From the 1920’s on, certain jazz musicians were known to smoke cannabis before playing, as it is a performance-enhancing drug for musicians. It reduces creative inhibition to some extent, opens up the flow of emotion, allows for a richer experience of sound, and most crucially, it slows the perception of time, allowing for quicker or more considerate improvisation.
The musicians who relied heavily on cannabis were called “vipers,” and you can get a great look at their culture by reading Really the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow. He was a Jewish convert to Blackness, about equally well-known for his clarinet playing and for selling joints in jazz clubs. (Youtube, of course, is populated with viper songs probably posted in violation of copyright, for which reason I would never, ever encourage you to listen to them.)
Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, kept a file on “Musicians and Marijuana” and persecuted jazz vipers to the best of his ability. He ran into certain areas of resistance, such as a unionized Hollywood that refused to narc out its people, and a flood of hate mail that resulted when he told the U.S. Senate that he needed more agents to hunt musicians — “And I don’t mean good musicians — I mean jazz musicians.”
The war on marijuana has never been anything but cultural: waged by people who don’t like the music, don’t like Mexicans and “Negroes,” don’t like tie-dye or long hair on men, etc. Other prohibited drugs are known to cause problems for their users and neighborhoods, but marijuana is conspicuously safer than alcohol or even caffeine. Many people have been imprisoned or had careers ruined over an argument about which cup of tea.
The futile fight against the vipers is breaking down today. The curtains are closing on the culture of sneering at pot.
The mainstream and wildly popular Hollywood gossip news agency TMZ has a history of following celebrities around, “catching” them smoking pot, and snickering about it. Sometimes a celebrity catches punishment for some stupid blunder like trying to take weed on the plane, and then TMZ’s staffers will blame the victim. (It adds insult to injury, but they also mean to discourage stupidity in this way.)
Yesterday, May 28 2014, marked a major breakthrough in the struggle for marijuana acceptance (and thus legalization.)
TMZ ran a sad story regarding a video leak of clean-cut boy-band One Direction smoking a blunt in their SUV as they drove to the airport to leave Peru. At one point Louis passed the blunt to Zayn and said “One very very important factor of Zayn’s warm up of course is Mary J, herself.” (Confirmed: Zayn, at least, is a viper.) The sad part of this story is that One Direction slammed the leaker but had no comment on their recreational and artistic use of marijuana. To paraphrase, “How dare you expose us for behavior that is perfectly moral and healthy?”
When a caller to “TMZ Live” said that medical marijuana laws were to blame for young people like One Direction smoking pot, the TMZ staff cut her off the line. Host Harvey Levin declared that in 10 years pot will be fully legal and the fans who are upset at One Direction now will probably be smoking down themselves.
In an awesome story, Linkin Park’s staff called a local sheriff to report that their fellow musicians Sublime with Rome were in possession of marijuana. (Sublime with Rome is the band Sublime with a new front-man, following the death of Bradley Nowell. Their music in influenced by rock, rap, and reggae, all of which embrace cannabis.) Sublime returned backstage after their set and found their weed and rolling papers confiscated. The sheriff left a note telling them to come down to the station to pick it up –“P.S. — it’s a trap!”
Rome explained that Sublime plays their shows after consuming at least a half a joint each, making them true vipers. TMZ’s staff took the tone that the narcing was the outrage — how could any rock musician betray the rock culture of smoking pot? Levin declared, “it’s like wine!”
Brad Delson, Linkin Park’s guitarist who wears a giant sound-deadening headset on stage, apparently complained about Sublime’s weed smoking to his security crew, who called the sheriff. Linkin Park claims that they offered to replace the weed but Rome Ramirez claims that all they want is either an apology or their weed back.
This is the first marijuana controversy ever to revolve around the question of whether someone will have their weed returned.
About TMZ: TMZ is more progressive than any other news program in both their editorial views and their format, which allows contribution from the drones in the background on their computers and takes some meaningful comments from viewers. I’m sure that they are only able to get away with this because they are “not serious.”
Cannabis is part of music, and among the many reasons that persecuting it is wrong, this is a free speech issue. People need to be free to change the texture of their consciousness in order to think and act freely. When people identify with the artists instead of the cops, we are getting close to ending the long and pointless war on vipers.