Sunday, October 10, 2010

Musician Smokes Dope! Details at Eleven

Long as people have been doing drugs, they have been singing songs about it. Some pro, some anti, some just observational. As a child of the Sixties, I assumed as all children who re-invent the wheel each generation, that such tunes were unique to us.

Not so.

"La Cucaracha?" Not a dope song when it started out, but there are verses added, and the term "roach," came to mean the stub of a noxious weed cigarette. "Roach clip" is not something you use to trim roach toenails. 

"Puff the Magic Dragon?" PP&M said it was not a dope song, but it's not hard to make that leap ...

From the soundtrack of Easy Rider, Little Feat doing "Don't Bogart that Joint." Which needs explanation, if you don't know that a) "joint" is a marijuana cigarette. b) Such are passed around and shared when smoking in a group. c) Bogart often had a cigarette lipped for long periods in his movies. And lung cancer is what killed him.

Google "Songs about Drugs," you get 7.6 million hits. (Pun intended.) My own warning against the dangers of methamphetamine -- not, fortunately, something I have experienced myself -- if you plug that in: "Songs about Methamphetamine," you get 197,000 hits. Aren't that many songs, of course, but some discussion.

Poking around doing some research on a song called "Viper," or "The Reefer Song," I came across some fun facts. First recorded by Stuff Smith & His Onyx Club Boys in 1936, the best-known cover was by Fats Waller, in 1943. Smith was a jazz violinist and hot in his day; Waller was a stride piano player of some note. 

The words vary some from version to version. Here's the first verse of one I heard:

Dream about a reefer five feet long/
A little bit hot but not too strong/
You'll be high, but not for long/
If you're a Viper ...

Some explanations: "Reefer," is an informal term for a marijuana cigarette. "Marijuana," from Mexican Spanish, "Mary Jane," is the term that came to mean the hemp plant that produces psychoactive effects when smoked or ingested.

"Viper" was used in the 1920's and '30's, primarily by musicians, as a code word for marijuana smokers. If you were checking to see if it was okay to light up a reefer in front of somebody in 1930, you might ask, "You a viper?" (In the 1960's, you might say, "You get down?" or "You a toker?" Or "Want to do a doobie?" Ever hear of The Doobie Brothers?"

Just another quick lesson in musical history to brighten your day. 


Dan Gambiera said...

We've got two or three albums of jazz and blues songs from the Jazz Age all about cocaine and pot.

Ian SADLER said...

apparently reefer is from Rolled Leaf

Steve Perry said...

I dunno the etymology of "reefer," I've heard various theories. Mexican Spanish for "tap," or "faucet," the word "grifo," is sometimes offered up.

I'm reading the biography of "Mezz" Mezzrow, a white jazz musician who crossed the color line in the 20s and 30s. In one version of the reefer song, the words say, "A little bit Mezz, but not too strong." Man's name became a term for particularly potent weed, and he eventually became better known as a dealer than a musician.

Such fascinating stuff in history.

jks9199 said...

And... in the category of unexpected coincidences of life... I'm driving to teach my martial arts class tonight, and listening to XM radio. Outlaw Country. And apparently, it was the homage to marijuana hour... 'cause each of the several songs played on my travels was about weed. Among the most blatant? "Down to Seeds & Stems"

heina said...

If you haven't read it, "20 Years of Rolling Stones -- What a Long Strange Trip It's Been" covers the convergence of many factors and groups that created The Scene in the Bay Area that created the drug and rock and roll culture of that era.

Fascinating read. I'll bring it up this weekend if you haven't read it, because you don't have enough books. :P