These days, recreational
drug use is so ubiquitous a theme in rock and hip hop that there's precious
little excitement or outlaw exoticism left in the notion and no wonder,
given the repetitive tedium of most dope raps. The 50 reefer songs collated
on Dope & Glory, however, come from a time the Thirties and Forties
when musicians had to be a little more circumspect in their drug
allusions. Creatively, they were all the better for it: the glossary of
clarinettist Mezz Mezzrow's autobiography Really the Blues, a treasury of
hipster jive argot, contains more than 50 terms for the consumption of marijuana,
and the bands featured here are just as inventive, with their coded talk
of vipers, spinach, tea, gage and "muggles". It's a much more
enjoyably hedonistic world than the surly place inhabited by most rappers,
too there's not one mention of firearms anywhere on these two CDs,
the main danger facing pre-war tokers being the possibility of apprehension
by the authorities. As you might expect, humour figures heavily here, with
plenty of absurdist rhymes such as "If he has a sudden mania/ To sell
you Pennsylvania" (one of several such couplets from Harlan Lattimore's
"Reefer Man" from 1932, surely one of the earliest recorded raps).
For sheer unbridled stoner fun, nothing beats the "viper's vocal"
version of Louis Armstrong's "Sweet Sue, Just You", a torrent
of nonsense gibberish that makes Stanley Unwin seem sensible.
(The Independent - 15 February 2002)
Fifty exhilarating tracks tell the story of marijuana usage within the
jive culture of the American underbelly during the 1920s and 30s. Jazz,
blues, and hokum by many of the greatest singers and players of the period
evoke an era that was hip and cool from within, and despised from without.
Chill out, kick back and enjoy.
the windows and lock the door,
The 'stuff' being referred to in the above verse, by Georgia White, is marijuana, otherwise known as 'jive' and 'roach,' 'reefer' and 'weed,' 'golden leaf' and 'Texas tea'. Colloquial usage had a whole raft of them, and many are found in the fifty vintage tracks featured here, each concerned with the theme of getting high on marijuana. Not that the performers refer to it by that name very often. In American society at large, as reflected in the output of the commercial recording companies at least, it was almost as taboo as sex. And just as sex was 'disguised' in many songs under a wide variety of euphemisms - see Volume 3 in the 'Flashbacks' series (Trikont US 0277) - so too the forbidden plant.
Hemp has been a cultivable crop with a distinct market value, grown in temperate climates for millennia. 'You'll find what I mean in any old field,' sings the vocalist with Buster Bailey's Rhythm Busters. Used across the centuries for numerous purposes, from rope, sail and paper making to car paint, in numerous ancient and modern cultures various parts of the plant were also commonly ingested as a narcotic. Consumption induces a relaxed and peaceful state, in which reality perception is transformed. 'I'm sailing in the sky,' sings Trixie Smith. Senses are heightened, even though speech, memory and motor functions may be temporarily impared.
'Everything will seem so funny, darkest days will seem so sunny,' observe The Cats and the Fiddle about their 'Killin' Jive.' Its effects are diametrically opposite to being deep in the blues. In fact, it can, for a time anyway, drive away those feelings of despair. In 'When I Get Low I Get High' Ella Fitzgerald has been left by her man, but she won't let it get her down as long as she's 'still got a dollar' to buy that stuff. Yack Taylor too, like Ella, is 'Knockin' Myself Out' because her man left her. She too knows the temporary remedy the weed will bring, but is far more depressed,
'I usta didn't blow gage, drink nothin' of the kind, But my man quit me and I changed my mind. That's why I'm knockin' myself out. Yes, I'm killing myself. I knock myself out, gradually by degrees.'
On a more positive note, 'You alone can bring my lover back to me, even though I know it's just a fantasy,' sings Gertrude Michael, extolling the virtues of 'Sweet Marijuana.' Meanwhile, Bea Foote proclaims herself the 'Queen of Vipers,' and croons languorously about her 'Weed,' which,
'Puts my heart at
ease, in sweet dream...
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