Sunday, February 9, 2020

Spartacus's Wife: The Woman Behind the Revolt

Jean Simmons with Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus" (1960).
It was sadly fitting that on the Day our Democracy Died we also lost Kirk Douglas, who helped break the Hollywood blacklist by hiring Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay for the 1960 film "Spartacus," telling the enduring story of the 73BCE Gladiator/slave revolt against the Roman empire.

I rented the movie, and was struck by the depictions of the communal nature of the former slave army: people pulling together, women making candles and weaving, etc. I was also struck by the lack of power among the women in the film: Spartacus's love Varinia (Jean Simmons) is a slave forced into submissive prostitution who ends up back in Roman clutches in the end. Simmons appears nearly naked in a bathing scene.

The herstorical facts are different: Spartacus, who came from Thrace, was married to a priestess from his tribe who inspired and aided in the revolt. According to history professor Barry Strauss writing in The Wall Street Journal:

Neither her name nor the name of their tribe survives. Only one ancient source mentions her existence, but he is Plutarch, who relied on the (now largely missing) contemporary account by Sallust. In his "Life of Crassus," Plutarch writes: It is said that when he [Spartacus] was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a fortunate issue. This woman shared in his escape and was then living with him. (Plutarch, Crassus 9.3) 

Plutarch, and Strauss, pin her as worshipping Dionysus, the god of wine and liberating "frenzies"; but long before his cult appears, the snake was a symbol of the goddess religions. Scholars think the wines of ancient times may have contained entheogenic plants as well as alcohol.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

2019 Tokey Awards

All winners qualify for a copy of "Tokin' Women: A 4000-Year Herstory." Write here with your address to claim yours. 

Tokin' Woman of the Year

At the age of 81, Jane Fonda has been getting arrested weekly to protest a lack of action on climate change, so much so that she has had to enlist her fellow celebs to get arrested in her place so that she doesn't risk missing filming for the new season of her series "Grace and Frankie" on Netflix. That's right: Fonda is not only still politically active, she is still working. Take that, people who think potheads are lazy and don't care about anything.

"You don't mind if I turn on, do you?" Fonda asked Rex Reed before puffing pot on New Years Eve, 1969, the day she found out she won a much-deserved NY Film Critics Award for her performance in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? "Hey, it's no secret that I've smoked pot," Fonda wrote in her 2005 autobiography My Life So Far. She's been spotted (or smelled) in recent years taking a toke at Hollywood parties.

Fonda was the main force behind the 1980 film 9 to 5, where she plays an innocent office worker who finds her inner strength with the aid of weed and gal pals Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton. The film was a breakthrough in more ways than one: the first depiction on film of "an old-fashioned ladies pot party," it also lead to the formation of the SEIU (Service Employees International Union).

Fonda, Nicole Richie and Lily Tomlin share a joint in
a nice intergenerational moment on "Grace & Frankie"
I quibble with Fonda's Netflix character Grace, who denigrates co-star Tomlin's character Frankie for smoking weed while she herself downs alcohol and painkillers (and occasionally smokes pot herself). I liked Jane much better as another Grace, the hippie grandmother she embodied in the 2011 movie Peace, Love & Misunderstanding: her home reeks of pot, she deals a little on the side, and she introduces her grandkids (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff) to both protesting and the wonders of weed.

I recently listened to an interview Fonda gave at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1975. It was evident how thoughtful, intelligent and committed to both her art and her politics she is. She talked about how the Nixon administration tried to blackball her from the the movie industry due to her political activity, but she prevailed. It's nice to see prominent women now able to stand up for cannabis and causes, and stay in the public eye. And we all owe Jane a debt of gratitude for that.

At the 2019 PaleyFestLA panel with the cast of "Grace & Frankie," cast members remarked at their surprise that so many young people "really respond" to the show. "I think it's all the weed," actor Ethan Embry (Coyote) opined, to great laughter. Fonda was asked how she kept her energy up at her age. She replied that she sleeps nine hours a night, and then pantomimed taking a puff. Calming the applauding crowd down, she said, "It's called a Dosist. It's white, it has 200 hits, you can't smell it, and it works."

For being a true, pot-smoking warrior woman for the people and the planet who walks her walk and doesn't quit, we honor Jane Fonda as 2019's Tokin' Woman of the Year.

Read about our other Tokey winners:

Monday, December 9, 2019

Beauty Queens Support Marijuana Legalization

Reigning Miss USA Cheslie Kryst wowed the crowd at the Miss Universe pageant last night in Atlanta with a costume that gave homage to Lady Liberty, Lady Justice, Rosie the Riveter and Tokin' Woman Maya Angelou.

Kryst is a complex litigation attorney who supports marijuana legalization and has worked pro bono with clients who have served excessive time for low-level drug offenses. According to, one such client was Alfred Rivera, who originally received a mandatory life sentence without parole for a low-level federal drug crime. Kryst noted how Rivera was sentenced to more time in prison than Brock Turner, the Stanford student who was convicted of raping a woman but only given 6 months in jail.

"Kryst said the criminalization of marijuana has also created a cycle in which people who have been convicted of low-level drug crimes can't reenter the job market," Insider reported. "I think there are many people who have just been pushed out of society," she said. "Now people won't hire them and so they don't have a job and now they have to do something, and maybe they turn to dealing marijuana because there's nothing else they can do. I just think there are so many other solutions that we have beside throwing people in jail for these low-level drug offenses."

Kryst has become a correspondent for Extra TV since moving to New York to become Miss USA. She made it to the top 10 of the 90-woman competition that was ultimately won by Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi.

Meanwhile, Miss Canada Alyssa Boston went all out last night, wearing a Vegas-style marijuana-themed costume in the competition. Boston told Vice,
"I think that's the biggest point, is to have somebody who's not in the industry talk about it and it could really open the eyes of a whole different group of people."

Last year’s Miss Universe winner, Catriona Gray of the Philippines, said she supported medical cannabis legalization. The country’s House of Representatives later passed a bill in favor of legal medical marijuana. In 2015, Miss Universe Australia Monika Radulovic said she supported legal weed in some circumstances; she was eliminated following that question round.

In 2011, Miss California Alyssa Campanella was given points for her answer in favor of medical marijuana on her way to being crowned Miss USA. She made it to the top 16 competing for Miss Universe.

The Miss Universe pageant was bought by Donald Trump in 1996; he sold it in 2015.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Elsie Sinclair: A Crusading Mother

Elsie Sinclair speaking at the 1971 John Sinclair
Freedom Rally in Michigan.
Poet, musician and activist John Sinclair has been in the news, as one of the first to purchase newly legal marijuana in his home state of Michigan.

Sinclair became a poster child for marijuana law reform when he was given a 10-year sentence for two joints, prompting Yippie! Jerry Rubin to organize an all-star Freedom Rally held on December 10, 1971 at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

On the bill were Michigan natives Stevie Wonder, Bob Seeger, and Commander Cody (who did a soulful "Down to Seeds and Stems Again Blues"). Also appearing were VIP Allen Ginsberg, Phil Ochs, Steve Miller, Chicago Eight members David Dellinger, Renne Davis and Bobby Seale (ungagged), and, in his first American performance since the break up of the Beatles, John Lennon with Yoko Ono, who performed his composition "The Ballad of John Sinclair." Two days later, an appellate court freed Sinclair on bail.

Speaking at the rally in support of her son was Sinclair's 59-year-old mother Elsie Sinclair (about 39 minutes in here). Elsie said, to cheers from the crowd, "I can tell you young people: you can teach more to your parents than your parents have ever taught you. I’m speaking from experience. I just read John's book Politics and Music and I didn’t dig the music but I dug the book. I’m beginning to dig the music."

Monday, December 2, 2019

"La Cucaracha" Was a Female Mexican Soldier

Most of us know the tune as one sung by Pancho Villa's soldiers:

La cucaracha, la cucaracha
ya no puede caminar
por que no tiene, porque le faltan 

marijuana que fumar

The cockroach, the cockroach
Cannot walk anymore
Because she hasn’t, because she lacks
marijuana to smoke

See a 13-year-old Judy Garland singing about "La Cucaracha" and marijuana in 1935:

La cucaracha was a nickname for a female Mexican soldier, and legend has it that "marijuana" too was named for such a woman, since they were also called juanas.

Sheet music dated  January 1918, from Antonio
Vanegas Arroyo Print shop in Mexico City
According to the book Soldaderas in the Mexican Military: Myth and History by Elizabeth Salas, soldiering has been a "traditional life experience for innumerable women in Mexico" since pre-Columbia times. "Women warriors, camp followers, coronelas, soldaderas, and Adelitas are just some of the names given to these women,” she writes. A footnote adds that Juanas and cucarachas were other names applied to women in the Mexican military, along with mociuaquetzque (valiant women), viejas (old ladies) and galletas (cookies).

Salas says "La cucaracha" is a corrido (Mexican folk song) that has its roots in nineteenth century Spain. Later, soldiers in Porfirio Diaz's army sang about "La cucaracha" to mock a soldadera that wanted money to go to the bullfights. "With the Villistas, 'La cucaracha' wanted money for alcohol and marijuana," writes Salas. "She was often so drunk or stoned that she could not walk straight."

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Top 10 Rock & Reggae Marijuana Songs By Women

1. White Rabbit - Grace Slick
The bolero-inspired 60's anthem penned by Grace Slick brings back Alice in Wonderland with the lyric, "Tell 'em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call." The Great Society first recorded it with Grace's powerful vocals in November 1965, a year before the Jefferson Airplane version (also with Grace) hit the charts big time.

2.  Mary Jane - Janis Joplin
Slick's fellow rock goddess Janis Joplin wrote the blues-inspired "Mary Jane" and sang it in the style of her idol Bessie Smith. The song laments the high cost of pot: "When I bring home my hard earned pay / I spend my money all on Mary Jane." Sadly for Janis, heroin and Jack Daniels were cheaper.

3. Stoned Soul Picnic - Laura Nyro
Prolific songwriter and pot-smoker Laura Nyro penned this classic in 1968. It became a hit for The 5th Dimension and was also recorded by Barbra Streisand. "Let's not rush it, we'll take it slow."

4. One Draw - Rita Marley
Rita Marley's 1981 song remains avant garde even today: it features schoolchildren telling their teacher about smoking ganga on summer vacation. "Hey Rastaman, hey what you say / Give me some of your sensi."

5. Right Hand Man - Joan Osborne 
From Osborne's 1995 debut album Relish, which won multiple Grammy nominations, including best song for "One of Us" (parodied by Bob Rivers as, "What if God Smoked Cannabis.") "The sinsemilla salesman  / The cops on the block / They know what I been doin' / They see the way I walk."

6. If It Makes You Happy - Sheryl Crow 
This title track from Crow's 1996 album won Best Female Rock Vocal Performance at the 1997 Grammy Awards. “OK, I still get stoned / I’m not the kind of girl you take home.” Crow recently said at a concert that vinyl and weed would save the recording industry.

6. Legalise Me - Chrissie Hynde
This 1999 anthem by the righteous Ms. Hynde rocks out with Jeff Beck on guitar. "I'm just a farmer and I grow marijuana."

7. Stoned - Macy Gray 
In her uniquely wonderful voice, Gray produced a video where she smokes and watches Very Important Potheads on TV for this trippy 2014 track.

8. Flava - Megan Trainor / Tenelle - Flava 
Written by Megan "All About The Bass" Trainor and recorded in 2013 by Samoan/American singer-songwriter Tenelle, "Flava" celebrates marijuana's various strains. "I can take a taste of the Sour D / but you wake me up from that Blue Dream..."

9. New America - Halsey (2015)
"We are the New Americana / high on legal marijuana." The video is about witch burning, which shows Halsey gets it.

10. Faded by Design - Melissa Etheridge
"The legalization of plant medicine is ushering in a whole new era of understanding. 'Faded by Design' is a song celebrating that change," Etheridge told Rolling Stone.  "Don't call the doctor / the cure is in my mind."


Sinsemilla - Joss Stone
Sinsemilla / Sending me love

Higher - Hirie 
"White smoke fills the air / you know I love the way you take me there."

High By the Beach - Lana Del Rey
This music video has 108 million YouTube views.

Rihanna - James Joint
"I'd rather be smoking weed / whenever we breathe."

I Love You More - Sarah Silverman 
"I love you more than my after-show monster bong hit."

You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome - Madeline Peroux
Cover of a Bob Dylan song I always thought was about pot. And don't get me started on those Rainy Day women.

What's Up - 4 Non Blondes (1991)
"And so I wake in the morning and I step outside and I take a deep breath and I get real high." This video, with dreadlocked leadsinger Linda Perry, comes in at 774 million views.

Pass That Dutch - Missy Elliott (2003)
"Come on, pass the dutch, baby! / Shake-shake shake ya stuff, ladies!"

Addicted - Amy Winehouse (2006)
"When you smoke all my weed man / You gots to call the green man."

"Why'd ya do it, she said, why'd you let that trash
Get a hold of your cock, get stoned on my hash?"

Dooo It - Miley Cyrus (2015)
"Feel like I am part of the universe / And it's part of me."

Lady Gaga - A-Yo (2016)
I don't really get it, but it has 22 million YouTube views.

Smoke the Weed - Sister Carol (2017)
From her weed-inspired CD, The Healing Cure.

Ooh LaLaLA - Hempress Sativa
The Real Thing

Dance Real Close - Jessie Payo (2019)
I first saw Payo perform this hauntingly beautiful tune as a busker in the 2019 movie The Last Laugh, in which Andie McDowell turns Chevy Chase onto pot, and shrooms. "Nobody's perfect / I know that I'm high as a kite."

Also see: Top 10 Marijuana Jazz Songs by Women 

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Top 10 Marijuana Jazz Tunes by Women


 1. Gimmie a Reefer
Seminal blues singer Besse Smith was "a living symbol of personal freedom" and "smoked 'reefers' throughout her career." (Buzzy Jackson, A Bad Woman Feeling Good.) In 1933 she recorded the Kid Wilson song "Gimme a Pigfoot" and in the last verse she belts out, "Gimme a Reefer," as only Bessie could.

2. Sweet Marihuana
Written by Arthur Johnston and Sam Conslow, this classic was originally sung by Gertrude Michael in the 1934 movie "Murder at the Vanities" in an elaborate dance number. Later, the lyric was often changed to "Sweet Lotus Blossom," (Julia Lee recorded it both ways in the 40s). The original lyric was brought back in the 1970s by Bette Midler, accompanied by her music director Barry Manilow on piano. She recorded it on her "Songs for a New Depression" album and performed it during her 1999 Divine Miss Millenium tour.

3. When I Get Low, I Get High
Written by vaudevillian actress and songwriter Marion Sunshine, this song was recorded in 1936 by Ella Fitzgerald, whose musical phrasing on the song's title alone is a knockout (as is all of Ella's singing). A music video cover of the song by The Speakeasy Three wearing shimmering green gowns has 15 million YouTube views.

4. Why Don't You Do Right?
Originally recorded as "Weed Smoker's Dream" in 1936 by the Harlem Hamfats, the original lyrics are about a man enjoining his girlfriend to sell weed. It was recorded by the sultry soprano Lil Green in 1941, and brought success to Peggy Lee when she sang it in the 1943 film "Stage Door Canteen," in an arrangement by Very Important Pothead Benny Goodman. The song was sung by Amy Irving as Jessica Rabbit in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," and Lana Del Rey covered it during her Endless Summer Tour.

5. Roll 'em
Jazz composer and Tokin' Woman Mary Lou Williams wrote this tune for Goodman's 1937 album "When Buddha Smiles." Williams "found marijuana calming, useful for reflecting and relaxing at times" and liked to smoke backstage with Billie Holiday.

6. If You're a Viper
This Stuff Smith song made famous by Fats Waller in 1943 was recorded by blues singer Rosetta Howard with the Hamfats in 1937. A "viper" was slang for a marijuana smoker, as chronicled by VIP Mezz Mezzrow in Really the Blues.

7. Jack I'm Mellow
Blues singer and actress Trixie Smith recorded this Gundy & House tune in 1938 with Sidney Bechet on soprano sax. Smith also recorded under the name Trixie Smith and her Down Home Syncopators, which was often Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra (where Louis Armstrong got turned on). In 2017, "Jack I'm Mellow" became the theme song for the comedy series Disjointed with Kathy Bates.

8. Knock Myself Out
In 1937, the hammer came down on gage, and this tune from 1941, recorded by Lil Green, takes a more moralistic tone than earlier, more celebratory recordings. After Peggy Lee's more uptempo, sweetened up version of "Do Right" eclipsed her own, Green tried to re-invent herself in a Billie Holiday style. She was signed by Atlantic Records in 1951 but died of pneumonia, at the (estimated) age of 35, three years later.

9. Twisted
British jazz singer Annie Ross penned the lyrics to "Twisted" in the bohemian year of 1952, and liked blowing gage with Sarah Vaughan. Ross dated Lenny Bruce and is shown here singing her song on Hugh Hefner's swingin' TV show. Joni Mitchell put the song on her "Court and Spark" album, complete with a cameo from Cheech & Chong).

10. Tea for Two
Jazz singer and convicted marijuana smoker Anita O'Day caused a sensation when she scatted her way through this classic at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, dressed like she was going to a tea party. As "tea" was slang for marijuana, one wonders what kind she was drinking. "You can swing, you'd better come with us," Goodman's drummer Gene Krupa told her when he asked her to join his band. He was so right.

Also see: Top 10 Rock & Reggae Marijuana Songs By Women