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Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz

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Abstract

Book Abstract: What is it like to be high on marijuana? Can a cannabis high help to remember long gone events, to fuel your imagination, to work creatively, to come to introspective and other insights, to empathically understand others, and to personally grow? How much did cannabis inspire outstanding thinkers, artists and musicians like Charles Baudelaire, Rudyard Kipling, Walter Benjamin, Billie Holiday, Diego Rivera, John Lennon, Carl Sagan, Hal Ashby, and so many others? And how much did the marijuana high positively transfom our society? "What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin - Mind-Altering Essays on Cannabis" is a collection of 20 neurophilosophically inspired essays on the astounding positive potential of the cannabis high.
What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin
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Das positive Potential von Marijuana. Tropen/Klett-Cotta 2013
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www.sebastianmarincolo.de
What
Hashish
Did To
Walter Benjamin
Mind-Altering Essays
on Marijuana
Sebastn Marincolo
For
Lester Grinspoon
Mentor and friend,
who so generously shared his unbelievable knowledge with me
in so many conversations
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Text © 2015 by Sebastián Marincolo
Cover Design © 2015 by Andy Smith
All rights reserved under the International Copyright Conventions. This book may not be
reproduced in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, in-
cluding photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system now
known or hereafter invented, without written permission from the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-In-Publication Data
Marincolo, Sebastián 1969-
What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin. Mind-Altering Essays on Marijuana
p. cm. (What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin)
Includes biographical references.
ISBN 978-3-9817712-0-6
1. Marijuana 2. Cannabis 3. Walter Benjamin
First edition: November 2015
Stuttgart, Germany
Publisher: Khargala Press
Number of Pages: 190
First Printing: 2015
Summary: 20 neurophilosophical essays about the positive potential of the marijuana high
and how it positively affected luminaries such as Walter Benjamin, Carl Sagan, and Louis
Armstrong.
Publisher’s Note
We take great care to ensure that the information in this book is accurate and presented in
good faith, but no warranty is provided or results guaranteed. This material is intended for
informational purposes only. The publisher does not condone illegal activity of any kind.
Printed in the U.K.
Contents
Foreword by Joe Dolce 1
PartITurnOn
Cannabis, Mind Enhancements, and Culture 6
Just Another Altered State of Consciousness 20
Marijuana, Dopes, and Cognitive Enhancements 26
GUINEA A Guerrilla-Neurophilosophical Approach to High Science 31
PartIITuneIn
The Zen-Effect of Marijuana 42
Marijuana and the Enhancement of Episodic Memory 47
Marijuana and The Power of Imagination 52
Marijuana and The Slowdown of Time Perception 59
Marijuana, Pattern Recognition, and What it Means to be 'High' 64
The Effects of Marijuana on Body Image Perception 68
Marijuana, Empathy, and Severe Cases of Autism 72
Marijuana, Reading, and Language Understanding 86
Marijuana and Creativity. A Love Story 90
Personal Transformation with Marijuana 99
PartIIIInspire
Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz 105
What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin 122
The Most Powerful Drug Used by Mankind 146
An Unusual Argument for the Legalization of Marijuana 151
Carl Sagan, Cannabis, and the Right Brain Hemisphere 156
AppendixOfftoNewShores
Vaporizer Highs 169
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105
Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz
“I'm the king of everything
Got to get high before I sing
Sky is high, everybody's high
If you're a viper…”
'Viper's Drag' (1934), by Fats Waller
Without doubt the history of jazz and the use of marijuana are intimate-
ly intertwined. The story does not begin in the early 20th century in New
Orleans, the birthplace of jazz. It begins hundreds of centuries earlier. Jazz
and blues are deeply rooted in the African musical tradition, and the use of
marijuana for medical, inspirational, religious and other purposes had been
widespread and deeply influential in African societies and their cultural lives
for decades. Presumably, the psychoactive effects of marijuana already played
an important role in the way many African musical traditions had evolved.
In his magnificently researched book “Smoke Signals”, author Martin A. Lee
writes:
“Black Africans employed a wide variety of devices (…) for inhaling ‘dagga’,
as marijuana was called by several tribes, who regarded it as a “plant of insight.
(…)Thrown upon bonfires, marijuana leaves and flowers augmented nocturnal
healing rituals with drum circles, dancing, and singing that involved the spirit of
the ancestors and thanked them for imparting knowledge of this botanical won-
der.” 81
Cannabis and its psychoactive use made its way to South-, Middle- and
North America through the slave trade of more than 11 million African
slaves. Lee reports about how African slaves gathered at Congo Square in
early nineteen-century New Orleans to sing and dance their music, a rite
that would later become prohibited because slave owners were afraid that
their slaves used their complex rhythms to communicate rebellious messages
to each other.82 However, the African traditions survived and would later
81 Lee, Martin A. (2013) Smoke Signals, A Social History of Marijuana Medical,
Recreational, and Scientific. Scribner, New York, p. 14.
82 Ibid, p.9.
What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin
106
influence the evolution of jazz.
In addition to some existing cannabis use in the U.S. amongst black
slaves, thousands of Hindu immigrants from India brought the use of can-
nabis to the West Indies in the
1870s. From there, black and
Mexican sailors picked up the
habit and introduced marijuana
use to the harbor of Storyville,
the red light district of New
Orleans, the city usually con-
sidered to be the birthplace of
jazz. At the beginning of the
20th century, countless black
jazz musicians performing in
the bordellos of Storyville and other locations in New Orleans smoke what
they call 'gage', 'tea', 'muggles', 'muta', 'Mary Jane'. They will soon call
themselves 'Vipers' – allegedly named after the hissing sound taking a quick
draw at a joint, or, as they began to call it, a 'reefer'.
Working long night shifts, many vipers prefer smoking marijuana to al-
cohol. It does not give them the hangovers associated with excessive alcohol
consumption. Louis Armstrong, born in 1901, grew up in extreme poverty
of Storyville in a rough neighborhood known as “The Battlefield”. A proud
Viper himself from his youth and for all of his life, the first black interna-
tional superstar will later reflect that a sequel to his biography might well be
about “nothing but gage”. Armstrong will remember about his use of mari-
juana:
”First place it's a thousand times better than whiskey … It's an Assistant – a
friend a nice cheap drunk if you want to call it that ...Good (very good) for
Asthma – relaxes your nerves ...”83
“We always looked at pot as a sort of medicine, a cheap drunk and with much
83 Armstrong, Louis (1999), In His Own Words, Selected Writings, Oxford University Press,
p. 114.
Postcard of Storyville, New Orleans, around 1908
Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz
107
better thoughts than one that's full of liquor.”84
Along with jazz, the use of marijuana spreads to bigger cities like Chica-
go, Detroit, and New York. Around 1930 during the prohibition of alcohol
– while marijuana is still legal there are countless illegal 'speakeasies' serv-
ing alcohol, but also around 500 tolerated 'tea pads' (marijuana bars) in
New York alone offering joints for around 20 cents. In the 1930s, Viper
songs celebrating the use of marijuana become the rage of the jazz world,
including 'Muggles' (Louis Armstrong), “Sweet Marijuana Brown” (Benny
Goodman), Viper Mad (Sydney Bechet), “That Funny Reefer Man” (Cab
Calloway), “Viper's Drag” (Fats Waller), or “Gimme a Pigfoot” (Bessie
Smith).
The open reefer party, though, will soon be over for the Vipers. From
the early days in New Orleans, white officials were not at all enthusiastic
about this new self-confident, vibrant black jazz culture finding its way into
the heart of white audiences. The first prohibitive laws against marijuana in
the southern states are clearly targeted against its users - Hispanic immi-
grants and black musicians. Harry G. Anslinger, the nation's drug czar,
openly uses outrageous racist claims to run his campaign against marijuana
and to successfully justify a nationwide prohibition in 1937. In a Senate
hearing on marijuana in 1937 he infamously states:
“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes,
Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing, result from
marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Ne-
groes, entertainers and any others. ... The primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its ef-
fect on the degenerate races. Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users
insanity, criminality and death.”85
84 Jones, Max, and Little, John Clifton (1988) Louis. The Louis Armstrong Story 1900-1971
DaCapo Press.
85 Statement of Anslinger, H.J., Commissioner of Narcotics, Bureau of Narcotics, Depart-
ment of the Treasury, http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/taxact/anslng1.htm
What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin
108
The Multi-faceted Influence of Marijuana on Jazz
How much did marijuana really influence the early evolution of jazz?
Most of Anslinger's claims above are of course ridiculous, but arguably, he
was not all that wrong in seeing a connection between marijuana use and
jazz. Many historians clearly see this connection, but most usually play down
the profound and multi-faceted influence of the marijuana high on the early
evolution of jazz. First of all, they underrate the complexity of the marijuana
high and its many diverse effects on the performance of musicians. Second,
another aspect often completely neglected by historians is that the marijuana
high affected not only individual performances, but was also crucially in-
volved in the evolution of the sub-cultural new lifestyle of which jazz was an
expression. Let us look at the latter claim first.
Marijuana and the Viper Culture
Life is extremely hard for black cit-
izens in the 1920s and 1930s in the
U.S. The Jim Crow racial segregation
laws in the South are still in force and
will be up until 1965. They do not on-
ly mandate a segregation of black and
white citizens in public schools and
other public places, but have countless
other repressive regulations restricting
the liberties of black citizens. David
Pilgrim reminds us about the thinking
behind the Jim Crow 'system':
“(...) The Jim Crow system was undergirded by the following beliefs or ra-
tionalizations: whites were superior to blacks in all important ways, including
but not limited to intelligence, morality and civilized behavior; sexual relations
between blacks and whites would produce a mongrel race which would destroy
America; treating blacks as equals would encourage interracial sexual unions;
any activity which suggested social equality encouraged interracial sexual rela-
tions; if necessary, violence must be used to keep blacks at the bottom of the racial
Ku Klux Klan members in Washington D.C. in
1928
Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz
109
hierarchy.“86
Black musicians are constantly humiliated by racial segregation and re-
pression, and many of them go through extremely traumatizing experiences.
Violations of the Jim Crow laws or norms – like stepping on the shadow of a
white man – are punished with incredible violence; thousands of black citi-
zens are lynched between 1882 and 1968, most of them in the South. Many
emigrate to cities in the North, but starting a life there isn't quite a stroll in
the park either, especially not for black musicians moving to the bigger cities
to establish a career. In his autobiog-
raphy Really the Blues, jazz clarinetist
Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow recalls:
“(...) it often happened that a man
who migrated into town couldn't eat
unless his woman made money off of
other men. But these people didn't get
nasty about it; many a guy kept on lov-
ing his woman and camping outside her
door until she could let him in (...)87
The musical tradition of the blues
had always helped the black commu-
nity come to terms with their hostile life conditions; it expressed the sadness
of many, but also created a space in which they could regain strength, faith,
and joy. As Milton Mezzrow put it:
”These blues from the South taught me one thing: You take off the weight off
a good man a little and his song will start jumping with joy.“88
86 Pilgrim, David (2000/2012), „What was Jim Crow“, www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/what.htm
87 Mezzrow, Mezz (1946/1990), Really the Blues, Souvenir Press, London, p.46.
88 Ibid.
What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin
110
Marijuana for Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, Anxiety-Relief, and as a
Euphoriant
For many traumatized and oppressed black musicians, marijuana takes
some more weight off. We know today that medical marijuana is used very
effectively to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). In the recent
years, myriads of patients with PTSD in the U.S. have received medical
marijuana; most of them report that it helps them better than any other
medicine. A new study has shown that there are endocannabinoid receptors
in the part of the brain that regulates anxiety and the fight-or-flight
response; this could also explain why so many patients find that consumed
marijuana can help them to reduce anxiety.89
Marijuana presumably helped many jazz musicians to deal better with
their traumas, fears and culturally imposed restrictions. Accordingly, we can
see the heavy use of many
jazz musicians at least to
some degree as self-
medication. At age 11, Billie
Holiday's neighbor attempts
to rape her; at age 14, she
reportedly has to work as a
child prostitute in Harlem
for $5 a client. Holiday starts
smoking marijuana (and
drinking alcohol) habitually
before she is a teenager. Her
big idol, and life-long mari-
juana user, Louis Armstrong,
has to work as a young boy
to support his mother, but
can not prevent her from also
having to work as a prosti-
tute. Holiday’s other idol Bessie Smith, the Queen of Blues – who, like
89 Snyder, William (March 6, 2014), “Discovery sheds new light on marijuana’s anxiety
relief effects.”http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2014/03/discovery-sheds-new-light-on-
marijuana-anxiety-relief-effects/
Billie Holiday in the Downbeat Club 1947
Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz
111
Armstrong and Holiday, also used marijuana throughout her career – grows
up in extreme poverty, is an orphan aged nine and starts to work on street
corners to escape poverty.
Consumed cannabis can influences the endocannabinoid system in
mood regulation, and there is another additional cognitive effect of the high
which helps users with stress relief. Also, while high, users strongly focus
their attention, often dwelling in the here and now, forgetting about past
troubles or future problems. To say it with Cab Calloway's 1932 viper song
“The Man from Harlem”: "I've got just what you need. Come on, sisters, light
up on these weeds and get high and forget about everything."
Furthermore, we
know that some mari-
juana strains can lead
to euphoria during a
high. Louis Arm-
strong remembers in
his biography:
”It makes you feel
good, man. It relaxes
you, makes you forget
all the bad things that
happen to a Negro. It
makes you feel wanted,
and when you are with another tea smoker it makes you feel a special sense of
kinship.“
The Empathic Effect of Marijuana
The 'special kinship' mentioned by Armstrong adds another important
aspect to the picture. When thinking about the hippie era, we usually con-
sider it a fact that a marijuana high made users more loving and empathic.
We tend to forget that it had a similar effect for many musicians and their
audiences in the swing era of the 'Roaring Twenties – which also helped to
Louis Armstrong, Aquarium, New York 1946
What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin
112
pave the way for the later 1950s Beat Generation. Louis Armstrong goes on
to explain the nature of the kinship between the Vipers:
”One reason we appreciated pot, as y'all calls it now, was the warmth it al-
ways brought forth from the other person – especially the ones that lit up a good
stick of that shuzzit or gage (…).“90
In a similar vein, Mezz Mezzrow explains about jazz musicians using ma-
rijuana:
“We were on another plane in another sphere compared to the musicians who
were bottle babies, (…) we liked things to be easy and relaxed, mellow and mild
(…) their tones became hard and evil, not natural, soft and soulful (...)”91
The empathic effects of marijuana probably also help the democratiza-
tion of music which plays a crucial part in the early evolution of jazz. Strong
empathy is an equalizer: hierarchies become less important; solos are not on-
ly restricted anymore to singers or the classic solo instruments such as guitar
or saxophone. As jazz pianist Herbie Hancock will later put it in his state-
ment on jazz: “It's not exclusive, but inclusive, which is the whole spirit of jazz.”
Racial boundaries and prejudices are more easily overcome. Mezz Mezzrow,
the white Viper from a Jewish family who famously sells the good quality
“mezzroles” (joints) to other musicians, declares himself to be black – out of
sympathy for black lifestyle and music.
The Effects of the Marijuana High on Musical Performance
So, our current knowledge concerning the medical uses of marijuana and
reports from Viper jazz musicians strongly suggests that their use of mariju-
ana played a positive role in the evolution of an early jazz culture. But can a
high also positively influence the performance of a jazz musician? And if so,
how? The effect most often cited as an answer, is the altered sense of time
during a high. Dr. James Munch, pharmacologist and associate of Harry G.
90 Jones, Max, and Little, John Clifton (1988) Louis. The Louis Armstrong Story 1900-
1971, DaCapo Press.
91 Mezzrow, Mezz (1946/1990), Really the Blues, Souvenir Press, London, p. 94.
Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz
113
Anslinger during the 1930s and ’40s, produced many ridiculous claims
about the alleged horrible effects of marijuana, but clearly expressed this
point years later, when he said about musicians using marijuana:
(...) the chief effect as far as they were concerned was that it lengthens the
sense of time, and therefore they could get more grace beats into their music than
they could if they simply followed the written copy. (…) if you are using mariju-
ana, you are going to work in about twice as much music between the first note
and the second note. That's what made jazz musicians.92
Hyperfocusing, Mind Racing, and an Altered Sense of Time
Munch's point about the altered sense of time and its role in jazz music
is important; however, this is only one of several crucial effects of marijuana
which can play a positive role for jazz performers. If we want to understand
them better, we have to look at the way these effects are interrelated. One of
the fundamental effects of marijuana is to hyperfocus attention. Mezzrow
remembers this hyperfocus for his auditory experience when he first got
high:
“The first thing I noticed was that I began to hear my saxophone as though it
was inside my head, but I couldn't hear much of the band in back of me, alt-
hough I knew they were there. All the other instruments sounded like they were
far off in distance;(...)”. 93
This hyperfocusing allows him to concentrate more fully on his immedi-
ate tactile sensation of his instrument, which improves his control:
Then I began to feel the vibrations of the reed much more pronounced
against my lip (…) I found I was slurring much better and putting just the right
feeling into the phrase.94
92 Sloman, Larry “Ratso” (1998), Reefer Madness. The History of Marijuana in America, St.
Martin’s Griffin, New York, pp. 146-147.
93 Mezzrow, Mezz (1946/1990), Really the Blues, Souvenir Press, London, p. 72.
94 Ibid.
What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin
114
During a high, the hyperfocusing of attention not only allows for a more
analytic perception of whatever it is directed at, the narrowing down of in-
formational processes in the attentional focus probably also leads to mind
racing, which may then lead to an altered sense of time.95 In his 1938 report
Marihuana, America's New Drug Problem, R. P. Walton states:
“The exaggeration of the sense of time is one of the most conspicuous effects. It
is probably related to the rapid succession of ideas and impressions which cross the
field of consciousness.”96
The connection between the prolonged sense of time and ‘mind racing’
seems intuitively plausible
and is backed by the ex-
periential reports of many
marijuana users through-
out history. In his 1877
report about a marijuana
high, the French doctor
Charles Richet explained:
"Time appears of an
immeasurable length. Be-
tween two ideas clearly
conceived, there are an in-
finity of others undeter-
mined and incomplete, of which we have a vague consciousness, but which fill
you with wonder at their number and their extent. With hashish the notion of
time is completely overthrown. The moments are years, and the minutes are cen-
turies; but I feel the insufficiency of language to express this illusion, and I be-
lieve, that one can only understand it by feeling it for himself."97
95 Compare Marincolo, Sebastián (2010) High. Insights on Marijuana, chapter 6, “Intensi-
fied Imagination, Mind Racing, and Time Perception Distortions”, Dog Ear Publishing,
Indiana.
96 Walton, R.P. (1938), Marijuana. America's New Drug Problem, Philadelphia,
Lippincott, S.105.
97 Quoted in Malmo-Levine, David (2003), Cannabis Culture, Dec. 5.,
http://www.cannabisculture.com/articles/3075.html.
Cannabis Indica Leafs, Photo © Sebastián Marincolo 2012
Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz
115
Richet mentions an infinity of ideas between two ideas – we can take his
“ideas” to refer to what we would usually call thoughts today. The accelera-
tion of a stream of “ideas” or thought processes is sometimes experienced as
a stream of associatively connected thoughts, memories or imaginations,
much depending on the dosage consumed. Obviously, the acceleration of
mental processes in a narrowed down tunnel of attention can help a musi-
cian to more rapidly play an improvised solo, or to keep up with the speed of
fellow musicians. While this acceleration during a high probably leads to a
musician's ability to work in about twice as much music between the first note
and the second note”, it can also hinder musicians in keeping time with oth-
ers. We will come back to this particular downside later on. Beforehand, we
should look at some other effects of the marijuana high which may have had
a positive effect on the musical performance of the Vipers.
Short-Term Memory Disruptions, Enhanced Pattern Recognition, and Imagina-
tion
With their minds unusually focused to the present moment or thought,
marijuana users sometimes forget about the original subject framing the dis-
course. This often leads to a “what were we talking about?” moment when
we are losing the thread of the conversation. Whereas inexperienced users
especially when using high dosages of certain strains become disoriented,
skilled users who consume certain other strains of good quality marijuana
can keep the thread. Still, their stream of thought is usually less constrained
by the original theme or frame where it started, and also less constrained by
the goal where it was intending to go. The stronger concentration on the
‘here and now’ allows a stream of thoughts or imaginations to 'jump' more
freely along unusually wider associations.
Many marijuana users have also reported an enhanced ability to see new
patterns during a high and they often find new similarities between various
patterns. In a musical performance, these effects can then lead to a rapid im-
provisation over known musical themes, which loosely associate them to new
patterns and ideas or they can also lead to new connections or transitions
between musical themes. Subjectively, this leads to the feeling of a rapid and
What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin
116
effortless flow of ideas.
Furthermore, innumerable marijuana users have described that a high
enhances their imaginative abilities visually, auditory, gustatory or other-
wise a capacity which is crucial for the production of new ideas. It goes
without saying how important an enhanced ability for auditory imagination
could be for a musical performer coming up with a new improvisation on
stage, or for a composer working on a new song.
In Milton Mezzrow's first high, the interrelated effects of a hyperfocus of
attention, mind racing, an enhanced pattern recognition ability and an en-
hanced imagination lead to a smooth, imaginative flow in his playing:
All the notes came easing out of my horn like they'd already been made up,
greased and stuffed into the bell, so all I had to do was to blow a little and send
them on their way, one right after the other, never missing, never behind time,
all without an ounce of effort. The phrases seem to have continuity to them and I
was sticking to the theme without ever going tangent. I felt I could go on playing
for years without running out of ideas and energy”.
Marijuana as an Aphrodisiac
Apart from these interrelated cognitive effects of the marijuana high,
Mezzrow mentions another interesting and important way in which mariju-
ana affected jazz:
Us vipers began to know that we had a gang of things in common: (…) we
all decided that the muta had some aphrodisiac qualities too, which didn't run
us away from it.98
Many commentators who cited Mezzrow's passages about the influence
of marijuana on his performance on stage usually forget to mention that his
high adventure on stage ends in an ecstatic group experience similar to
98 Mezzrow, Mezz (1946/1990), Really the Blues, Souvenir Press, London, p. 93.
Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz
117
scenes witnessed decades later at the height of Beatlemania:
The people were going
crazy over the subtle changes in
our playing; (...) some kind of
electricity was crackling in the
air and it made them all glow
and jump. (…) it seemed like
all the people on the dance floor
were melted down into one sol-
id, mesmerized mass; (…)
looking up at the band with
hypnotic eyes and swaying
(…). An entertainer (...) was
throwing herself around like a
snake with the hives. The
rhythm really had this queen;
(…) what she was doing with
(...) her anatomy isn't discussed
in mixed company. “Don't do that!” she yelled. “Don't do that to me!99
That is probably what Duke Ellington meant when he said about jazz:
By and large, jazz has always been like the kind of a man you wouldn't want
your daughter to associate with.”
The Enhancement of Empathic Understanding
I have argued in various places that for skilled users, the marijuana high
can lead to various cognitive enhancements, which can also lead to a funda-
mental enhancement of empathic understanding of others.100 This effect goes
99 Ibid., p. 73.
100 For a detailed argument on how a marijuana high might positively affect empathic
understanding compare (2010) High. Insights on Marijuana, Dog Ear Publishing,
Indiana, and Sebastián Marincolo (2013), High. Das positive Potential von Marijuana,
Klett-Cotta/Tropen, Stuttgart.
Dancers at the Elk’s Club in Washington, D.C., 1943
What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin
118
way beyond stronger emotional bonds or the warm sense of sympathy be-
tween the Viper musicians mentioned above. The enhancement of empathic
understanding during a high allows marijuana users to actually better under-
stand what others are feeling and thinking.
Musicians with an enhanced empathic understanding of each other
communicate better – both on and off stage. When performing live together,
jazz musicians improvise and do not follow strict pre-meditated rules; their
performance as a group is crucially dependent on their mutual understand-
ing, reacting to each other within the flow of their performance. Empathic
understanding is not only helpful for jazz musicians; it is absolutely crucial
to their new and liberated form of music, which depends upon a mutual in-
terplay between musicians spontaneously reacting to each other during their
performances.
In the swing era of the 1930s, legendary Billie Holiday and Lester Young
were known for their almost telepathic performances; both were experienced
Vipers and used marijuana regularly. During the time of performing in the
Cafe Society, Billie Holiday used to go on taxi rides between the sets to
smoke some marijuana, because smoking marijuana wasn't allowed in the
club.101 Like many other jazz Vipers, their use of marijuana may have helped
them to come to a closer mutual understanding. We will never know for
sure in individual cases how much of a positive influence the marijuana high
had on the mutual understanding of musicians; but from what we know
about the influence of the high on empathic understanding and from per-
sonal reports of jazz musicians and their friends, it certainly seems like many
jazz musicians profited from this effect of the high.
A Note of Caution
In an interview, jazz clarinetist and bandleader Artie Shaw said he once
got frustrated with Viper Chuck Peterson, the first trumpet player in his
band. Shaw felt that Peterson made the band lag when playing high. He
confronted Peterson, who thought he was playing just fine and they came to
101 See Clarke, Donald (2002), Billie Holiday: Wishing on the Moon, DaCapo Press, p.160.
Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz
119
a deal. Shaw, who had smoked marijuana for a while as a young adult sug-
gested they perform high together – if that worked he said, they would turn
on together every night from then on. Shaw reports:
“He gave it to me, I smoked it, and I was playing over my head. I was hear-
ing shit I'd never heard before in those same old arrangements. I finished and
turned to him. 'You win,' I said. 'No, man,' he said. 'I lose.'
He had been giving me incredulous looks during the evening and I thought he
was thinking, 'Man, this guy is blowing his head off.' I was hearing great things.
But the technical ability to do it – it's like driving drunk. You feel great, but you
don't know what you're doing. At least he was honest about it.'102
Now, does this show that jazz musicians smoking marijuana were gener-
ally undergoing a delusion about their own performance during a high?
Hardly. From all we know, expe-
rienced Vipers like Louis Arm-
strong, Bessie Smith, Billie Holi-
day, Lester Young, Cab Calloway,
Fats Waller, Theloneous Monk,
Anita O'Day, Lionel Hampton,
Count Basie, Duke Ellington and
many others were doing more
than just fine performing under
the influence of marijuana. Dizzy
Gillespie, who wrote that he was
turned on to pot when he came to
New York in 1937, remembers in
his autobiography that almost all
jazz musicians he knew were
smoking pot and some of the old-
er musicians had been smoking
pot for 40 or 50 years. Surely,
they were not all victims of a self-
delusion when it came to performing high.
102 Saroyan, Aram (August 6, 2000), „Artie Shaw Talking“, Los Angeles Times,
http://articles.latimes.com/2000/aug/06/magazine/tm-65218/2
Bessie Smith, (1894-37). Photograph by Carl Van
Vechten 1936
What Hashish Did To Walter Benjamin
120
However, Artie Shaw's story reminds us that not every musician can per-
form well while high; a true viper has to master the effects of the high and
has to learn how to ride a high – just like a surfer has to learn how to ride a
wave with a surfboard. Note, however, that even musicians who cannot deal
with a marijuana high on stage, the high can still turn out to be helpful to
them in other ways. Artie Shaw notes above that under the influence of ma-
rijuana, he was hearing things in old arrangements that he had never heard
before when playing straight. This new perception could have also paved the
way for him for new interpretations or arrangements. A marijuana high can
help creative processes or activities in many ways and in various phases.
Likewise, a writer may feel that he can generate great ideas during a high,
while actually feeling that the high doesn't really help or even strongly inter-
feres with the process of actually writing down the details. If used in the
wrong way, marijuana can certainly also have a negative influence on crea-
tive performances. The lesson to learn here is that generally, if you want to
use marijuana positively for creative purposes, you have to learn how much
of which strain can help you in a specific phase of a certain creative process-
es. And, as the Jamaican’s say, some “don’t have a head for ganja”; we all
have to find out whether marijuana helps us for any kind of creative or other
purpose.
The marijuana high enhanced Louis Armstrong’s performance; he was
an expert in riding a marijuana high, and he loved it. But that certainly does
not mean that his musical ability can be reduced to the influence of mariju-
ana. It was made possible by his enormous talent, his character, his disci-
pline, training and experience. Likewise, the evolution of jazz certainly was
not driven solely by marijuana use, but rather was made possible by many
factors including the cultural mixture of African, European and Caribbean
music and lifestyles, the sociological process of urbanization, amongst many
other factors. The aforementioned red light area of New Orleans Storyville,
for instance, played a big role in the early development of jazz: “it was a
rough area where white values of taste were absent. This made it easier for musi-
cians to develop expressive techniques, slow tempos (for sexy, slow dances) and
Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz
121
timbre variation.” 103
But if we look at the whole bouquet of the now better-known cognitive
changes during a high we come to understand that marijuana substantially
contributed to the evolution of jazz. It helped countless skilled artists to re-
peatedly come up with new inventive solos, fluid, rapid and imaginative
playing; it helped them not just in their individual performances, but also, to
better understand each other and to ”click” together on stage.
Off stage, the use of marijuana changed the thinking and lifestyle of
many jazz musicians from an early age. “If you don't live it, it won’t come out
of your horn”, Charlie Parker once said. From the very beginnings in New
Orleans, the marijuana high was integral to the early evolution of a free, joy-
ous, empathic, rebellious, uninhibited, imaginative and creative viper sub-
culture and lifestyle. They celebrated this lifestyle with their jazz – a radically
new form of music, one of the greatest cultural achievements to come out of
the U.S. and a lasting inspiration to people all around the world.104
103 Devaux, Scott, and Giddins, Gary (2009) “Jazz”, College edition online, chapter 4, 8.
Storyville, http://www.wwnorton.com/college/music/jazz/ch/04/outline.aspx
104 For a great source on cannabis and music take a look at Jörg Fachner's publications on
the subject. Also, see Cronin, Russell (2004), „The History of Music and Marijuana“,
Cannabis Culture Magazine. www.cannabisculture.com/content/2004/09/08/History-
Music-and-Marijuana-Part-One.
179
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I would like to thank Jeroen Roeleveld for his trust and for giving me
the opportunity to write an expert blog for the cannabis seed bank Sensi
Seeds. The essays in this book are ‘enhanced’ versions of the original essays
published for this blog from 2012 to 2015. Without this support the neces-
sary research for this book would not have been possible.
Very generous support came from Carl Doherty, who helped me
extensively with editing and proofreading for no costs, even though I
offered. Eternal thanks, Carl. Excellent job! The remaining mistakes are
definitely on me.
This book was published with the help of an Indiegogo crowdfunding
campaign. I thank my anonymous supporters as well as some who chose to
openly support me: thanks Lieven D’hont, Paul Aguilar, and Shari L.
Mathieu.
Thanks, Joe Dolce, for contributing a foreword and for sharing so much
of your knowledge about the cannabis world with me in our conversations.
Last but not least, thanks again to Andy Schmith for the magnificent
cover design.
180
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M
M
a
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is a former student of the
philosophers Manfred Frank,
Gianfranco Soldati, William G.
Lycan, Simon Blackburn, and
Dorit Bar-On. His research fo-
cuses on the philosophy of mind,
neurocognition, and on altered
states of mind. He has received
several academic grants and fel-
lowships, including a Fulbright
grant and a fellowship from the
German Academic Exchange
Service (DAAD).
Marincolo has published
various articles on the marijuana
high, co-edited bewusstseins-
erweiterungen (“mind expansions”), an issue of the German internetzine parapluie.de,
and published two books on the marijuana high: the study High. Insights on
Marijuana (Dogear Publishing, Indiana, USA, 2010), and an essay collection,
High. Das positive Potential von Marijuana (in German, Klett Cotta/Tropen,
Stuttgart, Germany, 2013), which contains his macro art series “The Art of
Cannabis”. The new essays in the present collection first appeared most of them
in shorter versions in five languages on his expert blog for the renowned Dutch
cannabis seed bank Sensi Seeds, the official provider of medical marijuana in the
Netherlands, between 2013-15. Marincolo also worked with marijuana expert
Harvard Associate Prof. Emeritus Lester Grinspoon on a book project. For more
than five years he was a creative director and consultant for one of the biggest
foundations in Germany and has more than 25 years of experience as a freelance
photographer specializing on documentary, art, travel, and macro-photography.
His art photography from New York City, Rio de Janeiro, Bali and other places has
been shown in various exhibitions and art galleries in Germany and the U.S. He is
currently living in Stuttgart, Germany, and works as a freelance writer, creative
consultant and photographer.
Personal home page and blog:
www.sebastianmarincolo.de
www.sebastianmarincolo.de
Photo © Tom Lichtenbergh 2014
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
For a great source on cannabis and music take a look at Jörg Fachner's publications on the subject. Also, see Cronin
  • Scott Devaux
  • Gary Giddins
Devaux, Scott, and Giddins, Gary (2009) "Jazz", College edition online, chapter 4, 8. Storyville, http://www.wwnorton.com/college/music/jazz/ch/04/outline.aspx 104 For a great source on cannabis and music take a look at Jörg Fachner's publications on the subject. Also, see Cronin, Russell (2004), "The History of Music and Marijuana", Cannabis Culture Magazine. www.cannabisculture.com/content/2004/09/08/HistoryMusic-and-Marijuana-Part-One.