FREE THE WEED 17
A Column by John Sinclair
When I was a kid growing up in Davison [Michigan] in the 1940s and
’50s I was ensconced in the static cultural landscape that epitomized
small-town middle America. The one beacon of hope was emitted through
the medium of radio which, in the 1940s, was still—along with the
movies, which changed once a week at the Midway Theatre—the primary
cultural transmitter of mass entertainment to the populace.
As the second half of the century dawned across America television
began to replace radio as the source of home entertainment, and the
established radio programming was quickly superseded by the offerings of
this visual new entertainment medium. The soap operas, cowboy serials,
comedy shows, dramatic presentations, crime thrillers and mysteries were
transformed into TV shows, and radio became mainly a medium for the
recorded music that had replaced the scripted programming and “live”
performances that had moved to TV.
As a kid I stayed glued to the radio in order not to miss an episode
of the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, the Fat Man, Sky King, Sgt. Preston of
the Yukon, Amos & Andy, Jack Benny, Our Miss Brooks, The Shadow and
the Green Hornet. When television came in, its ugly one-dimensional
programming didn’t much appeal to me, and I kept my ear to the radio to
hear what might happen next.
In my household we got our first television set in 1952, so it
must’ve been shortly after that when I stumbled upon a guy called
Frantic Ernie Durham broadcasting at 1330 kilohertz out of WBBC-AM in
Flint. I was digging for something interesting to listen to on the radio
and hit pay dirt big time when the wholly unanticipated sounds of the
Clovers, Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner, the Moonglows, Muddy Waters,
Charles Brown and Wynonie Harris leaped out of my little speaker to
irreversibly alter the course of my young life.
Frantic Ernie Durham ruled the airwaves of Flint throughout the
fifties before he moved to WJLB in Detroit where he became beloved as
the man who broke Motown Records on the radio. The Frantic One entered
my life when I was 12 or 13 and remains today the most powerful
influence on my life almost 60 years later. The music he played, the way
he presented it and his massive intelligence, good taste and poetic
delivery turned my little head inside out and went a long way toward
making me the person I became as an adult.
There was an immense wealth of great music on the radio back in the
day. It came into your bedroom and followed you in your car and
everywhere you went, beaming out through the air at no cost to the
listener and available to anyone with ears. The fifties may be too far
away for most of you, but I’m sure my readers include many, many people
who were tuned into the radio in the ’60s and ’70s when there were
stations that still sported music you could listen to.
Great Black Music! That’s what I listened to on the radio, and that’s
what I listen to today, wherever I am. Music created by Louis Armstrong
and Jelly Roll Morton and Fletcher Henderson and Duke Ellington, Ma
Rainey and Bessie Smith and Lonnie Johnson and Victoria Spivey, Coleman
Hawkins, Lester Young, Count Basie, Jay McShann, Big Bill Broonzy, John
Lee Williamson, Robert Johnson, Robert Lockwood Jr, Charlie Parker,
Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Louis Jordan, T-Bone
Walker, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter,
Elmore James, Big Maybelle, Jimmy Smith, Professor Longhair, Screamin’
Great Black Music called Rock & Roll by Chuck Berry, Little
Richard, Bo Diddley, and Fats Domino. Great Black Music called Soul by
Ray Charles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Sam
& Dave, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke, Booker T & The MGs,
Ernie K-Doe, Benny Spellman, Chris Kenner, Jessie “Ooh-Poo-Pa-Doo” Hill.
Great Black Music called Funk by Ike & Tina Turner, Lee Dorsey,
the Meters, Johnny Guitar Watson and George Clinton. Great Black Music
called Reggae from Bob Marley & the Wailers, Toots & the
Maytals, Jimmy Cliff and Burning Spear. Great Black Music called Gospel
by the Pilgrim Travelers, the Soul Stirrers, Dorothy Love Coates and the
Great Black Music from the ’70s by Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder,
Marvin Gaye, the Spinners, Tyrone Davis and Harold Melvin & the Blue
Notes. Great Black Music of all time by Miles Davis, B.B. King, Bobby
“Blue” Bland, Esther Phillips, John Lee Hooker, Etta James and Little
Great Black Music made by white people like Louis Prima, Bill Haley
& the Comets, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bobby
Charles and Buddy Holly & the Crickets. Great Black Music played by
the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, the MC-5,
Cream, Canned Heat, and Janis Joplin & Big Brother & the Holding
Great Black Music from Mississippi, New Orleans, Detroit, Chicago,
Kansas City, Memphis, Houston, St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco,
Philadelphia, New York City and Jamaica. This is the music that made
America great, and when it ended around 1980 the greatness of America
began to end as well.
They came to call this Soul Music for a good reason: it has great
healing powers for people with problems both physical and emotional.
This is music created by people who understand the problems and
vicissitudes of everyday life in an oppressive environment. Their music
is based in extraordinary perception and vivid existential intelligence
and teaches us lessons in life that we can get nowhere else.
Most of all, it teaches us how to feel, how to interpret experience,
how to think on our feet, how to overcome adversity and create out of
our troubles magnificent art of great beauty and effective social
function. It makes people dance, laugh and cry, feel compassion and
understand what’s going on inside our fellow human beings.
This is music forged out of oppression, racial discrimination, bitter
poverty and lack of equal opportunity in the marketplace. And this is
music fueled by marijuana and other recreational drugs, sexual longing,
sweaty copulation and ephemeral couplings outside the established
institutions of church, marriage, school, the workplace, and Caucasian
This is our music, and people today need it now more than ever
before. In the world of medical marijuana patients Great Black Music can
bring unprecedented satisfaction and relief when ingested in
combination with some good weed, soothing the nerves and inspiring the
spirit and making everything feel even better.
I’m speaking from experience. This combination of weed and good music
has carried me through my entire adult life since I smoked my first
truly medicinal weed in Flint 50 years ago while listening to Someday My
Prince Will Come by Miles Davis & John Coltrane. It breathes life
into my poetry and performances, it inspires every word I write, and it
drives the concept and daily practice behind operating my own internet
radio station: RadioFreeAmsterdam.com
For the past eight years I’ve derived countless hours of stimulation
and pleasure from getting good and high, making radio shows on my laptop
computer and posting them at the Radio Free Amsterdam website.
I have to admit that I’ve done this principally for my own enjoyment,
but the more I think about it I realize that my little radio station
serves an important public function that needs to be more widely
recognized: Keeping the music alive and available when it’s virtually
disappeared from modern life.
If you tune in to Radio Free Amsterdam while medicating, waking &
baking, partying hearty or sitting in silent meditation, you’ll hear
indispensable music by the artists listed above and hundreds more,
presented in coherent programs created by this writer and a coterie of
friends and fellow broadcasters who contribute their programming to
Radio Free Amsterdam so we can provide listeners with a steady stream of
the greatest music ever made by human beings.
All you need is a computer and a line into cyberspace to hear our
radio station beaming throughout the universe with—in the immortal words
of Frantic Ernie D—that jumpin’ jive that’s truly alive and the musical
sounds to caress your ears, my dears.
I have a dream that medical marijuana patients and tokers of every
description will turn on and tune in to the musical stream generated 24
hours a day by Radio Free Amsterdam and mix this seriously regenerative
force into your personal physical and mental health routines on a daily
After a year of listening to Radio Free Amsterdam, I can guarantee
that’ll you have a whole different idea of music and what it can do to
brighten your lives. You’ll exist in a brilliant new musical universe
surrounded by sounds that heal and amaze.
Thanks for listening!
July 23-24, 2012