INHALE! INHALE! ROCK N ROLL
By Chris Robinson
Originally Published in New Musical Express July 17, 1993
You pick up the block of moist, Moroccan hashish and you sniff at it carefully. Satisfied, you heat it up, crumble it into tiny nuggets and drop the pieces onto a sheet of paper on the Danish hotel table.
Next you take an American banknote from your jeans—per diem expenses when you’re on tour with your band The Black Crowes—and you drop the crumbs of hash onto the bill. As you begin rolling the note around the hash to pack it tightly, one of the British guys in the room laughs about the connotations of this—how funny it is to see George Washington’s face being rolled around in this low-grade North African shit.
But you just shrug it off. Who cares? All of those American founding fathers grew hemp, and most of them smoked it, man. Washington smoked it. So did Benjamin Franklin. Thomas Jefferson grew the stuff. And say, don’t you know that the US Constitution was originally printed up on good old American hemp paper?
So you keep rolling, and talking all the while, about your weird dream last night when you were hanging out with Neil Young—just you, Chris Robinson, and mad old Neil, having a time. Still, it wasn’t half as crazy as your last trip to Copenhagen, when the grass was easy to get and the cops were a lot more lenient, and you could get yourself a chillum and get completely wasted.
There you were with the rest of the band in the Christianshavn—the hippy quarter of town by the old army barracks—sucking away at this weed and chasing it down with Elephant beer. And when you finally got on stage later and you figured that half the town must have been at it too, ‘cos there were all these men—these nekkid men—all trying to climb onstage, and the security guys were all trying to grab their sweaty asses, and you thought, uuuugh, man.
As you remember this and you see the mid-day sun creep in from behind the curtain, you start to liven up, and soon you’re rapping nonstop about your pets in Los Angeles, Skunk and Doyle, the British bulldogs, who have to get treated while you’re away. And Johnny the bassist is laughing about them getting their nuts cut off, but you still love those mutts for being such fiends, and for the sheer girth of them, even if they did try to act like Adonis all the time, back there in Wonderland Avenue, Laurel Canyon…
While you’re talking, you keep pulling at the back of your head, teasing up these lumps of hair that immediately fall down again, since your Keith Richards feather-cut has long since grown out. But you like to do it anyway, and it’s cool the way the lights keep reflecting off your Arabic prayer ring, and hey, have you told these people that your undershirt used to belong to Frank Zappa—‘cos he’s the uncle of Lalla, your girlfriend, and you like to wear all her stuff?
Now that the hash is tightly compacted inside the hundred dollar bill, you carefully unroll it, and turn the contents onto a cigarette paper. There’s maybe an eighth of neat pot in there (who wants tobacco?), and you lick the paper, twist the end, and light it.
Everybody knows that the Black Crowes smoke pot, but it still freaks some people out. Like when, as a joke a few years back, you put in a request for an ounce of herb a day for your backstage rider on the tour, and one of the venues faxed the note to Performance magazine, and there was some controversy over that. And the British guys in the hotel hear that and say, hey Chris, you wouldn’t smoke a whole ounce a day, would you? And you grin, knowing that you have, though not that often. Your pot dealer in New York, he carries at least a pound of herb around with him all the time. You can smell him a mile away…
You put the cigarette lighter in your pocket, even though you know it belongs to the English photographer. Later, you’ll light his cigarettes with it, and he’ll realize that you’re keeping hold of it, and you’re playing a little game with him. Lowell George, your dead hero from Little Feat, he used to keep everybody’s lighters and label them afterwards, noting where he got them from, and when. At the end of the tour, the roadies would find a chest full of hundreds of these lighters. But you prefer to be more blatant—you like watching people’s faces when they recognize their old property.
You pull the smoke down into your lungs, savoring the taste, anticipating your first rush. You haven’t had a smoke since you left America, so your tolerance is lower, and you feel the pot starting to work, loosening you up, prompting one of those Southern boy, coyote calls out of you—the noise you like to make when you’re having fun.
Just like it says on those buttons they sell at The Black Crowes’ shows—‘Chris Robinson: he inhales’.
You know full well that becoming a pro-pot spokesman has caused some difficulties. Like when your parents saw you on the cover of High Times smoking a joint, and you had to talk it through with them. They asked you never to indulge in that stuff at home and you hadn’t, but now it was public news, and they weren’t happy about it.
But you’d hardly been discrete before then anyway. You’d headlined the third Atlanta Pot Festival in front of 50,000 people in April ’92. Your artwork constantly alludes to the practice, not to mention the Black Crowes’ special rolling papers and plectrums embossed with a cannabis leaf. So you know that you have to be more careful now, that as a band that’s had a Number One album in America, you’re bound to be targeted by the narcs.
So you make sure nobody in your party is selling the stuff, and you don’t travel with any grass on board. But the police still try to make an example of you, like the time you were pulled over in Mississippi or, worse, in Louisville, Kentucky, when the backstage area was swarming with undercover cops, all hyped up with guns and badges.
They didn’t touch you, but they got your merchandiser, and bashed his head in, literally beating him into submission. He had lacerations on his face and a broken finger. He needed eight staples in his head to fix his scalp back onto his skull. For what? Because these people decided to impose rules on somebody else, which is a mind-numbingly sick act in itself.
But still, you have to assault the taboo, you say. Especially when there are all these bands saying don’t do drugs, and you know for a fact that they’re completely wasted. It makes you mad, it makes you rail every time a journalist brings the subject up. So you snarl, ‘There’s Lou Reed saying, ‘Don’t do drugs, I did them, don’t you start. Why is that” is his experience with this thing so exalted that none of us ever have to experiment again? I say, make your own choices.
“And then, of course, you’re viewed as someone evil, an anarchist or a Satanist, or something. But it’s really that simple, I refuse to believe in the system.”
Chris Robinson: he indites a lot, too.
Because the problem is a lot broader than the marijuana issue, right? It’s about the hypocrisy you see all around the place, you reckon, about the people who say they believe in the Constitution—who stand up at the ball game and put their hand on their chest and sing the national anthem. That’s bullshit—they don’t give a flying fuck for anyone who wants to be their own person.
You tried to explain about the time when Rolling Stone invited you to write an editorial for the magazine, and you wrote, ‘we’re not afraid to move and be moved, because beauty is a cause and a curse.’ Rock and roll doesn’t have to be 'stoopit. You’re not saying it has to be intellectual or highbrow, but you can maybe refuse to live that cliché.
So you can wave a gun around on the cover of your record, and that’s somehow alright. And like your brother Rich says, you can have a big nekkid butt; or some guy grabbing his dick on a record sleeve, and that’s permissible too. But you turn up on MTV wearing some pot leaf pants in your “Bad Luck Blue Eyes” video and they freak completely.
Gram Parsons had the right idea. While all of the regular cowboy singers commissioned these cornball suits with musical notes and American flags on them, Gram, that wayward Georgia boy, got Nudie, the famous tailor to sew marijuana leaves and pills and poppies all over his. It was an honest celebration; Gram was admitting that he got wasted ‘cos it was fun, that it actually added to the moment.
You love Gram a lot, because he turned The Stones onto country music, and also because of his vision of Cosmic American Music, this mystical place where jazz, blues and country music all converge—a location where all the musical bloodlines of your country can be experienced and enjoyed. You’re still searching for that all the time yourself, and sometimes when you’re stoned, that place seems a little easier to reach.
And that’s why it’s so important when you’re on tour to set up Camp Crowe backstage every day; to get that huge sound system, the kilim rugs, the funky awnings outside the dressing room, plus the exotic couch and the incense sticks burning away. So you can all sit there and listen to Mingus and the Louvin Brothers and Furry Lewis, and toke away and you imagine you can feel the beautiful individual fibers of those rich vibes into you’re your own music—you can catch some of those subtle half-tones when you’re out jamming in front of thousands of stoned fans, and the whole thing flows in this special, far-out way.
You’re musing over a lot of these issues later in the day, when you step into a press conference at the Danish festival site. The journalists are a bit timid, but sure enough, the same old questions are raised.
"Do you support the legalize marijuana campaign?
One word: “Yes.”
“But,” follows another reporter, “isn’t it true that drugs are the coward’s way out—that people use them to escape from reality?”
You think for it for maybe a second, then you look the guy square in the face. “I use pot to heighten reality, not escape from it. What do you think of that, man?”
A couple of years back, you were wiling away the morning at Maria’s in your hometown of Atlanta. You love Maria’s because they make these really good home-made biscuits and country ham—real Sunday morning Southern breakfasts. And there’s a voice on the radio show that makes you jolt to attention.
The show is called Rewind, and it specializes in 60s and 70s music. And on this occasion, they’re featuring a music writer from Waycross, Georgia, called Stanley Booth. He’s the guy who wrote The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones. He was also a friend of Gram Parsons for a while. You jump in the car and steer for the radio station, listening to the rest of the interview on the way.
You meet Stanley in the parking lot, you tell him who you are, and Stanley gives you a few stories about the dead singer—how he dreams about him sometimes, and Gram is always saying “I’ll see you later!” Stanley raps on a bit about drugs and local writer friends like Terry Southern—the author of Red Dirt Marijuana…and Easy Rider star, who you’ll contact later as well.
But the thing that freaks you out about meeting Stanley Booth is when you notice his pants. He’s keeping them up with an old army belt—a Confederate States of America buckle left over from the Civil War. You’re strangely excited, and you ask him where he got it, and Stanley just says, “this is my country,” like it’s the most natural thing ever.
That hits a chord with you, because when you were growing up in Atlanta, you’d go out with your dad to Peachy Valley, and dig up old buckles and buttons from the Civil War. Your dad would prise bullets out of old dead trees, and you’d be confused at the historical significance of this—how your ancestors fought against the Yankees up north, were defeated, and now nobody wants to talk about a part of American history that changed the face of the country, and ultimately decided how you perceive what’s right and wrong.
Now, of course, you’re in a famous band, and to an outside world you walk it and talk it like a Southern boy, and people ask you about this stuff all the time. Since the Confederacy was against the abolition of slavery, people often presume that everybody south of the Mason-Dixon Line is still a racist. Once a German reporter just blurted this out straight, and you told him, 'how can you be so superior when your grandfather’s generation incinerated millions of Jews?'
You know the subject is like a landmine. When you signed to Def American, Rick Rubin wanted you to play in front of a Confederate flag—just like Lynyrd Skynyrd in ’74, lashing out “Sweet Home Alabama” as a response to the Neil Young put-down, “Southern Man”—but you told him you would not reduce your ancestry to that kind of cartoon behavior.
You want people to appreciate the south in the music that the Black Crowes play—in the fatback sound of Steve’s drums, in the free-flight gospel keyboards Ed plays during "Thorn in My Pride”, in the twin guitars and epic jam sessions that call to mind The Allman Brothers at their most spaced out, playing seven hours at The Fillmore East just because they could.
It’s an enigma, that thing, you passionately explain later in the festival dressing room. You mention the way that southern music has affected the face of popular music, whether it’s John Coltrane coming from North Carolina, or Sonny Terry living in Alabama, whether it’s Bill Monroe inventing western swing, or bluegrass boys Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, or any of those people. But it’s so hard to define, you say without becoming gung-ho and over the top.
“Just because every racist group uses a Confederate flag,” you explain further, “it’s become a racist flag. But it didn’t mean that. It was gonna change…but that’s history and bullshit and stuff. You can’t look over the slavery aspect because that was the part that was evil and hideous, and no-one was immune to ignorance and fearfulness…
“But you’re growing up in this place that soon stripped of its individuality and taught you should feel embarrassed, but you don’t believe those things and you didn’t do those things. But what about my history—don’t I have some?”
That’s what people always like about the Allman Brothers—how they pulled away from the dead-end rock of the late 60s and filled it full of blues and jazz stuff once more—they reminded everyone that this music had originally came from the south—from places like New Orleans and Memphis and Texas and they gave people something to feel proud about.
And of course, the journalists will hang all sorts of fancy notions on this phenomenon. They’ll say Chris Robinson—he indulges—an out-of-time-stoner with painted toe nails, harking back to the past the way Blanche DuBois kept mourning for the glory days at Bel Reve, the old plantation gone to ruin in a Street Car Named Desire. A dead era.
And the journalists will argue that there’s no point in harking back all the time—that these are harder times, and no rosy light can conceal the awfulness of LA ghettos, pernicious crack problems and gun law gone awry. People will argue that rap music is the style that suits the times, and you’ll have to disagree once more.
You know that you risk coming out of this argument badly. Brother Rich even suggests he likes Arrested Development and Digable Planets, but you both believe in your bones that the idea of sampling—of taking a piece of, say, an old Charlie Parker solo, and looping it and rapping over the top amounts to grand larceny in your book.
So the journalists will use this as a stick to beat you with too, and while you’re bothered by it, you’re not ever going to be persuaded that this is legitimate music. So they’ll view this as another Southern trait—some antiquated, inflexible concept of what’s correct, what’s permissible. They’ll point to some of those absurd strategy meetings during the Civil War, when the Confederate officers would argue it’s more noble to charge the field with saber charges rather than commit to those horrible, new fangled rifles. These reporters see you, Chris Robinson, as the inheritor of this mind-set, but of course you don’t altogether agree. You feel that it was progressive too.
“Some of it wasn’t evil,’ you say, “and some of it you have to look at as being really, like valiant. The Confederacy in a way stood for what a lot of the original Constitution and Colonies were set up to be…
“It was fiercely independent, you know…a state’s a state, and you moved to a specific state because there were people that you wanted to be with, or you moved to another area because you didn’t want to be with anyone.” You frown at the realization of how it’s all turned out.
“I guess with mass media, everything’s this big (you press your thumb and forefinger tight). You turn on MTV and it’s like, the whole world…”
Ugly Kid Joe certainly don’t see the point. They’re still sore at you for getting them thrown out of one of your record release parties in the States last year. You didn’t want them around, so they were removed. And they still keep approaching you at festivals, wanting to be friends, but you don’t want any part of it.
They spent a whole day at a German festival, trying to get a face off. Finally they got Johnny Colt, your bassist, in a corner, and they kept saying, “Why do you hate us, man?” But Johnny, he’s not bothered. He carries a gun with him back home, and he’s not going to be intimidated by these boys.
“What do you care?” says Johnny. “It’s nothing personal. We just hate everybody.”
Because that’s how it is, really—it’s The Crowes against the world. You don’t take holidays and you’ve hardly quit touring for the last three years. Even recording is jammed in between gaps in tours—the guts of your Number One album were laid down in eight days while tour fever was still hot.
Maybe things will cool down a little when brother Rich marries Emma Snowball—the society papers are getting excited about this union between a millionaire rocker and a famous model. You don’t even know where you’ll be having the bachelor party or even the wedding yet—Steve wants you to hire a castle in Ireland or something. But won’t it be cool being an uncle? What will the kid think of Uncle Chris with his painted toe nails and his pot smoking ways?
You look around the backstage area and you smile at the state of the place. Afghan coats, buckskin jackets, stovepipe hats, lizard skin boots—people say the combined entourages of The Crowes and Lenny Kravitz (also doing this show) make it seem like a cool night at the Fillmore in ’67.
And here’s Lenny yelling, "What’s up, baby?” walking over with his court photographer, wanting a picture of you together. And you’re not sure about this, but Lenny pleads with you. “It’s for my wall Chris," he coos. You don’t mind Lenny because you’re seeing him all the time on the European tour circuit, and he’s done you a few favors, too.
You remember the time you spent in the Bahamas with Lenny’s cousin, a doctor, and how you were taken out one night to the edge of this cliff, and you sat there, stoned, and all of a sudden these weird shapes started appearing in the sky—these pyramid formations high up there, and it just blew you away.
Then the biggest joint you’ve seen in months gets passed around—Lenny’s sax man made it with all the grass they had left, so they won’t need to worry about customs on their way out of Denmark. “Hey, a double Tampax,” somebody gurgles happily.
But it’s close to show time now, so you retire into the dressing room. The Turkish Suffi music has finished now, so you play a little Jellyfish, and then it’s time to get revved up for the gig. Somebody puts on a James Gang record, and you’re off, riffing and banging the walls to “Funk #49”, letting out coyote calls, getting excited.
"If you’re gonna act that way, I think there’s trouble brewing!” You all hoot along to the record, before stomping out into the fresh night air.
Then you race over to the steep festival steps where Kravitz’s people and stage crew are waiting. "Kick ass, Crowes!” shouts Lenny, as you stride onto the lip of the stage, mustering this freaky, long-haired charge all over again.
Tonight’s mission? It’s like you said to the journalist earlier: “It’s a whole nother thing about your mind and where you wanna be, and what you choose to do. To be moved and to move…”
The crowd is moving alright, and the valve amps are heating up and Steve’s slamming down the backbeat and it starts getting cosmic once more. And there’s you up there, doing your jivey dance, jamming, letting it flow, loving it. You’re…still smokin’ man.