Remember when you first tried cannabis: learning how to roll a joint, how to hold a fat hit without coughing up a lung (or how to recover from the inevitable coughed-up lung), and how to maintain out in public were major first lessons in a lifelong love affair. If you are older, have been around since marijuana regained popularity in the 60’s (among white folks), and think you were one of the first in on it, think again. Unless you are in your 90’s and began consuming the beloved greenery as an infant, you are a latecomer! (By the way, we are just talking America here; humans discovered the medical glories and pleasures of cannabis 14,000 years back, making us Americans more primitive than societies centuries past!)
It’s hard to believe (and rather shameful to realize) that close to 100 years have passed since marijuana became a part of our culture. It would be more accurate to say subculture, because it has only been in the last decade that cannabis has begun to become accepted and, even then, barely so. While there are bars aplenty swilling out booze nightly to their soused customers, try vaping on a pen or sparking up a joint in the same bar. You’ll be escorted out (or to jail) before the second puff, if not sooner.
Even in Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, Illinois, Washington, Colorado, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, California, and the District of Columbia, where recreational cannabis is legal, there are few or no public venues where you can partake of the herb without hassle or breaking a law. In time, as the populace realizes that Reefer Madness was only a fictional morality tale, we expect to see even greater acceptance and leniency towards a simple, yet medicinally friendly, plant.
While it may take governments a century or so to sort out the truth about cannabis, fortunately the level of intelligence and common sense among the masses greatly exceeds the IQ levels of our legislators. People learn real quick cannabis is not the demon weed they were cautioned against. In fact, to the contrary, most people using it sensibly find it beneficial in many ways. After decades of misinformed propaganda, in less than one decade science overturned the nonsense and we continue to uncover potentially new health treatments using both THC and CBD.
Reefer in the Good Ol’ Days
Let’s leap back in time to the 1930’s, a vibrant period in America despite the Great Depression (maybe it is thanks to the Great Depression that marijuana gained popularity and usage increased). Most people do not think of the 1930’s as good ol’ days, but those who discovered cannabis would certainly think of those times as good, if not downright great.
In those days, marijuana began receiving its regular course of bad press from news outlets and the government. But some circles during that time were spreading the good word about the bad weed. Since discretion was the order of the day, code words emerged for both marijuana and the cigarettes in which they were rolled. We all know “reefer” was the most popular name for joints, spliffs, or blunts back then, but there were other slang references for any rolled-up marijuana, including giggle-smokes, goof-butts, joy-smokes, and killers. Cannabis itself was referred to as bambalacha, blue sage, grass, Indian hay, jive, loco weed, love weed, Mary Jane, Mary Warner, mohasky, moocah, mooter, mu, muggles, tea, and weed (some still refer to weed and grass, and Mary Jane to a lesser degree).
Regular users of jive were vipers and the act of smoking bambalacha was viping. Pretty easy to pick up, right?
One of the best ways to see how some subcultures enjoyed viping was through the popular music of that time, especially jazz and blues. Below you will find 7 songs (listed chronologically from the earliest) about reefers, jive, and vipers that were popular in the 1930’s, particularly among the viper crowd.
1927 – If You’re A Viper
Fats Waller was famous for his reefer pieces, with If You’re A Viper perhaps the most memorable. In his 1947 rendering of this 1927 original recording by Rosetta Howard, Fats Waller opens with the following lyrics:
I dreamed about a reefer 5 feet long,
Mighty mist and not too strong,
You’ll be high but not for long,
If you’re a viper
and then goes on to describe the wonderful feeling, the dry mouth, and the need to pop over to the candy shop for some peppermint.
Another good stanza:
Then you know your body is spent,
You don’t care if you don’t pay rent,
The sky is high and so am I,
If you’re a viper
You can hear Fats himself performing this work on this famous 1947 recording (no video but rotating images).
1932 – Reefer Man
After Minnie the Moocher, perhaps Cab Calloway’s most popular song is Reefer Man. The most famous version of this song opens with a snappy dialogue between Cab and one of his band members:
Cab: Man, what’s the matter with that cat there?
Other Man: Must be full of reefer…
Cab: Full of reefer?!
Other Man: Yeah, man.
Cab: You mean that cat’s high?!
Other Man: Sailing…
Other Man: Sailing lightly…
Cab: Get away from here! Man, is that the reefer man?
Other Man: That’s the reefer man…
Cab: I believe he’s losing his mind!
Other Man: I think he’s lost his mind!
Then a hot jumping big band orchestra kicks in and plays and sings about the Reefer Man, with Cab himself showing some impressive footwork. A video of this performance is on YouTube, but the audio quality is lacking (still worth the watch!); another YouTube posting offers a better audio version with still photos rotating during the song.
1937 – I’m Gonna Get High
Tampa Red & The Chicago Five, a minor blues group out of Chicago, declared their commitment to the cause with their song, I’m Gonna Get High. Opening lyrics:
I’m gonna get high,
And it ain’t no lie,
And swing alone and have a ball,
I’m gonna get high,
Oh me, oh my,
Nobody know why,
Oh my baby don’t you cry,
I’m gonna get high
Listen to Tampa Red perform this song on YouTube (no video; one racy image to stare at).
1938 – Weed
Bea Foote was a minor blues singer known for singing about sex and reefers, not necessarily in that order. Weed is her most famous piece, opening with her dreamily praising her favorite herb:
All day long
She later declares herself the queen of all vipers and tells us “dreams come from my weed all day long.” As you hear Bea sing, you will be convinced that she got her hands on some pure high-THC indica, ’cause she is mellow as can be. This YouTube version of her famous recording simply offers a still image of a naked young woman covering her pertinent parts with a fan and I have no idea how that relates to weed!
1939 – Killin’ Jive
The Cats and The Fiddle was a black singing quartet who rose out of Chicago. Their distinctive style came about by performing on four unique string instruments: bass, tenor guitar, ukulele and Martin tiple (a South American instrument in the same family as the ukulele). The first two verses get right to the point:
He’s the man that smokes that jive,
That jive will take you for a dive,
One slip you will arrive,
When you smoke that killin’ jive,
It will make you very tall,
Seems as if you’re going to fall,
Knock yourself out for a ride,
You know I mean that killin’ jive
While not highly productive (they recorded about 30 songs over the course of 14 years), The Cats and The Fiddle did come up with one winner: Killin’ Jive. There is an awesome video of them performing this song (sadly, the audio is not very clear); here is an audio recording that is much clearer.
1939 – Jumpin’ Jive
Cab Calloway is back, this time with a song that has to be about a strong sativa strain, because, man, they’re jumpin’! Here’s a sampling of several lines of lyrics you’ll hear during this wild ride:
Now, can’t you hear those hepcats call,
Come on, boys, let’s have a ball!
The jim, jam, jump on the jumpin’ jive,
Makes you dig your jive on the mellow side
The jim, jam, jump is the solid jive,
Makes you nine foot tall when you’re four foot five
There is an absolutely amazing performance of this song from the 1943 movie “Stormy Weather” that you can’t miss; in addition to Cab’s big band being hot as ever, you get to watch the Nicholas Brothers do their own jumpin’ jive with an unforgettable dance routine (yep, definitely sativa!).
1940 – Are You Hep to the Jive?
By now, you should be totally hep to the jive, so let’s close out our reefer songs with another Cab Calloway work: Are You Hep to the Jive? In this song, Cab wants to know if YOU are hep to the jive. He ends his work with these lines:
Are you hep, hep, hep to the jive?
How do you dig, dig, dig, dig the jive?
Are you hep, are you hep,
Are you really in step?
Are you hep to the jive?
Listen in on this song (again, just a still image accompanies this work) on YouTube. TIP: it may help you get hep to the jive if you “vipe” some “jive” beforehand, if you know what I mean … make Cab proud!
A Philosophic Conclusion
While the good people of the 1920’s through 1940’s had no medical degrees, they certainly knew what felt good. If the main purpose of a medicine is to help a human restore their spirits and live life to the fullest, cannabis is a true natural medicine, as evidenced by the above musical celebrations of its magic and power. Regular users of THC and CBD are typically not surprised to learn of the expanding array of health benefits science continues uncovering during their research on cannabis for this same reason; although only anecdotal evidence, their own use has clearly and directly proven its benefits.
Now, if we can just get those legislators hep to the jive … if not, let’s vote in new ones definitely hep to the jive!