later became a successful realtor in Los Angeles, finding homes for the likes of Lou Rawls, Muhammad Ali, and Sammy Davis, Jr. and dating people like John Garfield.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

When G. Gordon Liddy Raided "Eminent Hipster" Donald Fagen Looking for Marijuana

If I lived closer to LA, I would for sure make it to the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday night for Steely Dan performing with the LA Philharmonic for a program arranged by Vince Mendoza (hear some of Mendoza's work with Joni Mitchell on her stunning, modern versions of "Both Sides Now" and "A Case of You").

I picked up the book Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen recently, and along with lots of fascinating observations about the early New York jazz scene and esoteric items like a tribute to the Boswell Sisters and an interview with Ennio Morricone, it contains some interesting admissions about drugs.

Of his time at Bard College, Fagen wrote about a roommate who had "an endless supply of marijuana and nightly visits from an assortment of willowy girlfriends." A single tequila-filled night had him swear off the hard stuff and soon he was off to the 1967 "Human Be-In" in Central Park. He describes his classmates as "concerned with inner space....most of us were just incredibly self involved...primed to leave the repressive fifties behind and make the leap into the groovy, unbounded, sexualized Day Glo future."

They were also "smoking enormous quantities of weed, which had just begun to be co-opted by the middle class." Fagan says he "smoked a fair amount myself until a series of anxiety attacks scared me off in the winter of 1967." He thought the attacks might have been triggered by "the DMT my friends and I smoked during the big blizzard of that year."

"Dimethyltryptamine was the hallucinogen that Timothy Leary called the 'businessman's trip' because of its intensity and brief duration," he wrote. "You'd go from zero to a peak acid-strength high in a nanosecond. The snow that was billowing across the campus was revealed as an army of tiny angels, and you wondered why you hadn't noticed that the college buildings huffed and puffed as if they were in a Betty Boop cartoon from the thirties. Fifteen minutes later, everything looked normal except for a warm, lingering glow."

He then describes as a "mystic note" how he'd had his "introduction to Oblivion" during the summer of 1965 on then-legal LSD, guided by Huxley's The Doors of Perception and The Psychedelic Experience (Leary/Alpert/Metzner). "Let's just say that Dr. Leary's method was a resounding success," he wrote. "I understood for the first time that all was as it should be, that the future was blazing with promise and that, despite all the jeers, Garden State might be a swell name for New Jersey after all."

As a senior in May of '69, Fagen had his house raided at four in the morning by a police team lead by soon-to-be Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy, looking for traces of marijuana. Fagen's landlord had told police he'd sold him pot, a charge Fagen denies. Some 50 students along with former student Walter Becker and his wife Dorothy were jailed, and the men had their heads shaved. Charges were dismissed, but the incident caused him to boycott his college graduation ceremony in protest, and inspired the song "My Old School":

It was still September 
When your daddy was quite surprised
To find you with the working girls
In the county jail
I was smoking with the boys upstairs when I
Heard about the whole affair...

The last time I saw The Dan at Shoreline Amphitheatre, Becker gave a great, long intro to their song "Hey, Nineteen" with the lyric:

Cuervo Gold
Fine Columbian
Make tonight a wonderful place

Any night with Steely Dan is a wonderful place. They come with full regalia: three killer back-up singers, a horn section, a second keyboard, and a guitarist somehow able to recreate all the amazing solos from various artists on their albums.

Also Highly Recommended: the 1999 documentary about the making of the Steely Dan album Aja

And, as this is Bloomsday, and while I'm in a literary frame of mind, see a fascinating analysis of Joyce's Ulysses by José Francisco Batiste Moreno: "Leopold Bloom's Tea Pot"


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Shirley's Valentine to Pot: "Dough" Makes Dough

I caught the movie Dough last night at a theatre where the workers were wearing cute promotional aprons provided (apparently) by the distributor.

The film stars British actor Jonathan Pryce as Nat, a kosher Jewish baker in London who hires Ayyash (Jerome Holder), a young Muslim refugee from Darfur, to revitalize his business just as it is fighting a takeover by crummy capitalist Sam Cotton. Ayyash has a side business selling weed for the violent thug Ian Hart, and when he dumps his stash into a mixing bowl at the bakery one day, the dough magically becomes, well, Dough with lines out the door for the suddenly popular business.

The film is introduced by 75-year-old Pauline Collins (Shirley Valentine) as the widow who owns the bakeshop, and has "the best bridge club meeting ever" after she and the other ladies enjoy some brownies with the special ingredient. Other old folks suddenly start dancing, and more, with the benefit of Ayyash's recipe for fun. Nat's staid family gets a needed night of the giggles following grandpa's dagga dessert, and Nat himself is able to express his feelings about his dead wife after he downs a plate of pot brownies provided by Ayyash.

But all this beneficence comes to a halt after Cotton discovers the secret to Nat and Ayyash's success, and Hart shows up to make more mischief. The film has a predictably moralistic end, with the business apparently going forward without its most important ingredient.

Dough is reminiscent of the 2000 British film Saving Grace, in which a widow (Brenda Blethyn) and her caretaker (Craig Ferguson) grow weed to save her home, and inadvertently turn on the denizens their Cornwall village. That movie, while delightful, also had an (admittedly, by Ferguson) contrived ending, and its spin off TV series Doc Martin, starring Martin Clunes as the town doctor who puffed pot in the movie, was cleaned up to erase that charming aspect of his character.

Collins says the film is about "acceptance, and breaking bread together" and to some extent it is, but its ending disappoints. Now that we're moving towards marijuana legalization, can we dispense with depictions of violent criminals who have control of the marijuana business, and the cops who put the kibosh on all the fun? Cotton might have found enlightenment after he ate the magic muffins and done something for the good of the neighborhood, or the injustice of the marijuana laws, and the violence they bring, might have been addressed. The marijuana/muslim connection was also skirted, with Ayyash making sure he didn't taste his own goodies.

Next time, filmmakers, skip the aprons and give us a tasty ending instead.




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Rita Coolidge, Doobie Lady

Singer Rita Coolidge, known for her 1977 hit "Higher and Higher," has just, at the age of 70, published an autobiography called Delta Lady.

In it, Coolidge recounts her adventures touring as a musician in the swinging 1970s, when she dated Leon Russell, Graham Nash and Steven Stills, and married Kris Kristofferson.  

She also had adventures with marijuana, starting as an art student at Florida State. "We always had a lot of weed," she writes, "which we’d decided was vital to the creative process, thanks to this guy who came through Tallahassee every year, like Johnny Appleseed, to plant pot and would tell a couple of people on campus – in the art department, of course – where it was planted."

Later she noticed that in LA, "the drug menu was shifting from pot and LSD, which put people in a sharing mood" to cocaine, after which, "People just lost their moral base. It made criminals and liars and thieves out of people who previously loved and trusted one another."

After she and Kristofferson hooked up, Rita writes about them going to Disneyland with Willie and Connie Nelson after, "As it happened, I had just baked a really nice batch of marijuana brownies...."

Of Kristofferson, she wrote, "He was a heavy drinker and loved to smoke pot." Indeed, Kristofferson was probably the original hippie outlaw country musician





 

Friday, April 1, 2016

The New Americana, High on Legal Marijuana

Coached by Tokin' Woman Miley Cyrus, ex-medical student Moushumi survived a knockout round on NBC's The Voice this week by belting out Halsey's song "New Americana" with the lyric:

We are The New Americana
High on Legal Marijuana...

The wildly popular song is from Halsey's debut studio album, Badlands, released last year via Astralwerks, Universal's electronic and dance label. The artist formerly known as Ashley Frangipane cultivated her huge following with parodies of Taylor Swift songs posted on YouTube, and by uploading her song "Ghost" to Cloud. 

Halsey, who has used the term "tri-bi" (biracial, bisexual and bipolar) to identify herself, sings she was "raised on Biggie and Nirvana," and she's been compared to Lourdes and Luna del Rey.

In the song's dystopian video, Halsey smokes joints at the appropriate lyric (shown), and is soon hauled away by gun-toting thugs who try to (literally) burn her at the stake. Pot-puffing hippies look on passively, then save her with the help of a well-timed smoke bomb. It's a pretty bold statement from one so young. Did she connect that the witch burnings kept both women and herbal medicine suppressed in the West for centuries?

Here's something really radical: the city of Coalinga in conservative Fresno County, California is taking steps to convert a prison into a medical marijuana facility. Now, that's the New Americana.




Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Highly Recommended: 15 Biographies of Tokin' Women

To celebrate International Women's Day, here is a list of 15 books referenced in Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory. Celebrate the day by learning more about these prominent women who are also cannabis consumers.

 1. Woman as Healer - Jeanne Achterberg
This groundbreaking work examines the role of women in the Western healing traditions starting with ancient cultures in which women worked as independent and honored healers, and goddesses like Ishtar, who is associated with cannabis.

2. Women's Orients - Billie Melman
Melman tracks European womens' travels to the East in the mid 1800s, including their partaking of the chiboque pipe in the harems. One was Princess Kate's great great great great grandmother, sociologist Harriet Martineau.
 
3. Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography - Susan Cheever 
Alcott, the beloved author of "Little Women," wrote two stories with a hashish theme at a time when cannabis formulations were available in pharmacies. Cheever illuminates her life with a fresh perspective on the transcendentalist movement in the US.

3. Lucky Eyes and a High Heart: The Life of Maud Gonne - Nancy Cardozo
In Downton Abbey Lady Sybil and her Irish revolutionary boyfriend get into trouble, over which her father pulls strings to get them off the lam. "They're afraid with Sybil they'll have another Maud Gonne on their hands," he says. This intriguing character was loved by William Butler Yeats, and tried hashish with him.

5. Isabelle: The Life of Isabelle Eberhardt - Annette Kobak
Sometimes compared to Rimbeau, novelist Isabelle Eberhardt left France for Algeria at the age of 20, embraced Islam and picked up a sword to join a revolt in March 1898. Tokin' Woman Patti Smith mentions reading Eberhardt in her bestselling book Just Kids.

6. Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations - Georgina Howell
Gertrude Bell was a mountaineer and a self-styled diplomat, later a spy, who was instrumental in drawing the current borders of Iraq and establishing the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. "She began to take her turn with the narghileh that was passed around as they talked, the bubble-pipe in which tobacco, marijuana, or opium was smoked," writes her biographer.

7. Rainbow Picnic: Portrait of Iris Tree - Daphne Fielding
Bohemian poet and actress Iris Tree enjoyed hashish jam with a dinner party companion when "we were both simultaneously seized with uncontrollable laughter about nothing at all." She appears in a cameo, reading poetry as herself, in Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita.

8. Isak Dinesen, The Life of a Storyteller - Judith Thurman
This comprehensive account of the life of Danish writer Isak Dinesen brings to life the fascinating woman portrayed by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. She "liked to experiment with the sensations hashish" could give her. 

9. A Bad Woman Feeling Good - Buzzy Jackson
In this lively book, Jackson tells stories about Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and others who brought jazz and personal freedom to the forefront in the 1920s and beyond.

10. Morning Glory: A Biography of Mary Lou Williams - Linda Dahl
This biography loving presents Mary Lou Williams, an accomplished pianist and composer who wrote "Roll 'em" for Benny Goodman in 1937 and enjoyed marijuana.

11. High Times, Hard Times - Anita O'Day with George Eells
 “You can swing, you’d better come with us,” drummer Gene Krupa told her when he hired singer Anita O'Day. She'd starting smoking marijuana cigarettes when you could still buy them in drug stores. “One day weed had been harmless, booze outlawed; the next, alcohol was in and weed led to ‘living death,’" she wrote in her autobiography. "They didn’t fool me. I kept on using it, but I was just a little more cautious.”

12. Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham - Emily Bingham
This eclectic woman profiled by here by her niece patriotically grew hemp on her farm in Kentucky as part of the "Hemp for Victory" program during World War II, even though "the hemp crop took up fields she needed for corn to feed the hogs."

13. Dream a Little Dream of Me: The Life of Cass Elliot - Eddi Fiegel
This affectionate look at Ellen Cohen, the woman who became "Mama" Cass Elliot, is filled with anecdotes about this intelligent, brash and beautiful singer, such as the time she fashioned a marijuana pipe from aluminum foil in the recording studio.

14. Gather Together in My Name - Maya Angelou
This sequel to Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings talks about her use of marijuana and how it enhanced her appreciation of food, dancing, and parenting.

15. Living With a Wild God - Barbara Ehrenreich
Author and NORML board member Ehrenreich—a well-known scientist, atheist and feminist—describes in this book mystical experiences she had in her adolescence. Also Highly Recommended by Ehrenreich: Witches, Midwives, & Nurses: A History of Women Healers.