Highest greetings from New Haven, Connecticut, where I’m visiting my sister Kathy in the middle of a 3-week trip to the East Coast before ending up with a week in New York City and a train ride back to Detroit in time for the 50th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Detroit Artists Workshop on November 1, 1964.
Just after I filed my last column I flew out to Portland, Oregon to perform at the Hempstalk Festival along with my man John Trudell and his band Bad Dog. They’ve been doing this for 20 years and just this year received the City’s approval to hold the event in a popular downtown riverside park but had to agree to ban smoking the herb from the premises for the duration of the weekend, and to hire security guards to enforce the rules and search people’s bags.
Consequently the attendance this year was literally decimated, with only 8,000 people at the park as compared with the 80,000 who attended last year’s Hempstalk at a rural location. Everyone there had a great time, and smokers gathered near the river outside the dimensions of the park to get high and ridicule the guardians of the social order.
The craziest thing is that Oregon will be voting for legalization of weed in November and the initiative is well expected to pass, so next year’s Hempstalk is highly likely to enjoy legal smoking by the discerning public in attendance.
After Hempstalk I flew back to Detroit for a few days and then started a little East Coast trip at the Maine Harvest Ball on Harry’s Hill Farm outside of Starks, Maine, where it rained all day when I was there but the attendants weren’t really fazed at all and carried on inside and outside their snug little tents. I had the pleasure of performing with a pair of splendid saxophonists from Portland ME called the Hardy Brothers and a veteran rhythm section, and we had a ball. Harry’s assembled a great group of people to run the shows at his farm and they’ve been doing this for a long time.
Maine has legal medical marijuana and has legalized weed in Portland, with a couple more cities soon to follow. I couldn’t be served at the dispensaries with my Michigan patient’s card but I found some excellent locally-grown smoke in Portland and just below the Maine border in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where I played for my dear friend Bruce Pingree at the Press Room one night.
My next stop was Lowell, Massachusetts for the annual Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festival, one of my favorite gatherings of all. I try to go to Lowell every fall to honor my literary hero, Jack Kerouac, along with the people of the town where he grew up and also lived later in life. This year I had the honor of performing with David Amram, the venerable pianist, composer, French horn and pennywhistle player who started doing poetry & jazz with Jack Kerouac in New York City in 1957.
I got my whole idea of what life could be like when I read Kerouac’s masterpiece On The Road when it was issued in September 1957, just weeks before my 16th birthday. The life of poetry, jazz, marijuana and adventure chronicled in Kerouac’s works was just what I wanted for myself, and I embraced it at an early age.
Lowell Celebrates Kerouac is particularly attractive to me because of the way his home town recognizes Jack Kerouac’s genius every October and also year-round with a memorial park on the banks of the river downtown that features a series of granite pillars with the author’s words from various of his works carved into them.
Despite the fact that he was reviled by the squares of America as “King of the Beatniks,” Lowell honors its native son by exalting his works in poetry and prose and making sure that the great bard is remembered in the city he immortalized in books like The Town and The City, Doctor Sax, Maggie Cassady and others.
I always say that if you went to my home town of Davison, Michigan, they probably wouldn’t admit that I’d ever lived there. Neither has the city of my birth, Flint, Michigan, gone anywhere out of its way to acknowledge that I got my start as a poet and writer there when I attended Flint Junior College and the Flint College of the University of Michigan.
But as they say, that’s neither here nor there. I’m not in this racket for the rewards or the adulation. I learned about the love of writing and creative activity by reading the works of Jack Kerouac and his peers when I was a very young man, and I’ve followed the path laid out in their works for all the years since.
While preparing for the 50th anniversary celebration of the birth of the Detroit Artists Workshop which will be held at the Scarab Club and MOCAD—the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit—between November 1-9, I came across the Supreme Court ruling in my landmark marijuana case, and I was shocked to read in the opinion of Justice Swainson that my troubles with the law in this case had started when they decided to infiltrate the Detroit Artists Workshop.
Justice Swainson writes:
“Defendant John Sinclair was arrested on January 24, 1967, and charged with the unlawful sale and unlawful possession of two marijuana cigarettes.”
“The Detroit Police Department Narcotics Bureau had instructed Patrolman Vahan Kapagian and Policewoman Jane Mumford Lovelace to assist in an investigation of illegal activities involving narcotic violations in an area surrounding Wayne State University and, in particular, an establishment known as the Artists’ Workshop which was located at 4863 John Lodge, in the City of Detroit. Defendant Sinclair made his residence above the Artists’ Workshop, at 4867 John Lodge.”
“The officers assisted in doing typing and other odd chores at the Artists’ Workshop, including sweeping floors and collating literature. They sat in at communal dinners and provided the food for one of these dinners. They joined a group called LEMAR, which advocated that marijuana be legalized. They listened to poetry and helped in the preparation of certain literature.”
“Officer Kapagian testified that on December 22nd, at about 7 p.m., defendant asked them to accompany him upstairs to his residence. Defendant rolled a [marijuana] cigarette, which he gave to Kapagian. Kapagian handed this cigarette to Lovelace. Defendant then rolled a second cigarette, lit it, and handed it to Kapagian. The officer said he did not want to smoke it then because he had to drive and the cigarette would make him dizzy.”
“Kapagian gave the cigarette to Lovelace after defendant Sinclair had butted it. At that time they said they had to leave, and departed. Sinclair was not arrested for committing a felony in the officers’ presence because, as Kapagian stated, he did not want to tip his hand since numerous arrests were to be made as the result of this investigation.”
This is the way they did it way back at the beginning of the War On Drugs, and it’s wonderful to contemplate that their day will soon be over—50 years later! Free The Weed, once and for all!
—New Haven CT
October 16, 2014
© 2014 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.