Thursday, October 27, 2011

Merry Molly Ivins

UPDATE 9/22/2019: "Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins" is now playing in theaters. See her deliver many of her great lines, and so much more.

After she died, people sent in letters from across the country that said, "twice a week [when her syndicated column ran] I felt like I wasn't alone in my ideas." For those of us who feel the same, and miss her voice, this film is a must see.

Molly Ivins was one of a kind, a brilliant columnist and “connoisseur of political lunacy” who told it like it was from Texas and beyond. It was she who dubbed George W. Bush “Shrub” and said of Dan Quayle, "If you put that man’s brain in a bumble bee it would fly backwards.”

When she wrote of a local politician, “If his IQ slips any lower they’ll have to water him twice a day,” her newspaper took out ads saying, “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?"

The line became the title of her first book.

John Leonard, who hired Ivins to do freelance book reviews for the New York Times, “marveled at her work, thought it somewhere beyond unique—a mixture of Lenny Bruce, Rabelais, Lily Tomlin, and Mark Twain [all connoisseurs of cannabis]."

According to Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life by Bill Minutaglio and W. Michael Smith, “In her final year at Smith, her love for alcohol deepened and she developed a willingness to experiment with other things. A college friend sent her a crackling, conspiratorial note asking if her mother had found her ‘stash.’”

Ivins struggled with alcoholism all her life, writing herself notes like, “Alcohol is a drug. It is destroying my brain and my life.” Even her friend Ann Richards couldn’t stand her sometimes when she drank.

It’s too bad Ivins didn’t find her way to a less harmful substance more often. Richards's campouts, write Minutaglo and Smith, "were almost like annual, informal political conventions in the woods--with some heavy drinking, a bit of pot smoking, and many tales spun around the fire."

According to her biographers, when she worked in Austin "there were protests, student activists, underground cartoonists, and easy-to-find pot shipped across the Rio Grande." Ivins liked the fact that Austin “had all but enshrined Willie Nelson as its patron saint—and that Willie was giggling in a smoky haze out along the Pedernales River, skinny dipping with his posse, playing rounds of stoned golf on his private course that took all day long because people were laughing their asses off, singing songs, drinking more beer, and lighting up fat doobies.”

Ivins publicized the case of Lee Otis, a black student activist who faced 30 years in prison for passing a joint to an undercover cop, by writing in 1970 that Governor Preston Smith was confused by a crowd yelling “Free Lee Otis.” Smith thought they were saying, “Frijoles!”

In a March 1999 column Ivins wrote,

“It's an odd country, really. Our largest growth industries are gambling and prisons. But as you may have heard, crimes rates are dropping. We're not putting people into prison for hurting other people. We're putting them into prison for using drugs, and as we already know, that doesn't help them or us. . . . Last year, more than 600,000 people in this country were arrested for possession of marijuana, a drug less harmful for adults than alcohol.”

Ivins concluded, “But none of this — not all the new drug laws and new prisons or incredible incarceration rates — has reduced illicit drug use....

“Unless you are a drug user or know somebody in the joint, all this may seem far removed from your life. It's not. They're taking money away from your kids' schools to pay for all this, from helping people who are mentally retarded and mentally ill, from mass transit and public housing and more parkland and ...”

Ivins died of breast cancer in 2007, but her beat goes on.

See Molly in a Letterman interview

And watch the recent commentary by Lawrence O’Donnell on marijuana vs. alcohol

Monday, October 24, 2011

It Works, but the Feds Still Don't Like It

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a yearly event staged by Tamoxifen manufacturer Zeneca.

Hear more from FAIR's Counterspin and see the "Think Before You Pink" campaign at Breast Cancer Action. Also see NORML boardmember Barbara Ehrenreich's article Welcome to Cancerland.

Meanwhile, NORML reports that breast cancer patients definitely benefit from medical marijuana: Cannabinoid 'Completely' Prevents Chemotherapy-Induced Neuropathy from Breast Cancer Drug Paclitaxel.

Yet, the feds have launched a multi-pronged assault on California's medical marijuana providers. Women, please join the protest in SF tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Miss USA Goes Universal

Miss California/USA Alyssa Campanella didn't win Miss Universe last weekend, but she made a strong showing (in the top 16) and was a good sport about it.

Campanella tweeted her congrats to the winner, HIV activist Leila Lopes of Angola, on her plane ride home.

"Am I bummed not making the top 10? Absolutely. Is that going to ruin my life? No. Did I try my very best? Hell yes. Just wasn't my destiny."

Campanella wore a green gown to win the Miss USA crown in June after answering a question about medical marijuana, saying she supported it.

Lopes ought to also, since it's helpful for AIDS patients. But the question she was asked at the pageant was, "If you could change one of your physical characteristics, which one would it be and why?" The 25-year-old, 5-foot-10 ½-inch paragon of physical perfection answered, "Thank God I am very-well satisfied with the way God created me, and I wouldn't change a thing. I consider myself a woman endowed with inner beauty. ... I have acquired many wonderful principles from my family, and I plan to follow these through the rest of my life. And now I would like to give all of you a piece of advice: Respect one another."

Alyssa looks forward to eating pizza again and vacationing with her man, Tudors actor Torrance Coombs. Her reign as Miss USA continues through June 2012.

Her costume, a "feminine George Washington" was possibly inspired by the Cindy Crawford cover on the 1995 premiere issue of George, VIP John F. Kennendy Jr.'s magazine. Actress Christina Haag, a former girlfriend of Kennedy's, writes in her recent memoir Come to the Edge that while on vacation, the two were offered an "enormous spliff" by some islanders and found “Jamaican hospitality” was “impossible to refuse.”

When will we admit that hemp smoking is as American as our icons who smoke it, and respect one another's choices in the USA?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Anita O'Day: Indestructibly Good

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

I just watched the documentary Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer, and am happy to report it's a worthy tribute to a brilliant talent.

Music critics and fellow musicians interviewed in the film place O'Day as the only white singer in a class with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn. Interviews with O'Day and clips of with David Frost, Dick Cavett, Tom Snyder and Bryant Gumbel reveal what a bright spirit she was. It's full of footage of O'Day's incomparable singing style, even though too much time was sucked away in the film—and her life—by her heroin addiction, which came about after a marijuana bust.

One segment demonstrating her improvisation skills intercuts her singing "Let's Fall in Love" at various stages of her career, each one a unique work of art. One admirer recalls her remarking on the sound of a ceiling fan during a memorable performance where she included the fan's rhythm into the song.

O'Day with Gene Krupa
Described not as a mere singer, but rather as musician who used her voice as an instrument, O'Day's rapid-fire delivery could keep up with the likes of Oscar Peterson, Stan Kenton and drummer Gene Krupa. "You can swing, you'd better come with us," Krupa told her when he hired her.

I'm convinced that O'Day is the inspiration for Sugarpuss O'Shea, the character played by Barbara Stanwick in Ball of Fire (1941), featuring Krupa (the documentary opens with her intoning the same "Drum Boogie" riff). She appears as herself in a cameo in The Gene Krupa Story (1959) starring Sal Mineo. "She's all right, if you like talent," someone remarks after she sings.

Rather abandoned as child, O'Day entered Depression-era marathon Walkathons, walking for as many as 2,000 hours to earn food and shelter, and maybe a prize. She started performing in dance contests around the age of 13, smoking reefer with her adult dance partner before they performed (and often won).

In those days, you could buy a joint at the corner store, but soon it became illegal. O'Day writes in her autobiography High Times, Hard Times, "One day weed had been harmless, booze outlawed; the next, alcohol was in and weed led to 'living death.' They didn't fool me. I kept on using it, but I was just a little more cautious." Read more.

One early clip in the film shows O'Day singing with black trumpeter Roy Eldridge during a time when such an act could bring violent repercussions. "Well come here, Roy, and get groovy," she sweetly croons. With its integration policies, the Krupa band "went for the jugular of red-neck America," one critic said.

Krupa was targeted and arrested for marijuana possession in 1943. "That really bugged me," O'Day writes. "I'd been smoking grass since I was a kid without any terrible effects." She adds in a footnote, "I've always felt that exaggerating the destructive effect of marijuana was a big mistake. The fact that people had used it for years without developing severe problems made it easier for them to discount the physical and economic problems created by use of hard drugs." She soon became a case in point.

Anita at Newport.
O'Day was arrested for pot herself in 1947. She did four months' time, and afterwards was led to heroin, figuring, "If they were going to call me a junkie, I figured I might as well be one." She became known as "The Jezebel of Jazz" and teamed up with John Poole, a heroin addict who she heard drumming in a strip club. The two nursed a 16-year addiction, touring the country and recording on the Verve label. She admitted she was high on the drug during her signature performance singing a staccato "Tea for Two" dressed like she was going to a tea party at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958.

After after almost dying from an overdose in 1969, O'Day beat her addiction and came back to tour Japan and Europe, establish two record companies and write her autobiography. In 1999, she celebrated her 80th birthday with a concert at the Palladium in Hollywood. She made a final London appearance in 2004 before she died in 2006 at the age of 87.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Write to Women Behind Bars for Marijuana

By Sabrina Fendrick, NORML Women's Alliance

The NORML Women’s Alliance has teamed up with the webzine Freedom is Green to encourage reform advocates to write letters to women serving time behind bars for marijuana-related offenses.

Several studies suggest a prisoner’s mental health is dependent on their contact with the outside world. For many, mail correspondences are their primary contact with the public.

Many of the women incarcerated for marijuana offenses are isolated and alone. Receiving any outside communication from the public can be the highlight of their week or month. These small gestures let them know that they are not forgotten, and that the NORML Women’s Alliance is here to support and comfort them.

Recently, the NWA and Freedom Is Green collected letters for Patricia Spotted Crow, a first time offender from Oklahoma who was sentenced to 10 years behind bars for selling $30 worth of marijuana. Here is her heartfelt response to this small gesture from the outside world:

California NORML tracks federal marijuana prisoners at One is Mollie Fry, who is serving 5 years for growing 100 plants over a three-year period.

MARION P FRY, 15840-097
SCP Dublin Camp
5675 8th Street - Camp Parks
Dublin, California 94568

Want to write a marijuana prisoner?

Beth Mann of Freedom is Green provides some guidelines for individuals who are interested in writing to women (and men) that are in prison for marijuana-related crimes: “What should you write? Anything. Prisoners benefit from seemingly mundane letters about your daily life to words of inspiration to pieces of creative writing to news or current events. The important part is simply reaching out.”

Please keep in mind that all of the prisoner’s mail is read by authorities.

- Please send text only, no images or attachments

- Put the prisoner’s name in subject line of email

- Send separate emails for each prisoner

- Up to 1,000 words per letter

- By sending a letter through we may contact you and ask that your letter be posted on the site to bring awareness to victims of prohibition. You may decline and we will still forward your letter directly to the prisoner.

- Send your emails to


Mad Men, Their Women, and Marijuana

The acclaimed AMC series "Mad Men" is not without its marijuana references. Set in the 1960s, the first season had talk of a competing ad agency where everyone smoked and the creative product was better. Adman Don Draper smokes pot with his Greenwich Village girlfriend Midge, whose friends give him grief about his career. "I feel like Dorothy," he says. "The world just turned to color.

In the following episode he refuses a job with a global ad agency, saying when he leaves his current job he'll do something else with his life. An interview with actress Rosemarie DeWitt, who plays Midge, said it was suggested she read Diane di Prima's "Memoirs of a Beatnik" in preparation for the role.

Season 3 has mousy-secretary-turned-copywriter Peggy Olson announcing "I want to smoke some marijuana" then, "I'm so high." As she leaves the room, she says, "I'm in a very good place right now." Next she expresses a sudden fascination with her secretary's necklace. She later takes a walk on the wild side with a lesbian friend at a Village pot party.

Season 4 has Don the Dick smoking "grass" with his faux wife/mother figure Annie in California, but soon he's back to New York where his entertainment is drinking and buying $25 hookers who look like Joan and Peggy for himself and a colleague.

UPDATE April 2014: Season 6 opens with Don toking once more in Hawaii, after his wife Megan scores a couple of joints she stashes in her bikini. As we move into the late 60s and the gang starts sporting longer hair and sideburns, pot smoking becomes more common, with Don announcing, "Smells like creativity in here" when his writers are caught smoking in the office. In another episode, Don tokes up with an editor to fuel a late-night work session. Even stuck up account exec Pete gets in on the puffing, and a Dr. Feelgood shows up to wreak havoc at the agency with shots in the butt of the kind Elizabeth Taylor got.

When housewife Betty tries to rescue one of Sally's friends from the Village, she's offered pot, but turns it down. The only time the long-suffering Betty got to do something more interesting than drink wine alone while waiting for Don to come home was in the Season 3 opener, when she was put into Twilight Sleep while giving birth, during which she had visions of her deceased father and mother.

The agency crew takes a business trip to Southern California, where Don joins in a hookah-smoking circle at at swinging party and starts having visions, leading him back to a more authentic life (perhaps). By the end of the season, he's put down alcohol and has a rare moment of honesty about his past life.

The final Season 7 of "Mad Men" premieres on April 13 and is set solidly in the 70s. See the Psychedelic Journey trailer here. So far, Roger is the only character who's done LSD, but that may change...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Toke the Play

Toke, the Play, written by DeeDee Kirkwood, is a fresh take on the topic based on the advertures of a pot- and fun-loving woman named Weedee. It's set to open in Berkeley on August 19, running through September 11. Tokin Women, and men too, should check it out.

Few stores of pot-smoking women have been told in any media, and Toke is an enjoyable romp through one woman's journey that's illuminating and righteous. The artwork is by the fabulous LA artist Barbara Mendes.