TV, Books & Film
TUMBLIN’ DOWN: The weed-scented history of Colorado’s obscure, early-’70s record label, Tumbleweed RecordsRead More
By Gregory Daurer
The Denver record label that hardly anyone remembers – or has ever even heard of – is getting some love.
A Tumbleweed Records compilation called “Sing It High, Sing It Low” has been released by the noted reissue label, Light In The Attic Records. Mojo – the elegant and tasteful music magazine out of England – gave the project its top rating of four stars. The new album/CD/digital download has shined a spotlight onto a forgotten musical history.
The story of Tumbleweed Records involves a multi-million dollar record deal, one of the most respected names in music production in the ‘70s (who would go on to produce the Eagles’ multi-platinum selling album “Hotel California”), and an eclectic roster of musicians playing everything from quasi-jazz and country rock to psychedelic folk and R&B. Nine albums were released by the label, which only existed from 1971-1973. According to some, it wasn’t so much the-record-label-that-couldn’t as the-record-label-that-wasn’t-allowed-to by its parent company overseers.
But now, thanks to Light In The Attic’s compilation, artists who were overlooked when their music was first released are being re-evaluated – and their highs (some very cannabis-accented ones, at that) and lows are being sung.
“So sing it high, sing it low/Which way would you like to go?...High, low, high...” – “Sunday Sherry” by Arthur Gee.
Tumbleweed Records began in 1971, after two record music vets Larry Ray, 31, and Bill Szymczyk, 28, arrived in Denver. The region had been gaining an increasing reputation as a place for musicians to relocate to. Szymczyk says “the vibe was very, very open” in the city back then, noting the area’s “undercurrent of musicality” – which some have likened to a pared-down version of L.A.’s Laurel Canyon scene.
Ray, who had spent time in Denver growing up, was burning to base a brand-new venture there, likely desiring his own hits with Tumbleweed like his previous employers, Elektra and A&M, had achieved with The Doors, Joe Cocker, and Cat Stevens.
But Szymczyk – who’d had some success producing B.B. King’s hit “The Thrill Is Gone” and the James Gang (featuring guitarist Joe Walsh, who would become a longtime collaborator) – ultimately had a terrifying wake-up call which caused him to join Ray in Denver: the deadly San Fernando Valley earthquake in California, in February 1971, scared him into moving his family out of harm’s way.
Through entrepreneurial hustle, Ray negotiated a multi-million dollar deal with Gulf + Western – one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in the world, and the owners of Paramount Pictures – and Tumbleweed Records was soon in business. Things were looking up for the brand-new label, which featured the image of a tumbleweed on its records (a tumblin’ tumbleweed, in fact, when spinning on a turntable).
For their offices, they rented a house at 1368 Gilpin Street (a fact noted on the back of each release) situated near Cheesman Park. Robb Kunkel, who brought several acts to Ray and Szymczyk’s attention before eventually recording his own album “Abyss” for the label, lived upstairs; Kunkel sometimes wheeled his upright piano out onto the deck situated above the house’s porch, filling Gilpin Street with song.
Commander-in-chief Ray had his own office there. So did the label’s radio man, Bob Ruttenberg, doing the all-important promotional outreach to the era’s still-revolutionary band of FM DJs. Tumbleweed had two secretaries and an art department in the basement. Soon enough, the label had a string of albums ready to be released – most of which were recorded elsewhere, often in Los Angeles.
According to promo man Ruttenberg, the Tumbleweed Records crew was considered “radical hippies” by the industry – and not just because of their toking, but also due to their approach to business. Ray has said that Tumbleweed Records set out to equitably share royalties with its acts; not keeping two sets of accounting books like other labels did to screw over their musicians. (Never mind that ultimately there was very little in royalties to ever share.)
Tumbleweed’s label-mates shared their weed as well. “Everyone was smoking,” recalls the intelligently-quirky songwriter Pete McCabe, who would show up at the Gilpin Street house to pick up an advance check for his upcoming album and then spend part of it on that week’s blonde hash. Once, McCabe was visiting Arthur Gee, a Canadian who was Tumbleweed’s resident hippie/cosmic cowboy. Gee told McCabe, “I’m out of pot, but I did spill some hash oil on this sweatshirt.” They cut up that sticky part of Gee’s shirt and began smoking it, according to McCabe.
Ruttenberg also shared his weed with radio DJs. It was a way of seeking airplay, as much as it was a fun way to travel and hang out. Ruttenberg says, “All the FM DJs loved getting stoned – and I loved getting them stoned. And that’s one of the ways I presented myself: as Tumbleweed’s stoner... Let’s get stoned and listen to the new Michael Stanley record. Let’s get stoned and listen to Albert Collins and Dewey Terry.”
Notoriously, Ruttenberg was arrested in Seattle with six ounces in his possession after having to unexpectedly pass through an airport metal detector (which perhaps came into greater use as a result of D.B. Cooper hijacking a plane in the Pacific Northwest in 1971). The metal-detector alerted authorities due to the recording equipment Ruttenberg was carrying, and his contraband was quickly discovered.
Ruttenberg told airport security, “Listen, man. This is my personal stash. It means nothing to you. It’s not going to hurt anybody. I’m just going around the country, taking care of business. Why don’t you put the bag back in the suitcase and let me go Eugene, Oregon to see my friend who’s waiting for me at the gate?”
After a short spell in jail and ultimately five thousand dollars in legal fees, charges were dismissed due to an improper search and Ruttenberg was a free man.
But even though its promo man was able to get out of jail, the label couldn’t achieve breakout success.
Tumbleweed’s highest charting record was a single by Danny Holien called “Colorado.” It hit number 66 on Billboard Magazine’s charts in October 1972. Whereas John Denver’s 1972 single “Rocky Mountain High” (released after Holien’s) celebrated the natural wonder of the state, Holien’s song explored a dystopian vision, an early take on the “Californication” of Colorado. It has a martial, fife and drum-like quality to it, a deeply-expressed passion for how wilderness would be overrun by development one day.
“Colorado, Colorado, beautiful place that you are/Feel the sorrow of tomorrow, before you go very far/Listen to the calling of the wilderness crying for a human soul to feel.” – “Colorado” by Danny Holien.
The song incorporates what Pulitzer Prize-winning zen Beat poet Gary Snyder has termed a “moral sense of the nonhuman world.” In other words, given its subject matter and keen production, it’s a stunning-sounding bummer.
Holien wasn’t the only act brought to Tumbleweed by Kunkel. Also brought into the fold was Dewey Terry, who had been recording music since the 1950s as part of the soul and doo-wop act Don and Dewey. With his partner Don “Sugarcane” Harris, Terry had written and recorded seriously-grooving songs like “Big Boy Pete” and “Farmer John” (which has been covered, over the years, by The Premieres, Neil Young, and The White Stripes). Don and Dewey toured alongside Little Richard (featuring Jimi Hendrix) and even met the Beatles.
“He was one of the funkiest dudes ever,” Szymczyk says of Terry.
Terry’s howling vocals on the song “Do On My Feet (What I Did On The Street)” call to mind the Don and Dewey ‘50s raver “Justine.” It’s Tumbleweed’s funkiest, James Brown-like moment. Then, on “Sweet as Spring,” Terry delivers a tender, country-esque, string-accented number. The two songs, which sound as if they had been recorded by totally separate acts, both appear on 2017’s Light In The Attic release, as well as Terry’s Tumbleweed record “Chief.” Holien and Kunkel were both a part of Terry’s backup band, the Rocky Mountain Rhythm Kings – as all-white as a snow-capped Colorado peak. (Kunkel has written about how, prior to Tumbleweed starting, he was dragged to Denver’s Five Points neighborhood by Terry so he could share his Thai-stick weed with a fellow soul brother at the “Bucket of Blood” bar and demanded that Kunkel take to the stage and jam on guitar for the all-black audience.)
Kunkel also heard brilliance in Denver native Pete McCabe, who rightly calls some of the lyrics on his recording “The Man Who Ate The Plant” “fantastical.” In McCabe’s song “Magic Box,” a seemingly whimsical story about a drunken magician turns into a tale of existential horror: in his act, the magician really does make volunteers from the audience disappear forever, and he laments over how so many people are eager not to exist. To close its reissue disc, Light In The Attic includes McCabe’s “Late Letter” – an ode to movie star Marilyn Monroe told by an admirer whose needy fan letter belatedly arrives after the late Monroe has already taken too many sleeping pills. Szymczyk remembers McCabe as an “eccentric singer-songwriter” and says, “I also always loved the Pete McCabe [record], because that is such an oddball.”
During the recording of “The Man Who Ate the Plant,” Szymczyk says it was “cool as hell” to put the anxious, tenor banjo-plunking McCabe – who’d only played solo before – in a room with 20 accomplished musicians. As for the studio environment itself, McCabe recalls, “Bill told me, ‘Okay, when these string players come in, we put the pot away. But for the horn players, it’s okay, we can smoke.’”
Szymczyk also produced bluesman Albert Collins for Tumbleweed. Collins’ guitar-string bends can wrench one’s guts, while the backing horns add their own “Yeah, ain’t life a bitch?” emphasis. (Collins’ song “There’s Gotta Be A Change” – the title of his Tumbleweed album – is included on his “Best Of” album, but not on Light In The Attic’s compilation, due to issues with acquiring the rights.)
However, if Collins had been hoping to have a hit like Szymczyk had crafted for B.B. King with “The Thrill is Gone”(which reached the 15 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970), the lack of chart success was something that Collins could have written a blues song about. Regardless, the Texan is remembered as a powerful performer by Gee: “He played his guitar and he’d walk into the crowd. That was one of his signatures. He was a fabulous blues guitar player. Very creative.”
Besides producing Collins, Szymczyk also brought Michael Stanley to Tumbleweed. The Colorado Music Hall of Fame presently cites Stanley’s woeful “Denver Rain” as one of the greatest songs ever written about Colorado.
“Maybe it’s back to the mountains/Back to my place in the hills/Hoping that maybe she’ll tell me/Denver rain never will.” – “Denver Rain” by Michael Stanley.
Stanley came to Szymczyk’s attention when he was playing in a Cleveland band called Silk, back when Stanley was still known by his original last name, Gee. That surname proved problematic when he was about to be signed to Tumbleweed. Szymczyk told Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer newspaper, “When I finished Michael’s album we played it for Larry [Ray], surrounded by a cloud of fine Colorado weed, (mostly mine).” Ray was “floored” by the music – which included musicians like Todd Rundgren and Joe Walsh – but there was a problem: the label already had a Gee –
Arthur Gee – as part of its roster. In that shroud of cannabis smoke, Michael Gee ultimately changed out his last name for his middle name, Stanley.
The other Gee – Arthur – was the only Tumbleweed artist to have two albums released by the label. Gee comes off as a troubadour of inner-space and outer-geographies, doing what he’s called his “hippie, wandering-minstrel type thing.” While his first album was released under his own name, his second included a band which Tumbleweed took the liberty of naming the Arthur Gee-Whizz Band. “I was sort of shaking my head about that for a while,” says Gee, who ultimately rolled with the decision.
Gee recalls of the era, “It was an exciting time musically, because there was a lot of experimenting going on, back then, with music and electronic instruments and stuff like that.”
Although the music was sometimes experimental, the Tumbleweed business experiment didn’t prove sustainable in the long run. There were constant rifts between Tumbleweed and its parent entities – Gulf + Western and its music distributor, Famous Music – which controlled the label’s destiny. Szymczyk and Ruttenberg both maintain that Tumbleweed’s records received decent airplay, but weren’t given proper distribution in retail stores for stoned heads to buy. “In retrospect, we were nothing but a tax write-off,” says Szymczyk. Ruttenberg adds, “We were up against a brick wall with Famous Music. They didn’t do shit for us...We were like a bunch of freaks to them. We were hippies in Colorado, trying to make something happen.”
Until the label wasn’t happening anymore, at all, that is.
Gee, just back from a tour in 1973, discovered that Tumbleweed Records had ended when he paid a call to the label’s office. It had been abandoned. “That’s how I found out,” says Gee. “Nobody called me.”
About two and a half years ago, Light In The Attic Records phoned Gee to tell him they wanted to use his songs for a compilation of Tumbleweed Records material. Light In The Attic had been working on the project for a few years already and had just located him in British Columbia. Gee learned they were going to name the project after a line from one of his songs. “At first, I was a little shocked,” he says.
Despite a quibble or two over song choices, Gee, now 73, says about “Sing It High, Sing It Low,” “I think it’s an excellent package.”
Gee’s greatest commercial success had come in the late ‘60s when his song “Sunspots” was covered by Canadian vocalist Anne Murray on an album that included her best-selling hit “Snowbird.” In the late ‘70s, he formed a punk-inspired band based in San Francisco and Portland. Over the years, he’s played fiddle for a Celtic group, and as a country-inspired artist. He also recorded an intriguing collection of songs called “The Dark Monkey is Laughing” with Jeff Bird, a musician known for his work with The Cowboy Junkies.
Gee’s fellow label-mate Pete McCabe, who lives in Venice, California, recalls his own Tumbleweed Record days as “a fabulous time...To be able to make a record and have the production I got is pretty amazing.” Employed over the years as a graphic designer and teacher’s aide, McCabe, 68, just started recording music again over the past decade, and his Tumbleweed record “The Man Who Ate The Plant” has become a cult favorite. In fact, it’s drawn musicians anew to him, assisting him with his recordings. He released a new disc, “I Forgot,” this year.
McCabe says of his late friend, Robb Kunkel, “I’m just eternally grateful for him for kind of discovering me and bringing me to Tumbleweed.” McCabe calls that period in the early ‘70s “a magical time for both of us.”
In 2009, Kunkel discussed by email his Tumbleweed album, “Abyss,” which has achieved its own cult following for its somber, jazz-accented stylings: “I was 21 and stoned to the hilt making ‘Abyss’ and, at the time, I knew there was not one commercial track on it – but, hey, I had 56,000 bucks to make it and more cocaine than Sly Stone...The company looked at me with suspicion, but [they] were too busy getting stoned to pay attention.”
Due to the label’s problems, Tumbleweed “backfired—but spectacularly,” says Sarah Sweeney, who wrote the liner notes to “Sing It High, Sing It Low.” Ultimately, it’s most noted for having served as a stepping stone for Szymczyk’s subsequent career, allowing him to “hone his chops.” Sweeney says, “[Tumbleweed] really launched Bill Szymczyk into the stratosphere.”
Szymczyk went on to produce popular records for the J. Geils Band, Rick Derringer (“Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo”), Bob Seger, The Who, Joe Walsh (including the song “Rocky Mountain Way”), and the Eagles.
As for his time with Tumbleweed Records, which ended in 1972, Szymczyk says, “I would consider that definitely my grad school work, if you will.”
Szymczyk, 74, still considers the Tumbleweed album he made for Michael Stanley one of the highlights of his career, and he remains one of Stanley’s biggest admirers. In fact, Szymczyk was preparing to travel from his home in North Carolina to visit Stanley and assist the Ohioan with a new album. “As he’s gotten older his songwriting has become incredible,” says Szymczyk. “It’s always done from a perspective of intelligence.”
Recognizing Szymczyk’s achievements, the Colorado Music Hall of Fame will be honoring him with an “Award of Excellence” on August 13 at Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre. The Hall of Fame’s Director, G. Brown, says of Szymczyk, “There were only a handful of people that created the classic rock sound of the ‘70s – and Bill was one of them.” Szymczyk’s Tumbleweed days (as well as his more prominent recordings done at Nederland’s Caribou Ranch) will be cited at the ceremony, and Brown is particularly impressed with Light In The Attic’s recent reissue: “That was a forgotten bit of Colorado music history, until they addressed it. I’m not sure who would have.”
In 2019, the History Colorado Center will be including Szymczyk and Tumbleweed Records in an exhibition called “Colorado Sound: Homegrown Music from Folk to Rock.” Curator Megan K. Friedel says of Tumbleweed, “It’s part of that early 1970s story of what’s happening with the music scene here: that suddenly people from outside of the state are discovering Colorado as a place to come and make music, [a place] that’s particularly conducive to inspiring music that’s not necessarily of the mainstream.”
And given that Tumbleweed Records was known for gifting people stone-engraved roach clips in the early ‘70s, it’s fitting that Light In The Attic’s deluxe packaging of Tumbleweed’s music includes a packet of rolling papers. Arthur Gee – who G. Brown says offered him his first hit of weed back when Brown was a teenage rock journalist – agrees: “I think it’s totally appropriate,” says Gee, who says he’s been smoking cannabis for over 50 years and has recently been using a regimen of CBD oil to combat his cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. “Everyone was smoking pot back then.”
In other words, once upon a time in Denver in the early ‘70s, there was plenty of weed at a storied music label called Tumbleweed Records.
THE LONGFORM STONERRead More
By Gregory Daurer
On the podcast Longform, Aaron Lammer holds lively discussions with prominent journalists, geeking out on their abilities to conduct in-depth research and then write narratives that not only
relay important information, but emotional impact, as well. A savvy interviewer, Lammer readily conveys his fascination with his guests' narratives to Lonform's audience.
As examples, the 35-year-old Lammer has interviewed Evan Wright, a two-time National Magazine Award winner, about the warfare he witnessed in Iraq that led to his book “Generation Kill;” Nick Bilton about piecing together “American Kingpin,” his book about the dramatic rise and ugly fall of Silk Road, the onetime, dark web, drug-selling site; Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, about being a man of color reporting on the racial turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri; and New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi about how she cultivates sources, in order to report on what's happening within the detested militant group ISIS.
The way Lammer conducts himself with prominent people of letters — dissecting their work and asking them about the construction of their stories — one might suspect that he's a seasoned pro himself, a peer to the guests he hosts.
Hardly. “I've never really been employed as a journalist,” says Lammer, although he did work briefly in the publishing world, and did some ghostwriting.
He has another confession to make: “Honestly, I'm interested in journalism — but it's not my primary interest in the world.” As a web developer, Lammer assisted his college friend, Max Linsky, a onetime alternative-weekly scribe, start the Longform web site in 2010, and then inaugurate its lauded podcast (often seen on “Best Of” lists for the genre) in 2012. Despite having conducted dozens of interviews now, Lammer says, “I think I'm more interested in small projects that serve an important role.”
So what important role is Lammer's brand-new podcast project, Stoner, serving?
Unlike other cannabis-related podcasts, Stoner doesn't delve deeply into entrepreneurship or stock offerings, cultivation or commerce. It doesn't cover activist politics, for the most part, or discuss the origins of various strains.
Stoner is billed as “Creative people talk about their experiences with marijuana (and whatever else comes up).”
As the host of Stoner, Lammer is interested in the gradual, cultural shift taking place throughout America today regarding cannabis — although there still exists wide disparities from state to state. “The experience in New York and the experience in Alabama and the experience in Denver could not be more different than each other,” he says. “When you really look at America as a whole, a very tiny sliver of America is shopping for legal weed, even though it's sort of swept a bunch of the country.”
Even in legal states, people can still lose their jobs — and potentially their housing or children — if they're “out” as a cannabis consumer. Due to factors like that, Lammer has gotten rejections from several invitees he's asked to appear on the show.
Lammer says part of Stoner's role is to portray marijuana usage as normal, sane, acceptable; to open up a dialogue about social consumption.
So, why then is the show called Stoner, a term many still view as a pejorative? Lammer says he wanted a word that would immediately convey the nature of the podcast. And he wanted a term that would put the emphasis on people, rather than on the plant itself. Lammer likens “stoner” to the word “nerd,” which has undergone a rehabilitation “where it was negative and then it came to symbolize a community of people: 'Hey I don't accept that this is a stigma, a bad thing. I embrace it.'”
On his new podcast, Lammer sometimes spotlights media professionals like he does on Longform – although, they're often people within the cannabis sphere. Guests have included Amanda Chicago Lewis, who writes a marijuana column for Rolling Stone, Ricardo Baca, the former Cannabist editor for the Denver Post, and Krishna Andavolu of Viceland's Weediquette show.
Andavolu, who once smoked a joint at Uruguayan president José Mujica's home in front of Mujica (whose country is the first to regulate cannabis), says on Stoner, “I was telling my parents about that before it came out, and they were just mortified.”
The analogy of “coming out” in the midst of prevailing social stigmas resonated with Stoner guest Alexandra Chasin. She's the author of “Assassin of Youth,” a book about Harry J. Anslinger, America's first “drug czar” and the architect of reefer madness propaganda in the 1930s. Due to Anslinger's effective demonizing of marijuana decades ago, stigmas surrounding the plant still persist today in many quarters.
Chasin tells Lammer that when she came out as “queer,” it was a period when derisive names were still shouted at her, objects were violently hurled in her direction. She jokes about how it takes a “special kind of pervert,” like herself, to miss the onetime social taboo of being gay — or a “stoner,” for that matter. As the LGBT movement progressed into the '90s, and the emphasis became more on military service and gay marriage, Chasin recalls feeling about her activism that “the thrill is gone.” She tells Lammer, “I feel a bit like that about marijuana” — although Chasin still prefers seeing the birth of a regulated market in America, rather than prohibition living on.
Lammer, who's resided in New York his entire adult life, birthed the idea for Stoner after trips back to his hometown of Berkeley, California. “It's a whole other world,” Lammer says of the West Coast. “There's this massive retail establishment...not necessarily the classiest stuff always. A lot of dispensaries are weird, strip-mally places.” But in New York, some people still buy weed in parks — although, more often than not, purchases happen from delivery services that will show up with say, four to six strains, in Lammer's experience. For all it's hipster aspects, Brooklyn still isn't Portland or Seattle or Denver (places where Lammer has purchased legal weed), when it comes to cannabis.
Perhaps it's Lammer's East Coast location, rather than being in a legal recreational state, that gives Stoner a slightly naive sensibility compared to other cannabis podcasts out there. But, then again, Lammer isn't seeking to convey an in-the-know approach: “I try to come to it with the eye of an amateur,” he says. “I don't want to be like, 'Oh, I know more about weed than you.' It's more of a journey.”
The show is still coming into its own. Lammer says Longform began hitting its stride after 25 episodes (it's released over 250 episodes now), and Stoner, with new broadcasts appearing once a week, has less than 20 episodes in its archive.
So far on Stoner, Lammer has amusingly journeyed into the outré, Midwestern mind of Bill Levin, leader of the First Church of Cannabis in Indianapolis. Using Indiana’s Religious Freedom and Restoration Act as a basis for a lawsuit, Levin is suing the state for the ability to use cannabis as a sacrament (and perhaps eventually sell it in his church's gift shop, if Levin has his way). When asked about President Trump's goal to allow churches to make political donations and endorse candidates — which Levin's cannabis church could potentially benefit from — Levin amusingly tells Lammer, “What is good for one church is good for all churches. And if [Trump's] going to make beneficial laws for churches, who am I to say no?”
Another guest, Nick Denton, who founded the website Gawker, discusses with Lammer the concept of “cross-cutting identities”: How people from disparate backgrounds can come together over a TV show — or a joint. “Being a stoner is an identity, and it cuts across race lines, it cuts across class lines,” says Denton in his British accent.
The guest who Lammer has known the longest is the singer who goes by the name of Francis Starlite of Francis and The Lights. It turns out Lammer and Starlite have been making music together since they were in their late teens. “It's still a pretty big part of my life,” says Lammer of his behind-the-scenes music career, which he cites as one of his primary passions. “I've been in a band for most of my adult life.”
Within the video for Starlite's song “Friends,” Starlite's friends Bon Iver and Kanye West both make appearances. Lammer is listed as both a co-writer and co-producer on the track. Lammer has also released “Big Personality,” an e.p. of songs — including one called “Stoned Out Wonderland” — all written by Lammer and performed and sung by Starlite.
Who knew? It's something that might surprise regular listeners to Longform or Stoner, who've become familiar with the engaging podcaster with the self-described, “scratchy and nasal at the same time, but not particularly high” voice.
“I like not knowing where people are going,” says Lammer. “That's basically my goal in interviewing people: to end somewhere that neither of us expected...And that’s been an unexpected delight in the show.” ♦
Judge RoughneckRead More
High Urban HikesRead More
With so many cannabis related companies and events popping up around Colorado these days, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. Trudging through the mountain of supposedly “420 friendly” things to do can get a little exhausting, especially when those events all come with the caveat that consumption is strictly prohibited. For marijuana enthusiasts, finding an entertaining way to spend an afternoon while nicely toasted can be overwhelming in concept, yet paradoxically underwhelming in practice. I was lucky enough to attend one such event in the form of a beta hike put on by High Urban Hikes, a new walking tour of Denver that is promoted as a historical romp for those under the influence of THC.
The hike began outside the Brown Palace Hotel, the long-standing center of Denver’s socialite circle, where the upper crust used to come for clandestine liaisons with ladies of the evening afforded them by a subterranean tunnel connecting to what used to be a brothel that still stands across the street (though it no longer operates as such, at least to my knowledge). It was at this cultural landmark that the small group coalesced around tour guide and HUH founder Amy Rohrer, a small, eccentric woman with a passion for cannabis as well as the cultural and artistic history of the city with a zesty attitude to match.
“Legalization is patriotic,” says Rohrer from behind star-shaped American flag sunglasses, a reference to the title of this particular hike, the Pot is Patriotic Tour. It’s not just a love of the city that has brought this group together, it’s a love of the social progress around cannabis, and it’s influence on the ever developing culture.
Rohrer says she first got the idea for the hike after a stoned stroll of her own. After reacquainting herself with cannabis and finding today’s smokable flower too strong for her liking, an edible-enhanced walk set Rohrer’s curiosity ablaze so to speak.
“There were just these little gems everywhere I went,” says Rohrer, and with cannabis opening her mind’s eye in new and interesting ways, she began to absorb the myriad cultural and artistic beauties that populate the city. “I started to get to know the people,” she says, getting a more attuned knowledge of the city she had lived in as a young woman and grown reacquainted with upon moving back in 2011.
“The marijuana just made it all the more better,” she says. “It truly made me feel better about everything.”
The experience was eye opening, prompting a new found connection with the city, she says, and stirred the idea of HUH.
“How can I have the high of being a tourist in my own town?” posits Rohrer.
The answer: a stoner-friendly walking tour.
Now a certified international tour director, Rohrer led our group around some of the iconic parts of downtown. After interrupting high tea at the Brown Palace, the tour took us south to the Kit Carson monument at the corner of Broadway and Colfax, replete with facts about the historical origins of the city and the statues, architecture and people that made it happen. From here, the group hopped the 16th street mall ride down to Union Station, touring some of the revered drinking establishments. Along the way, Rohrer would stop to ask trivia questions, with a correct answer earning a random prize ranging from marijuana swag to dried geckos (still not sure what I’m supposed to do with them besides freak my girlfriend out). The tour concluded with a walk past the Museum of Contemporary art along Cherry Creek to the Denver Center for the Performing Arts before ending at the Convention Center’s iconic blue bear.
While smoking up on the hike is discouraged — a pre-hike email warned “Any obvious consumption on the hike may draw peace officers!” — I went, as usual, unharassed as I puffed away on my portable vaporizer as I walked around the city. For the time being liability issues prevent Rohrer from offering dosed treats to hikers, so pre-consumption is the recommended course of action.
The hike is a return to the boosterism that Rohrer is keen to point out played such a large roll in the foundation of the city and the state, and her passion for it shows through in her bubbling enthusiasm. It’s not just about marijuana, and it’s not just about the rich history of Denver, it’s really about the marriage of the two.
If a jaded townie like myself can enjoy an afternoon walking around like a tourist, then there is definitely something worthwhile to it. Check out huhdenver.com for a list of upcoming tours.
June 2015 - A Letter to Our ReadersRead More
“The key to success is to keep growing in all areas of life - mental, emotional, spiritual, as well as physical.”
This month marks four years since the idea of The Hemp Connoisseur was born. And what an amazing four years it has been. We have been privileged to be covering the Colorado cannabis industry during its most exciting times. As the pace of legalization has gained momentum so has our growth as a magazine. I find it fitting that after four years, much like a high school student after graduation, it is time for us to expand our horizons and leave the relative safety of our home base. It is with this in mind that I am proud to announce that THC Magazine will be publishing a national version in addition to our local issues starting October of this year.
In addition to this exciting development we have even bigger news. We have just partnered with Cannabis Network Radio to create Cannabis Media Source. We are truly honored to be forming this partnership. Cannabis Network Radio has consistently been rated in the top ten worldwide for cannabis podcasts. CNR also owns SiriusXM420 and is streamed live 24/7 on siriusxm420.com. We believe this partnership is the first of its kind, bringing two cannabis media veterans with over a decade of combined experience together.
So what can you expect from Cannabis Media Source? For starters we will be increasing programming on Cannabis Network Radio. We are already signing some amazing talent to host new shows. The cannabis industry, especially when talking about hemp and marijuana, is so vast and multifaceted. We think the programming we are planning for CNR will reflect the full spectrum required to represent every demographic of cannabis enthusiast. We will also be implementing a video broadcast division, which will include talk shows and regular news reports in the coming months. To celebrate the formation of CMS and the launch of the national issue, this September we will be holding our first annual hemp fashion show “Victory for Hemp.” There are of course a lot more projects in the works for Cannabis Media Source and we will be making more announcements over the next few months. So stay tuned.
Four years ago a vision was born. The first stage of the vision was a magazine, but that was never the complete scope of it. Becoming a multimedia company was always what we wanted. When I met Dave Kowalsky, CEO of Cannabis Network Radio, we realized that we both had the same vision. We both wanted a media company that would present cannabis culture in a mature and informative manner. Now, here we are at the cusp of something truly momentous in an already momentous industry.
This is going to be fun!
The Sky is the Limit THC Sits Down with Rebelution Frontman Eric RachmanyRead More
Cannabis Book ClubRead More
by Rebecca Chavez
Like so many young people, my first encounter with cannabis came through the pages of books. Drug use is often a tool of subpar authors hoping to boost sales through inclusion on some sort of banned books list, and young-adult authors can sometimes take this to a point of excess. My first foray into the world of fictional drug use came through the classic, Go Ask Alice. The book was attributed to an anonymous author, and originally touted as a non-fiction account of real-life drug addiction. By the time I got around to reading it, however, it was considered common knowledge that the "editor", Beatrice Sparks, was actually the creator of the entire story. Despite the false premise, I was completely entranced by the story of the narrator, a typical teenaged girl who is given a dose of LSD at a party one night and soon falls into a life of debauchery and drug use.
I was in middle school when I first read Go Ask Alice. Knowing nothing about cannabis, I figured that it was as described in the novel. That is to say, I assumed that cannabis had the same properties as MDMA and was as addictive as a typical opiate. This is par for the course with young-adult literature. It is designed to ensure that young people never consider the possibility of doing drugs, and therefore avoids having an honest depiction of drug use. When characters in young-adult novels turn to any kind of intoxicant it typically ends poorly. Even Hamish, of The Hunger Games, cannot put a drink to his mouth without becoming a full-blown alcoholic.
The fear of drug use being depicted as somewhat normalized oddly carries into adult fiction. This could be due to the illegal nature of drugs. After all, though authors such as John Steinbeck and Margaret Mitchell acknowledge that abortion was happening before the infamous Roe v. Wade ruling, the characters in their books often pass a moral judgment that reflects one of the time in which the book was written. Authors who write about marijuana are likely doing the same thing, lest they be condemned for writing a factual account of what cannabis use looks like and expose themselves as one who would commit a crime. This doesn’t prevent all authors from exploring the topic, and through literature we can often see how the public opinion on cannabis has transformed over the years.
Drug laws are a fairly new invention. Many working towards legalization will point to the fact that morphine and opium were often prescribed by doctors into the early 20th century. Beyond this there was a thriving legal market that led to books such as Confessions of an English Opium Eater. The most famous early work on cannabis was Charles Baudelaire’s epic ‘The Poem of Hashish’, which was written when he was a part of a group known as the "Club des Hachichins" or "The Hashish Club". This club included other literary greats such as Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo, and Honoré de Balzac, though they kept their use of cannabis out of their works. Written in the 1840s, the "poem" reads more like an essay. In it, Baudelaire extols the many virtues and vices of hashish and explains the drug in a way that may be familiar to the modern user. Any modern cannabis aficionado relates easily to the statement that "hashish often brings about a voracious hunger, nearly always an excessive thirst", though there is probably a little hesitation when it comes to Baudelaire’s later assertion that excessive use of hashish could lead to a God complex. Baudelaire’s judgment of the drug could be clouded by his love of laudanum, a legal (at the time) intoxicant that played a significant role in the deaths of many artists.
One of the most important aspects to consider when thinking about marijuana use in literature is that authors rarely remark on the ordinary. For something to worm its way into the pages of a novel, there must be something extraordinary about it. While cannabis is legal, discussion of the drug’s use appears to taper off, only to sharply increase in the 1950s. This was the time of The Beats. Kerouac and company made few qualms about their drug use, but can hardly claim originality for it. If On the Road taught readers anything, it is that Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassidy loved nothing more than appropriating other cultures and using their privilege to insert themselves temporarily into scenes that perhaps would have preferred to be unfettered by a group of entitled, blue-collar white men from New England. In San Francisco, Kerouac pauses to describe an experience Dean has with cannabis. In this experience, Dean spends days high on what he calls "green tea", experiencing visual hallucinations and indulging in self-harm. This sort of eye-roll worthy exaggeration of the effects of cannabis is typical of The Beats, who want desperately to indulge in what they see as taboo, and a part of a world they will never belong to.
Kerouac was likely influenced to write about drug use after reading Invisible Man by the much more competent Ralph Ellison. Ellison’s narrator smokes a joint someone gives him early in the book and has a somewhat transcendent experience while listening to Louis Armstrong. He describes descending into the music "like Dante" and seeing around the corners of the song. At the end of this brief exploration into the invisibility of Armstrong, the narrator of Ellison’s book declines to use cannabis again, stating "the drug destroys one’s sense of time completely."
Having the floodgates of drug experimentation in literature opened by Ellison and Kerouac allowed for other authors to insert cannabis into their modern works. Drugs are used with nonchalance in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, published in 1982 but set much earlier in the 20th century. A decade later, Jeffrey Eugenides captures the essence of the confident high school drug dealer in The Virgin Suicides’ Trip Fontaine, a character who later ends up in rehab. As we move towards a more complete picture of legalization, the depiction of cannabis in literature is likely to change as well. Young-adult fiction is likely to carry the same stigmas as always, but the authors of works for adults may become more comfortable with the righteousness of their own use and insert the drug into their works with more confidence.
K.I.D. Premiere Music Video for “The Bong Song” via High TimesRead More
“WeedWatch” Parody of Apple Watch Advocates “Time for A Change”Read More
One of the most innovative features of Apple’s Watch is the ability for users to customize the face of the device, and add additional information. In Higher Ground’s parody, they have taken the liberty to do just that! The watch face is full of humorous and advocacy-related apps including NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), SXSW, Leafly (a Yelp-like mobile app for marijuana), 7-11, Cannabis News Network, and Doritos. The time? 4:20.
“The Apple Watch is a revolutionary product, and the legalization of marijuana in States across the country is also a revolutionary movement,” notes Higher Ground Editor-in-Chief Michael A. Stusser. “The message of our parody is as simple as the solution to the War on Drugs: Legalize It. It’s time to end Prohibition, and legalize, regulate and tax cannabis at the federal level.”
Based out of Seattle, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012, Higher Ground is attempting to “Elevate the Dialogue” and broaden the movement nationally. While legal in Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Oregon, the use, sale or distribution of cannabis is still a felony at the federal level, and over 600,000 Americans are arrested every year for marijuana-related offenses. The parody ad is being strategically placed in weekly newspapers (and on-line) in states where marijuana initiatives are being proposed, including Ohio, California, Nevada, Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts and Arizona. It will also run as the centerfold in the upcoming Marijuana Green Pages.
The launch of the Apple Watch continues to garner significant media coverage, as it is the first new product device from Apple since CEO Tim Cook took over the company. PreOrders for the iWatch began on April 10th, selling over a million units, and will begin shipping on April 24th. Using guerilla-style marketing, Higher Ground’s WeedWatch campaign will appear on posters, leaflets and mobile billboards adjacent to Apple stores nationwide.
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