|Skin Up! Skin Up! Skin Up!|
Thelma & Louise, tragi-comic (pseudo-)feminist road movie that won the 1991 Academy Award for Best Screen Play, contains a scene in which a dreadlocked black man on a mountain bike comes across an abandoned Highway Patrol car with bullet holes in its backside. Realising that there is a Policeman locked in the boot, the stoned cyclist - let's call him Mr Spliffy - blows pot smoke at him through the bullet holes. Apparently, this incongruous scene was inserted into the script after test screenings demonstrated that audience sympathy for the protagonists, Thelma and Louise, dipped after the renegade pair had abandoned the lawman in the desert. The producers evidently felt that the introduction of a caricature Rasta would lighten the scenario.
As the Eighties turned into the Ninties, the consumption of cannabis continued to be a crime, yet was tacitly condoned through such stereotypes as Mr Spliffy. Spliffy was the name of a gun-totin', joint-tokin' cartoon character whose embroidered image adorned the jackets and jeans of inner city kids in the UK for a period in the early-to-mid Nineties. Mr Spliffy is nothing more or less than another incarnation of that romantic figure from popular folklore, the glamourous outlaw drug peddler. Over more than sixty years of US-inspired Prohibition, popular culture has contrived to transform the marginal figure of Staggerlee into a cartoon character fit to adorn children's clothing.
In the Nineties, records containing cannabis references were no longer confined to the fringes, but were frequently played on the radio and reached the top of the charts without censure. Nobody blinked when, in league with UB40, Pato Banton briefly topped the British pop charts in October, 1994, with a version of The Equals' Baby Come Back , although Mr Banton's improvised lyric clearly advertises - among the domestic delights with which he is attempting to woo his lover back - a "bag of sensi," the better to enjoy his "colour TV" and "CD collection of Bob Marley".
Groups like Jamiroquai make the connection between cannabis and pop music explicit. Jason Kay, the group's leader, made his name with a pretty good impersonation of Stevie Wonder's vocal style and borrowed the title of his second LP from Sly Stone: Return Of The Space Cowboy. Artwork advertising the album represented a giant cigarette paper in the stylised shape of the singer's silhouette and in interviews he conducted to promote it, Jay Kay was frank about his penchant for pot. In performances during the Summer of 1995 - Kay lit huge spliffs and passed them around as his band swung into their version of the old Peter Tosh tune, Legalise It. The Cat in the Hat offered Channel 4 TV cameras a toke at that year's Glastonbury Festival; footage that mysteriously disappeared into the ether before it reached peoples' living rooms.
In the Nineties, Glastonbury had grown into the nation's largest annual celebration of music and the performing arts, not to mention smoking pot, and bands measured their ascendancy according to their billing, not to mention which stage. The 1995 Festival officially attracted 80,000 paying punters, but many more bunked in over and under the fence, a section of which was torn down on the first night at the top of the festival site. Fine weather and media reports of the lack of security ensured enthusiastic crowds for the new breed of Britpop bands, like Dodgy, who came from Birmingham and sounded like The Hollies. Dodgy's breakthrough album, Homegrown had been released in October, 1994, replete with titles such as Grassman and had been promoted with a grow guide sent out in a press pack to journalists.
As high powered home grown hydro herb became increasingly ubiquitous throughout the Nineties, its legalisation did not appear to be an issue of burning relevance to a generation who had little trouble in scoring and were anyway preoccupied by a growing proliferation of so-called 'dance' drugs. In Potology, a guide to 'the sociology of getting stoned', published by the Manchester drugs agency, Lifeline, in 1995, a Liverpudlian dealer is quoted: "Legalise cannabis? Why? As far as I'm concerned, it's already fucking legal, so what's the point?"
This point of view was echoed, sort of, by another Liverpudlian: Tommy Scott, the leader of Space. "I tried a bit of speed once, but I've never been into weed," he told Johnny Cigarettes in The Face magazine (vol2, no 98; November, 1996). "The thing is, I know I can outweird anyone on any drug, just with what I've already got in my head. Maybe that's why we're different to a lot of bands around. Everyone in Liverpool's a weed-head and I think it just makes them boring and unimaginative. I reckon the Tories invented it, like some people say the American government flooded their ghettoes with smack, to keep people from doing anything constructive with themselves."
Space - who were nominated as Best Newcomers at the 1996 Brits Awards, but lost out to pot-smoking public schoolboys, Kula Shaker - are one of the more idiosyncratic British groups of the '90s to have been collectively lumped under the label of Britrock or Britpop, the archetypes of which were The Stone Roses and the La's, respectively. The Stone Roses came from Manchester, a.k.a. 'Madchester'; they wore baggy trousers and had taken E; The La's were Scallies, from Liverpool housing estates, where heroin addiction was becoming endemic. Their one wonderful hit, There She Goes - which was originally released in October '88 and became chart hit when remixed two years later - is, allegedly, an ode to heroin.
The bass player in the La's, John Power, went on to form a band called Cast, who were no doubt disappointed to miss Glastonbury in 1996, on account of there being no festival that year. Power was enthusiastic when interviewed for the 1997 Official Programme: "I'm an ardent experienced Glastonbury traveller", he said. However, "I've not been in the mud bath thing, though. Not yet." He was not to be denied a novel experience, as it rained for three days before the event. There may have been muddier festivals - Glastonbury '85; Woodstock 2 - but few with such a miserable atmosphere, without a ray of sunshine all weekend. Many stayed away, but for those who did come determined to have a good time, Cast performed on the Pyramid Stage, with Power changing the lyric to Guiding Star from "Get up, get up, get up, get on" to: "Skin up, skin up, skin up, get on".