Sunday, April 26, 2015

Cecily is Strong at the Correspondents' Dinner

SNL's Cecily Strong, who hosted this year's White House Correspondents' dinner last night, told some good jokes, like, "I'm not going to try and tell you politicians how to do politics...That would be like you guys telling me what to do with my body. Can you even imagine?"

The 31-year-old comedienne got a round of applause after asking the journalists in the crowd to raise their hands and say, "I solemnly swear not to talk about Hillary's appearance, because that is not journalism." She added, "Also Cecily Strong looks great tonight."

Strong mock-defended the Secret Service, calling them, "the only law enforcement agency that will get in trouble if a black man gets shot."  She told Obama, "Your hair is so white now, it can talk back to police." (He laughed heartily at that.)

Strong got down to the drug war with the joke, "This year Obama supported putting women on money, as opposed to the DEA agents who prefer to put money on women.” She also brought up Chris Christie’s belief that marijuana is a gateway drug, asking, “so like a bridge to other drugs, and he wants to shut that bridge down?”

Watch video of Strong's performance.

Strong joked that she was the first heterosexual woman in 20 years to host the event. Paula Poundstone was the first solo female host in 1992, and Elayne Boosler hosted the following year. Wanda Sykes hosted in 2009. According to Wikipedia, "Until 1962, the dinner was open only to men, even though WHCA's membership included women. At the urging of Helen Thomas, President John F. Kennedy refused to attend the dinner unless the ban on women was dropped."

One of Strong's recurring characters on SNL is the pseudo-activist "Girl You Wish You Hadn't Started a Conversation With at at Party" who says things like, "Newsflash: Orphans are twice as likely not to have parents."

Meanwhile, Obama's "Anger Translator" from the event, Keegan-Michael Key, recently demonstrated with partner Jordan Peele Why Ganga is So Much Better than Coffee.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Joan Jett with a Joint

High Times has scored another interview with a female pot puffer, this time with rocker Joan Jett while on tour opening for The Who on their “The Who Hits 50” North American tour. 

Discussing shoulder problems the righteous guitarist has been dealing with, HT asked about the batch of high-CBD balms and lotions they sent to her, "How did they work out for your recovery?"

"Useful, very useful," she replied. "I don’t understand why marijuana was made into this evil thing so long ago. Beyond whether or not you smoke joints, you can’t deny the medical benefits of legalizing. It’s been definitely found to work for various issues."

"I saw an interview yesterday with a woman whose son was hurt in some kind of accident—head injury," she continued. "He’d have these pain explosions, and none of the drugs that the doctors could give him relieved it. But his mother gave him some pure cannabis oil, and that stopped his pain. But now the mother’s possibly in trouble. This kind of stuff is ridiculous—ridiculous. And that’s just on the medical side of things."

"On the personal side: Of course I smoke pot," she said. "It’s not a big deal. I think you have to be responsible, like with anything." 

On April 18, she was deservedly inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In her induction speech, Tokin' Woman Miley Cyrus said, "I'm going to start off this induction with the first time I wanted to have sex with Joan Jett. We were doing Oprah together, and I go up to Joan's hotel room. Joan opens the door, and I come in, and Kenny Laguna is laying in bed. I don't know what the fuck is going on. There's towels shoved underneath all the door cracks, shower caps around all the smoke detectors. Joan is running around spraying orange-smelling cleaner to mask the smell of 'the pot' (that's what you guys call it), and we go into her bathroom [where they smoked and talked]." She then talked about how Joan was the first woman to start her own record label, after all the other ones turned her down.

"I come from a place where Rock and Roll means something," Jett said in her acceptance speech. "It's the language of a subculture of integrity, rebellion, frustration, alienation, and the glue that sets several generations free of unnatural societal and self suppression. Rock and Roll is political. It is a meaningful way to express dissent, upset the status quo, stir up revolution, and fight for human rights." 

Jett's portrait by Mark Seliger in today's Rolling Stone profile (pictured above) shows her puffing on a phatty, and in case there's any doubt about what's in it, the story begins, "And she has a fat, torpedolike joint hanging from her mouth. The smoking, Jett says later, loosens up the edges and range of her distinctively craggy voice."

She also has "the best shit," according to Laguna, Jett's manager, co-producer and co-songwriter for the past 35 years. "Keith Richards had some of that," he announces with a hearty laugh, as Jett rolls her number on the mixing board before the take. "Said it gave him flashbacks to 1968."

UPDATES: In the 2018 documentary about Jett, Bad Reputation, Laguna is shown handing her a joint, which she smokes. The beginning of the Cyrus Hall of Fame intro is shown, but not the part about "the pot." The film interviews Tokin' Woman Kristen Stewart, who starred as Jett in the 2010 film The Runaways, along with Cyrus, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Billie Joe Armstrong, Pete Townsend, Dave Grohl, and Michael J. Fox. It's said that Chrissie Hynde advised Jett to get herself together when she was drinking a lot after the breakup of her breakthrough all-female rock band The Runaways; perhaps pot helped with that. 

Jett and Cyrus performed together at the 2021 Superbowl TikTok Halftime Show. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Drug War Victim Billie Holiday at 100

UPDATE 10/15: Holiday is included in the new book Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory.

"By the 1930s, even before marijuana was criminalized, Billie Holiday's name had become a kind of password among marijuana smokers who had formed an ad hoc network of users across the country," wrote Buzzy Jackson in A Bad Woman Feeling Good. "Whenever you went to different cities," Holiday's friend Marie Bryant remembered, "soon enough a guy would knock on your hotel door with a phonograph and Louis's [Armstrong] and Billie's records...and a little thing of pot....And this happened all over the country, a society of people who just loved Billie."

The popular singer-like-no-other, born 100 years ago Tuesday, began to smoke marijuana in the early 1930s when you could buy a couple of joints for twenty-five cents. (Source: Meg Greene, Billie Holiday: A Biography)

At the famous CafĂ© Society in New York City, "everyone in that group smoked pot," remembered trumpeter Doc Cheatham. "They had a little room off the bandstand and some, including Mary Lou [Williams] and Billie [Holiday], would smoke pot in there. They would put me outside the door in a chair smoking a pipe that would cover the fumes of the pot." (Source: Morning Glory, a biography of Williams by Linda Dahl).

John Szwed’s 2015 book, Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth, tells a story of the actor Charles Laughton and his wife Elsa Lanchester staying in New York with music producer John Hammond while Laughton cruised Harlem and met Holiday at the Alhambra Grill. Holiday took Laughton home to dinner with her mother Sadie, and “when he was leaving at dawn, he rather formally asked Billie if he might have 'some of those cigarettes to take to the ladies of London.' With the four hundred dollars that he gave her, she went around the corner to the apartment of white jazzman Mezz Mezzrow and bought every reefer he had. She fully expected that Laughton would share some of them with her, but he left without offering her even one stick.” 

At a 1937 recording session, Hammond managed to convince a record company executive that the marijuana smoke he smelled wasn't a problem. The result was "considered among the greatest recording sessions in jazz history." Holiday's voice interplayed with VIP Lester Young's saxophone on "He Ain't Got Rhythm," "This Year's Kisses," "Why Was I Born" and "I Must Have That Man," and lead to a lifelong collaboration.

Holiday was hunted down by no less than Harry J. Anslinger, the first and longtime "drug czar" who engineered laws and international treaties banning marijuana. According to newly published research by Johann Hari, Holiday got  her first threat from Anslinger's FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics) after she recorded "Strange Fruit," a lament against lynching, in 1939. Anslinger assigned agent Jimmy Fletcher to track Holiday's movements; he tried nailing her but ended up becoming an admirer. "She was the type who could make anyone sympathetic because she was the loving type," wrote Fletcher.

Later, "Holiday's ability to consume drugs and alcohol was legendary." (Greene.) She took stimulants to get through her performance schedule and afterwards took pills, drank, and smoked pot, eventually shooting heroin as well. No wonder: according to Hari's book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs her manager/pimp Louis McKay beat her so badly she would have to tape her ribs to go onstage. McKay sought out Anslinger and met with him in DC, agreeing to set Billie up for a bust for which she went to trial. Asking to be sent to a treatment facility, instead Holiday was forced to go cold turkey in jail while serving a year's sentence. Afterwards, she was stripped of her cabaret license as an ex-con and was unable to perform in any venue where alcohol was served.

But the persecution didn't stop there. Anslinger sent another agent, George White, to stalk Holiday in San Francisco, possibly planting drugs in her hotel room as he had with other women. “The hounding and the pressure drove me,” she wrote, “to think of trying the final solution, death.” Although a jury found her not guilty, the ordeal took a toll on her reputation and her health. Nonetheless, she refused to stop singing "Strange Fruit" even though other singers were too intimidated to do so.

Szwed's book mentions Tokin' Woman Tallulah Bankhead’s unsuccessful attempt to intervene personally with J. Edgar Hoover to exonerate Holiday of drug charges. It characterizes Holiday’s autobiography Lady Sings the Blues as the first cautionary tale of drugs by a celebrity, which she wrote in part so that she could get her cabaret card back and appear in clubs that served alcohol. The “gimmick” to sell it as a confessional backfired when it left her with “a life reduced to drugs.” The Laughton story, and others involving celebrities, e.g. Orson Wells, were omitted from the book due to objections from the publisher (and Bankhead). 

At the age of 44, Holiday was hospitalized after collapsing, and was arrested again when narcotics agents claimed they found a small amount of heroin in her room. Pressuring her to reveal her dealer, agents confiscated her record player, radio, candy, and flowers and handcuffed her to her bed. Two policeman stood at her door and turned away friends who tried to visit. Suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, Billie was once more forced to withdraw from heroin without treatment. She died in her hospital bed on July 15, 1959.