Sunday, March 1, 2020

High Maintenance "Backflash" Episode Illuminates the Life of a Lighter

If you're ever wondered what happened to the many lighters you've lost sharing a joint or a pipe with your fellow pot smokers, the current episode of the HBO series "High Maintenance" answers the question in sweet and thought-provoking fashion.

The "Backflash" episode follows a lighter through the many hands that hold it, starting with a couple of teenage girls who skip out of a religious campfire circle where a goofy hippie plays Joan Osborne's "What If God Was One of Us." They share a pipe wearing T-shirts that say, "His Universal Flame....Let Your Light Shine (1999)"

One girl ends up with the lighter, to which she affixes a picture of the sheroic vampire slayer Sarah Michelle Gellar in shimmering silvery garb, making her look like a fire goddess. The lighter then travels to the girl's waitress sister, a gay couple she waits on, a young black boy and his friends, and others, taking breaks sitting in boxes or drawers, getting stripped of its color (until it's an "unlucky white") and finally painted in a psychedelic pattern. As the series so often does, "Backflash" demonstrates how pot smoking brings people together in creative, weird and wonderful ways, as they pass the Universal Flame.

Fire Goddesses in the West are mostly relegated to the kitchen guarding hearth fires, but in the East, the Zoroastrian Avesta and the Hindu Rigveda extolled the sacred plant Soma and the fire god Agni whose fire burned the sacrifice; Agni's daughter Agneyi rules the firey Southeast. Soma or Haoma is mentioned in glowing terms throughout the Rigveda, the Avesta and the Upanishads, and Agni is portrayed as consuming Soma in copious quantities. What constituted this sacred substance is one of the great mysteries of mankind. Cannabis is a likely candidate: Haoma, the Golden Green One that furthered righteousness, is described with long stalks and of a yellowish color, growing in the Hindu kush mountains where cannabis originated. Archeological evidence of Aryan ruins in Turkmeistan links Soma with a mixture of opium, cannabis and ephedra.

"High Maintenance" won a Tokey award last year, and it's on its way to winning another one. The series was co-created by Katia Blichfeld and its star Ben Sinclair, "The Guy" who rides his bike through NYC dispensing weed and wisdom in a somewhat shamanic fashion to an endless stream of always-interesting New Yorkers negotiating strange circumstances. Blitchfeld directed "Backflash," which was co-written by Zach Schamberg and Mel Shimkovitz.

Schamberg works as a camera operator as well as a writer on the show, and I wonder if the many beautifully realized shots of the lighter, almost making it a character in the story, are something he envisioned while writing it. Shimkovitz is a multifaceted artist who has contributed to both "High Maintenance" and “Transparent," and had many thoughtful things to say about marijuana when she appeared (pictured left) with me on a panel at a 2015 event in Los Angeles, where we were interviewed by Jake Soboroff.

Osborne’s song is reprised (by a woman playing an accordion) to end the episode on a perfect high note,  resonating for me with the Bob Rivers parody, "What If God Smoked Cannabis."

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