Cheech and Chong Conspiracy
Cheech and Chong Conspiracy
The Grassy Bowl Theory!!
By: Mike Marino
Sex…Drugs…Rock n’ Roll! The left over baggy of the seeds and stems of Haight Ashbury’s purple haze daze, and the tie-dyed Summer of Love have long since gone up in smoke. It was a dimebag time of rolling papers, roach clips, and badda-bing, badda-bong pipes. Tim Leary, the High Priest of The United Psychedelic States of America, told us it was hightime to turn on, tune in and drop out. If you had some spare time, along with your spare change, you could also Kick Out The Jams, Brothers and Sisters! Pot, protest and politics, combined to create a strange menage a’ trois of bedfellows, and the cast of cannabis characters is the stuff of killer weed legend.
In this Yellow Submarine roadtrip, we’ll roll-up and explore the history and the pop culture of pot in America, from the early hemp heavy days of the Far-Out Founding Fathers, to the flower power history of bongs, lava lamps and rolling papers of the Psychedelic Psyixties. Before you can say, I never inhaled we’ll take a trip down marijuana memory lane and examine the madness of the reefer in music and film as we aim our kitschy kaleidescopic spotlight on the the Great Ganja Generation. So, in the words of the bard, don’t bogart that joint my friend, pass it over to me. Hemp, Hemp, Hooray!
The Reefer Republic of America has a potent past that is a tightly packed bowl of high grade hemp history. Before Mr. Haight and Mr. Ashbury, there was Mr. Washington and Mr. Jefferson, Mt. Vernon and Monticello farmers who, along with other happy hempsters, grew not amber waves of grain, but rather ample fields of weed. Rope and riggings were needed for the New Worlds seafaring forces that cruised the bounding seas and bouncing oceans, paints and varnish for home and hearth, and birdseed were just some of the varied uses of this multifaceted plant. Hemp bales were even hoisted into place on a Missouri Civil War battlefield as a protective barrier against enemy fire, as Confederates and Cannabis locked horns in mortal combat!
These early revolutionaries of vision saw this peculiar cannabis cash crop crucial to the forward progress and survival itself of the young nation as it’s democratic principals of republic took root in the rich soil, and began to blossom and grow like a wild weed under political grow lights. The Bill of Rights? Forettaboutit! Put this in your pipe and smoke it…the 1st and 2nd drafts of the Declaration of Independance, and the final draft of the United States Constitution itself were printed on hemp paper. Now, that’s what I call a power to the people righteous revolution!
By the mid-1800’s the transcontinental talking railroad blues was beginning to connect the bi-coastal dots of the United States, Atlantic to Pacific. The workforce was diverse in it’s ethnicity and there was an increase in the influx of Chinese workers. This in turn led to the pistol packin’ frontier patronage of the exotic smokey, dreamy, back-alley Chinatown den’s of opium and almond eyed prostitution, run by mysterious and silent kimono clad foreigners of Confucian persuasion.
Mexicans and marijuana, crossed the borders of the southwest, mixing with gringo’s and searching for greenbacks. They came north of the border with full beast of burden saddle bags strapped to the backs of lumbering burro’s, and within a century, a green leafy gold rush would be underway as American red, white and blue, would paint the doors of perception a brilliant and dazzling Acapulco gold. Soon, in full bloom, the fertilized landscape of American psychotropia was awash with a colorful garden of dope, a cornucopia of mind altering drugs in a cauldron large enough to fill the craters of the moon with a variety of pharmacologia.
Marvelous, mad morphine, oppulant opiates and exotic elixirs. Alluring mixtures of tinctures that sometimes had content that was as high as 50% morphine. Nitroglycerine powered psychotropics were being hawked by snakeoil salesmen and doctors of dubious credential from across the land. Giant medicine tent revival shows stretched across the narcotic nation selling everything from salvation to addiction. It it ailed you, they had the cure. If nothing ailed you, what they had could kill you!
Eventually, enough was enough, and from 1915 to 1937, individual states, 27 in all in the Rocky Mountains, the West and the Southwest, passed the first drug criminalization laws faster than a bullet through Kennedy’s head. Not just against addictive narcotics, but also and primarily, against the innocuous marijuana plants of the cannabis culture that the Mexijuanians brought with them. Then, in 1937, Heads met Feds headon in a year that will live in controlled substance infamy. It was the Pearl Harbor of Tokin’ and Smokin’.
The fed-up-with-heads Fed’s stoked up the Federal Marijuana Tax Act and began to sink the ships of legal smoke. This effectively banned the growing of legal hemp in the United States until WWII when overseas sources were held out of reach by the long arm of the Japanese military, and in effect, made George Washington, not only the Father of his Country, but a felon and the first American drug pushing President!
The passage of more and more laws with comensurately stiffer penalties would continue unabated until the late 1960’s. The ridiculous crescendo to this reefer madenss would culminate in 1956 with the passage of the Daniel Act which would mete out stiffer penalties for marijuana possesion than would be give to a convicted rapist or murder!
This first Federal Act of 1937 labeling of noxious narcotics also enabled the crowning of the obnoxious Imperial Emperor of the Evil Stoner Empire, Harry Anslinger, The Wizard of Odd, and the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. His first act as Reefer Royalty, was to not only declare all out war, but to impose martial law on Mary Jane and her Merrier Men.
Marijuana, mayhem and the movies were a magical mixture created in the soul kitchen of Hollyweed that manufactured recipes for some classic celluloid cannabis cinema. The semi-fabulous freak brothers, Fonda Wyatt and Hopper Billy in Easy Rider took us for a gas and grass longhair two-wheeled shotgun roadtrip through the deep fried, deep south world of southern fried brutality and hospitality. It became the counter cultures roadmap through Mainstream Amerika where the asphalt highways and byways were laced with acid, weed, necks of red and loads of buckshot.
In the film Alice B. Toklas, Alice wasn’t just the Baroness of Brownies of her day, but the munchies prototype of a hemp happy Martha Stewart. The Magic Christian with Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr, had one of the characters, Lawrence Faggot (Fah-go!) tossing damn hemp cigarettes aside in disgust!
The teen-angel badass, bad-angst full throttle afterburner of the Fab Fifties, gave us a full kilo of delightfully delirious and slightly deranged delinquent doper dramas. Hot Rods, hot chicks and marijuana sticks collided in a tangled wreck of highspeed and high weed. All of these films, to a point, were a reflective marijuana mirror of the present pot-tense of the time, and all, without exception, owe their potency to a 1930’s pot high camp classic silver screen smoke dream marijuana machine called Reefer Madness. This is the proposterously hilariaous propaganda classic that dared tell the pulp fiction truth. and nothing but the truth about…Marijuana! The Killer Drug!! Marijuana! The Assassin of Youth! One puff leads to murder, rape, insanity and a one way straight jacketed ticket to ride to the looney bin aboard the Lobotomy Express!
This film is the good golly Miss Molly great ganja grandaddy of them all. Released in the mid-1930’s as a church film decrying the inherently evil properties of the killer weed and it’s dilaterious effects on all decent citizenry of the Republic. It was originally released with the title Tell Your Children. After a brief run it was purchased by Dwain Esper, a maestro of the exploitation genre,, who took his meat cleaver and hacked out scenes with the skill of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, inserted new ones, added graphic violence and sex, a brilliant, overacted touch of insanity and a demented piano player and voila! The refeer recipe for success and madness!
After it’s uninhibited run in the Prohibition Thirties (the social experiment that gave rise to Organized Crime!) it ended up in storage and forgotten until 1971, when Kieth Stroup, founer of NORML bought a public domain copy for under 300 bucks. The print was cleaned up, the film re-released primarily to college campus audiences, and it became an instant hit. A cannabis midnight cowboy movie to be savored by stoned audiences who cheered wildly at every scene tossing sobriety out the theater doors!
Marijuana is still with us, and so is the prodigal cinematic child of pot parentage, Reefer Madness. The original film is still available in it’s original black and white incarnate form, as well as a new colorized lava lampoon version. The just to prove that people are strange production was a 2005 release of Reefer Madness: The Musical a show tune belter that was exhaled and released after a roach clip run on Off-Broadway. Theres No Business, Like Dope Business!
Julius Ceaser was a rank amateur when it came to ruling a vast empire. Nero was no hero either, and I Claudius had to make way for I Cannabis. In the powerplay annals of history and conquest, kingdoms, kings and conquerors, there are only two who can measure up to the tokin’ task of total and absolute rule. Cheech & Chong…The Crowned Heads of the Holy Rollin’ Empire!
California born Cheech Marin and Canadian Tommy Chong emerged as the Laurel and Hardy of the Reefer Revolution. Lighting up the radio dial in 1971 with their first album, and it wouldn’t be long until the big screen went ‘Up In Smoke in 1978. Over the years they have remained as the Stoner Poster Children of the counter culture and have taken their rightful place in the Hemp Hall of Fame and Infamy.
Cheech met Chong in a comedy club in Vancouver in the post-Woodstock year of 1970. Chong formerly was a musician with Canadian rock bands, eh, and decided to take a stab at comedy, and when the hemp plant planets were in perfect alignment Tommy traded in his Maple Leaf for the Green Leaf and a pairing of historic proportions was conceived. The act was a hit and they decided then to hit road with their act.
Up In Smoke was the dynamic doobie duo’s big screen debut and featured this oddball couple as Anthony Man Stoner and Pedro de Pacas. Produced by none other than Lou Adler it also featured Strother Martin of Cool Hand Luke fame (What we have here is a failure to communicate!) and Edie Adams, Mrs. Ernie Kovacs as Tommy Chongs Mom & Dad! Tommy, Man Stoner, gets kicked out of the house and heads for the ocean where he meets son of a beach Cheech in his Chick-Mobile and from there on it’s horsepower, joint jokes and homegrown fun…as they try to keep one toke over the borderline, (driving a van made of marijuana from Mexico to the United States) from Sgt. Stedenko of the DEA, played to bumbling perfection by Stacy Keach.
Eventually, in a pop premonition of the low spark of high heeled leather boys in Rocky Horror Picture Show, the Bong Boys end up on stage at LA’s Roxy Theater with a fetchingly attired Cheech in a garish pink tutu and Tommy dressed as a giant red quaalude! The times, they may have changed, but the lude dudes are still scoring big on the streets with continued sales of those vintage albums and cult classic movies. The best part is, they only seem to get better with age.
If smart bombs and Black Hawk helicopters fill the Pentagons battlefields to overflowing with the tools of war, then rolling papers, waterpipes, lava lamps and bongs are the weedy weapons of choice in the head shop arsenals of the United Altered States of America. Getting bombed on bongs, stoned on joints and getting as high as a caterpiller on hookahs is as American as red, white and blue napalm and the cache of nuclear stars and stripes weaponry of mass destruction at our disposal.
Rolling papers have been a staple since they first appeared in 1854 on a European battlefield! It was during the Crimean War and the Battle of Sevastopol that a French Zoave soldier broke his claypipe in the heatful exchange with the Russkis. Claypipes were the vehicle of choice for smoking tobacco in those times, so in order to enjoy his daily smoke he simple tore some paper from his gun powder bag, folded it, placed a line of tobacco in it and rolled his own. The idea caught on with others and the rest is hempstory!
This new way of smoking wasn’t just confined to the battlefields, and seemed to catch on back in the toney town of Gay Paree. In 1894, two enterprising brothers, Maurice and Jacques Braunstein, developed and patented a unique process of interweaving cigarette rolling papers. The process was called, simply, zig-zagging and the company became the legendary Zig Zag Company. Zig Zag Papers were such a hit, that they took the Gold Medal honors in 1900 at the Universal Exposition in Paris.
So, whatever became of that soave Zoave of fancy France? Next time you pull out your Zags to roll a Godzilla sized doobie, look at the logo. Yep, thats him. High times have immortalized his Royal Reefer Headness and he’s been helping us all to ride high as a kite for over a century.
The lava flow of the Vesuvian Sixties didn’t race down a Mediterranean mountainside. Instead, it flowed through the inner mind with heat and hot sexy colors performing their ballet of bubbles. The original liquid in motion lights, as they were called, was the brainchild of a native of Singapore, named Craven Walker who called his first light, The Astro Lite! A Roswellian name to be sure to light the path for the invasion of the UFO’s of the Flower Power Ganja Galaxy to come!
During WWII Walker was a pilot with the RAF fighting the flying metal of Messerschmidts during the Battle of Britain. As the world tried to put the pieces of the political puzzle back together after the fall of Berlin and atomizing of Hiroshima, Walker went about his tinkering and by 1963 light up London with the first loads of lava lamps. The lamp lit up one of the trade shows in Germany and two marketing suit and tie types bought the US light rights to the little Astro. In 1965 the first marketing eruption occured as the innaguaral light was sold in the United States. The psychedelic lava flow had begun.
Craven Walker died in London at the age of 82 in 2000 and once said of his little light, If you don’t like lava lamps, you don’t like sex either!
The weed seeds of the counter culture of the spare change Sixites were planted a long time ago in a compost pile of history that goes back thousands of years. The early American Colonists were no stranger to cannabis and we can trace the nations hemp lineage from Washington and Jefferson to Cheech and Chong! The Reefer Revolution is far from being over and much is still left to do on the marijuana frontlines to bring about it’s legalization.
There is however, a small grow light at the end of the political tunnel. One former United States President has at least admitted to smoking dope, although he claims that he never inhaled it, and today, there is a President named bush! Now, thats progress, Amigo!
Hemp, Hemp, Hooray!
Mike Marino is a freelance writer of pop and pot culture for a variety of magazines and ezines and author of the pop culture cult classic:
The Roadhead Chronicles
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