As New Zealand hems and haws over the efficacy of legalising marijuana, musicians and songwriters face a different conundrum: What happens to the future of the Dope Song?
Since almost the beginning of recorded music there have been great songs inspired by weed. What happens if marijuana is actually legal? Will that in some way diminish that frisson of resistance inherent in singing about something illegal?
Weed songs have certainly been a staple of my musical life since I was a schoolboy listening to Peter Tosh singing Legalize It. Well ahead of its time, it espoused the health benefits in treating tuberculosis, glaucoma and more and became something of an anthem for us rebellious young lads. I can only imagine how impressed we’d have been had we known that his album of the same name was bankrolled by a Florida marijuana distributor.
I should stress also that we didn’t smoke weed as schoolboys. Anyone ignoring medically-proved research showing how harmful marijuana can be to developing brains is an idiot. An age limit is essential, and I believe combining one with honest education would result in fewer rather than more kids smoking. It’s not like they can’t get it now.
So we all sang Legalize It until we belatedly discovered Easy Rider and Don’t Bogart That Joint My Friend, perhaps the greatest of all weed songs.
But there are so many... Neil Young has Homegrown (“Homegrown’s alright with me / Homegrown’s the way it should be”) suggesting he would prefer a grow-your-own based model of reform. Dylan’s approach in Rainy Day Women #12 and 30, with its refrain “Everybody Must Get Stoned” would suggest something closer to what insurers call universal coverage.
As an aside about that Bob tune, and since this is a debate on weed a certain amount of directionless meandering seems appropriate, Dylan always asserted that the stoning he was referring to was Biblical rather than herbal. However, many claim that “Rainy Day Woman” was old-school slang for a joint. And – check this out! - 12 times 35 is 420, which is another term for cannabis in the weed world. (A “420-friendly hotel” in America is one that allows pot smoking.)
Going even further aside, 20th April (abbreviated 4/20 in the US), is considered an occasion for smoking or celebrating the smoking of weed. The apparent origin of this was somewhere in late ‘70s California. 420 was the police code for Marijuana Smoking in Progress. After local weed-smokers discovered the police call, they started using the expression when referring to herb - |“Let’s Go 420, dude!”
In plain sight
But while there is a certain joy in an absolutely overt weed song - Willie Nelson’s Roll Me Up And Smoke Me When I Die, or Afroman’s exhilarating Because I Got High – there’s something particularly entertaining about a sly weed song that no one notices (call it the anti-Puff the Magic Dragon effect).
Do most people realise that the “warm smell of colitas” in the second line of Hotel California is weed?
Or how about The Beatles’ Got To Get You Into My Life? A cheerful upbeat love song? To quote Paul McCartney: “Got to Get You into My Life was one I wrote when I had first been introduced to pot. I’d been a rather straight working-class lad but when we started to get into pot it seemed to me to be quite uplifting. It didn’t seem to have too many side effects like alcohol or some of the other stuff, like pills, which I pretty much kept off. I kind of liked marijuana. So Got to Get You Into My Life is really a song about that, it’s not to a person, it’s actually about pot. It’s saying, ‘I’m going to do this. This is not a bad idea.”
We’ll return to this issue before the vote. But just to note, the following countries agree with Paul and have largely legalised Marijuana. They don’t seem to have collapsed as a result.
Canada, Belize, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Argentina, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Cambodia, Belgium, The Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, The Czech Republic, Russia, Ukraine, and around 20 states in America...