Folio Weed

Words by Shelton Hull

From the time I started this column, way back in September 2017, music has been a recurring theme. And that’s to be expected, given how intrinsically American music and cannabis culture have been linked, going back at least 100 years now. Let’s talk a bit about the past this month, and we’ll get back to the future in May.

The earliest criminalization efforts focused on the intersection between weed and music, specifically jazz, and the Black people who carried it from New Orleans to Chicago to New York, and soon after over the Atlantic Ocean to London, Paris and Berlin. And to be fair, pot was always a thing in that scene, almost as much as the bootleg beer, whiskey and gin that drove profits through Prohibition, thus funding the clubs in which the music originally flourished. This was due largely to the influence of Louis Armstrong, who put jazz on the national map in 1923, then took it Europe in 1927, and then the Middle East and back “home” to Africa in the 1950s. If there was a Mount Rushmore of weed, he would go in the George Washington spot.

Like rock and rap would later, jazz quickly crossed racial boundaries, uniting progressive youths of all types, and that will always terrify the authorities. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1934 was explicitly touted as pushback against jazz and the social values around the music, and not just politics: interracial relationships were a huge concern. Given that the majority of lynchings occurred for that exact reason (or at least the suspicion thereof), it makes perfect sense that the most potent tool for systemic racism of the post-war era, the Drug War, has its origins in the same fear that inspired Jim Crow and the tyranny of the Klan in a previous era. 

Later expansions of Drug War protocols were not quite so on the nose, in terms of the propaganda, which is really not the right word. “Disinformation” might be better, or even just “blatant lies, easily disproven by science and reason, but taken at face value without pushback, because racism clouds people’s judgment as thoroughly as any drug and certainly more than marijuana.” By the 1960s, focus had shifted to the anti-war movement, then to rap in the ’80s at which point the drug game had changed dramatically, and that story dovetails from this one; we’ll touch on that another time. 

Those 1960s hippies were little siblings of the beatniks who backed jazz in the 1950s, both the children of the pioneering white musicians and fans who flocked to those early Armstrong shows in the ’20s and ignited the Swing Era before going overseas to save the world from itself. And then they came home and set off the biggest economic and cultural boom that this world will ever see. And the children of those hippies grew up to be — well, probably you and whatever music you’re listening to right now, especially if it’s local. (Shout-out to The Independent 89.9 HD4!)

And all this started with jazz and a bunch of white high school kids who took trains in from Illinois suburbs to see Armstrong in downtown Chicago. They took a risk by going, and Armstrong took a bigger risk by letting them in. But they did and the ripple effects changed the world forever. One of those kids was my favorite drummer ever, Gene Krupa, who 21 years later would become maybe the very first celebrities ever busted for weed. So, in a sense, the reactionaries of a century ago were technically right, in that jazz and cannabis combined to help destroy the old order, but what it helped create is, in my personal opinion, vastly superior. 

Having said all that, please note that I’m currently collecting fresh recommendations for new songs about weed. This was a very popular gimmick in the early days of this column, one we’ve not revisited in some time. Kindly send and suggestions to me,  please and thank you. We’ll print the best ones next month, with attribution, of course, and I’ll have many more such songs, past and present, playlisted on YouTube for you, the reader, the enjoy by then. 

And Happy 4/20, to all who celebrate!

 

 

About Shelton Hull

Shelton Hull has been writing for Folio Weekly since 1997, but his resume goes back even further. He has written for almost every newspaper, magazine and zine in Northeast Florida, as well as publications like Orlando Weekly, Narrow GNV, Creative Loafing Tampa, Charleston City Paper, Ink19 and The Atlantic. He currently writes the "Folio Weed" column, which he created in 2018; he remains one of the widest-read and most influential cannabis writers in the world today. He also compiles material for "Weird Wild Stuff" column, and he previously wrote the legendary "Money Jungle" column for Folio Weekly from 1999 to 2009. He is a regular contributor to "First Coast Connect" on WJCT, as well as the Jacksonville Music Experience. He is a co-host of "The Contrast Project" and the "Bold City Civics" podcast. He is also a co-founder of the record label Bold City Music Productions. He can be reached at [email protected].