Sunday, November 26, 2023

Rosa Vertner's Hashish Dinner Party

Vertner depicted in A Woman of the Century
Jumping off from a CBS news report about cannabis dinner parties in Maryland, cannabis author Isaac Campos's recent Substack newsletter recalls a newspaper item describing such a party in the 1860s. At the center of the story was the poet Rosa Vertner, “in the hey day of her youth and beauty, and at her father’s magnificent home in Lexington, which was the resort of all the cultured and brilliant men who visited Kentucky.” 

According to Campos, on the occasion of Vertner’s wedding to Claude Johnston, Kentucky’s Secretary of State, “there was a grand dinner party to which thirty guests sat down,” among them various prominent citizens. 

As described in a news account: 

Mrs. Vertner Johnston conceived the idea of having [hashish] served as a cordial at the dinner party, thinking that its effect, of which she had but the vaguest idea, might entertain and amuse the guests. Everybody drank of the peculiar greenish liquid, and many who found the taste pleasant drank more than they had any idea of. Within an hour the laughter and wit was running high. Then the excitement began to grow. Handsome matrons and beautiful young girls snatched the floral pieces from the table and pelted with flowers and [fruit gravy] dignified statesmen and lawyers who stood upon the chairs grinning and gesticulating like mountebanks. The host and hostess were themselves as much under the influence of the insidious drug as any of their guests, and could do nothing to quell the excitement, which now raged fast and furious. 

Things went downhill from there, Campos writes. "Physicians were called in, various guests ended up laid out in death-like stupors, and so forth. But Vertner wound up with plenty of material for her poem “Hasheesh Visions.”

Saturday, November 18, 2023

"Leslie F*cking Jones" Is F*cking Dope

Leslie Jones is doing another bang-up job hosting The Daily Show this week, prompting me to check out her new book Leslie F*ing Jones on Audible, and it's even funnier than I expected. She reads the book in her energetic and no-nonsense, straight-ahead style like she's having a conversation with the listener.

"When Leslie Jones walks into a room, she's always out of breath and mad about something," writes Chris Rock in the book's foreword. Rock suggested Lorne Michaels give Jones a tryout when he was looking to add a Black woman to the cast of SNL in 2013. "She's too funny not to be everywhere, in every movie, on every TV show, with ten Netflix specials," Rock opines, adding she should also play a Marvel villain and Harriet Tubman. 

Jones writes in the introduction, "Some of the stories about my childhood are vague because a bitch is fifty-five and I've smoked a lot of weed." Her stories about weed all start with NOT using it, since it seems that was more unusual for her. When asked if she was would mind rooming with some Rastas, Jones writes, "OK with Rastas? I would never not have weed." 

Starting with the opening story about how she insisted on being paid as a headliner at clubs when male comics made excuses to put her on last so that they didn't have to follow her, the book is full of illuminating and empowering stories from her many years on the road. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Albert Brooks's Moment of Marijuana Acceptance

The new Max documentary "Albert Brooks: Defending My Life" is directed by Brooks's highschool chum Rob Reiner and features interviews with comics like Chris Rock, Ben Stiller, Sarah Silverman and Nikki Glaser talking about Brooks's breakthrough "alternative" comedy and his enduring influence. At one point, Tiffany Haddish appreciatively says Brooks was, "The first dude I'd ever seen at least make a marijuana joke and, like, light it up on TV—and he was sitting next to Johnny Carson."

A clip is then shown of Brooks from his 7/25/1979 Tonight Show appearance where he pulls out what looks like a joint from his pocket and says, "You know Johnny, this is my 10th year on the show, and I brought something to celebrate." Carson explodes with laughter as Brooks lights the "joint" and hands it to Ed McMahon, who takes a hit before passing it to Johnny. 

Carson takes a whiff and pronounces it not to be marijuana (how he knew the smell is a good question). Brooks admits that the joint is "ersatz," saying, "I can prove it (takes a whiff). Look, I still got memory!" He then tells a story about being on the road in the late 60s or early 70s when, performing in Seattle, he was offered a hit of a joint by the road manager for the headliner. "I still remember it with some degree of fondness," Brooks recalled, pronouncing it "industrial marijuana," the strongest he'd ever smoked. He opined that it's good when either the comic or the audience is stoned because "if you're both straight there's a good chance for physical violence." Johnny added that 10 or 12 years earlier you couldn't even make a joke about marijuana on TV, because the networks wouldn't permit it. So this was another Moment in Marijuana Acceptance, courtesy of Mr. Brooks. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Of Melissa and Madonna, and Marijuana

UPDATE: Barbra Streisand's new memoir also mentions marijuana. Read more.

Melissa Etheridge, who is currently performing a one-woman show on Broadway, is out with a book, her second memoir titled "Talking to My Angels." She reads the audiobook, which features groovy guitar breaks and a performance of her book-title song. 

Etheridge, our 2015 Tokin' Woman of the Year, starts the book in Chapter 1 with a description of eating a "heroic" dose of cannabis via a batch of chocolate chip cookies baked by a girlfriend. She called it, "an experience that jump-started me into a wholly new way of living a daily practice that has helped me heal." 

"We were kicking back, listening to music, and enjoying the cookies. Then I began to feel a shift—not an earthquake. More like a slow inner spin. I began to laugh as the room slowly melted away and I felt keenly present....I'd enjoyed cannabis before, but this night was different. Something big was happening....

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Joan Baez: I Am a Noise

I expected the new documentary about Joan Baez, "I Am a Noise," co-produced by Tokin' Woman Patti Smith, to be a celebration of Baez's stellar career. 

That it is, but with an unexpected twist: Baez opens up in the film about how she has suffered from severe anxiety attacks all of her life, including when she burst on the international stage at the age of 18 as a voice from heaven, practically the new Virgin Mary.

Replete with footage of Baez's performances and actions as a folksinger and activist, the film also features excerpts from hours of audiotapes, home movies of her childhood, her drawings, and her diaries. 

Her connection with Bob Dylan, who supplied the protest songs that her voice demanded, is covered, including how deflated she felt when she was basically rebuffed by him while touring Europe, as documented in the 1967 film "Don't Look Back." 

As Baez tells it, she "couldn't" participate in the drug taking that the Boys in the Band were doing on the tour, and she was soon excluded in other ways. Since Dylan turned the Beatles onto marijuana, one wonders why he didn't do the same for Baez. Perhaps because she was a woman, she wasn't invited to the boys' pot parties.  

Friday, November 3, 2023

Frances Marion and Marijuana

After writing an obituary for Judy Balaban, who tried LSD back in the day when Cary Grant was doing it, and co-wrote an article interviewing Grant’s wife Betsy Drake and others for Vanity Fair in 2010, I looked up her co-author  Cari Beauchamp, a film historian currently at the Mary Pickford Foundation. 

Beauchamp’s book: “Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood” details Marion’s illustrious career during the years of the Fatty Arbunkle trial etc. and the coming of the Hays code.

After Marion (who was also a painter and sculptor) painted a portrait of actress Kitty Gordon showing off her much-admired back to promote Peg O’ My Heart, posters for the play were vandalized and leaflets signed by “Conscientious Citizens" went out shouting, “We must protect our innocent little children from seeing such pictures of half-nude women. And we keep them away from the evil influence of the nickelodeons and the lawless people who have forced themselves upon our beautiful city to make what they call movies. Only if we all unite can we drive them out.” Marion and a friend attended a meeting of the group, dubbing them “The Constipated Citizens.” (p. 27). 

Marijuana is mentioned twice in the book: