From a lyric discussion on the smileysmile.net messageboard, July 2010 (here):
Dada: Sounds like a canny reference to pot, such as we see with “Cabinessence” (switch the B and the N around and you get “Canibessence”).
runnersdialzero: I’d say that’s a stretch, especially about “Cabinessence”.
cutterschoice: Frank Holmes (a friend of VDP, and the Smile cover artist) said that “Cabinessence” is a pun on ‘cannabis.’ I think he’s a reliable source.
A few months back, a brief essay (On Cabinessence) was volunteered here (scroll down) as part of a series of observations about this particular Smile song. Cabinessence (formerly Cabin Essence) was the only Smile recording officially released by The Beach Boys in anything close to its original form (‘as Brian conceived it’, according to Brad Elliott’s research in The Facts About Smile) – it’s stuck onto the end of 1969’s 20/20, as filler, on an album compiled and conceived to fulfill the band’s contract with Capitol Records.
As Smiley Smile was probably a deliberate (and quite successful) sabotage of Brian Wilson’s artistic reputation (as I have argued here), and as Cool Cool Water was started after May 1967 (and completed years later, and at some distance from its original conception, as I will argue later), and as Surf’s Up was co-opted by The Beach Boys (and Jack Rieley, their manager at the time) and completed with next to no input from its composers, Cabinessence has always felt key to an understanding of what Smile might have been.
On Cabinessence, as a partial interpretation, was included essentially without comment (because I didn’t write it); it did, however, get a fleeting mention on what I believe is called the ‘blue board’, the Community pages at brianwilson.com – but as messages there do not seem to be archived, the comment is now irretrievable. And while it was accessible, there didn’t appear to be any followups or comments.
It’s a long while since I followed any thread on a Beach Boys messageboard – even amongst the most moderate fan community, there always seemed to be polarities of opinion, which often filled me with inertia. I may not be robust enough for that kind of environment. But hopefully my argument is sturdier than I am. We’ll see.
And, with the luxury of continuing this consideration of Smile without a hardcore Beach Boys fanbase readership (2 hits per page a day!) means further wayward explication can be made; by the time the real cogniscienti might get round to reading all of this, I’ll be long-done – and long-gone!
And I say a partial interpretation, only inasmuch as Van Dyke Parks’ lyrics for Cabinessence are open to a myriad of interpretations. Unusually, however (and as argued here), this multiplicity of meaning appears to be complementary rather than contradictory: all meanings ultimately support each other – and Cabin Essence seems rich with meaning.
Michael Leddy addressed That (in)famous line in a lovely essay from 2004 (and reposted in 2009); as a professor of English, he looks at Van Dyke Parks’ words from a poetical and a technical perspective:
There’s considerable play of sound in this line: over and over, the long o in over and crow, the hard c in crow, cries, uncover, and cornfield, the repeated r sound in over, crow, cries, and corn. You could say that the line performs the repetition that it speaks of, making the same sounds, again and again. Just say the line a few times and you can hear its richness. It’s a mouthful, literally. And it has an emphatic rhythm:
DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM da da DUM DUM
That’s almost a line of Homer — dactyls (DUM da da) followed by a spondee (DUM DUM). (Homer’s lines though have six feet each, this one only five.) The long o sounds also echo roll and over in “Roll Plymouth Rock.” So this line is rich in melopoeia in itself and in relation to another part of SMiLE.
but also says that
None of what I’ve written is what the line “means,” in any simple way, but it’s often more useful with poetry to ask what a line does, or what it evokes, or what it gives a reader to find pleasure in. To say that the line means that crows are leaving a field is in fact to kill everything that’s interesting in the line. That’s the kind of approach that literary critics used to call “the heresy of paraphrase” — the reduction of the poem to a bare statement, as if the point of reading poetry were to cut away the beauty of language to get to some sort of message.
how differently might history have played out, were Mike Love to have read Leddy’s appreciation of those troublesome lyrics for “Cabinessence”.
which is a really nice idea, and also a very charitable one – but it does assume that Mike Love might have been willing to understand more than he did already.
It’s probably safe to assume that Brian Wilson is no longer in any position to remember what the song was about (or was for); it’s likewise safe to assume that Mike is unfamiliar with the expression “the heresy of paraphrase”, despite his claims in 2006 (here, comments here) that
I’ve always been fond of literature, for instance. I once wrote a poem that takes 12 minutes to read—it’s in iambic heptameter—and it’s quite a fantastic poem. In fact, I’m going to make part of it into a song. I used to do really well in school—not well in math and sciences—but extremely well in literature, history and languages
my passion was always poetry and literature
I suspect, however, that Mike Love understood enough about what Brian and Van Dyke were working on to realise that it would not stand up to the scrutiny of this ‘heresy’ – and hence his questioning what he knew had no answer:
I asked him once, ‘Van Dyke, what does that lyric mean?’ and he says ‘I don’t know! I haven’t a clue!’ And I said ‘Exactly!’
(from the Endless Harmony documentary; you gotta love the quizzical expression he feigns)
But, as cutterschoice says above, there is another more trustworthy source available for any further divination – Frank Holmes, and his illustrations for the booklet that were to accompany the album.
The Smile booklet has been in circulation unofficially for many years. There was a nice repro edition from the late 80s, once available from the UK Beach Boys Stomp fan magazine, as advertised here
and the booklet is included in full with all versions of the 2011 Smile Sessions release.
Although Domenic Priore’s 2007 book Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson’s Lost Masterpiece was something of a missed opportunity (and especially in the light of the analysis excluded from The Smile Sessions book – there is a large Smile critical study still waiting to be written), one extraordinarily interesting appendix has excerpts from a 2004 conversation with Frank Holmes about his Smile illustrations.
Holmes does explain his general intentions in The Smile Sessions book, in a brief personal essay (700 words approx., and a luxury Van Dyke Parks does not seem to have been offered) entitled The Conjured Image. Here, Holmes’ describes his illustrations’ themes as
American Imperialism aided by The Transcontinental Railroad, and Manifest Destiny, and the westward expansion that led to the encroachment of the Native Americans. Some general themes were Travel, Nature, History, Communications, Love Stories, Virtue, Betrayal, Bucolic Splendor, Astrology, Mystery and a connection with childhood innocence and humor. All of this is served by the comic effects of cartoon imagery.
The 2004 conversation in Priore’s Lost Masterpiece book has some more detailed recollections about specific songs.
Unusual also is the fact that the booklet, as originally intended for the 1967 Smile, has two pairs of images, for Cabin Essence, and for Surf’s Up. The other songs represented (Do You Like Worms, Heroes and Villains, and My Vega-tables/The Elements) each have a single image.
This is the first:
As Holmes was working on these illustrations while some of the songs were still under construction, this image has Home On The Range (one of Cabin Essence‘s sections as logged on session sheets) as the associated song title. Possibly not too much to read into this…but are those clouds, or smoke signals?
Holmes says to Priore:
There’s a covered field..and under that is idea of the transcontinental railroad, built by the coolies. There’s three of these Chinese coolies, and the rest is the geological features of the stone…stuff that’s uncovered under the cornfield during the completion of the railroad…there’s a meadow filled with rain there, too.
This is the second:
which is captioned
and Holmes says
The design…was from dominoes, from ‘Columnated ruins domino’…I thought of just what it is: a little image of Grecian columns toppling over one another. But..chose dominoes instead…in making a series of events that are affected by an initial push. That was the same idea with the columnated ruins.
‘Lost and found, you still remain there’ – for that one there’s a temple filled with rain…I used a Lost And Found department there.
These insights are obviously fascinating, especially if one treats Holmes’ work as intrinsic to what a 1967 Smile might have become. The booklet itself seems like an expansion upon the ‘fan photos’ of the original Beach Boys Party! insert sheet:
(scanned from the front cover of a lovely US repro vinyl edition from a few years back, which includes the insert; I looked for it on Amazon, and found this, inexplicably – be the first to review this item!)
and most of the Smile booklet comprises colour photographs of a far groovier Beach Boys than those in attendance at the Party!. But Holmes’ illustrations (which occupy only two of the Smile insert’s twelve pages) take this kind of anachronistic fan photos freebie into a whole other universe.
Frank Holmes’ recollections are exactly that – this all happened a long time ago, and his work has never been (officially) matched with the songs it illustrates until the 2011 Smile Sessions (alongside further song illustrations from 1996); but his memory of the imagery at work here seems reliable.
As Smile‘s lyricist has never been given the breathing-space necessary to explicate what he was saying in any Smile lyric, interpretation has been left to listeners, enthusiasts, and Smile‘s scholars. But the one aspect of the illustrations that offers the most enlightenment is where Holmes’ Home On The Range imagery blurs into Surf’s Up‘s ‘columnated ruins domino’ – a visual overlap that parallels Michael Leddy’s observation that
the long o sounds also echo roll and over in “Roll Plymouth Rock”
in “that (in)famous line” over and over the crow cries, uncover the cornfield.
In August 1995’s Mojo Magazine 100 Greatest Albums Ever Made issue, Pet Sounds is recognised, again, as The Greatest Album Ever Made. Its top spot is accompanied by a series of articles/interviews by Bill Holdship, and one (entitled The Thirty Year Face Off) features a short interview with Mike Love and Bruce Johnston:
Mike Love only agreed to be interviewed for this feature if Bill Holdship signed a declaration that he’d write “nothing negative” about Love. Holdship refused, saying it was his right to form any opinion he wished once he’d conducted the interview.
Mike (who eventually succumbed to the interview without this proviso) answers the question
How do you react to the continued attention paid to Smile?’
Mike: What’s left of Smile is a shell. It would have been a great record but he just didn’t have the will or the ability to finish it. See, a lot of the Brian bullshit rests around the album and it’s nothing, it’s just fragments. Who wants to hear about Brian’s mental problems anyway?
(Mike then goes on to state that he wrote Kokomo, ‘it goes to number one in the charts and I’m still the dumb, know-nothing, talentless Mike Love‘. But put Kokomo aside. Forever. It’s long-forgotten – do not expect it in the live set of this reunited Beach Boys tour. Let us return to Smile).
This ‘shell’ fills 5CDs quite nicely.
Smile, for a long time, was always perceived as bits: nothing had been completed, and certain parts seemed interchangeable. A fictionalised Carl Wilson articulates Mike’s feelings more succinctly in The Beach Boys: An American Family TV melodrama:
Carl: It’s all just pieces Brian. Just…pieces.
but even with the first small selections of tracks bootlegged from the mid-80s onwards, it was obvious that many instrumental tracks were complete; Brad Elliott’s The Facts About Smile article, through study of session sheets and extant recordings, reveals how close others were to completion (and with the revelatory exclamation that Cabin Essence was ‘AS BRIAN CONCEIVED IT!’).
However, where there are obvious overlaps between Do You Like Worms‘ ‘music-box/bicycle rider’ refrain and Heroes and Villains, there is no comparable structural or instrumental interchangeability between Cabin Essence and Surf’s Up. But Frank Holmes was presumably aware which song was which when producing his lyric illustrations in 1966.
The inclusion of Home On The Range as an identifier may not have been a reflection of a change of mind about what part of Smile fitted where – but instead an acknowledgement (by Holmes, as suggested by Van Dyke Parks, and upon the instructions of Brian Wilson) of some aspect of Smile‘s structure as Brian conceived it.
This is speculation, obviously (and, with Smile, ultimately it’s all speculative – who can you ask?), and thus cannot be corroborated. Even with a bunch of finished Smile tracks, without a sequence, no one knows (and now will probably never know) how all the pieces fit together.
This is the basis of the ‘fan mix’ mind that has sequenced and re-sequenced Smile, ever since tracks started leaking onto the collectors’ circuit. And with all of the various parts included in the 2011 Smile Sessions box, a whole new breed of fan mix can commence (if it hasn’t done already). You can build you own Home On The Range, with the doing-doing-doing-doing from the Smile Backing Vocals Montage (Disc One, Track 25), and the Cabin Essence: Verse sessions (Disc Three, Track 8)…
There are critics of Domenic Priore’s own theories about Smile‘s structure; the idea of ‘link tracks’, as postulated in 1988’s first publication of Look! Listen! Vibrate! Smile! (‘try this suggestion on a blank cassette: COMPILE A SMILE ALBUM YOURSELF AT HOME!!! Don’t be afraid to be creative‘), and perpetuated in Priore’s 2007 book, is deemed especially problematic. Some people with an opinion claim this ‘link’ theory to be ‘discredited’, although proofs of anything in relation to Smile are hard to come by. But this suggestion of a ‘blurring’ between discrete tracks, via Frank Holmes’ contemporary illustrations, is very interesting.
There is also an incomplete illustration that references a discarded verse, not used in the final 20/20 Cabinessence sequence (the drawing is reproduced at the top of this post). About this sketch, Frank Holmes says that
The heart with the arrows bouncing off it represents being hard-hearted, a heart of stone. It’s the love idea I guess, the underlying idea for this music, like a slab of stone…
and the use of ‘hard-hearted‘ is another link to Surf’s Up, via the ‘choke of grief heart hardened i’ lyric.
Holmes also mentions, in relation to the ‘reconnected telephoning’ illustration
one line…I can barely remember it, something like ‘Different colored cords to your extension’ – that’s where the telephone cords come from. And ‘Don’t forget to mention this is a recording’…Back in the 60s, when something was recorded they’d have this voice saying, ‘This is a recording’…that’s all to do with communications. Same with ‘Hello, hello’…the ‘Hello hello’ is another lost and found idea, someone trying to get a connection on the telephone.
These unused lyrics are now widely know, and run as follows:
reconnected telephone dialing
different color cords to your extension
don’t forget to mention
this is a recording
even though the echoes through my mind
have filtered through the pines
i came and found my peace
and this is not a recording
doobie doo doobie doo or not doobie
The session recordings on Disc Three of The Smile Sessions include earlier takes featuring drum parts, but these were obviously also discarded by the time final masters were decided upon. And, while this unused percussion is as fascinating as any of the session recordings (this is one a few small surprises amongst the familiar), the track makes a far greater impact without them; they sound ‘of their time’ now, whereas the finished Cabinessence (from 20/20) sounds, to me at least, timeless, or out of time. It did the first time I heard it over 25 years ago, and it still does now.
If, as Brad Elliott suggests, “Cabin Essence was ‘undeniably 90% finished and may very well have been completely finished by early 1967, according to the session worksheets”, the 20/20 Cabinessence must have been as faithful to its 1967 blueprint as it could be – that it was co-opted by The Boys (along with Prayer) over any other unreleased track was almost certainly because it was close to completion, not because they had any fondness for it (what else did The Beach Boys have to work with?).
So it’s probably safe to assume that this editorial role was taken by its composers, not its performers.
The composition thus appears to have been honed down, musically and lyrically, until it became the version known from 20/20 – suggesting that it was refined, and designed to last, beyond the place and the time that Brian and Van Dyke were dealing in then: to be universal.
As Van Dyke Parks says, in Paul Zollo’s Songwriters On Songwriting,
I don’t think a song should fall apart like a cheap watch on the street. I think it’s important to make a song a renewable resource. Something that can be listened to again.
It’s a shame that legend only records Mike Love’s comments on the ‘over and over the crow cries‘ lyric; but it’s safe to assume that his response to ‘doobie doo doobie doo or not doobie‘ would be of a comparable consternation, a comparable disgust.
46 years later, a Google search for “not+doobie” points to the future and into the past:
Marijuana Legalization in California: Doobie or Not Doobie? (from 2010) continues the perennial debate about the decriminalisation of cannabis. But, despite the promises of Philip K. Dick and Norman Spinrad, we’re not buying branded Acapulco Golds just yet; a civilised society needs to look after the health of its citizens.
In America, the legalisation debate is still quite fervid. One would think that 21st century legislators might have abandoned the ‘weed with roots in hell‘ paradigm – however, mere weeks ago, the (disingenuous) belief that Marijuana Leads To Death persists:
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told a constituent in favor of legalizing marijuana that he doesn’t support the idea because drugs like pot lead to death.
In a Feb. 14 letter to his constituent, McConnell said he has “serious concerns” about legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, a topic that the constituent had written to him about. He pointed out that the main ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, is already available in pill form for the treatment of certain illnesses.
He is also “troubled” by the fact that many legalization proposals would make marijuana available to the public “without following the scientific processes” of the Food and Drug Administration, McConnell said.
McConnell then cites a medical marijuana bill introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and raises concerns about what could happen if it became law — death.
“Because of the harm that substances like marijuana and other narcotics pose to our society, I have concerns about this legislation. The detrimental effects of drugs have been well documented: short-term memory loss, loss of core motor functions, heightened risk of lung disease, and even death,” McConnell wrote.
But “not+doobie” also yields
Doobie or not doobie – that is the question, Bard – Effort made to open Shakespeare grave to see if he smoked pot, what killed him.
Was Shakespeare a pot smoker? And, if so, where was he scoring it from?
A South African anthropologist has asked permission to open the graves of William Shakespeare and his family to determine, among other things, what killed the Bard and whether his poems and plays may have been composed under the influence of marijuana.
But while Shakespeare’s skeleton could reveal clues about his health and death, the question of the man’s drug use depends on the presence of hair, fingernails or toenails in the grave, said Francis Thackeray, the director of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, who floated the proposal to the Church of England.
Thackeray conducted a study in 2001, which found evidence of marijuana residueon pipe fragments found in Shakespeare’s garden. Cannabis was grown in England at the time and was used to make textiles and rope. Some Shakespearian allusions, including a mention of a “noted weed” in Sonnet 76, spurred Thackeray’s inquiry into whether Shakespeare may have used the mind-altering drug for inspiration.
Via the same Google search, we learn that The Doobie Brothers are now ‘classic rock’ (despite the common knowledge they are neither brothers, nor named Doobie); that lost Cabin Essence verse is easily located; Shakespeare might have been a stoner – and cannabis is still illegal, because it can kill. Somehow.
I was surprised – and actually initially somewhat disappointed – when I discovered the Frank Holmes Cabin Essence/ ‘canibessence’ pun: was the strangest and most elusive song the Beach Boys ever (officially) released really just ‘about’ drugs? However, I’ve mentioned the pun to a few people since, who were as familiar with Cabinessence as I am, and they’ve all responded with surprise – then ‘but of course!‘. The ‘doobie doo or not doobie’ lyric would have made that interpretation much more apparent – which was maybe why it was removed from the song as recorded.
The CBS News 1967 Inside Pop documentary addresses the role of drugs in the new music :
Jim McGuinn: the drug revolution is just coming about, and they are gonna be a lot of heads rolling from it
Girl: y’know there’s a lot of dope going on – it’s a bad word to use but it’s true
Jim McGuinn: I think these drugs WILL enhance their consciousness, and make them perhaps more loving or more understanding of the universe, more understanding of life
Recreational cannabis smoking, despite its illegality, was, by the mid-60s, becoming quite a prevalent feature of the burgeoning ‘counter-culture’. Leonard Bernstein (in Inside Pop) uses a handful of contemporary pop songs to illustrate what he saw as new in pop music:
the lyric of Along Comes Mary, I have been informed by its author, 22 year old Tandyn Almer, is not about a girl named Mary at all, but about ‘mary jane’ , which is a literal translation of mari-juana. And a staggering piece of verse it is …
Hear The Association’s Along Comes Mary here. Bernstein was obviously impressed enough with the writing to include the song, but it is now a relic of a past long-gone – and its advocacy of pot-smoking as a source of ‘enlightenment’ is likewise of its time:
when vague desire is the fire in the eyes of chicks
whose sickness is the games they play
and when the masquerade is played and neighbor folks make jokes
as who is most to blame today
and then along comes mary
and does she want to set them free, and let them see reality
from where she got her name
And will they struggle much when told that such a tender touch as hers
will make them not the same
when we met i was sure out to lunch
now my empty cup tastes as sweet as the punch
(in full at oldielyrics.com)
Putting aside the weird misogynies of the ‘sickness of chicks’ (and echoed in Gary Wilson’s ‘sick trip‘ 10 years later), the song says that ‘mary’ has improved the life and mind of its author, and could do likewise for you, the listener.
This ‘mary jane’ nudge-nudge-wink-wink thought its evangelism was revolutionary; and from a 1990s perspective,
in the context of the late 1960s and its generational schisms, youth stars often made a point of flaunting their drug use, or flouting mainstream authoritarian morality. Sometimes this impudence was merely showy or naive…these gestures of defiance helped embolden the rock audience’s emerging political sensibility.
(from an essay about The Doors by Mikal Gilmore, in a generally quite tedious collection of rock myths, Night Beat – A Shadow History of Rock & Roll)
But the ‘drug revolution’ was really only an advance upon availability; and, while it all might have felt new to pop’s practitioners in ’66, for all its ‘newness’, Bernstein observes in early ’67 that:
…mostly [teenagers and pop singers] talk about love, as all songwriters have since time began – only this time its either a cool kind of love, or a frankly sexual love, or – and this is most important – universal love, a mystic, oriental concept, that is presumably attainable through meditation, or withdrawal from ‘the establishment’, or most readily, through drugs.
Now what does all this mean?
In some ways, it meant about as much then as it does now. There was no ‘drug revolution’, despite what rock histories might claim (there was substantially more bad music made under the influence in the 60s than good; cocaine in the 70s increased that signal to noise ratio exponentially), and the drugs debate is now way more complex and far more polarised than it ever was in the mid-60s.
Fifty years later, Western societies (and specifically the US and the UK) seem only to have gained an experience of drugs; this is obviously not the same thing as the ‘drug experience’. For the chemical and cultural freedom-fighters of the sixties, ‘drugs WILL enhance their consciousness, and make them perhaps more loving or more understanding of the universe, more understanding of life’. That there is now a ‘war on drugs’ suggests that, if society’s ‘enhanced consciousness’ is ever going to come, it isn’t here yet.
And, of course, American popular music (especially blues and jazz) had drug songs for decades – as Harry Shapiro explains in Waiting For The Man: The Story of Drugs and Popular Music,
in the thirties, the first heyday of songs about drugs, over one hundred containing references to the drug scene were recorded for the American black or ‘race’ radio-listening audience. In general the songs conveyed their message using the same ‘hip’ drug/jazz slang that the musicians used between themselves.
One hundred songs may be an underestimate for two reasons. First, after marijuana was banned in 1937, lyrics became increasingly obscure, so it is often impossible at this distance to be certain of the writer’s meaning. Secondly, many songs had the word ‘high’ in the title, but no other lyrical clues in the song. A proportion of these would have been drug-orientated songs, but some writers just cashed in on the fashion for hip slang, to give their songs ‘street credibility’.
So there wasn’t much that was actually ‘new’ in the mid-60s drug advocacy, but obviously it was all remade afresh by the Rock Revolution – or so its revolutionaries believed. And thus, bad drug punning began to litter the work of counter-cultural pop musicians (trendsetters as always, The Beatles’ Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds upped the ante in this ‘is it?/isn’t it’ game). Was Cabinessence/canibessence just a smarter version of that same juvenile advocacy? Or might it actually be the most instinctively-intelligent, and the most historically-pertinent drug-pun of the entire ‘rock revolution’?
Drugs and drugtaking go in and out of fashion; new drugs come along, older drugs are rediscovered, and, since the 1960s, pop music ‘movements’ have often had an associated intoxicant or stimulant. Cannabis, however, has always been a constant.
A bit of revisionist US history:
America’s phenomenal and quick successes can best be explained by what attracted people to its shores, especially early on. Obviously, people came for many different reasons – some because of philosophical and religious differences, some to escape the almost constant wars in Europe and persecution by the state, and many for the economic opportunity. People risked their lives crossing the Atlantic to make a new life for themselves free of the edicts of the aristocracy or religious domination, and many came in the hopes of making their fortunes.
The British Crown mounted the Roanoke Expedition (1582; it failed) and established the Jamestown Colony (1607) in an effort to explore possibilities in America. However the real effort to populate and colonize America didn’t come until the early 1630s. The fundamental reason for America’s predominantly Protestant British heritage is that Britain encouraged its people to colonize America – and they did that primarily because Britain’s domestic hemp-based industry, the lifeblood of the economy, desperately needed a stable, reliable, and relatively cheap source of hemp.
The Cannabis plant is the source of both “hemp” (indicating its industrial uses) and “marijuana” (indicating its medicinal and intoxicating properties)…Cannabis may be the fastest growing plant on the planet. It grows virtually anywhere, whatever the climate or soil condition; it is easily grown from seeds, requires little care or attention…it is almost the perfect plant.
There are basically two species of Cannabis: sativa and indica, both of which are grown for their fiber and intoxicating properties…the name “Indian Hemp” was also used by colonial Americans, both to acknowledge the difference between sativa and indica and to refer to Cannabis seeds imported to America from India by the British.
It seems that Cannabis was used to make textiles, rope…in fact just about anything:
The versatility and strength of the fibers of hemp made it one of the raw materials most used by primitive man; and for well over 10,000 years practically everything people had was made from hemp. It was hemp cloth that replaced animal-skin coverings. It was strong hemp (later called “manila”, when it had to be imported from the Philippines) rope and sail that enabled man to capture the power of the wind to explore and inhabit the world – without it, even the discovery of America would have come much later. Even the word “canvas” is derived from Cannabis. Hemp-based paper (rag bond, made from tattered hemp cloth) appears to have been the paper that first enabled humanity to create books and communicate ideas over time and distances. Paper money, first developed by the Chinese, was made from hemp, and most of the world’s paper money today is linen-based. Oil extracted from Cannabis seeds was used to waterproof the hulls of wooden ships, as lamp oil, and as the base for paints and varnishes. Medicinally, Cannabis has an equally prestigious history.
It seems that Cannabis was also grown in a newly-colonised America:
Many of America’s founding fathers became wealthy by producing hemp or hemp products, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and one of America’s richest colonists, Robert “King” Carter…Jefferson received the first US patent for his invention of a machine that would break hemp (that is, start the process of extracting the fibers). Even Ben Franklin’s wealth was derived from hemp – he was America’s leading paper producer, and it was all made from hemp.
All of the above is excerpted from Hemp – American History Revisited by Robert Deitch (Algora Press, 2003). Amazon lists it under a variant on its subtitle (Vital Resource To Contentious Weed), but my print copy is The Plant With A Divided History (and most decidedly not The Weed With Roots In Hell)
This is a very moderate, and quite educational revisionist history book – while its lack of a bibliography is a minor failing, works cited are in footnotes throughout. I’m sure that all its claims can easily be corroborated.
As the Introduction helpfully summarises:
in 1937, despite Cannabis’ beneficial history, an unwitting US Congress and President (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) essentially outlawed the cultivation and use of hemp, for virtually any purpose…[these Members of Congress] certainly didn’t know that hemp and marijuana came from the same Cannabis plant, and they were never told they were actually outlawing hemp – a crop they were very familiar with because most of them grew up with it on their family farm.
Much of this was new to me; not being an American, it’s unlikely I would be familiar with US history anyway – but I also cannot imagine too many American schoolchildren learning this American History Revisited in the 21st century… it seems that, contrary to popular belief, there has always been a whiff of marijuana to the US of A.
Deitch initially concentrates on the industrial uses of hemp, and hemp’s ubiquity in the development of civilised societies, and then by extension America:
at just this time , American colonists also began producing their own paper – hemp-based paper – which they went on to use to produce their own newspapers and books. Until 1883, 75-90% of all the paper the world produced was made with hemp fiber.
…drafts for documents including the Declaration of Independence were all made of hemp. Betsy Ross purportedly made the the first flag from hemp cloth and until 1937 all American flags were made from hemp.
as in the Revolutionary War, hemp products, especially rope and canvas, were still vital war materials used on naval and merchant ships, on supply wagons, for tents, for uniforms, and of course for the flag.
although cotton was cheaper to produce, it lacked many of hemp’s desirable attributes – strength, warmth, durability.
the demise of hemp as an essential part of our economy and daily life was also the result of elites promoting their own interests.
And so on.
Obviously a book like Hemp – American History Revisited takes a somewhat partisan point of view. Waiting For The Man suggests that
in the early twenties, marijuana, muggles, muta, gage, tea, reefer, grifa, Mary Warner, Mary Jane or rosa maria was known almost exclusively to musicians. Hemp had been grown in the States since the oldest days of white settlement, as a valuable cash crop for clothes and rope making – so valuable , that the state of Virginia fined farmers for owning it. The plant grew wild in many regions, including along the banks of the Mississippi, but part from the odd literary figure who picked up on the hashish experiences of French artists like Baudelaire, Gautier and Rimbaud, nobody knew of marijuana’s other properties until the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
Deitch suggests otherwise:
[George] Washington’s diary entries indicate that he grew hemp at Mount Vernon, his plantation, for about 30 years. According to his agricultural ledgers, he had a particular interest in the medicinal use of Cannabis, and several of his diary entries indicate that he indeed was growing Cannabis with a high Tetrahydrocannabinoidal (THC) content – marijuana. […] Actually, it was common practice for colonial Americans to smoke Cannabis, to varying degrees of potency, in lieu of tobacco, for recreational and for medicinal purposes, and the practice lasted until well after the Civil War. It was readily available, and free – you could simply pick it, dry it, and smoke it. Unless it was grown for its medicinal or intoxicating properties, ordinary hemp contains relatively little THC, the intoxicant.
No fewer than eight US presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Taylor, Pierce and Lincoln) have been identified as Cannabis (hemp) smokers. Washington preferred a pipe full of “the leaves of hemp” to alcohol, and wrote in his diary that he enjoyed the fragrance of hemp flowers. Washington and Jefferson…are said to have exchanged smoking blends as personal gifts […] These men would never have attained their leadership roles if their peers thought the use of Cannabis negatively affected their mental or physical capacities. In fact, judging from the extraordinary accomplishment of drafting the Declaration of Independence (written by Jefferson) and the Constitution (in which Madison played a primary role), the two principle documents upon which the United States is founded, it is hard to imagine that their abilities were impaired in any way.
in a letter to George Fleming, December 29, 1815, Thomas Jefferson noted, “Flax is so injurious to our lands and of so scanty produce that I have never attempted it. Hemp, on the other hand, is abundantly productive and will grow forever on the same spot”. George Washington instructed his men to: “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere!”
Any political advocacy of the value of anything associated with the cannabis plant, whether industrial, medicinal or recreational, would lose a politician their seat almost immediately. Bill Clinton was cautious to cover an admission that he ‘experimented with marijuana a time or two‘ with the caveat that ‘I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale and never tried it again‘ – and somehow he got away with it. Couldn’t happen now.
Current legalisation debates centre around the medicinal properties of cannabis; this has likewise been used for thousands of years, and, in the US, cannabis-based medicines, pre-1937 legislation, were once as common as the cocaine in Coca Cola (discussing drugs other than cannabis, Deitch says that ‘opiates and Cocaine were found in many products…and of course, almost every soft drink on the market – Coca Cola was only the most famous‘ – although I gather that this is now an urban myth).
Visit The Antique Cannabis Book for Over 600 2,000 Pre-1937 Medical Cannabis Products Documented – including adverts for products such as
(Vanity Fair Magazine Sep 20, 1862 pg134)
Shapiro’s Waiting For The Man describes how,
on 25 September 1930, Harry Jacob Anslinger, ‘the Swedish Angel’, took over the newly designated post of Commissioner of Narcotic Drugs…it was Anslinger who orchestrated the national campaign against marijuana and determined the drug’s image in the minds of the public for the next thirty years
Although by his own admission the data were suspect, Anslinger built up a case file of crimes which purported to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt the evils of marijuana. These cases he gave to newspapers to publish verbatim; nearly all the information on marijuana circulating in magazines and journals in the mid-thirties was supplied by Anslinger’s office.
The curious history of how the Indian hemp plant, Cannabis Indica or Cannabis saliva, reached such unsavory prominence in America offers an example of how a natural product, innocent in itself, can remain unnoticed and not used for evil purposes for centuries, only to plunge into sudden disrepute.
Marijuana’s effects are described:
A person smoking several marijuana cigarettes will first experience a: feeling of exaltation and well-being. A happy, jovial mood is induced and everything takes on a humorous aspect. Tell a person at this stage that his mother has just died and he will laugh loudly at the news.
With this increased happiness, there comes a feeling of greater physical and mental strength. Nothing seems impossible. Musicians and cabaret entertainers are said to furnish one of the largest classes of users for this reason— it stimulates their imagination and temporarily increases their ability. Visions sometimes of a pleasant nature, but more often gruesome.
unfortunately, it has a still worse side.
Continued use of the drug, for example, will lead to a delirious rage in which the addicts are temporarily irresponsible and inclined to commit the most horrible and violent crimes. Any increase in crime in a community usually is attributed by authorities to marijuana. Many murders are committed either by persons not responsible while under the influence of the drug, or by persons who deliberately smoke it to gain a false courage for the commission of a planned slaying. Prolonged use is said to lead to mental deterioration and eventual insanity.
And Beach Boys lore seems keen to adhere to this archaic misapprehension into the 21st century; The Smile Sessions‘ 2011 release was promoted by articles and interviews, all prefaced by the overall explanation that ‘it was the drugs’ that caused the collapse of Smile, and of Brian himself – some kind of sudden, immediate, drugs-driven ‘breakdown’ (although, looking at a post-Smile timeline – as I intend to do – does make one wonder exactly when Brian fitted this breakdown into his busy work schedule…).
Cabin Essence, at odds with the nouveau-hipsterism of rock’s revolutionaries, was maybe also (all meanings here can only be maybe) the
song that would end on a freeze frame of the Union Pacific Railroad – the guys come together and they turn around and have their picture taken
(as Van Dyke Parks explained to Steven Gaines in Heroes and Villains). Was this ‘freeze frame’ a frozen moment in an otherwise simultaneous multiplicity of overviews of America’s past, present and future? Do You Like Worms (Roll Plymouth Rock) has long been accepted as a ‘musical history of America’, moving from the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock (in 1620) through to Hawaii, as the most recent of the 50 US states (1959) – and this was without a completed lead vocal or an available lyric; was Cabin Essence intended to embody agriculture, industry, railroads and communication, from the 16th century attempts at an early colonisation to expand the hemp trade, through the building of the railroads, to the computer punchcards of Frank Holmes’ ‘reconnected telephoning’?
Who can really say?
But it is safe to assume that, with the cannabis play on words in its title, Cabin Essence is most certainly not the same kind of ‘knowing nod’ to the stoned cogniscienti that Along Comes Mary (and everything that followed it) functioned as; rather, an (admittedly indirect) open acknowledgement of ‘mary jane’ and her place in US history – as an observation, rather than any kind of new evangelism.
The ‘new’ drug songs were only doing what the older drug songs did, and were thus just another repeating of history; but, no matter how much of Smile might have been informed by the ‘drug experience’, that experience, and the influence of cannabis/hemp/marijuana upon America’s history, up to the point in time that America found itself when Smile was composed – the unfashionable counter-Anglophilia that was driving their ‘American Gothic trip – reaches into the future we’re living in today.
With cannabis outlawed rather than necessarily discredited, its medicinal properties have been seemingly rediscovered in recent years – try this data dump from 2009: 30 posts with articles and links to recent Cannabis research, medicine and use. Enlightening reading.
So why is cannabis suddenly being debated again? Maybe Monsanto have now fully sequenced the genome, and pharmaceutical and tobacco companies are ready with synthesised medicines and Acapulco Golds…if this is the final result of the 1960s ‘drug revolution’, then the battle has obviously been lost. Considerations of cannabis in the 1960s focused on an utterly natural product, with centuries of testing, and with a long association with the birth, life, economy, agriculture, industry, communications and culture of The United States.
America has thus always had a strong ‘cannabis essence’.
And, if Smile were being written today, and were addressing a 21st century America, this ‘cannabis essence’ would still have a similar pertinence, and thus a similar validity as a pun – even ‘uncovering the cornfield’ might take on another layer of meaning in the light of current illegal cultivation of cannabis, hidden amongst legal corn crops (illustrated in a news story from 2010, Task force gets a bird’s-eye view of marijuana growing amid the cornfields).
It just won’t go away; a cannabis essence persists in the USA, to this day.
America and its governance’s ongoing ‘war on drugs’, like its ‘war on terror’, depends upon mythmaking – a continual remaking and rewriting of histories, to serve whichever is the currently-dominant paradigm; corporate agendas have everything to gain (ie. profits and control) by keeping these myths in a constant state of flux.
The museum piece that Beach Boys Corp. seem eager to become (through their interminable ‘celebrations’ of corporate personhood) suggests that some of their shareholders have an eye towards posterity as much as to history. Mike Love may already have started preparatory work for the exhibit he plans to become after his demise:
(this well-preserved man is 71 years old)
And, despite his claim in a 1995 interview that ‘The Beach Boys have always been lovingly irrelevant‘, time and history seem very important to The Corporation. Mike said himself in 2006 (in the same interview where he reveals his literary credentials) that
I want people who survive one hundred years from now to realize we were relevant now
(and this, bizarrely, is offered as a adjunct to an explanation of the concept of the ‘survival of the fittest‘…)
and says in the same interview
I’ve always felt like if you’re going to be esoteric, that’s okay if you’re introducing some concept, but let’s have it connect with people intellectually, emotionally or both, hopefully. Let’s not make it just for the time period that we’re dealing in now; let’s make it be more universal.
All of Smile is now ‘historical’; the Sessions box is an archive first and foremost. It takes some leap of imagination (or a time machine) to even guess how the album might have been perceived if released. The CBS News Inside Pop broadcast from 1967 (transcription here, comments here) is about the best time machine currently available. A working chronovisor, or a magic transistor radio may yet be developed – and maybe, in some distant future, people will be able to see and hear Smile‘s cultural milieu firsthand, unmediated by ‘rock history’, faulty memories and outright untruths… for now there is only speculation and extrapolation.
However, rather than reveling in being ‘lovingly irrelevant’, wouldn’t America’s Band™ be more, um, American, if it had Smile‘s complex cross-correlation of interconnected musical histories and freeze-frames as a legacy, rather than just a series of infantile tributes to a coastal sporting fad?
[what] if [The Beach Boys] release another album – not necessarily an artistic statement to rival Pet Sounds or Smile, but an actual *artistic statement* – that does better both commercially and critically than all the Santa’s Gone To Kokomo crap Mike Love’s been churning out for the last 30 years?
If they put out a good – hell, even a competent – album, and follow it with a tour which showcases the band’s more artistic side, maybe that will be how they’re remembered. I certainly hope so.
In the time taken to finish this post, That’s Why God Made The Radio has been getting airplay (I first heard it on the radio), and any hopes of an ‘artistic statement’ have been dashed.
A 2012 artistic statement from America’s Band could have been something that updates the band’s prior preoccupations and concerns: the ecological themes of the Surf’s Up album; the stated aims of Mike Love’s own ‘Love Foundation’ (‘which supports national environmental and educational initiatives‘); the ‘American Gothic Trip’ of Smile; the coast of California perceived as a party paradise.
A different timeline’s 2012 album might address, say, the cataclysmic changes to the American coastline to come, with the ‘1.5 million tons of debris heading toward North America from Japan’s tsunami last March‘ presaged by the ‘ghost ship’ that appeared off the coast of Canada in March this year:
The so-called ghost ship is the first major piece of evidence that Japanese tsunami debris is heading to the United States.
“It does confirm that debris generated by the tsunami will make landfall on the west coast of North America,” said Nicholas Mallos, a conservation biologist and marine debris specialist at the independent Ocean Conservancy, which monitors the problem of Ocean trash.
or the fact that, as reported on March 30 2012,
the Fukushima radiation plume contacted North America at California “with greatest exposure in central and southern California”, and that Southern California’s seaweed tested over 500% higher for radioactive iodine-131 than anywhere else in the U.S. and Canada
in addition, radioactive debris is starting to wash up on the Pacific Coast. And because the Japanese are burning radioactive materials instead of disposing of them, radioactive rain-outs will continue for some time … even on the Pacific Coast.
Of course, the resulting album would have been a pretty poignant statement… wouldn’t have gotten Mike much airtime on QVC.
The mid-60s cultural and social revolution (as soundtracked by the ‘rock revolution’) seemed based upon hope, and for a change. And with an eye to a better future, for a country designed, from scratch, as a model society – one which would not replicate the errors of Empire.
The future that The Smile Sessions has been released into is almost certainly not the one that Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks imagined whilst writing Cabin Essence. Although the music has survived (and, bizarrely, so have The Beach Boys), it looks like the only extant artifact of that hope, at that time, is artistic.
Cabinessence has survived its era; as time passes, it yields yet more meaning upon meaning. Brian and Van Dyke created a New American Music that will outlive them both. It won’t ‘fall apart like a cheap watch on the street‘; like the ‘cannabis essence’ of the hemp that helped build America, Cabinessence and Smile remain ‘a renewable resource‘.
Was it naive to imagine that Mr. Mike Love, as head of The Beach Boys Corp, and the ‘executive producer’ of the forthcoming
Celebration That’s Why God Made The Radio album, might finally want to put aside the prurient teen fantasies he seems to still hold dear, forget his petty objections to the artistry of Smile, and maybe contribute to something comparably-lasting, for the ‘people who survive one hundred years from now‘?
The June 2012 Mojo interview with The Beach Boys (mentioned here) has each remaining member recounting a favourite band lyric. Mike’s choice? The Ballad of Old Betsy from 1963, about a car:
when you come to that part where [Roger Christian, as lyricist] is saying
‘She may be rusted iron, but to me she’s solid gold/I just can’t hold the tears back, cos Betsy’s growing old…‘
it just gets me. It’s so descriptive and so beautiful.
Yeah, obviously it was a rhetorical question.