Saturday, October 22, 2016

Martha Gelhorn, Leonard Bernstein, and the Ballerinas

Looking up war correspondent and third wife to Ernest Hemingway Martha Gelhorn after seeing the spotty-at-best 2102 film Hemingway and Gelhorn, I found this item about Martha and Leonard Bernstein trying marijuana in Mexico at the end of 1948 or the beginning of '49 in Gelhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life by Caroline Moorhead:

Another visitor was Leonard Bernstein, who turned up unannounced one day in Cuernavaca, proposing to move in and stay with her, and bringing with him a grand piano.....Martha moved him smartly into a house up the road, with a large pool, in easy walking distance. He wanted to play Scrabble, which she resisted, hating all games except for gin rummy, but one night, after he had been told by local musicians he met that marijuana made the music flow faster, they got ahold of four joints and prepared to experiment. 

Since they were both terrified of what might happen, they decided to boost their courage by having a few martinis first, generously poured into water tumblers. After a while, beginning to feel ill, Martha crawled toward the spare bedroom. As she reached the bed, she heard Bernstein fall heavily in the sitting room and lie still. She was sick all night; when she fell asleep, her nightmares were appalling. Next morning, she crept home, leaving Bernstein still unconscious on the sitting room floor. 

Too bad about the martinis.

Nicole Kidman, who played Gelhorn in the film, recently appeared in a biopic of Tokin' Woman Gertrude Bell but it hasn't been released, except in Germany. As Gellman she had some strong scenes, but in others was a basket case who need Hem to help her out. It was co-written by a woman and a man, I think I know which scenes were written by whom.

Going further back, a Joyce Kilmer essay, “Absinthe At the Cheshire Cheese,” published in his 1921 book The Circus: And Other Essays and Fugitive Pieces, states, "When Dowson took hashish during his student days, Mr. Arthur Symons tells us, it was before a large and festive company of friends.” He is speaking of poet Ernest Dowson, whose famous turns of phrase include “the days of wine and roses” and “gone with the wind.” Margaret Mitchell, touched by the "far away, faintly sad sound I wanted" of the line, chose it as the title of her epic Civil War novel.

Symons, a Baudelaire scholar who reportedly had a psychotic breakdown in 1909, wrote a seminal piece on hashish in the New Yorker in 1918. Symons was an influence on Yeats and a member, along with Dowson and Yeats, of the bohemian Rhymers' Club, whose members reportedly used hashish.

The book Arthur Symons by John M. Munro says, “The years between the publication of Days and Nights (1889) and London Nights (1895) may properly be referred to as Symons’ Decadent period…..he experimented, cautiously, with hashish…. The footnote reads: “On one occasion, John Addington Symonds, Ernest Dowson, and some of Symons’ lady friends from the ballet all tried hashish during an afternoon tea given by Symons in his rooms at Fountain Court:

No word about the effect on the ballerinas, except perhaps for their laughter.

Kilmer, the Catholic poet who wrote, "I think that I shall never see. A poem as lovely as a tree," downplays the effect hashish might have had on Dowson's work,  calling it "incongruous and unconvincing....He was an accomplished artist in words, a delicate, sensitive and graceful genius, but he was no more fitted to be a pagan than to be a policeman."

Kilmer writes in his essay, "There are, and there have always been since sin first came into the world, genuine decadents. That is, there have been writers who have devoted all their energies and talents to the cause of evil, who have consistently and sincerely opposed Christian morality, and zealously endeavored to make the worst appear the better cause. But every poet who lays a lyric wreath at a heathen shrine, who sings the delights of immorality, or hashish, or suicide, or mayhem, is not a decadent : often he is merely weak-minded. The true decadent, to paraphrase a famous saying, wears his vices lightly, like a flower. He really succeeds in making vice seem picturesque and amusing and even attractive."

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Viking Völvas and Cannabis Seeds

In 1903, near the Oseberg Farm in Norway, a farmer discovered a Viking ship built around 820 AD that had been buried for 11 centuries. The ship contained the remains of two women, along with two cows, fifteen horses, six dogs, several ornately carved sleighs and beds, plus tapestries, clothing, and kitchen implements, and—it was discovered in 2007—a small leather pouch containing cannabis seeds.

In 2012, archeologists found that hemp had been grown as early as 650-800 AD in Norway, most likely for cordage and sails for ships. However, speculation that the women were carrying cannabis seeds to enable them to cultivate industrial-grade hemp upon their arrival in the next world is disputed by the fact that none of the ropes or textiles found on board the Oseberg ship were made from hemp. “This suggests that the cannabis seeds were intended for ritual use,” writes M. Michael Brady. 

One or both of the Viking women, whose ages have been estimated at 50 and 70, may have been a Völva (“priestess” or “seeress”). The older woman, possibly the legendary Queen Åsa, was buried holding a wooden wand or staff, “not only a shamanic implement but also an insignia of their profession. Indeed, the Old Norse term völva has been widely translated to mean a woman ‘wand carrier' or ‘magical staff bearer,’” writes Evelyn C. Rysdyk in her book The Norse Shaman.

"A metal rattle of the sort that a Völva could have used in rituals was found on the ship, fixed to a post topped by a carved animal head and covered with sinuous knot work," writes Brady. "Völvas are presumed to have employed psychoactive substances, as in burning cannabis seeds to induce a trance." In 450 BC Herodotus described Scythian funeral rites where cannabis seeds were thrown onto hot stones and "the Scythians, transported by the vapor, shout aloud."

"Women in ancient Norse society were the ones who primarily practiced shamanism or seiðr,” writes Rysdyk. “A woman who practiced this art was known as a seiðkona or völva. During the Viking Age, practitioners of seiðr were often described as women past their childbearing years [as were both of the women on the ship]. Like their Paleolithic and Neolithic sisters, these women carried the tools of their trade into death….A völva buried in Fyrkat, Denmark was buried with a box containing her talismans or taufr. These included an owl pellet, small bones from birds and animals as well as henbane seeds. When thrown on a fire, henbane seeds can produce a hallucinogenic smoke that gives those who inhale it a sense of flying which may have enhanced the völva’s trance. The völur who were buried in the Oseberg ship were similarly outfitted with a pouch of cannabis seeds for their journey beyond life.”

The find is similar to the Siberian “Ice Princess," a 2500-year-old elaborately tattooed mummy who was found in 1993 similarly appointed with a container of cannabis. Recently, a 2800-year-old male mummy buried with cannabis plants laid on his chest was found along the Silk Road in China.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tokin' Women and TV

UPDATE: Sarah Paulson took the prize for playing failed OJ Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark (instead of Kerry Washington, who played Anita Hill, someone who actually successfully stood up for other women). Looking Paulson up, I found out that she once ruminated, "So cannabis can further you career, I guess, help you find your inner dolphin."   

Maggie Smith took the Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Emmy. Smith played Aunt Augusta in the 1972 film "Travels with My Aunt," based on the Graham Greene novel that begins with Augusta's young paramour hiding his marijuana stash in an unusual place. 

Tomlin lost to Julia-Louis Dreyfus of "Veep." Dreyfus's character Old Christine smoked pot in the episode "Burning Down the House," after she scored pot and stashed it in her pants. Dreyfus took a (fake) pot plant to Stephen Colbert on a recent appearance on his show (pictured).   

Also taking home an Emmy are Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon, who once played a "baking bad" Colorado MJ cookie maker, and Amy Poehler for a guest spot (with Tina Fey) on SNL. Poehler recently said, "Fighting aging is like the War on Drugs. It's expensive, does more harm than good, and has been proven to never end."

At least three of the six actresses up for an Emmy in the category "Outstanding Lead Actress In A Limited Series or Movie" have a cannabis connection.

The prodigiously talented Felicity Huffman munched out on pot brownies supplied by her mother (played by Polly Bergen) as a cancer patient on "Desperate Housewives" in 2007.

The also talented and hard-working  Kirsten Dunst, who played Mary Jane in the Spiderman movies, told Britain's Live magazine "I do like weed. I've never been a major smoker, but I think America's view on weed is ridiculous. I mean — are you kidding me? If everyone smoked weed, the world would be a better place."

Audra McDonald has won raves for her portrayal of Billie Holiday, who began to smoke marijuana in the early 1930s when you could buy a couple of joints for twenty-five cents. Billie's name became a code word for marijuana before she was hounded to death by drug agents in 1959.

Also nominated are Lily Tomlin, the second nod for her comedic portrayal of a pot-smoking free spirit in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie (shown), and Kathy Bates, who told Andy Cohen on Bravo TV's "Watch What Happens Live" that she smoked "some good sh##" with Susan Sarandon and Melissa McCarthy.

Television hasn't exactly depicted women and marijuana in a reasonable light. Nancy Botwin, the heroine of Weeds, rarely even smoked it, but Mary-Louise Parker beat out all the Desperate Housewives to take home the Best Actress Emmy in 2005. The she-roes of Broad City are, to me, nothing but n'er-do-wells trying to be dumb and dumber like the men in the bromance comedies Cheech and Chong spawned. Is that what women do together when we get high? I don't think so.

We may see some enlightenment in the forthcoming Netflix series "Disjointed" starring Bates as "a lifelong marijuana-legalization advocate who realizes her dream of running a pot dispensary in Los Angeles." I smell an Emmy nomination next year for Bates, who also played a marijuana smoker in the 2011-12 series "Harry's Law."


1968 - Leigh French debuts her "Share a Little Tea with Goldie" sketch on the Smothers Brothers Show.

1977 - Laraine Newman stumps for the American Dope Growers Union on Saturday Night Live.

1993 - The "Stash from the Past" episode on Roseanne has her rediscovering weed.

1995 - Phoebe demonstrates she knows many words for weed on Friends. Later episodes joke about her taking brownies, or her grandmother's glaucoma medicine.

1997 - Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown uses medical marijuana on TV.

2000 - Linda Cardellini's character smokes pot on Freeks and Geeks, and Jackie (Mila Kunis) is caught with a bag of pot on That 70s Show.

2003 - Carrie gets caught puffing pot on a New York City street in Sex and the City, the same day her boyfriend breaks up with her via a post-it note.

2005 - Weeds, with Mary-Louise Parker playing a pot-peddling widow in suburbia, premieres on Showtime.

2007 - An episode of General Hospital has Alexis trying "cannabis excellantus" for her the side effects of chemo 

2008 - Charlotte Rea, who played the housemother on TV's The Facts of Life, plays a nurse who accidentally doses the cast of ER with her special brownies.

2009 - Secretary-turned-copywriter Peggy Olsen tries pot on AMC's Mad Men. Don's girlfriends Midge, Anna and Megan also smoke on the show.

2010 - Comedienne Jenny Slate's character on HBO's Bored to Death is described this way: "She's sexy, she's Jewish, and she has a great vaporizer."

2011 - Harry's Law, starring Kathy Bates as a pot-puffing attorney, debuts. 

2012 - Broad City debuts; Joan Rivers tokes on her reality show.

2013 - Carol Burnett tries to score medical marijuana at a dispensary in an episode of Hawaii 5-0
2014 - Mozart in the Jungle, based on the book by Blair Tindall, has musicians blowing more than their instruments 
- Keeping up with the Kardashians shows Kris and her mother M.J. toking medicinally and giggling
- Garfunkel and Oates sing their song "Weed Card" on an episode where they visit a medical marijuana dispensary

2015 - Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda toke onscreen in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie.

2016 - Mary + Jane, the Snoop Dogg-backed show about two wacky women who operate a marijuana delivery service, debuts on MTV. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Welcome to WUSA

WUSA, the 1970 film starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, presciently predicts the rise of right-wing radio and the hatred it engenders.  Newman called it "the most significant film I've ever made and the best." And it's got a pot plot.

Newman plays the amoral drunk Reinhardt, a failed musician who calls himself a "communicator": a radio DJ. Arriving in New Orleans, he seeks to collect a debt from a swindling preacher (Laurence Harvey), who tips him off to a gig at the right-wing radio station WUSA. "We have a point of view here at WUSA," Reinhardt is told when he goes for the job.

Woodward plays a hooker whose Houston pimp has scarred her as "independent-minded," so she can't find work. "People don't usually buy you anything to eat," she notices (kind of like Anita O'Day did). "They'll just buy you enough whiskey to slosh around for hours."

She and Reinhardt set up housekeeping in an apartment house shared with Rainey, a welfare worker who challenges Reinhardt's principles (or lack of them), and a group of hippie, pot-smoking musicians. One of them is played by Leigh French (pictured), who did the "Share a Little Tea with Goldie" bit on the Smothers Brothers. "How come you work for those degenerate creeps?" she asks Reinhardt.

Radio WUSA, owned by millionaire Matthew Bingamon, is touting "The New Patriotism" which is "a bit more extreme than the old patriotism." "I'm for everybody doing his own thing," says Reinhardt, who espouses whatever beliefs are expedient. "You're listening to the big clean American sound of WUSA, the sound of a decent generation," he announces.

"When people hear the news treated right they respond to it, like music," says Bingamon. "These people are hurting and they don't really know why they're hurting. We've got to tell them....we try to keep them thinking with us." He doesn't really mind if the WUSA Loyalty rally he's planning (for Faith, Flag and Family) turns violent.

But the hippies have given up and gone decadent. "Human life is a gift," argues Rainey. "The muck of the earth was raised up to consciousness. Blood was made warm." A hippie replies: "We know that. Warm blood, and gifts and human-ness. We all had that trip man, none of us could swing with it."

The film ends when the rally turns to pandemonium, after which Geraldine is set up for a petty pot bust and makes a terrible choice upon hearing about the 15-year jail sentence she faces.

Maybe now that marijuana is being decriminalized we can start swinging with human-ness again.

WUSA is based on the novel Hall of Mirrors by Robert Stone, who also wrote Dog Soldiers (Who Stopped the Rain), about a Vietnam vet who gets conned into smuggling heroin. Dog Soldiers also "deals with the fall of the counterculture in America, the rise of mass cynicism and the end of the optimism of the 1960s." (Wikipedia).

Stone appears in the 1993 documentary Drug Taking and the Arts (aka The Art of Tripping) that also features Paul Bowles, Allen Ginsberg, Carolyn Cassidy, Laura Huxley, Anna Kavan, Cocteau's biographer Margaret Crosland, neuropharmacologist Annette Dolphin, Professors Ann Charters and Virginia Berridge, philosopher Avital Ronell, and author June Rose, plus actors playing de Quincey, Baudelaire, Gautier, de Nerval, Poe, and Anais Nin (who has the best description of all).

According to a 1994 biography of Stone by Robert Solotaroff, while "a Manhattan beatnik" working as a copy boy/substitute journalist at the Daily News in the late 1950s, Stone once "watched and reported on the wrestling matches in Madison Square Garden shortly after he had taken peyote."

Later, while on a Wallace Stegner writing scholarship at Stanford, Stone lived in the Bohemian Perry Lane section of town and hung out with Ken Kesey, Neal Cassady and "all those crazies" of the counterculture.  "When I went to California it was like everything turned Technicolor," he wrote. "Sometimes I feel like I went to a party one day in 1963 and the party spilled out and rolled down the street until it covered the whole country and changed the world."

Abandoned at birth by his father, Stone spent time in a convent school when his schizophrenic mother couldn't care for him. "To his experiments with LSD he has attributed both his renunciation of conventional realism—a rejection that arguably turned his first novel into a much richer, more various work—and the return of the religious concerns he thought he had permanently put behind him when he was 17." Stone told Steve Chappele that,

What I witnessed or thought I witnessed in my stoned state was an enormously powerful, resolving presence within which all phenomenology was contained. It wasn't a God that said you're good and you're bad. It wasn't a God that said you're going to heaven and you're going to hell. It was more Tibetan, more an Indian conception of God than God was a moral arbitrator. But there was a suggestion that everything was all right. In spite of all the horrors, way down deep, everything was all right. 

In  Hall of Mirrors, Reinhardt's "primary preparation" for his role as Master of Ceremonies at the loyalty rally is "to get high on marijuana with his three beatnik neighbors and to call negative attention to himself by arriving with them an hour late." Both Reinhardt and Geraldine smoke pot in the book (but not in the movie). Newman had to climb a ladder to smoke pot in the 2005 HBO miniseries Empire Falls. Woodward never toked on film, as far as I know. But what's Paul doing in this picture?

Stanton Peele muses about all this. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Jane Addams and the Dreams of De Quincey

I found in another wonderful book, America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines by Gail Collins, the news that reformer and Nobel peace prize winner Jane Addams "was daring enough to try opium in an attempt to better understand the fevered writing of the addict Thomas de Qunicey, but Victorian enough to take only an ineffectual dose.”

In 1889, Addams founded Hull House, a community center to help immigrants in particular that included a day nursery and a center for continuing education for adults. Addams and colleagues worked on issues like garbage cleanup, sewer installation, street lighting, clean drinking water, child labor laws, food inspections, fighting epidemic disease and many other urban environmental issues. By 1920 there were nearly 500 such "settlement houses" in the US.

According to Jane Addams And the Dream of American Democracy, by Jean Bethke Elshtain, Addams entered Rockford Female Seminary in June 1877, when she was not yet 17 years old. In her book Twenty Years at Hull House, Addams calls her schoolmates a “group of ardent girls, who discussed everything under the sun with unabated interest.” She wrote:

Addams as a schoolgirl
At one time five of us tried to understand De Quincey's marvelous "Dreams" more sympathetically, by drugging ourselves with opium. We solemnly consumed small white powders at intervals during an entire long holiday, but no mental reorientation took place, and the suspense and excitement did not even permit us to grow sleepy. About four o'clock on the weird afternoon, the young teacher whom we had been obliged to take into our confidence, grew alarmed over the whole performance, took away our De Quincey and all the remaining powders, administrated an emetic to each of the five aspirants for sympathetic understanding of all human experience, and sent us to our separate rooms with a stern command to appear at family worship after supper "whether we were able to or not." 

De Quincey was “one of a large company of nineteenth-century English essayists to whom Addams was devoted,” writes Elshtain. His Confessions of an Opium Eater, first published in 1821, promised opium was no less than "the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for many ages."

Elshtain notices a similarity between the description of the incident and that of young Will Ladislaw, a character in Middlemarch by George Eliot, in whose works Addams had a “deep immersion.” Ladislaw, Eliot wrote, “made himself ill with doses of opium. Nothing greatly original had resulted from these half-measures and the effect of the opium convinced him that there was an entire dissimilarity between his constitution and De Quincey’s.”

Perhaps both Eliot and Addams were "too Victorian” to try large enough doses of opium, despite their curiosity. Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) wrote in her 1859 novella The Lifted Veil, "A half-repressed word, a moment's unexpected silence, even an easy fit of petulance on our account, will serve us as hashish for a long while."  

Addams founded the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919 and during World War I, she chaired a women's conference for peace held at the Hague in the Netherlands. When the US entered the war, Addams was stamped a dangerous radical and a danger to US security, but was later honored by the American government for her efforts for peace. In 1931 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the first American woman to be so honored.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Anne Waldman and Weed

According to the wonderful book Sisters of the Extreme, “One of the most electrifying poetry events of the seventies was Anne Waldman’s stage readings of her poem, ‘Fast Speaking Woman,’ a free adaptation of the Mazatec shaman Marian Sabina’s sacred mushroom chant.”
I’m the mushroom woman
I’m the phantom woman 
I’m the moaning woman 
I’m the river woman 
I’m the singing river woman 
I’m the clear-water woman 
I’m the cleansing woman….

 Waldman wrote 13 Tankas In Praise of Smoking Dope in 1969:

Even a priceless jewel 
How can it excel 
A toke of good grass? 

Even jewels that flash at night 
Are they like the breath of grass 
Freeing the mind? 

Of the way to play 
In this world of ours 
The one that cheers the heart 
Is laughing dope tears 

This week to celebrate the Goddess Magu’s Harvest Festival, I took an hour off and stopped at City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, opening Waldman's collection Kill or Cure to my New Favorite Poem, Pulse:

She swallowed the drug with her whole heart. 
She wanted to go that far, as far as she could stretch. 
In her head she could be joined again in the imagination 
of the demons who turned to archangels. She saw them 
as flowers. She saw them as pliant dancing pulses 
of energy, as light. She wanted to see the whole 
scene again as it fractured in increments of life 
and light, as it danced. It was a great dance. 
She wanted to get on top of the hill where she could 
look back at the town, where she could look toward 
the sky. The sky was a screen for her mind to play 
upon. She wanted to melt with the trees, with the 
rocks, with the flesh of all the nameable world. 
She loved words. She would name the world now. 
She would name it again. Again. Name it words again. 
She would embrace that hill and everything upon it…. 

Waldman traveled with VIP Bob Dylan and wrote about it, correctly identifying him as a shaman. She also co-founded, with Allen Ginsberg and Diane DiPrima, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. She is a Distinguished Professor of Poetics at Naropa and continues to work to preserve the school’s substantial literary/oral archive.

Writer Maria Garcia Teutsch asked Waldman about the role of the artist in the 21st century. She replied, “I believe it is to help wake the world up to itself. To point out the beauties, the possibilities, the extraordinary power of empathy and love, in art and in life, as well as the horrors of our greed and ignorance, our inhumanity and cruelty, and unspeakable injustices in a world that should know better from the harrowing legacy of slavery and war and climate degradation.”

Hear a 2009 interview with Waldman.

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."