It’s 1964. The Beatles are locked in a hotel room with Bob Dylan, who pulls out and sparks up a joint, effectively introducing the Fab Four to the magic of marijuana.
“From then on, they realized, this can be a mind-expanding creative engine for them,” said music historian and radio host Alan Cross. “The Beatles moved into Sgt. Pepper, to Magical Mystery Tour, to Abbey Road, to Let it Be. You’ve got to wonder how much of that burst of creativity that followed can be attributed to the fact Dylan turned them onto weed.”
Music and marijuana have shared a symbiotic relationship since the dawn of the modern musical era, well beyond the ganja-worshipping brand of reggae popularized by Bob Marley. The roots of the plant in songwriting culture, in fact, go far deeper, says Cross.
“Traditionally, it goes back decades, if not centuries. We started hearing about cannabis in jazz clubs in the teens and ’20s. It became a very important part of the jazz culture through the ’30s and ’40s. By the time it got to the ’50s, a lot had descended into heroin and cocaine use, but it had always been part of the scene. And again, when rock n’ roll came along – it’s been indivisible from the beginning.”
Music and marijuana intersected in Toronto for three days last week, as players from both industries north of the border converged in a shared downtown conference space for two coinciding events: the O’Cannabiz Conference and Expo and Canadian Music Week.
Civilized caught up with Cross at the conference, who led a Q&A session with keynote speaker, Melissa Etheridge. Cross, who hosts the popular syndicated Ongoing History of New Music, says he’s curious about cannabis culture, industry and the evolving regulatory regimes in North America. The two cultures continue to impact one another on a few levels, Cross told Civilized.
And for Etheridge, cannabis is a dominant factor in both life and business. The 55-year-old roots rock crooner recently launched a line of cannabis-infused wines, edibles, oils, topicals and vape pens.
When asked about the impact marijuana has on her music, Etheridge confirmed that the plant is an integral force behind her art.
“That’s the best part. It should be legal just for (art),” Etheridge told Civilized.
Marijuana, she says, helps quiet the part of the mind that 'worries about the future, or regrets the past,' and helps connect people to their world, achieve new understanding, and ultimately, discover new inspiration to create.
“When I am creating, when I’m writing, there’s nothing like a really strong sativa. Nothing. And it’s one of the only times I’ll partake in sativa, because if I’m not creating, I’ll rearrange my whole house or something,” she said. “…to create from there, my goodness – let’s paint, let’s write books, let’s inspire. I don’t ever want to write if I’m not in that state.”
And like marijuana has served as a creative catalyst for artists, in the modern era of cannabis commercialization, musicians are effectively able to give something back to the plant, Cross says. Artists who have launched cannabis brands, Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg are helping de-stigmatize marijuana further in civilized culture.
Artists like Etheridge, especially, who don’t look like stereotypical potheads, are actively contributing to the slow normalization of marijuana. Mainstream artists have a powerful political vehicle from which to tell the world that it’s A-OK to get high, Cross says.
“This is one of those situations where artists are pushing a legal agenda. This is unique, in that – how many currently illegal substances are on their way to becoming legal, and who better than to promote this transition than artists and people who believe that things need to change? They’ve got a microphone and they’re leading the way.”
Victoria Dekker is an award-winning print and online journalist, covering life, culture and business in the cannabis sphere and beyond. Connect with her on Twitter @deadtowrite.