Music and the Drug Scene II

Thinking about this subject, and the sensitivity of it, and certainly my personal privacy, I wasn’t sure if I should go ahead with the post. But then I thought, hey, this was 30 years ago or more and besides that, in many ways it is so tied in with the music of that time that to not talk about it would leave a huge gap in this meager attempt to describe the music culture of the 60’s and early 70’s.

So, with that said, I will just plunge right in. As a preface I will say, yes, I was involved in the drug culture back then. Yes, I experimented with various stuff (with some I had to repeat the experiments frequently). No, I don’t do any of that anymore and haven’t for decades and no, I don’t regret it at all. If you were also involved, you know what I mean and will understand all of this post. If you were not, and never have been, you will likely not understand it at all.

Whew! Ok. I can tell already this is gonna be a long one. I am going to limit this post to a discussion of the time from 1967-1972 or there abouts. I say that because, to me, after that there was no longer a “hippie” culture of make love, not war and give peace a chance. There was just a bunch of young people getting stoned. And there is a difference.

Before I get into the relationship between drugs of the day and music of the day, I need to define “drug culture” as opposed to “drug use.” Drugs have been around for a long time, much longer than rock and roll. When I use the term “drug culture” I am speaking of the explosion of use that occurred during the late 60’s. This coincided with the explosion of the Vietnam war and the number of young people that found themselves being involuntarily drawn into it. I also will try to define the much overused term “hippie.” There was a certain etiquette involved in the procurement, processing, and use of drugs back then. A “hippie” was someone who bought into the idea of absolute freedom of expression (as long as it did not hurt others) and non-violence. A hippie had no use for racism and shunned most of the restrictive codes of acceptable conduct of that time. They at least professed to be free in mind, body and spirit. If they were into the drug culture, they did, however, follow the etiquette that had evolved.

That etiqette included such things as sharing, or offering to share anything you might be using at the time if you were in a group. In other words, don’t bogart that joint, my friend. It meant you looked out for each other in case someone overdid it. It meant you helped get rid of the stash if there was danger of exposure. It meant you hugged when you met, you treated each other with respect, you asked if it was ok before you got naked in front of strangers (it was always ok) and you helped separate seeds and stems if it was your turn. If someone needed a ride to the free clinic because they thought they might have crabs or the clap, you offered freely and waited until they were done.

It ended up being a burden being so nice and respectful, especially if you were stoned out of your gourd, and maybe that is why true hippiedom didn’t last very long. But it did last for a while.

Certain drugs were very prevalent during this time. Marijuana, grass, weed, pot, maryjane was pretty much available anywhere. It was mostly mexican and sold for about $10 a lid or ounce. Hash was a concentrated form of pot and was also not hard to find. These brought on a mild euphoria, seemed to enhance the pleasure of listening to music, and might make the smallest joke bring on uncontrollable laughter. Pot also brought on uncontrollable hunger (the munchies). Breaking down a key or even separating seeds and stems was a social event enjoyed over a beer or a glass of Carlo Rossi red. Vietnam opened the highways for much more potent, and expensive strains of weed. Thai stick and Cambo red among others and so expensive that you bought quarters or even eighths instead of full ounces.

LSD or acid was the first synthetic drug to gain widespread acceptance and was readily available. Window Pane, Purple Haze, Orange Wedge were a few of the sought after types. At about 2 bucks a hit it fit everyones pocketbook. I am not going to even attempt to describe the effects of this drug. If you have had it you know. If you haven’t, you could not possible get an idea from just reading words. Suffice it to say, it is very powerful and can definitely cause you to percieve things that you would not otherwise ever notice. It also has a tendency to enhance the senses, sometimes to an extreme degree. Dr. Timothy Leary, who coined the phrase, Turn on, Tune in, Drop out (or something like that) was a great proponent of LSD and is considered by some to be the Father of the LSD movement. I pretty much just consider him a jerk.

It is no surprise that the bands of the day got into these drugs. Not only because taking them was just fun, but because they believed that they might enhance their creativity. My opinion is, if you were already a creative talent, had the gift of composing or the touch on the guitar strings, then yes, pot or the psychedelics might lead you down some creative paths that you hadn’t been on before. My only evidence of that is that a) many if not most of the bands during that time were using drugs (by there own admission or because they got busted with the stuff) and b) they were churning out some great music.

Listeners and fans were already treating some of the bands like gods so it is no surprise that, when the music became drug related, more began experimenting. I remember when the Beatles came out with Magical Mystery Tour. When we first heard it, those of us that were already toking walked around in awe for days. Then they blew our minds again with the White Album. Jimi Henrix actually made a song called Purple Haze and someone else wrote Don’t Bogart That Joint My Friend. The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, Janice, Jefferson Airplane, Riders of the Purple Sage, Cream, so many of them were singing these songs, there was just no escaping it. But who wanted to?

There was no such thing as CD’s back then, not even cassettes, let alone cheap pirated ones so, if you wanted the music, you had to go and buy the albums. They weren’t cheap and many of us had very little disposable income (read unemployment insurance, foodstamps, and in my case GI bill). We scrapped a few bucks together and bought them anyway. That is how important it was. And we protected those albums. We carefully handled them, taking them out and putting them away, storing them up on end so they wouldn’t warp. And if you were at a friends house and were allowed to play his records, you did so as if handling a new born babe.

I have to mention Woodstock before I close this out. I didn’t go there. I was already in the army then. And I know there were some problems. But, just tell me. Today, anywhere in the US, let alone New York for gods sake, could you have a half a million young people, most carrying drugs, congregate in one place with inadequate food, medical supplies, toilets, shelter (it rained), for three days and have that turn out to be a peaceful weekend? No. It would become a nightmare. But at Woodstock, in 1968 – the summer of love – it was not a nightmare. It was magical and truly defined that time and that very short lived culture.

It was a time of war, chaos, frightened and confused young people, a government that could not be trusted. Body bags, C company on TV each night. My take? The bands were there for the young people and the young people were there for them. The drugs were really just a small part of it. Nuff said.

Next Up: What’s playin’ on the expat’s mp3 player now.
On Deck: Being Under Surveillance by Army Intelligence

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2 Comments on “Music and the Drug Scene II”

  1. Kathy Says:

    Again, very perceptive reflections of that era.

    I didn’t realize it till I read your written words, but hippies did shun racism, which was one of the nicer contributions that generation gave the world. In spite of the drugs, and what some deemed slovenly dress code, the youth of that time had their heads in the right place. They could see the hypocrisy of worrying about outward appearances when a person’s soul was dirtied with hate and intolerance.

    Regarding Woodstock and what would happen today, I’m not so sure it would disintegrate into a nightmare. Look what the victims of Katrina endured and there were really only a few incidents overall.

  2. expatbrian Says:

    Hi Kathy, Not sure I can agree with the comparison. I’m referring to a mass of teenagers, stoned and not in a life threatening situation, as opposed to New Orleans where families had to help each other to survive. I’m just not sure that outside of that very unique “hippie style” culture of love and peace, that it could happen. It was attempted a few years later at Altamont (Rolling Stones) and it was a nightmare. Anyway, thanks for stopping by again.

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