Monday, May 08, 2006
The highs and lows of the Black Crowes
For insight into the unsurprisingly large pop culture nexus between rock 'n' roll and marijuana, there is no better source than Steve Bloom, longtime editor of High Times magazine, the bible of marijuana culture for more than 30 years.
"Most rock bands smoke pot," he observes. "The question is how up front the band is going to be about it."
The Black Crowes were upfront about it. Getting on the cover of the July 1992 issue of High Times was just one part of the reefer-related promotion for The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion album. They played the Atlanta Pot Festival. They unfurled pot leaf banners at concerts. Singer Chris Robinson showed up at the MTV Awards in pot leaf trousers.
"I would say that those are the four things that put them out there as the poster band for marijuana," Bloom says.
The Crowes wanted to be on the cover of High Times.
Bloom recalls, "They flew me down to Georgia on their tab and took me over to Chris's home and I did the interview with Chris and Eddie Hawrsh, the keyboard player. We smoked some joints and then we did a big interview. I remember a very informal, easygoing time. Chris was super-friendly. He let me go through his music collection to see what he was into. His house was all dressed up in Moroccan decor, nice rugs and wall hangings and stuff. He obviously had good taste."
Robinson also allegedly had a taste for stronger stuff than pot. Bloom figures this is why he was shut out after getting along so almost famously with the Crowes - breaking the Lester Bangs rule of never making friends with the rock stars. Moreover, once the band was established as the media marijuana kings, the drawback became obvious. It's a heat score. Two narcs reportedly tried to infiltrate the band's dressing room at a concert in Kentucky, which led to a fight, arrests and the cancellation of the show. They played it a lot cooler with the press after that.
"I always felt that the incident in Kentucky was the reason he decided to step away," Bloom says, "And secondly because of the use of other drugs. It wasn't just about marijuana any longer. He wanted to close the door on any other media discussion of that as Chris got thinner and looked a little junkie-ish."
The singer continued to display the pot leaf motif in clothing and promotional artwork, but he was not sharing tokes with any more journalists. In 2000, Robinson married actress Kate Hudson and they had a son in 2004. He hasn't said boo about getting high since. He hasn't said much of anything. There was little explanation over the band's breakup in 2002, not much on Robinson's solo album, New Earth Mud - launched without management or record label or, needless to say, media publicists - and very little on the reunion that brings the band back to Edmonton. There is still no label, no interviews being granted (which is why journalists must resort to interviewing each other) and for this tour a complete ban on concert reviewers.
Bloom in particular feels like he got burned.
"They still take the pro-pot stance, they're still using the pot leaf. Hello? You're still advocating and High Times is asking for tickets and you can't give one?"
Which leaves us where? Is it still cool to be a pro-pot band? Bloom says yes, but then he would. Who are the reefer rock superstars of today? The answer may surprise you.
"You're from Western Canada, right?" asks Bloom. "We've featured Nickelback. They sent in a great picture of Chad [Kroeger] in the studio with a huge amount of marijuana spread out on the engineering board - green, sticky buds. It must've been at least a pound."
So Nickelback takes the smouldering torch from the Black Crowes? What a world.
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