Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Illicit drug history

I've long been skeptical of the simplified version of how and why some drugs became illegal that is given by some pro-drug reform advocates, especially when it comes from a libertarian perspective that broader society really has no right or interest in trying to modify private behaviour.   So it is with interest that I have stumbled across Points:  The Blog of the Alcohol and Drugs History Society.

I haven't gotten too far into it, so I am not sure whether I will end up skeptical of some of its writers' positions too, but it at least seems to indicate that they deal with the problem as a complex one.   Here is a brief extract from one post:
Ironically, when one digs into the history of marijuana and its connection to the jazz world in the early 20th century, it appears white men were primarily responsible for introducing black musicians and Harlemites to weed (or in the parlance of their day, gage, tea, muggles or reefer, among many other names). Italian-American Leon Roppolo, the clarinetist for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, was said to have introduced marijuana to the Chicago jazz scene, in particular to Jewish saxophonist Mezz Mezzrow, who later became weed dealer to Louis Armstrong and much of Harlem. “Mezz” became another nickname for pot, according to the saxophonist, who also considered himself an “honorary Negro.”
Notably, Mezzrow’s autobiography, Really the Blues – which is so peppered with terminology from jazz and African American cultures that it includes a lengthy glossary – exemplifies Becker’s theory of how one becomes a marijuana user (or in 1930s slang, a viper). Becker argues that one must learn “how to be high” and is usually coached into weed usage through friends who are already active users. The first time Mezzrow smoked, he didn’t feel a thing, and was reprimanded. “You ain’t even smokin’ it right,” he was told. “You got to hold that muggle so that it barely touches your lips, see, then draw in air around it. Say tfff, tfff, only breathe in when you say it. Then don’t blow it out right away, you got to give the stuff a chance.”
After receiving this instruction and finishing his first joint correctly, Mezzrow returned to his bandstand. He recalled that “the first thing I noticed was I began to hear my saxophone as though it was inside my head…then I began to feel the vibrations of the reed much more pronounced against my lip, and my head buzzed like a loudspeaker…I felt I could go on playing for years without running out of ideas and energy…The people were going crazy over the subtle changes in our playing.” Mezz argued that “tea puts a musician in a real masterly sphere, and that’s why so many jazzmen have used it.”
Despite Mezz’s positive experiences with the drug, 1930s critics increasingly associated weed with black musical subcultures and pathological behavior.

1 comment:

John said...

The Zen Dude Alan Watts once stated that the only people who really listen to music are potheads(circa 1960). There is something about marijuana and music. It certainly can enhance the listening and playing experience.

BTW, not at all uncommon for people to not feel anything when they first smoke. I have no idea why that is the case.