What does that song mean?

You Haven’t Met Your Last Reefer Man

Posted Apr 27th 2023, 18:30 by Penguin Pete

I know it’s a cliché to say this… but I never thought I’d end up here career-wise. Not only am I winding up my fifth year at Dab Connection as their editor-in-chief and resident expert on all things cannabis, but I’ve picked up another gig writing for a Canadian outfit selling LSD blotter acid and psilocybin mushrooms. Since many US cannabis outlets are starting to sell shrooms too (within legal bounds), I can now expect to become a psychedelics expert soon.

I won’t blame you for not believing me, but God sees my heart. I didn’t touch drugs for 20+ years. This was during the time I was actively raising kids, and you can guess the many reasons why I decided to remain sober. So my drug resume shows the usual farting around that all teenagers and twenty-somethings do, then a two decades’ gap, then suddenly a return to heavy and hard use above and beyond any recreational justification.

Nor was I prompted to return to drugs by any particular craving. I can actually live just fine without drugs, maybe with the exception for the occasional reefer if it comes my way. But then in the 2010s, America started legalizing pot in a big way, launching what now stands as a $25 billion industry. As a freelance blogger, how can I turn down the opportunity to become a thought leader in a new industry? People with drug experience are not rare, but people who can write about it and manage a licensed business in it – those definitely are rare!

And so, as I have slipped comfortably into my new niche as a modern psychonaut, I once again feel solidarity across nearly a century of time with Cab Calloway.

Marijuana Wasn’t Controversial A Century Ago

Hemp, the plant, was cultivated extensively throughout the first 160 years of American history. US presidents who owned hemp crops include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, and Andrew Jackson. Hemp crops were so important to early American agriculture that it was even depicted on US currency, which at the time was printed on 100% hemp fiber paper:

So… what happened? Long story short, American law took a hard anti-cannabis (and other narcotics) turn right after they tried alcohol prohibition… and then dropped it. In that article I go into more detail, but it should come as no surprise that narcotics administration has been largely carried out at the expense of minorities.

So what’s the music angle? Well, most of rock ‘n’ roll as we know it sprang from minority roots. Blues and jazz, plus spin-offs bebop and doowop, are a case in point. Not uncommon was the experience of tripping through New Orleans to run across a jazz club set up in a former speakeasy, guided in by the lingering smoke.

Cab Calloway’s “Reefer Man” Is Your Gateway Drug

Beyond the simple, lazy, easy-going attitude of Cab Calloway’s take lies a whole host of songs paying tribute to the plant with a shady reputation – most of them done before cannabis prohibition! Now that we’re getting comfortable with stoner culture going mainstream (baby steps, baby steps), it might be time to rediscover some vintage hits from a forgotten era.

Some other enterprising studio executive must have had the same thought, and put out Reefer Blues: Vintage Songs About Marijuana. Most of the names there, legendary though they be, are way too old to be commonly found in our artist database. But there’s a classic ensemble of jazz, swing, and bebop from the days when cannabis was just another plant to smoke. It represents a more innocent, untroubled time.

Compare my own assembled playlist of modern cannabis music and culture – the core essentials of modern-day. You can still walk into a vape shop and hear some of these. You can also sense a shift in tone between before and after prohibition. Cannabis just got a more underground reputation then, so the music becomes more rebellious, more anti-establishment.

So for the present, cannabis is not only legalizing, but it’s being taken up by the mainstream again, especially by modern music culture. All those music artists picking up their own cannabis brands, which are really just licensing deals on top of existing brands.

What a flabbergasting change from the previous attitude! Makes you wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place.



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