Pop Culture to guide you as you chase the special feeling of a perfect high
This is it, right here; my idea of a perfect Friday evening, dressed in our fanciest pyjamas, rolling up the best pot in town and yakking till the sun comes out. On some nights, the conversations are reduced to a volley of non-sequiturs; on others we weave a tapestry of small epiphanies. But the sticky tarry remains of these evenings have never seemed like a waste; to me they look like the negative of a beautiful picture in the making. Of course, there are days when I wake up feeling inadequate, feeling like I’m losing some invisible race, that I’m not doing and achieving as much as my friends, colleagues, siblings or enemies. But in such moments, I always replay some George Carlin in my head – he who quit school in ninth grade because they weren’t teaching him what he wanted to learn. In life it’s important to not give a shit, it can help you a lot. Words to live by, truly.
So here is a list for anyone out there who feels stuck, weighed down by the trivial concerns of reality, and closed off from the doors of perception. You don’t have to be a stoner to appreciate these creative geniuses but in case you’re already tokin’, get ready to take things to the next level.
The Emperor Wears No Clothes – Jack Herrer
This first one’s for the cynics, the non-believers, the ones who gasp in horror at the reefer madness. But a quick glance at this book will debunk every single misguided notion that you might have about hemp. The recent rise in the movement for legalization of marijuana owes a lot to Jack Herrer’s work and his scrupulous research that uncovers the real reasons why oil and pharma conglomerates, politicians and drug lords don’t want you to buy it freely. Suffering from insomnia? Chronic pain? Depression? Post traumatic stress disorder? Lack of appetite? Looking for a natural, organic and cheap alternative to synthetic fabrics? The answer has been with us since the beginning of life on earth but there’s no money in this trade, so it must be demonised.
Artificial Paradises – Charles Baudelaire
A poet and prominent member of the Parisian Club de Hashischins, Baudelaire needs no introduction. And in Artificial Paradises as he sets out to describe his hallucinations after ingesting vast amounts of hashish, one feels the lightest touch of the supernatural, a spirit from the other world guiding Baudelaire and the reader to a fleeting artificial paradise. Synesthetic, sensual, subliminal, the mind under the influence… “craves after everything that illuminates, after all gold that abounds, all flowing magnificence… bright light that washes like a river, or hidden sparks that cling like straw to every point and protrusion, magnificent palace chandeliers, votive candle flames dancing in the virginal month of May or the fading pink cascades of sunset.”
Chronic City – Jonathan Lethem
There’s a particular malaise that any overthinking intellectual is bound to contract, which is to become an aggressive curator and protector of cultural artefacts. From long forgotten 60’s psych bands to underground comic books, the beauty of Steve Buscemi and the unibrow of Frida Kahlo, when any conversation at a dinner party turns into a heated proselytising speech, you know you’re in the presence of greatness. It’s a bloody sport, I’ll accept but for those who enjoy it, Lethem’s Chronic City is as delicious as the greasy burgers he writes about. Long, pot fuelled riffs on everything from Marlon Brando to the nature of reality; Lethem frequently meanders but never bores. And if you’ve ever found yourself a bit too high and concocting the next conspiracy theory, this will also make you smile.
English August – Upamanyu Chatterjee
August, the protagonist of the book, is a typical slacker, smart but very high. As he starts working for the Indian Administrative services and is shipped off to some godforsaken village in the middle of nowhere, his life begins to unravel. I had just finished college when I read this and the plight of August, exiled from a big metropolitan city, unsure of what he wants from life resonated with me on so many levels that I didn’t know whether I had picked the book or the book had picked me. But that’s the thing about books I guess, you can read the best of them and not like a single word simply because they didn’t come into your life at the right time.
This is the movie that gave birth to the never ending wet dream of taking off into the wilderness on a sparkly motorbike while the drums kick in on Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild. Easy Rider could easily be considered a neat little genre in itself with a thousand cheap imitations over the years. Yet, the elegance and sheer cinematic magic of the original remains unmatched. Most people watch it for the music, for the copious pot smoking and dancing on hippie communes or the brilliant cameo by Jack Nicholson, but for me it’s the bone chilling ending that makes this movie a classic. In a way, Easy Rider chronicles the last glorious days of the hippie revolution, when it was still possible to be free and wild in the truest sense.
Richard Linklater, in my humble opinion, is one of the greatest contemporary American filmmakers working today. His recent jewel, Boyhood is already on my “forever loves” list but this earlier masterpiece deserves way more attention than it usually gets. Beautifully shot and then completely animated, Waking Life is the story of a dream that refuses to ends. The movie has no plot, it strings along from one surreal moment to another, propelled by deep challenging conversations ranging from the origin and purpose of language to art, music and the absurd logics of dream-time. This is a hard one to watch while stoned simply because there’s so much to pause and think about. But don’t worry; it will leave you feeling like you’re floating, even when sober.
Nine to Five
This isn’t really a stoner flick per se but a tongue-in-cheek depiction of three women trying to navigate the minefield that is a corporate job, complete with a sleazy, sexist boss who thinks the only responsibly a women ought to have is making coffee and putting her breasts on display for his pleasure. Set in the 80’s and at the peak of the nine to five office culture, this movie was eons ahead of its time. As you watch Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlinson and Dolly Parton kick back with a fat joint after work and fantasising about shooting their boss in the nuts, you do laugh but a bit nervously. Not a lot has changed since then, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Broad City (T.V. series)
Cheech and Chong meets Woody Allen meets Thelma and Louise. Broad City is the show I was waiting for my entire life. Co-created by Abbi Jacobson and Ileana Glazer, this YouTube series that caught the attention of Amy Poehler has gone on to become a cult hit with all stoner girls. Trying to make a living in New York City while smuggling pot in their va-jay-nas, these two dudettes are a riot, episode after episode. Completely unapologetic, they treat men like sex objects, show up to work stoned out of their heads and do not give two fucks about what the world thinks of their grimy, anti-sex and the city glamour. Stop what you’re doing, and go watch this right now.
Seriously, when was the last time you heard of a musician worth his or her salt, who did not partake in the holy herb? I bet never, which is why there aren’t many musicians on this list. But I think Patti Smith deserves a place because she was the first female stoner/rocker who managed to become an idol not only for women but men as well. I have male friends who would take her over Keith Richards any day and that’s some serious badassery! Also, not to forget, Patti’s fondness for smoking pipes over joints. Rumours abound that she would serve a pipe and the finest pot to all her guests, followed by her deep insights into love, art, music and of course, horses.
Just A Ride – Bill Hicks (Stand up comedian, philosopher, poet)
And last but not the least, if you have five minutes right now, then do yourself a favour and youtube Bill Hicks’ life changing message delivered at the end of his Relentless stand up routine. Listen to it, repeat it out loud, internalise it and make it your new mantra for life. This thing that we’re all on, this journey, its just a ride. If you can, smoke the good stuff and have faith, we’ll all be dead soon anyway.
Amrita Chatterjee is the writer of the recently published Special Lassi.
Image courtesy: orangeacid via Compfight cc