Tag Archives: drugs

Happy 420 Day: legalize it or not, musicians are probably still going to advertise it

Still a couple hours left to 420 Day, the unofficial day in March when all pot smokers make an effort to light up on the same day. I’m not one of those – the one and only time I tried the stuff I did too much at once and got sick as a dog. Never again.

At the same time, I’ve had a lot of friends who do smoke and being a music lover I can’t help but notice that Weed is a rather huge influence on many of my favorite artists. I also happen to think the War on Drugs has been an unmitigated disaster, giving us nothing but powerful gangsters, corrupt officials and highly militarized police. And in Mexico a lot of chopped off heads.

Time to face facts and legalize it. All drugs really, but especially marijuana, even though I’ll never take another puff. This article in Forbes sums up my thoughts on the matter pretty well: Let’s Be Blunt: It’s Time to End the Drug War. Will we ever have leaders with enough honesty and courage to actually do what obviously needs to be done? Not optimistic, but one can always hope.

In the meantime, might as well appreciate some of the great songs we never would’ve had without marijuana. At some point, I’ll go whole hog and list a ton of songs about drugs, pro and con. There are so many.

First on the list has got to be Winning the War on Drugs by my recently disbanded favorite live act, the Asylum Street Spankers of Austin. They captured the cynicism of that particular war pretty well.

Followed by the very obvious and to-the-point Legalize it by the late Peter Tosh.

Plus a few more favorites…

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Hip hop – the profane and the principled (part 1)

I’m a white guy who was weaned on rock ‘n’ roll. It took me a long time to get used to the idea of hip hop….

At least that’s what I’ve been telling people, but you know what? I’m not exactly sure if that’s accurate. Was there ever really a time when I hated the stuff? Maybe there was, but when I think back, I remember liking “Rappers Delight” from the Sugar Hill Gang and “Rapture” by Blondie in the ’80s. I remember Yo MTV Raps coming on and me not turning the channel when I heard NWA’s “Express Yourself.” I even bought 2 Live Crew’s Nasty as They Wanna Be just to see what all the court cases and fuss were about. I guess I grew accustomed to rap over the years, liking some of it, disliking some of it, pretty much like the whole country did. The whole world in fact.

When I hear someone, usually someone white, say they have learned to appreciate hip hop after years of thinking they hated it, it usually goes something like: “I just discovered [fill in intellectual/socially-aware rapper] and found out rap isn’t just about drugs and killing and hating women.”

I don’t say that at all. I can listen to the most socially obnoxious hip hop and it doesn’t bother me. In fact, I now get a kick out of the West Coast gangsta rap that got all the civilized folks so upset back in the early ’90s.

Lately, I’ve been listening to The Chronic, Dr. Dre’s solo debut featuring Snoop Doggy Dog, Warren G and others. It’s got it all: profanity, liberal use of the “N-word,” drugs, violence, misogyny, homophobia, glorifying gang culture and all kinds of creative insults and death threats.

Today, The Chronic is considered a classic album by all kinds of folks, black and white. It wasn’t quite so unanimous when it first came out. Songs like “The Day the Niggaz Took Over,” which glorifies the L.A. Riots, scared white people — some of whom were also fascinated. It was a glimpse into a completely different mindset, before rap became such a multi-racial phenomenon, before Eminem, a white guy from Detroit became one of the most popular rappers of all time. Vanilla Ice was around, but nobody took him seriously.

For some reason instead of offending me, The Chronic makes me smile. For one thing, it’s an extremely well-crafted album. The beats, raps and singing fit together perfectly. Would I have liked it in ’92? Not sure, but right now I find it downright irresistable. Also I guess it comes across as so over the top that it’s almost like satire, even though they didn’t mean it that way at the time. You know people can’t really live the lifestyle described on that album for very long without either winding up dead or in prison. You can’t just go around 187ing everybody just for the hell of it.

I almost can’t believe people took the stuff so seriously — rappers getting letters from the FBI about their lyrics, rappers threatening to kill each other (and possibly actually doing it), record store employees getting arrested for selling 2 Live Crew albums. It seems silly to me now, and nostalgic. Now Dr. Dre is a respected producer and Snoop Dog and Ice Cube are actors.

The Chronic might not be shocking or surprising today, mainly because it influenced so many other albums, but it still sounds pretty darn good. Definitely helps liven up the old morning commute.

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Proto-metal – the roots of hard rock and prog

I’ve been a hard rock fan ever since I can remember. I’ve moved onto other styles of music, but I always end up listening to the stuff at some point. It’s like comfort food for the ears. But as much as I dig well-known hard rock bands like Zeppelin and AC/DC, I really get a kick out of lesser-known tunes from a time when the music was about to branch off into heavy metal and progressive rock. There was a whole class of music back in the early ’70s that fell somewhere in between. Bands were developing that heavy distorted guitar sound and wanted to rock, but at the same time, they had some complicated ideas they wanted to explore, lyrically and musically. Some of the bands who made this music went on to greater fame as metal or progressive rock acts. Some just put out an album or two and then disappeared.

A couple of years ago, I put together a CD-R full of mp3s with help from the guys at Rate Your Music. For the past week or so, that disk has seldom left my car stereo.

I used to think that kind of music came about because the rock ‘n’ rollers were still doing acid instead of coke and speed, but recently learned that the guys in Black Sabbath were doing coke by the bowlful, so now I’m not sure. Maybe they were doing cocaine all along and it just got too hard to find good acid? (Read my not-too-serious ramblings on that subject here.)

One of my favorite discoveries while assembling that comp was a group called Lucifer’s Friend, with my favorite song being “Ride in the Sky” from the self-titled debut, which features John Lawton on lead vocals – who sang lead for Uriah Heep from 1976 to 1979.

Who would’ve thought a French horn could be an instrument of such heaviness? The Lucifer’s Friend debut sounds just like heavy metal and it came out in 1970 – far ahead of its time. I also downloaded LF’s Banquet, which I liked, but it sounds like a completely different band. Not hard or heavy at all. More of a jazzy pop.

Another favorite that came out of that project is Captain Beyond, which is also a bit on the psychedelic side. Check this out:

I also found out something surprising. The Scorpions, who became hard rock/metal staples, debuted in 1972 an album called Lonesome Crow that sounds very different from the music most fans are familiar with. If not for the German accent, I might think it was early Rush. You can also hear a major Black Sabbath influence.

If you like that sort of thing, check out this thread from RateYourMusic and download or whatever you need to do. There’s a ton of great formerly inacessible early prog/hard rock out there that can be found today thanks to the Internet and those RYM folks really know their stuff.

And if you want to hear a modern group that does that kind of groove today, check out Black Mountain, a group I posted about a while back.

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Mexican musicians paying price for war on drugs

This situation is so sad and frustrating: Mexican musicians wary after latest murder. Drug lords are at war and musicians have been getting caught up in it. Musicians are being assassinated, kidnapped, shaken down for money. It’s really awful. I love Mexico and I don’t know when I’m ever going to get to go back down there. This insanity has to stop, somehow.

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Two theories about drugs and music

Theory #1: Metal today sucks because they’re doing the wrong drugs.

I grew up on hard rock and still loved it for a long time after they started calling it metal, but at some point it just went to hell in a hand basket. I think it began to go down the toilet when the rock ‘n’ roll guys switched from LSD & heroin to cocaine & speed.

Hard rock/early metal was much more interesting when it bordered on psychedelic or delved into philosophical themes, eg. music from Jimi Hendrix, early Judas Priest, early Scorpions, guys like Frank Marino. As time when on, cocaine and various other “up” drugs began to take hold and the music became more about aggression. A little aggression is fine, but when it’s all you’ve got, it’s boring. I think that’s why so much of today’s metal is almost unlistenable.

Theory #2: Doing drugs doesn’t make musicians creative, but it can make them more intensely creative for a while before it kills them

I don’t do drugs myself. I think it’s dangerous, bordering on suicidal. But let’s be honest. Drugs and music, especially rock music, go together like peanut butter n bananas. I don’t condone it but as long as they’re willing to sacrifice themselves for my entertainment I might as well show a little appreciation.

So back to my theory. I think most artistic people have a quota of creativity. When it runs out that’s it. After that their stuff is gonna suck. Say a rock ‘n’ roller is gifted to a level that will allow him to make decent songs for about 15 years. If he does the right drugs he might be able to instead have 2-3 years of totally freakin’ awesome songs before he OD’s or jumps off a bridge or chokes on his own vomit or whatever. If he records during that period you’ll get 1-3 albums of such awesomeness that no one could recreate them w/o OD’ing on something. What do y’all think, am I onto something?

P.S. I’m only a little serious.

P.P.S. I realize ┬ámy theories can’t explain why the guys from Aerosmith or Keith Richards are still alive.

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