Monday, December 29, 2008

Peter, Paul, Mary, and Rush Limbaugh

Democrats Dancing to Rush Limbaugh

In Defense of Barack the Magic Negro
by Michael Dare

Republicans are being raked over the coals for a CD called We Hate the USA, which, like Team America, lampoons liberals with such songs as John Edwards' Poverty Tour, Wright Place, Wrong Pastor, Love Client #9, Ivory and Ebony, The Star Spanglish Banner, and the song that's caused the greatest stir, Barack, the Magic Negro (written by Paul Shanklin). As usual, the entire concept of satire is at stake.

Peter Yarrow, who wrote Puff, the Magic Dragon, the song satirized in Barack, the Magic Negro, says "What might have been wearily accepted as 'the way it was' in the campaign, is now unacceptable. Obama is not a candidate. He is the President-Elect, and this song insults the office of the Presidency, the people who voted for him, as well as those who did not -- and taking a children's song and twisting it in such vulgar, mean-spirited way, is a slur to our entire country and our common agreement to move beyond racism."

Oh really? I can't use a children's song to make fun of the president? A gracious but heartfelt fuck you. I'll use Frère Jacques and Brahms' Lullaby to make fun of the president if I want to, and there's nothing Peter Yarrow, Brahms, or the legal representatives of the Jacques estate can do about it. To rise above mere parody, satire has to be making a point about society in general, which includes absolutely everything, including Puff, the Magic Dragon and Barack Obama. There have been dozens if not hundreds of parodies of Puff, the Magic Dragon over the years, including Buff, the Horny Dragon and Puff, the Magic Tampon. If Puff, the Magic Dragon is good enough to make fun of lesbians and hippies, then why isn't it good enough to make fun of Obama? It's not racist to make fun of the president just because the president is now half-black and they happened to parody a song by Peter, Paul, and Mary. If that were true, nobody could make fun of Obama at all for the next 4-8 years without fear of appearing racist. Fuck that. I sure as hell intend on making fun of Obama, not because he's black, but because he's president.

Nobody seems to have actually listened to the songs which, if sung on South Park or SNL might seem suitably satirical, irreverent, and "commentary" on racism, not racism itself. I withhold judgment on the song Barack the Magic Negro until I hear it. Unlike some people who put down Michael Moore movies without bothering to see them, I like to decide for myself.

Hell if I'm going to contribute to any Republican Committees to get my copy of the official CD, so off I slipped to Pirate Bay looking for the bittorrent. No hits on Barack the Magic Negro.

Okay, the big guns, FrostWire, a new version of LimeWire that works pretty damn well. Up it pops, and what a surprise.

The file is called "Rush Limbaugh Parody- Al Sharpton - 'Barack the Magic Negro'.mp3." Yep, Limbaugh's behind this mess, and far be it from me to defend such a self-righteous scumbag, but the song is worth a listen before any knee-jerk condemnation.

In it, Al Sharpton sings, "The guy from the LA paper said he made guilty whites feel good. They'll vote for him and not for me cause he's not from the hood." Pretty sharp satire, actually. Al calls Obama an "interloper's dream," and it becomes clear this is a satire of AL SHARPTON, not Obama, and totally on the money. If SNL or Bill Maher had impersonated Al Sharpton doing this song, everyone would have laughed their asses off, especially when Al forgets what song he's singing, complains about the lack of buffets, and can't think of anything else bad to say about Obama except "Yo mama is so fat" jokes. Bad taste? You bet. Racist? Gimme a break.

Could all the songs on the CD be like this? I decide to check out one more. I'm so far on the left of the immigration problem, I think we should give California and Texas back to Mexico, so The Star Spanglish Banner looks like it might be up my alley. Off to Frostwire again. I download the file. It's a virus. Damn those Mexicans.

In conclusion, it's only the fact these songs are being distributed by Republicans that has everyone off their rocker. Far be it from me to defend Republicans, but they've got the same satirical rights as anyone else, Al Sharpton deserves it, and nobody should be called racist simply by finding Barack the Magic Negro funny. I'm not and I did.

NEW RULE: If the fact that Obama is black puts black humor off the radar, let the fact that Obama is only half black put black humor only half off the radar.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Favorite Christmas Movies of Democrats vs. Republicans

Republicans' favorite Christmas movie is "It's a Wonderful Life."
Democrats' favorite Christmas movie is "Miracle on 34th Street."

I first heard that aphorism at a holiday party about a decade ago. It's been around longer than that and I haven't been able to determine who first said it and when.

On the face the saying makes sense. After all, what better movie for adults who still believe in Santa Claus than Miracle on 34th Street? Besides (watch out for plot spoiler) the picture's crisis is resolved when a huge federal government agency—the Post Office—comes to the rescue. And with a divorced mother rearing a child alone, Miracle features a non-traditional family, surely a plus in the eyes of liberals.

It's a Wonderful Life, on the other hand, celebrates the infinite worth of an individual human being, a worth that far exceeds even the biggest financial fortune. In Wonderful Life the hero's crisis is resolved (another plot spoiler) by the spontaneous voluntary action of family, friends, and local community; emphatically not by the government. The film also shows people in fervent prayer, not to some generic higher power but to the God of the Bible as worshipped in the Protestant and Catholic churches shown full of believers in the picture. That alone must drive some liberals nuts when the film is broadcast over the public airwaves.

But the game can be played the other way. Wonderful Life presents negative stereotypes of bankers, so much so that when it was released some Hollywood observers (but not, as is erroneously asserted on some liberal websites, the Federal Bureau of Investigations) charged that it was a vehicle for communist propaganda. The charge is easy to ridicule today, but in the 1940s communist infiltration of the motion picture industry was a real and serious threat to American values. Now look at the favorable treatment—not to mention free advertising—that Miracle gives to two large department stores! Main Street Republicans surely must find that refreshing compared to the negative views of business that Hollywood gives us today.

The lesson? It's just a movie! Enjoy them both, or whichever ones you choose to watch this holiday season. Santa's list does not include your political affiliation, but he does have a lump of coal for those who would strip our public life of all sense of Wonder at the Love of God and thankfulness for all Miracles big and small.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Best Appointment Obama Could Make - Ralph Nader as "Car Czar"

Here's the thing. Robert Gates didn't DECIDE to fight the war in Iraq, he was ordered to, and he did a damn fine job of following orders. He got us deep in the shit, and when he's ordered to get us OUT of the shit as fast as possible, I trust he will follow those sane orders just as effectively as he followed the insane ones. He is, in fact, the best possible person to follow those orders. Nobody knows better where everything is and where it needs to go. The logistical problems of how we got there are precisely the same as the logistical problems of getting us out, only in reverse.

And who's the best possible person to deal with the big three? Can I ask you for a second to imagine what Ralph Nader would do as "Car Czar" with billions of bucks and a car industry on its knees? And once you've imagined that, can you imagine anyone else who would better suit that position? Not likely. It's a no-brainer. Nobody else on the planet earth knows the ins and outs of the car industry more than the man who gave us seatbelts and has literally saved thousands of lives.

Who else will take into consideration the fact that General Motors deserves to die for crushing all those electric cars so eloquently in the film "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

Will anyone else consider the air car? I bet Ralph Nader will. He understands that every new technology doesn't have to put the workers for the old technology out of work, and that one simple switch can not only save jobs but the environmental movement, at least as far as automobile emissions are concerned.

Anyone who watched 60 minutes this week knows we're not running out of oil, the Saudis have got this brand new oil extracting monstrosity in the middle of the desert that's completely useless if we stop buying their oil. Sounds like payback time to me. Let's stop buying it. Wouldn't that be the biggest plus of getting rid of the oil guy in the oval office?

What will we replace it with? Name something more plentiful and free than air. Hydrogen is clean but demands millions of new hydrogen stations. Simple hydraulic air cars emit nothing different from what goes in. The only pollution they emit is the pollution already in the air they're filled with. Gas stations already have air compressors. All they have to do is keep those replacement tanks of air full, and everyone can go 200 miles on a cheap fill-up.

There are other ways of retooling. Who knows what's best. I do know I would trust Ralph Nader to do precisely what the job entailed, free from corporate interest and in the public interest.
Liberals have complained that Obama's appointments are way too conservative. As the most popular third party candidate, Nader's appointment to this position would validate the entire concept of third parties. It would be the perfect counterpoint to the Republican appointments, though Nader isn't so much "left" as above the fracas, simply protecting the public against the persistent greed and lies of the transportation industry.

So I've posted a question to the blog on Nader's site. "Would Ralph Nader accept the position of 'Car Czar' if it were offered by Barack Obama?" I await a reply.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Death to film critics! Hail to the CelebCult!


A newspaper film critic is like a canary in a coal mine. When one croaks, get the hell out. The lengthening toll of former film critics acts as a poster child for the self-destruction of American newspapers, which once hoped to be more like the New York Times and now yearn to become more like the National Enquirer. We used to be the town crier. Now we are the neighborhood gossip.

The crowning blow came this week when the once-magisterial Associated Press imposed a 500-word limit on all of its entertainment writers. The 500-word limit applies to reviews, interviews, news stories, trend pieces and "thinkers." Oh, it can be done. But with "Synecdoche, New York?"

Demise of the ink-stained wretch

Worse, the AP wants its writers on the entertainment beat to focus more on the kind of brief celebrity items its clients apparently hunger for. The AP, long considered obligatory to the task of running a North American newspaper, has been hit with some cancellations lately, and no doubt has been informed what its customers want: Affairs, divorces, addiction, disease, success, failure, death watches, tirades, arrests, hissy fits, scandals, who has been "seen with" somebody, who has been "spotted with" somebody, and "top ten" lists of the above. (Celebs "seen with" desire to be seen, celebs "spotted with" do not desire to be seen.)

The CelebCult virus is eating our culture alive, and newspapers voluntarily expose themselves to it. It teaches shabby values to young people, festers unwholesome curiosity, violates privacy, and is indifferent to meaningful achievement. One of the TV celeb shows has announced it will cover the Obama family as "a Hollywood story." I want to smash something against a wall.


In "Toots," a new documentary about the legendary Manhattan saloon keeper Toots Shor, there is a shot so startling I had to reverse the DVD to see it again. After dinner, Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe leave the restaurant, give their ticket to a valet, wait on the curb until their car arrives, tip the valet and then Joe opens the car door for Marilyn, walks around, gets in, and drives them away. This was in the 1950s. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have not been able to do that once in their adult lifetimes. Celebrities do not use limousines because of vanity. They use them as a protection against cannibalism.

As the CelebCult triumphs, major newspapers have been firing experienced film critics. They want to devote less of their space to considered prose, and more to ignorant gawking. What they require doesn't need to be paid for out of their payrolls. Why does the biggest story about "Twilight" involve its fans? Do we need interviews with 16-year-old girls about Robert Pattinson? When was the last time they read a paper? Isn't the movie obviously about sexual abstinence and the teen fascination with doomy Goth death-flirtation?

The age of film critics has come and gone. While the big papers on the coasts always had them (Bosley Crowther at the New York Times, Charles Champlin at the Los Angeles Times), many other major dailies had rotating bylines anybody might be writing under ("Kate Cameron" at the New York Daily News, "Mae Tinay" at the Chicago Tribune--get it?). Judith Crist changed everything at the New York Herald-Tribune when she panned "Cleopatra" (1963) and was banned from 20th Century-Fox screenings. There was a big fuss, and suddenly every paper hungered for a "real" movie critic. The Film Generation was upon us.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Internet Factoid

Barbra Streisand and Louis Armstrong

It's a sign of the times. Since the election of Barack Obama, if you see Wall-E for the first time and it compels you to go online with Limewire to listen to other songs from Hello Dolly, you will find that twice as many people in the file-sharing Gnutella network have posted a free copy of Hello Dolly by Louis Armstrong and Barbara Streisand as they have posted Hello Dolly by Barbra Streisand and Louis Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong and Barbra Streisand

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Special: POV Killer

Michael Dare


I steal a car. I stop in a burger joint, kill the owner, screw his wife on the counter, then stuff her head into the deep fryer. Some customers arrive and I take their orders. Then they take mine. I force them into the meat locker and blast them all with a shotgun.

I steal their car and cruise Sunset Boulevard looking for hitchhikers. Two teenage punks in front of the Whiskey. They think they’ve just seen Fear but I’m going to show them the real thing. I lower the window and offer them cocaine. They stick their head in the car. Bad move. I raise the electric window and both their heads fall on the seat.

Hmmm, I wonder who’s at the Roxy? I go to the Rainbow Bar with a severed head in each hand. No one notices. It’s Halloween. I order Bloody Marys for all. I roll a severed head onto the dance floor and knock over all but one dancer. Him, I knock out with a drink. A spare. Not bad. I pour rum over the other head and set it on fire. The Rainbow burns to the ground. No one notices.

I get back in my car and drive through Beverly Hills. I run over a sushi chef, a gorilla in a diver’s helmet, and three Iranians before arriving at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. I go to the coffee shop and buy a paper. The headline reads, "The President’s Brain is Missing!" It was stolen six month ago by terrorists, but till now no one noticed. A massive search is on, as the President would like to do some thinking tonight. Shelly Winters is sought for questioning.

I throw the paper away and go to the men’s room. I wash my face. I turn around. A beautiful naked woman is walking towards me. We kiss. Her flesh melts from her bones. Her grisly skeleton chases me as the room fills with the smell of decay. The front door is locked. I pound and pound trying to get out but it’s no use. I fall to the floor sobbing. I can hear the soggy footsteps getting closer and closer. Seconds pass. A minute. Five minutes. I’m safe. I get up, the door opens easily, and I’m about to step outside when a bony hand grabs my shoulder and pulls me back in.

I wheel around. It’s Stanley Kubrick. He tells me he loved my screenplay. He wants to direct it. He shakes my hand and leaves, but not before mentioning that he also loved my review of Body Heat. I didn’t review Body Heat. I realize he thinks I’m Michael Ventura.
I decide to kill Michael Ventura. I look up his name in the city directory but they don’t list people named after counties. I go to a store. I buy a gun. I blow out the brains of the guy who sells me the gun. Serves him right.

The police arrest me and I go to the pen where I’m buggered and beaten. I escape in a rubber raft. I’m swept out to sea in a storm. I pass out.

I awaken on the shore of a tropical island. Something bites my leg. It’s a toy poodle. Here come hundreds of them. They all get sucked under the sand by some hideous hidden beast. I’d better get out of here.

A string ladder drops from the sky. I climb aboard and get quickly carried aloft. I look up. A helicopter full of soldiers and machine guns. I look down. We’re strafing Polynesian huts full of hula girls and tourists. I’ve got to find out who’s in charge here. I climb the ladder. Darth Vader leans out and cuts off my hand. I plummet towards the ground.

I discover I can fly. I go to New York. I meet a girl. I fall in love. We have a deformed baby that looks like a turkey torso with eyes. After six months of trying to raise it as my own, I throw it in the oven one night. My wife tries to kill me. I chase her down the hallway. I throw her out a window. No one notices.

I walk to the bookshelf and remove Franny and Zooey. I take it with me to a special benefit concert for dead rock stars. In memory of Jim Morrison, they change the name of Fire Island to Light My Fire Island. There’s a riot as the Who forget the words to "Moon Over Miami"; 27 teenagers are trampled to death.

I steal one of the bodies, dress it in my mother’s clothes, prop it up at my dining room table, and force feed it chicken soup till it comes back to life. It can only speak in old Jackie Mason routines. It goes to the Improv and gets discovered by a TV exec who gives it its own show. I’m the only one who knows that the star of a major sitcom is actually a dead teenage girl. I try to blackmail the network. They laugh at me. They tell me they’ve been using nothing but dead teenage girls for years.

I decide that if they can get away with anything, so can I. I walk down the street strangling people. They arrest me. A judge sentences me to produce a TV special about how bad it is to strangle people. I go back to Hollywood and stab a few backs. No one notices.

I put on a mask so no one knows it’s me. I kill baby-sitters. I’ve killed Jamie Lee Curtis 37 times but she keeps coming back for more. Once, I took off all her clothes, hung her from the ceiling, and attacked her with a blowtorch. I recorded her screams for later. I’ve stabbed her in the shoulder in the shower and in the trachea in a train. I save the blood and roll around in it.

I build giant monuments to my most grisly actions. I starve babies. Pluck them from the womb and scatter them about the room. No wire hangers, ever!

I leave a bowl of apples full of razor blades by my front door for trick or treaters. I put on a new mask and drive around suburbia with a chainsaw. I cautiously follow a group of children dressed as characters from Broadway musicals. I throw one into the bushes and try to rape her with the Uncola when the hills come alive with the sound of an earthquake. Los Angeles falls apart. Mulholland and Fountain now intersect. Everyone thinks it’s my fault, not San Andreas. A crowd of tourists beats me to death. No one notices.

A runaway truck full of plate glass strikes a fire hydrant. One sheet flies off the back and becomes a stained glass window as it slices through my neck. A famous French chef picks up my head and takes it to Wolfgang Puck who cracks it open and serves it to Shelly Winters with a melon scoop.

I wake with a scream and find watermelon pits all over the bed. A beautiful nurse enters the room and tries to feed me hospital food, but I have a strange desire for kibble. She tells me I’ve been unconscious for months recovering from a poodle bite. I look out the window and notice the full moon. Little pink ribbons suddenly appear in my hair. With a horrible, bone-rattling crunch, my face transforms itself into a snout. I turn into a giant toy poodle. I terrorize the town. The National Guard arrives but they can’t fire their weapons on me because I’m so darn cute.

I duck down a dark street and up a deserted alley. I join a gang of other poodles. We attack winos. I awaken naked in a zoo. My boss finds out and fires me but I don’t care because I know what I am. I am the longest goddam tracking shot in the history of cinema.
I’m staring into the house through the living room window waiting for your parents to leave you alone. I enter through the back door, grab a knife from the kitchen, and follow you upstairs. I put on another mask. I stab you repeatedly till the walls are a Jackson Pollack of your blood. I walk outside still carrying the knife. I hear sirens. I scream.

I wake up and look around. I’m relieved to find that I’m still sitting in a theater watching the movie. Everyone around me is screaming too, so no one notices mine. I look back at the screen. I’m standing on someone’s front lawn and laughing hysterically. I stare down at my hand. There’s still fresh blood dripping from the knife in it.

What a funny movie. Soon they’ll cut to another shot and everyone will get to see what the killer looks like. I’d really like to know. This Point of View shit is driving me crazy. Why is the director lingering so long on this dopey shot of me standing here looking at this knife in my hand? I hear police sirens. Good, maybe they can sort this out. There they are now.
Hey, guys, over here. What are you doing? This is just a movie, isn’t it? I was just watching. I scream but I don’t wake up. Nothing goes away.

No, of course I don’t know what the killer looked like. It was all a POV shot. What do you mean I’ve got to come with you? Don’t you understand? I had nothing to do with it. Where are they taking me? Why doesn’t the director cut to another shot?

The audience gets up to leave. My seat is vacant. No one notices.

The End

What? You thought I made all this up? In order of appearance:

The Postman Always Rings Twice, My Bloody Valentine, The 6:00 News, Maniac, Motel Hell, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Heavy Metal, The Fan, Prom Night, The Jerk, Taxi Driver, Escape from Alcatraz, Blue Lagoon, Blood Beach, Apocalypse Now, The Empire Strikes Back, Superman, Endless Love, Eraserhead, Happy Birthday to Me, New Year’s Evil, The 10:00 News, Don’t Go In the House, Nice Dreams, Get High on Yourself, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Final Exam, Zombie, He Knows You’re Alone, When the Screaming Stops, Blow Out, Psycho, Terror Train, Halloween II, Friday the 13th, Mommy Dearest, Earthquake, Scanners, The Omen, Night of the Living Dead, An American Werewolf in London, Altered States, Halloween.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The World Premiere of the Stage Version of Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

I Was There and You Weren't #3

The World Premiere of the Stage Version of Tom Robbins' Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
By Michael Dare

The new Seattle production of Even Cowgirls Gets the Blues hits the same cosmic gong of enlightenment the book did, making you laugh and think in equal proportions. It's out of the ballpark, never less than outrageously entertaining while remaining extremely faithful to the anarchic spirit of the original book. This was especially true of the world premiere at the Seattle Center, right there under the Space Needle, next to the 60's amusement park that stands as an everlasting tribute to amusement technology gone by. The attendance of Tom Robbins, inserted into the play - very much as he inserted himself into his novel - brought the whole thing into startling 4D perspective.

The Book-It Repertory Theatre Company accepted an incredibly specific and arduous task when they decided to translate the counterculture lunacy of Robbins' 1976 novel to the stage. He once described his novels as pomegranates, you don't wolf them down like an apple, you savor each morsel, each sentence, the kernels are too strong to take all at once. A Robbins novel deliberately slows you down as he takes unimaginable tangents from whatever you thought the plot was. As soon as the first amoeba dripped down the reader's leg, it either pissed them off or astonished them. Who knew there were so many rules of writing yet to be broken. Robbins took you places no novel had gone before, places impossible for any other medium to follow.

Surely you remember Chapter 100 of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, in which the author simply offers an imaginary toast between you and he, two glasses of champagne, in simple celebration of the fact that together, you've made it all the way to the 100th chapter of this absurd book, in which the fact that it is a novel is merely an excuse to celebrate the written word in all its manifestations, as though Chapter 100 had been waiting in the wings for every novelist to discover but none had the audacity to come right out and allow it to happen, for the novel itself to be self-aware and proud as hell of having made it all the way to triple digits in the chapter department.

Tom Robbins makes you aware of the act of reading while you're reading in order to promote the entire idea of self awareness, to give higher and higher perspectives upon relative absurdities of plot. He never takes anything more seriously than his desire to enlighten, like Penn and Teller, two other magicians who deliberately undermine their own magic tricks just to increase your perspective on reality. If you're reading a Tom Robbins book and someone interrupts asking what the book is about, your answer would be completely different chapter to chapter, page to page, paragraph to paragraph, even sentence to sentence. Cowgirls was completely original and hilarious, always playing tricks on you, never letting you be satisfied by simply sitting back and watching the plot go by, as if the plot itself were an afterthought, something to be gotten back to after tripping out about the nature of the moon.

It took a while for Kurt Vonnegut Jr. to reach the same stylistic conclusions Tom Robbins embraced from the get-go. Vonnegut's early novels were straight-forward sci-fi, and it wasn't until Slaughterhouse Five and the incredible Breakfast of Champions (another cinematic tragedy worthy of the Book-It treatment) that he broke down the fourth wall with the same fervor Germans used to pull down the one in Berlin. Other than Stephen King inserting himself into The Dark Tower, it's a technique few novelists have dared to gamble with, and for good reason. Readers of novels don't really want to be reminded they're reading a book, any more than watchers of movies want to be reminded they're watching a movie. They want to get so involved they forget where they are.

That can't happen with a play. You can't be so involved in a theatrical production you forget you're sitting in a theater watching actors and sets and costumes that are live right in front of you, so this production takes that foregone conclusion and runs with it, constantly talking directly to the audience, letting us know they know we're here, acknowledging right up front that the whole production is for us. The novel does the same thing with words, so Cowgirls turns out to be the perfect book to exploit this theatrical technique to its fullest.

Even so, there are parts of the book that can't possibly be translated into any other medium, amazing literary tricks that can only be appreciated through the written word.

There's a character in the book named the Countess, and you, the reader, presume the Countess to be a woman until suddenly and mysteriously, halfway through the book, the author drops the word "he" in reference to the Countess and the reader goes "huh?" and rereads the entire book again up to that point, realizing a magic trick has just been pulled, that the author cleverly never used the pronouns "he" or "she" in reference to the Countess, that the author was counting on you to assume it was a woman, to force you to face your own sexual prejudices by springing upon you the sad fact that the whole movie you had going on in your head concerning the Countess and their relationship with Sissy Hankshaw was dependent upon the author using the word "their" instead of "his" in endless sentences such as this.

There's really no way to put that in a play or movie. As soon as the character of the Countess is introduced, you're pretty much going to know he's a "he," but in the book that wasn't so.
It's a subject I know way too much about, so as you can guess, I was prepared to hate this version of Cowgirls even more than I detested the film version by Gus Van Sant. Somewhere in the effort to translate Cowgirls to the silver screen, someone decided this heterosexual paean to female sexuality needed a gay director, mysteriously deciding upon the brilliant but utterly humorless Gus Van Sant. You can take all the laughs in every Van Sant Film, fit them in a flea's navel, and still have room for a hard cover copy of Infinite Jest. Van Sant systematically stripped the book of everything whimsical in a misguided attempt to give the whole thing an impossible sense of realism, forgetting there isn't one realistic moment in any of Robbins' magical books.

But this production pulls the rabbit out of the hat, finding just the right quirks of theatricality to match the quirks of the book. If you don't like this production of Cowgirls, chances are it's because you don't like the book in the first place, it's that faithful a reproduction.

As far as I'm concerned, as soon as Cowgirls is an over the top comedy, a flat out farce, everything fits in place. This production, superbly adapted by Jennifer Sue Johnson and directed by Russ Banham, combines a variety of theatrical techniques, including vaudeville, commedia dell'arte, and most importantly, Paul Sill's Story Theater, which allows them to simply read the book to the audience while acting it out.

It's so simple, it's become commonplace, you've seen it a million times, the theatrical device whereby each character narrates their own story and the stories of others on stage, while simultaneously becoming the people they're talking about, going in and out of character at the drop of a hat, much like a Greek Chorus in which each chorus member gets to play the lead once in a while. No one had done it before Paul Sill's Story Theater, which told tales from the Brothers Grimm. It was simply the most economical means of storytelling the stage had ever seen, appearing first at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 1971, moving from there to Broadway, where it was just as big a theatrical revelation as Tom's books were literary revelations years later. Ovid's Metamorphosis followed, proving the technique would work with just about anything, even in 1980 in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby where they did the whole book, every character, every chapter, every sub-plot, every nuance, over six hours, seen on two different nights, in Story Theater fashion, just reading the book to you while acting it out.

Following in this classic tradition, this production of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues sets the record straight, letting the story go its goofy and ridiculous way with a style in between commedia dell'arte and cosmic circus, letting us know the universe is a funny place where serious things happen, or a serious place where funny things happen, a quirky point of view with every nuance perfected. Story theater lets them incorporate everything from standard Greek chorus to vaudeville, whatever the story calls for, a comedy with plenty of time to get seriously philosophical in between the yocks. This is just the right way to do Tom Robbins for the stage, and everyone involved should be proud as hell.

What's it about? The nutshell? When you try to boil it all down, you're left with FBI agents, whooping cranes, big thumbs, and the first amoeba, not to mention the nature of time and space and everything in between, but mainly Sissy Hankshaw. She's the spokes-model for a feminine hygiene deodorant spray with phallic thumbs who gets involved with a bunch of cowgirls fighting for the rights of whooping cranes, who teach her that the scent of a woman is nothing to be embarrassed about, indeed, it's one of their finest points, which they have no problem sharing with the world, leading to an incredibly funny nude scene in which all the cowgirls chase off the Countess in horror at the sight of their unscented bushiness.

Two narrators play guitar and violin, the perfect accompaniment, Barbara Lamb and Jo Miller, like Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye in Cat Ballou, telling the story through song, underscoring all the ridiculous events that ensue.

Kate Czajkowski plays Sissy goofy and innocent, not an obvious choice, but the right one, keeping the laughs coming as her big thumbs set her life on the road. The set is an old truckstop, the type hitchhikers get stuck at, with hubcaps and license plates covering the walls, and an ice machine that doubles as a cave for The Chink, played to lunatic perfection by Wesley Rice as a variation on Dr. Pangloss from Candide, a looney philosopher horndog who can't keep his hands off the cowgirls, and who can blame him.

Ellen Barkin would make quite a cowgirl, and so does Hilary Pickles as Bonanza Jellybean, a wacked-out R. Crumb caricature of a character, the cutest button of a cowgirl at the Rubber Rose ranch who plants a smack on Sissy's mouth that changes her life.

The rest of the cast is just right, Brian Thompson a hilarious Countess, and every cowgirl a potential Lucille Ball, and that might seem a strange way to go with it but no, comediennes is precisely what this story needed. They're not really "lesbians," a word that doesn't show up till halfway through, and not in a nice way. Sissy ain't no lesbian, she just can't turn down sex from both the Chink and Bonanza Jellybean, regardless of their stereotypes, they both get her off.

The premiere provided the actual presence of Tom Robbins, who hadn't read the book himself in 33 years, which made it all the more entertaining for him, constantly reminding him of lines he'd forgotten he'd written. Tom appears as a character in the book Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, so seeing him sitting down the row from you when one of the characters says "Hey, who wrote this book?", a moment in which he appeared in the play as himself, very much as he appeared in the book as himself, was a genius moment just for that audience, right then, gone forever, unrepeatable, and I wish you could have been there, but don't let that stop you from seeing it without that moment. If you can see it, see it. If you can't see it, read it.

This production doesn't make the big mistake of the film, turning Robbins' hilarious fantasy lesbians on the range into serious politically correct spokesdykes for the righteous homosexual cause. These cowgirls are all perfectly ludicrous, individual characters that add up to a comic book whole, and a Zapp Comic at that. The play has a lusty and zestful fixation on the female crotch, which could be one reason the book is such a classic, the clearly visceral response the author has towards the commercial exploitation of feminine hygiene, which was just getting started at the end of the '70s, when the airwaves were mysteriously full of ads for different spray products for women, as ubiquitous and strange as the current spate of ads for boner pills for men. Cowgirls is as far away from the guilt ridden gay cowboy angst of Brokeback Mountain as humanly possible, putting the gay back in the word gay, leaving out none of the feminist rhetoric, but coming from these ridiculous characters, right out of a Coen brothers or Tim Burton film, in which TONE is everything.

The Book-It Repertory Theatre is a non-profit organization dedicated to "transforming great literature into great theatre through simple and sensitive production and inspiring its audiences to read." It's been going on for a miraculous 19 years I'm sorry I missed. If they were all as good as this, they're one of the most important theatrical companies in the country, translating hundreds of pieces of untranslatable material through the sieve of the perfect theatrical device for translating just about anything. They've got it down, completely perfected, I can't imagine a book I wouldn't want to see their production of.

Of course I could be wrong. This is the only production I've ever seen from the Book-It Repertory Company. Maybe they do EVERYTHING like this, appropriate or not, and I just happened to catch the one where it fit, in which case their upcoming Moby Dick is going to be very interesting.

"A sense of humor, properly developed, is superior to any religion so far devised."
- Tom Robbins: Jitterbug Perfume -

Playing September 16-October 12, 2008 at the Center House Theatre
Book-It Repertory Theatre
206-216-0877, ext. 100

Saturday, September 6, 2008

I Was There and You Weren't

Now in its 17th year, the annual Seattle Hempfest has become the world's most popular protest against the drug war.

By Michael Dare

You can ruin some things by writing about them. When the editor of the LA Weekly asked me to contribute to an article about the best driving shortcuts in the city, I said fuck no, as soon as people start using my shortcuts, they wouldn't be shortcuts anymore. The only thing that makes them shortcuts is there's less traffic. Why would I want to deliberately ruin a good thing by telling every putz who picks up a Weekly where my personal shortcuts were? I suggested an article called "Best places in LA to be alone" so we could ruin the solitude for everybody. It was then I realized that shit, man, journalism's confusing, and what's good for the reading public ain't always good for the writer or the subject of the story.

Which brings us to the 17th annual Seattle Hempfest, an event so unique in the world it outshines anything Denmark or Canada or any other liberated places have to offer, a cross between Woodstock in the 60s, Renaissance Faires in the 70s, and Amsterdam in the 80s,with nose-rings, bare midriffs, lower back tattoos, and dreadlocks galore, a celebration of a plant in every possible manifestation and, get this, the authorities let it happen, which makes Seattle the most tolerant city on earth in its attitude towards the insane global war against good medicine, pesticide-free clothing, fossil-free fuel, formaldehyde-free building materials, and Bronner's soap.

August 16 & 17, 2008, Seattle was ground zero of the anti-anti-drug war, a TH symphony where rational thought prevailed and science trumped politics, where we learned the war on drugs is run by moron thugs powered by phony evidence gathered from the same lying street hustlers who gave us the war against Iraq. Attend any of the panel discussions in the Hemposium and you'll discover that none of the government propaganda against marijuana is accurate, and if you're still on the fence concerning its medical value, take a look at a man who put hemp oil on a melanoma only to see it come off three days later. Ignore the phony propaganda used to justify the existence of the DEA and you find marijuana not only doesn't cause cancer, it prevents it and cures it. You find a medicine so beneficial that everyone should have their own little garden in case of emergencies. You find the DEA doesn't need to exist.

"Do not adjust your mind, it is reality that is malfunctioning."
- Robert Anton Wilson -

Let's say you were the lead character in a Twilight Zone given the choice of destroying every plant on earth but one. What plant would you choose to survive? A tree? Mankind is dead, construction materials but not enough sustenance or medical use. Tomatoes? Dead, pasta sauce but no pasta. Cotton? Nice clothes, starving dead bodies. I'm afraid only one plant would provide sustainable energy, food, clothing, and medicine to keep mankind alive, giving our species not only a chance at survival but a nice little buzz to keep the day rolling. You can guess what it is. Any other choice would be specicide, which is what we've got now, an entire species deliberately killing itself.

Like it or not, the scientific results are in. Hemp is the most useful plant on the planet earth, providing clothing, shelter, food, soap, and medicine of unparalleled quality and safety. The argument isn't that it should be treated like any other addiction. The argument isn't that it's harmless. The argument is that it's good for you in absolutely every possible way. You should be wearing it, building things out of it, washing in it, using it for fuel, eating it and smoking it - exploiting its every potential - and anyone who says otherwise is either totally deluded, a gullible idiot, or corrupt and on the take from the billion dollar a year drug war industry.
You don't hear all the good news because generally speaking, here's how it goes. Scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle discovered a way to use hemp for lumber. The lumber they created was as strong as steel beams. After that discovery, the Feds threatened to pull all funding from the university if they did not end their studies.

The Feds don't want you to know there does not exist a rational argument against this plant. If it were any better for you, you'd have to hire someone to help you enjoy it.

The Hempfest is a magnificent blending of music and politics and artisanship, "a pause for the cause because there's flaws in the laws," says Hempfest director Vivian McPeak, the man who actually signs the papers with the city that allows Hempfest to happen, and a stark raving dreadnaughted bearded unapologetic hippie whose passion for this cause has made him the most successful anti-drug war activist in America. He's both ringmaster and tightrope walker in an annual sub-culture circus, bringing together a spectacular array of diverse elements necessary to make it happen. For more than a decade he's kept them all happy: police, sheriffs, firemen, the various city departments, politicians, the Seattle Art Museum with the sculpture garden at the entrance to the park, not to mention hundreds of merchants and artisans who count on the fest to be their largest sales weekend of the year, and the care providers and performers and political speakers, plus all manner of other volunteers from around the world, or the thousands of locals who attend every year expecting to get entertained and educated and high. All happy. A miracle of diplomacy.

The Hempfest is not designed to be experienced from one vantage point. Myrtle Edwards park is long and thin, occupying a prime piece of waterfront north of the piers and downtown, blocks from the Seattle Center, with spectacular views of the Puget Sound, the Space Needle, Mount Rainier, Bainbridge Island, West Seattle, and the glorious Olympic Mountain Range. Anyone bored with the fest can easily find entertainment just sitting on a rock by the water and listening to the music while watching international cargo ships pass by with the yachts and paragliders. Turn the other way and the fest becomes something different, a vast parade of humanity.

Freak out as you discover the other people at the Hempfest aren't just rejects from the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers but normal citizens out for a stroll through the park who just happen to need a new bong. If these are the zombies pot is supposed to turn us into, they're remarkable lively, a vast array of characters from every walk of life, many of whom know each other, who've been doing this for years, the core committee, a family reunion of free thinkers and smokers. Since DNA proves we're all related, we're all invited to the annual reunion.

Nobody knows how many people attend, and here's one of those journalistic moments where you have to weigh your core beliefs against one another, where it's possible to hurt the very cause you believe in by giving away too much. Next year's permits could be withheld for any number of reasons, including the blathering of an idiot journalist who puts things in just the wrong light to the wrong people.

I saw a beautiful woman with her baby in a special stirrup, leaning over a table inspecting glass pipes with a lot of other people, and considered taking her picture, but then I thought, shit, taken out of context that picture could be used in a custody battle, she could lose her kid because I took what I thought was a cute picture, so I took this one instead.

Then let's say I saw fistfuls of joints thrown out over a crowd who all lit up simultaneously creating a powerful blast of smoke that could have freaked out the fire department. If such a thing were true, and I'm certainly not saying it is, all I could do is ruin it by telling the world. Damned if I'm ever going to have anything to do with stopping the free distribution of pot, imaginary or not. As Vivian says, "anyone who blows it makes it harder for all of us." This is a festival that walks that tightrope, the largest anti-drug war rally on earth is certainly not under the radar of the DEA, yet it happens every year as a certified testimony to the power of numbers. They can't possibly arrest everyone in Myrtle Edwards Park; the Feds would have to declare war against thousands of people peacefully assembled in a public park obeying every local law.

Saturday, the first day of this year's Hempfest, was so sunny a day for Seattle you could have made a killing selling shade. You experience Hempfest from one end to the other, enter either end, head for the opposite, and you'll pass five stages and hundreds of booths and carpet venders selling food and displaying their wares. You stop here and there to further examine a performance, but never get stuck, moving it along, easing into the flow, ingesting the floating fractions of music and public speaking.

"Should you have to get sick to legally use marijuana?" asked horticultural guru Ed Rosenthal from Seeley Stage, who knew just what to say to get a rousing cheer from the crowd. "I use marijuana to enhance my life. Don't you? The medical marijuana cause isn't enough to protect us from the criminality of police departments. Free marijuana for ALL people!"

Recently, a medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle was invaded illegally. In response, both conservative daily papers, the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, published editorials demanding the authorities return the marijuana to the legitimate patients. One cannot imagine another city in America where this would happen. Since the local police are legally obligated to give marijuana consumption a low priority, they turn a blind eye towards many potential Hempfest shenanigans. The DEA would have to swoop in en masse to arrest somewhere between, 50 and 100 thousand people, each and every one a Rosa Parks in an act of civil disobedience, standing up for their right to use a plant. And the top constitutional lawyers in the country would be right in there with them, ready to defend everybody. Now imagine them trying to arrest the 30 million people across the county who smoke marijuana and you see the core of their problem.

The truth about marijuana is so opposite to common knowledge that many refuse to take it seriously, like we're all a bunch of stoners who just want to lie under a clear blue sky and celebrate every second and not merely out to save the planet from destruction.

How many people were there? I ain't saying and I sure wasn't counting. Estimates are from 100 to 150 thousand but nobody wants to know. It's literally impossible to be sure since so many people are constantly coming in and out from both ends. There are times when certain sections become pretty tight, but the crowd keeps moving and it's never uncomfortable, there's always a bench or a hill or a rock or a patch of grass to sit down and listen to the live music and the speakers. It's probably reached the capacity to fill the Convention Center, but Myrtle Edwards Park is just right, incredibly beautiful surroundings, the Elliott Bay in summer, the only place for a freedom fighter to be. There's plenty of room for the fest to grow north, but the best way for it to grow is to spawn further hempfests leading to an unlikely new world of enlightenment and wonder.

"They say the terrorists hate us for our freedom, so give us more freedom and REALLY piss them off."
- Viv -

It took a very specific set of organic circumstances for something as large as the Seattle Hempfest to manifest itself. It started in 1991 as a wee little hempfest of a few hundred people in Volunteer Park, getting larger, thousands of people moving to the Gasworks at the north end of Lake Union, and finally settling in as a world-class event at Myrtle Edwards.

The focus this year was on industrial uses of hemp, where there is encouraging news in the worlds of textiles and building materials. A fashion show proved hemp material has grown way beyond the rough burlap it's associated with. Now it can be indistinguishable from silk, and new hemp T-shirts feel just as soft as cotton and rayon. There were bathrobes, teenage sweaters, a toque, bright earth colors, a waitress outfit, thin flimsy skirts, from hip-hop to Wall Street, normal Izod leisure wear, even a prom dress and suit that didn't betray their illegal origins in any way.

Chemical free hemp particle board and plywood proved itself more durable and aesthetically pleasing than the real thing, making it just a little bit more irrational to ever cut down a tree for construction.

One speaker said the laws against hemp represented a "break in the natural order," and wondered why the tent of the Hemposium itself wasn't made out of hemp. "There's no long term planning. Until recently, industrial hemp was stuck in the last century."

"The DEA is rotting on the inside," said George Rohrbacher, "like the USSR before the fall of the Berlin Wall. They looked unbeatable too."

"We are the first responders," said David Frankel of at the Hemposium.

"When we find something is harmful to the planet, we stop using it. When we find something is beneficial, we use it. Hempsters deserve respect. Farmers have had enough. There's a car with hemp fiber in the door panels that's as strong as steel. And Americans can't grow it?"

Apparently Sen. Leahy can change one single line in a current bill that will let the DEA give permission to farmers to grow it, even though there's nothing in any existing bill that specifically forbids them from doing so immediately. One might ask why the Drug Enforcement Agency is involved in any way in the struggle of farmers to grow material for car door panels.

"In Europe, the focus is on harm reduction. They know you don't judge the effectiveness of a policy by the number of people you imprison," said Rick Steves. "Marijuana is classified as a soft drug, like alcohol. In Amsterdam, police have bulletin boards in coffee shops where they warn people about potentially dangerous drugs on the street. I went into a bathroom in a Starbucks and there were no junkies because they had a blue light. Junkies can't see their veins in a blue light so they're directed to go to a cigarette machine across the street that now sells clean syringes. No jail or even the threat. Harm reduction. The choice is tolerate eccentric behavior or build more prisons. We smoke double what the Dutch do. Pot smokers are decent, with nothing to be ashamed of.

"I'm a travel writer," he continued. "High is a place and I want to go there. Don't hide it. Be proud of it. Politicians have got to know it's not political suicide to oppose the drug war. They're blowing billions of dollars to put 80,000 Americans in jail. Real people. The laws are causing more problems than the drug itself. One person in jail for marijuana is one too many."

At 4:20 at the Share Parker Memorial Main Stage I helped pass out free water bottles to the crowd without bothering to be smug about it while the band Flowmotion blasted out a magnificent version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a brilliant choice, just what I wanted to hear, excellent lead guitar, we'd love to take you home tonight, we'd love to take you home, right into a little help from my friends of all persuasion.

Using my trusty official media badge and my bogus "Local Crew - All Access" pass with the picture of planet earth, I managed to pass the volunteer security guard into backstage at Seeley, the northernmost stage with its own special ambiance, surrounded by signs saying "You are totally good" and "No prison for pot."

All backstage areas were cordoned off by fences covered in black plastic inside and out, but the inside of the Seeley fence was turned into an art gallery covered in the best tie dye I'd ever seen, great place to hang out, breathe deeply, eat a banana and listen to Los Marijuanos, a perfect example of cross-pollination in music, cholo rap, Mexican hip-hop, extolling us not to be bendejos and "Fire it up," making me get up from my cozy chair, leave backstage to see them from the front, bald, big, Chicano, black hempfest T-shirts, giving away a bong to whoever came to the stage with the biggest joint. Someone showed up with an enormous blunt, enough to last me a year. The lead Marijuano said "Can anyone beat this?" No one could so the guy walked away with the deal of the day.

Then Los Marijuanos pulled off the most extreme cross-pollination of all, turning into Allan Sherman, singing "Mr. Weedman, bring me some weed" to the tune of "Mr. Sandman" while a woman dressed as a butterfly flitted across the stage. They continued doing unlikely pot satires of songs across the decades, cracking me up, distracting me from my one opportunity to talk to Keith Stroup, the head of NORML, who was no longer backstage when I went back, and thank God I did. Deborah from the kitchen served chili that was an 11 on Nigel's scale of 1 to 10, which is one certain reason behind the success of the Hempfest. Guests are never lacking in the creature comforts, good food, plenty of drink, bathrooms, free massages, and wholesale congeniality.

Everyone's a volunteer, including the bands, which is a pretty lame excuse for why major national acts aren't on the bill. Many have been asked, and many have made promises to show, but none have made it, and perhaps it's just as well. Hempfest works best as a venue for local talent. If you're from out of town, you'll hear nothing but incredible music from bands you've never heard of.

Though the atmosphere was definitely pro-Obama, the only actual politician in sight was Paul Richmond, running for Congress in the 6th congressional district. His open stance against the Patriot Act, the war in Iraq, and the war on drugs would make him a major leader in the movement if he gets elected.

Just as the NAACP helped rid America of the stereotypes of Amos and Andy, so Hempfest resolves to rid us of the stereotypes of Cheech and Chong, neither of whom have ever appeared at the festival despite invitations.

Blame it on the stigma of pot they themselves created, the cartoon vision of Cheech and Chong, two cliche characters invented by Cheech and Chong forty years ago, with the emphasis on invented. Cheech and Chong are as accurate a portrayal of stoners as Laurel and Hardy are of piano movers. Assuming that smoking the herb turns you into Cheech and Chong is as ridiculous as assuming listening to rap turns you into Amos and Andy. When real people get high, the only resemblance between them and Cheech and Chong is a sense of humor that allows them to laugh at Cheech and Chong, who can be pretty funny. Anything that increases the individual's sense of humor should not be illegal, or so said Ms. Euro Kane Mybook, a speaker at this year's Hempfest.

Not that Hempfest lacked in comic relief, which was provided by the cast of "Reefer Madness," a musical based upon the ludicrous anti-marijuana film of the same name. If this was Woodstock, they were Sha-Na-Na, providing old fashioned show biz glitz and theatricality, not to mention scantily clothed women, clever songwriting, and Broadway singing.

Local reggae heroes, the Herbivores, have played every Hempfest and are worth the trip themselves. Vains of Jenna, thin guys with their shirts off, did a brain searing Jumpin' Jack Flash, loud enough to be heard by passing cruise ships on their way from Elliot Bay to Alaska, massive and elaborate, floating skyscrapers with great views of the Hempfest.

And then I met Violet Victoria the Clown who wants the US to "End the predator/prey model," and her two cohorts, Angela and Ginger, one of whom was topless, in purple and black, breasts painted like mushrooms, explaining that the cops should have something better to do, and that the parties need to get bigger.

Actual overheard conversation next to a pile of horse droppings?

"Wow, the cops won't even clean up their own shit."

"That was me. Sorry, dude."

Sorry to say I didn't have the journalistic integrity to stand around and find out who finally cleaned it up. In any case, Segways for Hempfest cops instead of horses is my new motto.
"I'm not going to paint my balls black for no chick? ever again," explained Roland A. Dooby of "I smoked pot in the 80s and I thought to myself, you know, this would be good at any temperature." Roland went on to tell us a surefire way of getting pot past the authorities. Just go out and buy a dildo, take out the batteries, put your pot inside, close it, smear chocolate sauce on it, put it in a plastic Ziplock bag and seal it. No security person on the planet earth is going to open that Ziplock bag.

If you were there when I was, you caught Tony B's Hip-Hop Review from Tacoma, featuring Lae-Z Boi and lots of others, a parade of new talent, the sudden wind blowing the batik flags of all religious symbols, a peace sign, a star of David, an ankh, yin and yang. Even stranger than the rapping Indians and hip-hop Mexicans was the constant deaf translator downstage left, full of attitude while trying to translate lyrics impenetrable to the fully hearing. How do you translate na na na na for the deaf?

My favorite bands were Impenetrable Scribble and Total Devastation, though I'm not sure if that last was a band or a bong.

There's a spot, a secret unofficial spot, a room, hidden from view, and you'd have to torture me to tell you where it is, and then I'd still have to kill you, where a certain genre of people aggregate and everyone's got a piece and a nug jug and they all get passed around to everybody, in a circle, in both directions, and when you leave you will never be the same. I would NEVER enter such a room, but if I did I'd have excellent conversations with total strangers.

In preparation for Hempfest going national, there's no doubt Wal-Mart and China have already got a 99 cent bong somewhere in the development pipeline, but till then Hempfest remains the premiere display of handcrafted masterpieces of the paraphernalia art, glass sculptures of complexity and originality masquerading as pipes longer than your body.

Among the more fabulous inventions on display at Hempfest is alwaysLit, a contraption that "keeps your lighter attached to your cigarette pack or pipe at all times," with a retractable chord that guarantees you'll never go flameless again during a smoke emergency. It means no one will ever steal your lighter without also stealing your cigarettes or pipe and your alwayslit.

I had a serious theological question for the inevitable Jesus freak telling us we were all going to hell. "According to Genesis 38:6-10 and Deuteronomy 25:5-10, if a married man dies without children, his brother is obligated to marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he must pay a fine of one shoe. Now really, do you think one shoe is enough? I mean ever since Wal-Mart made buddies with China, the price of shoes has gone WAY down. Don't you think maybe the fine should go up to at least a blender or a couple of Rangers season tickets?"

And he looked at me like I was the crazy one.

As soon as the Brothers of the Baladi started playing, I dropped what I was doing and ran up front to find out who was making that insanely good world music, part George Harrison, part Peter Gabriel, part Juluka, Arabic, Indian, Turkish with a touch of Eurythmics, spooky and sinuous rhythms, spiritual chants floating in and out of different languages, with cosmic lyrics involving peace of mind and other unattainable goals. Their version of Buffalo Springfield's "For What it's Worth," there's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear, was my most transcendent musical moment.

Backstage at the main stage was party headquarters, though I didn't know what to make of the silver bust of a boy with what I must conclude was a unicorn horn sticking through his forehead, unless the boy was me and the unicorn horn was that last bong hit, in which case it's brilliant, illuminating the momentary collapse of all synaptic barriers, sweeping me into the eddy of illusion, lashed to the creative unknown like a ghostbuster on steroids.

Salvation was on the way. You heard it here first. Pay attention Famous Amos, Mrs. Fields, and the Keebler Elves. From my taste buds to your ears, I was sitting backstage minding my own business when I was offered a "bacon chocolate chip cookie" (with a cinnamon glaze) made by Eileen that was out of this world.

If the Hempfest had never happened and they were to apply today for a permit for this brand new event in which thousands of hippies would play loud rock music in the park and openly get high and sell paraphernalia and dance and celebrate and give political speeches against the government, the city would probably laugh in your face. Hempfest could only have happened this way, in increments. It's the 17 year history of peaceful co-existence, slow and steady growth, each year pushing the limits a little further, plus Vivian McPeak's remarkable negotiating power, that keeps it alive. It could only happen here, the greatest political event of the year, the world's largest protestival and celebration of freedom masquerading as a mere hempfest.

And Viv's there every second, the MC of main stage, in T-shirt, utility belt and jeans, Rasputin the Plumber, reminding us why we're there and to clean up and donate and volunteer in between those tasty, sticky, gooey, pungent nugs of bright green enlightenment.

Vivian McPeak

I learned from Vivian and all the other speakers at hempfest that pot smokers never, ever, had anything to be ashamed about, no reason to hide in the shadows while indulging secret smoke, what a crock, forced to behave like a criminal for doing something that makes you feel better, that makes pain go away, pain in every sense of the word. The anti-drug war movement parallels the gay rights movement in that step one is coming out and admitting your behavior, always difficult when your behavior could bring social ostracizing, jail, a beating, or any combination of the above.

The Stephen Colbert Report got it right, the movement has shifted from solidarity to solitarity, millions of individual pods who'd rather link together than march together. The political climate in the United States simply makes it too damn scary to stand up and declare yourself an enemy combatant in the war against insanity. Everywhere but Seattle.

"The first rule of being subversive is not letting anyone know you're being subversive."
- Bob Dylan: Theme Time Radio Hour #47 -


Show up on Thursday or Friday and volunteer to help set it up. Come on, it's just a day or two. What else do you have to do? It's not all heavy lifting. You can be a traffic ogre and just stand there waving people by, and you get a cool free T-shirt too.

Please oh please enter from the north and avoid the mammoth crush of flesh at the south end. Park in any supermarket parking lot in Ballard and take the 15 bus. Dress as freaky as possible and the bus driver will surely know where you're going and ache to get rid of you.

Don't miss stonedhenge or the rose garden, great places for people watching, just plant yourself somewhere and watch the parade while someone shouts from the stage in totally justified anger over the continued exploitation of the proletariat by the fuckin' bourgeoisie.
Stick around Monday and Tuesday to help clean up. It's not all heavy lifting and you get an entirely different cool free T-shirt.

Be observant and absorbent. Just because the atmosphere is relaxed doesn't mean it's okay to be stupid. No blowing pot smoke in the faces of cops, and if the guy riding the horse that just plopped a Republican in front of your booth is wearing a uniform, the proper response is "thank you, sir, may I have another?" The national authorities might not be interfering, but two guys were definitely watching with binoculars from a crane across the tracks from the park.

"The only people who've ever died from marijuana were shot by a cop."
- Jack Herer -