June 21, 2014
Highest greetings from the Mediterranean coast of Italy, where I’m visiting my friends Jerry Poynton and Helen Oliver Adelson, the great American painter, at their rustic place in the countryside outside of Tarquiia, Italy, just an hour north and west of Rome.
I flew in from Amsterdam through an incredible storm that cleared up just before we landed at Leonardo da Vinci airport, but now I’m relaxing in the bucolic serenity of the Etruscan countryside and enjoying the radio program (#553) I made at the 420 Café before leaving Amsterdam that’s posted on my internet radio station at www.RadioFreeAmsterdam.com.
Radio Free Amsterdam has been my leading passion in life for the past 10 years since Henk Botwinik, the late Larry Hayden and I collaborated at the Café Amnesia in Amsterdam to bring it into existence on November 22, 2004. The station has grown from our initial offering, The John Sinclair Radio Show, to two hours of daily programming of blues, jazz, R&B, gospel, soul and weirdness emanating from our website.
I left you last month with my radio station playing in my dream coffeeshop in Detroit and I’ve been wanting to write about Radio Free Amsterdam in my column here for quite some time—but first let’s enjoy our Official Opening Tokes and a word from our sponsor:
As all hedonists know, marijuana is a sensitizing agent that helps increase the user’s awareness of his or her physical being while also gently expanding the mental consciousness as well. Thus one FEELS more and is more AWARE of the sensations one is feeling.
A marijuana high may also promote feelings of general well-being which in turn stimulate the awareness of pleasant physical sensations that may pass through the mind and body while high.
Marijuana also helps the smoker focus on certain feelings and other aspects of reality to the exclusion of others, so that the smoker may TUNE IN to the important things and TUNE OUT of the less pleasant.
Something should also be said about the benevolent effects of marijuana ingestion on listening to music, especially the correct sort of music that really makes you high when you listen to it. And the better the smoke, the more finely and perfectly one may tune in to the sound and what the musicians are saying when they play.
To complete the circle, there must be mentioned the beneficial effect of such music on the act of making love and the circumstances surrounding it, and the synergism generated by the conjunction of good weed, good music and good loving.
In the immortal words of Clifton Chenier in his classic Specialty 78 called “Squeezebox Boogie”: “Put your legs up, baby….Yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ about.”
I know I’ve said this before, but when I was growing up in Flint, Michigan it was the music on the radio that opened our eyes and ears to a world beyond the puny one we had been given—a world where people sang about what was on our minds and expressed themselves in ways and sounds we had never imagined.
This music created the very air we breathed and the thought waves that animated our burgeoning intelligence. It was the perfect soundtrack for our lives, and we couldn’t live without it.
When I went on to college I was introduced to further extensions of the music I’d heard as a teenager and I loved it even more. I tuned in to jazz stations in Detroit and Chicago and heard music that vibrated throughout my being and stimulated my gradually opening mind to reach out for more and more knowledge and deeper and deeper wellsprings of feeling and emotion.
When I first started smoking weed early in 1962 I was amazed at how much better everything good was beginning to sound and feel. On my 21st birthday my friend and mentor, Tom Allen, who had turned me on to weed in the first place, gifted me with a small bag of pot he’d grown himself somewhere on the banks of the Flint River, and I was mentally propelled into new territory where I began to feel and understand the music I was listening to in a whole new way.
The life I enjoy now, more than 50 years later, started that day when I heard what Miles Davis & John Coltrane were really saying on their current recording called Someday My Prince Will Come. As I paid closer and closer attention to the music I began to understand that it all part of the same thing. Blues & jazz had developed together in the last days of the 19th century, both deeply rooted in the spiritual music of the rural African American church and the cultural matrix of West Africa and the Caribbean.
These intertwined roots and their many musical branches progressed together through the entirety of the 20th century and into the present era, making life worthwhile for millions of music lovers and establishing standards of emotional depth and breadth of intellection and individual artistic expression that will stand as long as there is music.
There’s no mistaking the extent to which these musics have been informed by the ingestion of marijuana and other recreational substances. Marijuana was popularized among musicians and listeners in the 1920s by jazz artists like Louis Armstrong, Mezz Mezzrow and their magic ilk, and the culture of weed smoking was spread through countless recordings by jazz and swing musicians of the 1930s until marijuana was criminalized by the federal government in 1937.
In the 1940s and ‘50s the smell of weed and its positive effect on the intellectual and emotional development of humans committed to artistic expression spread from jazz musicians throughout the artistic community, from poets and writers to painters and photographers to dancers and choreographers to actors and directors and and movie-makers.
The mass popularity of weed reached its early zenith in the sixties, when it was hard to find any segment of the musical and artistic community that had escaped its impact. Since then it’s permeated the culture at large until at last a majority of Americans are in favor of legalizing the sacrament once and for all.
When you tune in to Radio Free Amsterdam you’ll gain the benefit of this entire historical sweep and encounter hours upon hours of creative, pleasurable and swinging musical examples of the greatness of our music and its practitioners. Every week original blues programs by Bruce Pingree, Leslie Keros, Scott Barretta, Tom Morgan, Cary Wolfson, and Harry Duncan are joined with jazz programming by Steve The Fly, Tom Morgan, David Kunian and myself as well as my own idiosyncratic mixtures and the unrelenting weirdness of Caleb Selah to offer a listening experience you can’t really get anywhere else—and it all comes at absolutely no cost to the listener.
I put this music up on the RFA website—sponsored by the Hempshopper stores and Ceres Seed Company of Amsterdam—in order to keep the music alive in its original forms and introduce it to people of today. Our slogan is “Blues, Jazz & Reffer” and we keep it coming week after week. If you punch the button called “Listen Now” you can hear a continuous stream of one-hour programs that will keep your ears throbbing and your mind smiling around the clock.
Give us a listen and light up and be somebody, as the old-time vipers used to say. Free The Weed!
June 21, 2014
© 2014 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.
June 4, 2014
Detroit jazz poet John Sinclair, counterpointed by inventive British post-bop quartet The Founder Effect, whom he’d only just met, filled the first half hour of this marathon gig with echoes and premonitions of the Arkestra and of its visionary originator-captain Sun Ra, who died in 1993. Sinclair’s finale ‘Another Order of Being’ drew extensively on Ra’s pronouncements, notably that ‘A band can demonstrate unity among men more than anything else in the world’, and that ‘In some far place, many light years in space, where human feet have never trod! where human eyes have never seen! I’ll build a better kind of world’.
Then on ambled a dozen amiable all-black Arkestrans, exotically clad in flowing raiments and headgears of multinous shapes and colours, led by biblicly bearded, Popeishly mitred alto sax, flute and kora maestro Marshall Allen, who has directed the band’s various line-ups since 1995. What followed over the next two hours was pure Saturnalia, qua unrestrained merry-making – as came super/naturally, given it was just a few evenings after Ra’s 100th birthday – consolidating his lifelong insistence that he’d been delivered to Earth from Saturn to spread universal light.
The nonstop musical euphoria this edition of the band generated was one supreme generating factor, itself swathed throughout by another, the ebulliently bubbling psychedelic triple-screen liquid light-show laid on by ex-Pink Floyd illuminator Peter Wynne-Willson’s ‘Mystic Lights’. The band consisted of four saxes, two trumpets, trombone, french horn, guitar, two streams of percussion, Tyler Mitchell’s walking bass, the infinitely lyrical pianistics of Farid Barron and gospel-tinged songsprays from Tara Middleton.
Their repertoire included wild ‘inter-galactic’ Ra/Allen hits like ‘Sunology’, ‘Angels & Demons’, ‘Space is the Place’ interspersed with straight melodic, parodic, improvised/squealy-squawked variations on ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’, ‘Sometimes I’m Happy’ and the early Coleman Hawkins’ ‘Queer Notions’, plus unison and free-form honking’n’hooting’n’blurting’n’chanting, Swing Era riffing, with the marching band tradition recalled every so often by the horn-players taking off-stage sorties to every unoccupied foot-space in the jam-packed auditorium, whilst still blowing their (and many of our) arses off.
The kids’ playground/circus electricity were further recharged by Pucklike altoist Knoel Scott periodically erupting into nimbly balletic somersaults, flying handstands and joyously whizzing cartwheels, and a couple of times getting one of the other saxophonists to play vigorous physically-back-to-back duets with him.
The memory of this fantastic spectacle and its wondrous soundscapes will go on uplifting my spirits for many a moon. Should Ra himself have chosen to revisit that little bit of Earth for this party, he too may still be smiling these bits of his legacy’s work and play to have witnessed – and mayhap even deliver whatever he likes of it back to Saturn . . .
Michael Horovitz, 4 June 2014