Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Day That Hollyweed Happened

Douglas Finegood thought the Hollywood sign should say "Hollyween" for Halloween, but that project was never realized. The man who first altered the iconic sign to say "Hollyweed" on January 1, 1976 died of multiple melonoma at the age of 52 in 2007.

An art student at CalState Northridge, Finegood conceived of the worthy, weedy project as part of an assignment about working with scale. He got an "A".

"For a long time, he had this idea that if you just changed the two O's you could change the whole meaning of the sign," his wife Bonnie told the LA Times. He chose to make the alteration to celebrate California's law decriminalizing marijuana, which took effect on the morning Algelinos awoke to the altered reality.

Finegood made a scale model, enlisted three friends to help and spent about $50 on materials. Using only stones and rope, they hung sheets as if they were hoisting sails. The image was seen around the world and clinched Finegood's relationship with his future wife when she appreciated his effort.

Objecting to being called "vandals" in a 1983 letter to the Times, Finegood and his comrades wrote, "An artist's role throughout history has been to create representations of the culture he exists in. By hanging four relatively small pieces of fabric on the landmark, we were able to change people's perception of the Hollywood Sign."

According to the Times, Finegood obscured consonants to coin "Holywood" for Easter later in 1976 and "Ollywood" to protest the hero worship of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings in 1987. In his final round of wordplay, Finegood made a political statement against the Persian Gulf War by draping plastic sheeting over the 50-foot-high letters to form "Oil War" in 1990. But park rangers and police yanked down the plastic before sunrise, and almost no one saw Finegood's final work.

After the sign had been altered by others several more times, city officials beefed up security with a fence, alarms and eventually installed a closed-circuit surveillance system. As superagent Sue Mengers said of Hollywood in the '70s versus today, "We used to have fun."

Finegood's other concept, camouflaging the sign for April Fool's Day to make it seem as if it had vanished, also never happened.

Read more about Hollywood and marijuana.

UPDATE 2017: Another "vandal" brought back the Hollyweed sign on 1/1/2017 to celebrate the passage of Prop. 64 in California, legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Parkinsons Quiets Linda Ronstadt's Voice, Not Her Spirit

UPDATE 10/19 - A wonderful documentary, "Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice" is currently in theaters.

Linda Ronstadt has been making the talk show rounds talking about her new "musical memoir" Simple Dreams and revealing that she can no longer sing due to Parkinson's disease.

To Diane Sawyer's insipid question about her illness, "Do you ever get angry?" Ronstadt, who has always had a social consciousness and dated the once-and-future Governor Jerry Brown, answered, "Yes, especially when I think about our immigration policy."

Uncomfortable with her Queen of Rock status, Ronstadt sang country harmonies with Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, appeared in Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance, and recorded an album of jazz standards and another of Mexican music she learned as a child. Her biography is mostly about the music, but some cultural references slip in.

On drugs, she writes that alcohol made her ill, and cocaine caused a bloody nose and was said to interfere with hearing: she eschews both. She admits to trying marijuana "several times" and not objecting to others using it, but adds in the words of a friend, "When I smoke pot, it makes me want to hide under the bed with a box of graham crackers and not share."

Ronstadt seems to have sanitized her own drug history, according to New York Daily News and compared against her 1975 interview with Ben Fong-Torres of Rolling Stone. After all, she did record Lowell George's "Willin'"

As uncovered by CelebStoner, Ronstadt told the Daily News in 2013, "People who smoke pot are generally peaceful. I think it should be legal. I think all drugs should be legal, just like alcohol. You take the money out of it, and suddenly there's not going to be a big drug trade because all of a sudden the drugs will be cheap. The whole idea of the drug cartels and the violence surrounding them will be gone. We can tax it and it will be a huge tax revenue, and I think it will be easier to educate people. There will be less HIV from infected needles, less hepatitis C; all that stuff could be controlled for the better."

On dating Brown, she writes, "Jerry Brown and I had a lot of fun for a number of years. He was smart and funny, not interested in drinking or drugs, and lived his life carefully, with a great deal of discipline...Also, he considered professionally many issues that I considered passionately: issues like the safety of nuclear power plants, agricultural soil erosion, water politics, and farm workers' rights."

Perhaps it's time to add medical marijuana rights to her list, because studies have shown that cannabinoids can aid Parkinson's. Massachusetts' new medical marijuana law, for one, specifically allows the use of cannabis for Parkinson's.

After a long, hectic and fruitful career, it might be time for Linda to stay home and heal with some graham crackers and cannabis.

UPDATE 7/14 - Ronstadt has been awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President Obama, who admitted he had a crush on her back in the day. She entered in a wheelchair but rose to accept her award.

UPDATE 12/16 - A star-studded tribute and benefit was held in LA.

7/19 - Ronstadt has been named a 2019 Kennedy Center Honoree. It ought to be a great show, December 15 on CBS.

Michael J. Fox Parkinson’s Foundation Urges Congress To Pass Three Marijuana Research Bills

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Through Resa's Eyes: Nietzsche, Wagner and Hashish

Resa von Schirnhofer, fifth from left, the only female in her class. 

“I would only believe in a god who could dance. And when I saw my devil I found him serious, thorough, profound, and solemn: it was the spirit of gravity—through him all things fall. Not by wrath does one kill but by laughter. Come, let us kill the spirit of gravity!”

 Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

A Facebook friend reminds me that this week is the birthday of Friedrich Nietzsche. Of all the writers in the book Conversations with Nietzsche: A Life in the Words of His Contemporaries it was a younger woman named Resa von Schirnhofer who had something to say on the subject of Nietzsche and hashish.

"If one wants to rid oneself of an unbearable pressure, one needs hashish. Well then, I needed Wagner," Neitzsche wrote. This quote, truncated to remove the Wagner reference, is everywhere Googlable. But it took Resa to make the connection, and put it in the context of the time.

"He touched upon his favorite theme, this time grieving deeply, with tears in his eyes, lamenting the irreplaceable loss of his former friendship with Wagner," Resa wrote. Nietzsche wrote of Wagner, "He has supplied the precious varnish wherewith to hide the dull ugliness of our civilisation. He has given to souls despairing over the materialism of this world, to souls despairing of themselves, and longing to be rid of themselves, the indispensable hashish and morphia wherewith to deaden their inner discords." This use of the word hashish is similar to that of George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans) in The Lifted Veil (1859):  "She intoxicated me with the sense that I was necessary to her… 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.”

Friedrich Nietzsche
Resa spent a holiday with Nietzsche in Sils-Maria at the time he wrote Thus Spoke Zarathustra [aka Zoroaster]. Here the author "told me about his bouts of raging headaches and the various medications he had tried against them. In Rapallo and in other places of the Riviera di Levante, where he had spent his times of worst health, he had written for himself all kinds of prescriptions signed Dr. Nietzsche, which had been prepared and filled without question or hesitation. Unfortunately I took no notes and the only one I remember is chloral hydrate. But since Nietzsche, as he expressly told me, had been surprised never to be asked whether he was a medical doctor authorized to prescribe this kind of medication, I conclude that some dubious medicines must have been among them. At any rate, he claimed to know his own sickness better than any doctor and to understand better which medications were to be used.

"Nietzsche never spoke of having used hashish, nor can I remember ever hearing the word hashish from his lips, but no doubt in his intensive reading of contemporary French authors—among them Baudelaire—he was already familiar with hashish in the summer of 1884 as a new drug that had recently appeared in Europe. Hashish smoking is mentioned as early as 1882 in The Joyful Science, though only as an Oriental habit of self-intoxication.

"When I came to Paris at the end of October 1884 all kinds of things were told to me about hashish use; I read an article about the physiological and psychological differences between opium intoxication and hashish intoxication and I heard celebrities from the ranks of high society mentioned as having tried to dream the hashish dream, etc. In my notebook from that time can be read: 'Hashish, or dawamesk is a distillate of cannabis indica, mixed with a fatty substance, with honey and pistachios to give it the consistency of a paste or jelly.' [Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal.] I was also told there were very tasty hashish candies. I felt a desire to try its effect myself—just once, out of psychological curiosity—but I resisted the attraction of this sweet poison."

Once during an illness, Nietzsche "described to me how, when he closed his eyes, he saw an abundance of fantastic flowers, winding and intertwining, constantly growing and changing forms in exotic luxuriance, sprouting one out of the other." He asked if she thought it was "a symptom of incipient madness." According to Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography by Julian Young: "Not until later did it occur to her that the hallucinations could be the result of chloral hydrate and other drugs, possibly including hashish, that he had obtained in Rapallo, mostly by the simple expedient of signing the prescription 'Dr. Nietzsche', his credentials never once having been questioned. He also mentioned that he had been drinking English (Irish?) stout and pale ale." On one occasion, Nietzsche poured Resa some Vermouth di Torino, leading to "a sparkling mood and full of humorous inspirations." (Young)

Resa von Schirnhofer
Resa von Schirnhofer (1855-1948) was born in Austria and came to Zurich in 1882 as a pioneering female doctoral student. When Nietzsche asked Resa why she intended to get a doctorate, "I explained that I set little importance on the title for myself, but in the interest of women’s rights I did not want to leave the university without having gotten the degree.” In letters to Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth she writes that "she never married because she would have imposed two requirements: great love from her partner and the provision of affluent it is usually impossible to have both of these in bourgeois marriage, she soon resigned herself to not marrying at all.”

Originally of affluent circumstances, she lost most of her resources by investing in government bonds during the first world war, forcing her to earn a living by giving piano and language lessons. Her recollections of her time with Nietzsche were discovered in her papers after her death.

Here is her description of Nietzsche: “A soft voice full of gentleness and melody and his very calm way of speaking caused a pause in the first moment….When a smile lit up his face, bronzed by so many sojourns outdoors in the south, it took on a touchingly childlike expression that called for sympathy. His look generally seemed to be turned inward, like the one we see on statues of Greek gods, or seeking out of the depths something he had almost ceased to hope for; but his eyes were always those of a man who has suffered much and, although he has remained a victor, stands sadly over the abysses of life. Unforgettable eyes, shining with the freedom of the victor, accusing and grieving because the meaning and beauty of the earth had turned into nonsense and ugliness.”

Describing an interaction, "I told him how, when I was a five-year-old child in the country, my mother and I, pursued by an enraged bull, had barely escaped to the first house of the village. An interesting conversation followed about the wave-effect, often through an entire life, of a nervous shock received in childhood."  She reports that Nietzsche was visibly moved as he bade her farewell, saying “with tears in his eyes: I hoped you would stay longer. When will I hear you refreshing laughter again?” The fool may have rejected her for lack of comeliness, telling someone at the time his ideal woman would be beautiful and stupid.

Friday, October 11, 2013

An Old Fashioned Ladies' Pot Party in "9 to 5"

I just re-viewed 9 to 5 (1980), the classic film with Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton, and had to write about it.

First, I was struck by the scene with Tomlin as Violet with her teenage son, when she's stressing about getting a promotion at her job from her sexist boss. It goes like this:

"Mom, you've got to relax. I'm gonna roll you a joint."

"Josh, you know how I feel about that. Besides your grandmother would pitch a fit if she even hears you mention the word marijuana." 

"She doesn't understand moderation. You're the one who keeps saying harm springs from excess. I'm talking about one joint." 

Wise messages about moderation coming from the younger generation, as taught (properly) by an elder.

Tomlin's character takes the joint, and proffers it to her colleagues played by Fonda and Parton, telling them, "We could have ourselves an old fashioned ladies' pot party." Fonda plays an innocent, recent divorcée who pronounces it "really good pot" after the gigglefest that follows.

It's a scene that harkens back to Easy Rider (1969) in which her brother Peter turns on the innocent Jack Nicholson. It took women a little longer to get there, but we did. The ladies bond over the experience, and soon concoct a wild way to bring justice and equality to their workplace. In a later scene, Fonda announces to her ex-husband that she smokes marijuana as part of her awakening. As an extra treat, VIP Sterling Hayden is featured as the company CEO who sweeps in to help give the ladies' dastardly boss (Dabney Coleman) what he deserves.

The film was viewed on Valentines Day 1981 by Ronald and Nancy "Just Say No" Reagan, after Ronnie wrote in his diary, "Funny—but one scene made me mad. A truly funny scene if the 3 gals had played getting drunk but no they had to get stoned on pot. It was an endorsement of Pot smoking for any young person who sees the picture." I guess he missed the moderation discussion with Violet and her son. And, the characters getting drunk would have been just fine with him.

Decades later, the movie was just about the only example a recent New York Magazine article could find of women smoking pot together on film, in a world where only "every once in a while you’ll get a Meet the Fockers–style mockable hippie-mom type."

9-5 was written and directed by Colin Higgins, who also wrote Harold and Maude (1971), in which an 80-year-old woman turns a young man onto pot (and life).

UPDATE: Tomlin sports a "Violet" tattoo in the movie "Grandma" (2015), where she plays a pot-smoking woman with much more punch that her TV character on "Grace & Frankie." Fonda shines as a hippie activist/pot peddler (also named Grace) who wisely and carefully instructs her grandkids on the use of a hookah in "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" (2011).  

In 2023, the two spoke with Stephen Colbert about doing peyote together, as they did on the first episode of "Grace & Frankie." The two were promoting their film "Moving On," written and directed by Paul Weitz, who worked with Tomlin on "Grandma." Now in their 80s, the pair also co-starred last year in "80 for Brady" with Rita Moreno and Sally Field. 

It's nice to see Tomlin, at 85, starring in feature films; when she made "Grandma" she hadn't starred in a movie since she made "Big Business" in 1988 with Bette Midler, except for the 1991 film version of her one-woman play, "The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe."  It seems the public is finally ready for Lily's shamanhood (it's about time). 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Marie Laurençin: Pot Party Painter

UPDATE 10/15: Laurençin is included in the new book Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.
Les Invités (The Guests) 1908
"Everybody called Gertrude Stein Gertrude, everybody called Picasso Pablo and Fernande Fernande and everybody called Guillame Apollinaire Guillame and Max Jacob Max, but everybody called Marie Laurençin Marie Laurençin," wrote Gertrude Stein.

Stein purchased Laurençin's Les Invités, the painter's first sale. The painting is a record of an infamous 1908 dinner party where hashish pills were taken at Azon's restaurant in Paris. Laurençin's self portrait is upper left, with knowing eyes, flanked by Picasso and Apollinaire. Fernande Oliver, Picasso's mistress, is bottom right.

The following year, Laurençin painted Un Réunion a la Campagne (A Reunion in the Country), where she is depicted reclining as a hostess would, along with the three from Les Invités and others. Thus Laurençin is possibly the first person to paint a pot party (or two). In the first portrait she is the most fully realized image, and is bringing a flower: was she the instigator for the hashish taking? She may have been a lover of Princess Violette Murat, who could have supplied her.

Marie Laurencin, Diana a la Chasse (Diana of the Hunt) 1908
An illegitimate child, Marie Laurençin was born in Paris in 1883 to a Creole mother who worked as a seamstress. She began her career as a porcelain painter at the Sèvres factory, studied with the flower painter Madeleine Lemaire, and attended the Académie Humbert where she met George Braque. Through Braque, she soon became part of the avant garde artist set in Paris. Source.

The paintings reproduced in Elizabeth Louise Kahn's excellent 2003 biography of Laurençin demonstrate amply her unique and prodigious talent.  In 1907 Laurençin exhibited her paintings at the Salon des Indépendants and was introduced to Apollinaire. The two artists began an affair that lasted until 1913, and she has also been linked with Picasso and with other women. Rodin said called her "a woman who is neither futurist nor cubist. She knows what gracefulness is; it is serpentine." Picasso purchased her painting La Songeuse (1911) and had it all his life.

Max Ernst painted her portrait, as did Cocteau and Rousseau. She kept company with Mary Cassatt and Susanne Valadon. In 1912, Laurençin and two other women (Charlotte Mare and Gaby Villon) fought off angry viewers of the controversial Cubist House with their umbrellas.

Les Chansons de Bilitis 1904 (print)
In Stella Gibbons's wonderful 1932 book Cold Comfort Farm, the heroine advises a protegée not to share her poetry with society people. "Nor must you talk about Marie Laurençin to people who hunt. They will merely think she is your new mare."

Laurençin was named chevalier of the Légion d'honneur in 1937 and in 1983, the Marie Laurençin Museum in Nagano-Ken, Japan was inaugurated to celebrate the centenary of her birth. A Japanese influence can be seen in this print (left). Marie Laurençin's 130th birthday is October 31st of this year.

Perhaps Laurençin was also familiar with Alice B. Toklas-style brownies: she was a regular at Gertrude Stein's salon on rue de Fleurus, and remained in contact with Toklas for the rest of her life. "I see Marie Laurençin quite often," Toklas wrote in a 1949 letter. "She wants me to translate for her some of the poems of Emily Dickinson so that she may do some illustrations—most certainly her dish of tea." Sadly, Toklas never did the translations.

In a letter Toklas wrote in 1950 discussing the Cone collection, which had just opened at the Baltimore Museum of Art, she suggests her correspondent look for "a very early Marie Laurençin" and describes Les Invités. Apparently the painting had been sold to the Cone sisters; Claribel Cone met Stein when the two attended Johns Hopkins medical school and the Steins introduced the Cones to the Parisian art scene. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Natalie Takes the Maines Stage

Natalie Maines headlining the Star Stage at the 13th
annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco
Faced with the daunting decision of which headliner to watch at this year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, I decided against Robert Earle Keen, Steve Earle and Los Lobos and went for Natalie Maines, since I'd just re-read that she signed an open letter to President Obama calling for an end to the injustice of the war on drugs in April.

I made the right choice. Maines blew the crowd away with incendiary vocals and songs, belting out a strong set backed by her five-piece band. She's broken away from her country roots and is rocking out, hard, with a voice and a sensibility that are made for it.

The Dixie Chicks, fronted by Maines, were the Pussy Riot of their day: nearly blacklisted, they received death threats after announcing they were ashamed that George W. Bush was also from Texas when he ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The mother of two boys, Maines's first solo album Mother was released in May to critical acclaim (only one review I saw lamented the loss of the Chicks' harmony vocals). At the New York Daily News, Jim Farber called it "a flat-out masterpiece, an ideal match of singer and songs that moves Maines from being a skilled and decorative singer into one of the most emotive vocalists of our time." On the disc, she covers Roger Waters' song "Mother" for the title track and selects material by Eddy Vedder and Jeff Buckley. She also co-wrote two songs with Ben Harper, including "Take It On Faith," with which she ended her show tonight.

Take it on faith
That I’ll be there
When the pain comes
And I’ll take it all on faith
That you will try, try not to run
When it’s hard, so hard

We can take it on faith that Maines is not one to run away from a fight. She will perform in Napa tomorrow (Oct. 6) and in LA on October 8. Catch her if you can.

Postscript: I just uncovered that Maines appeared on a historic Politically Incorrect episode in 1998 with Woody Harrelson and medical marijuana activist Todd McCormick. It seems perhaps her opinions have "evolved" since then.