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Bob Dylan (b. May 24, 1941)

Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind. -Mr. Tamborine Man, 1965

Bob Dylan was given the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in October 2016. Among his prodigious accomplishments, he is also credited with turning the Beatles onto marijuana in 1964.

In "Let Me Die in My Footsteps" (1963) Dylan wrote:
Let me smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood
Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves
Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace.

"By My Back Pages" (1964), after the Kennedy assassination, it was all over now, baby blue:
Crimson flames tied through my ears
rollin high and mighty traps

"Subterranean Homesick Blues" (1965) begins: “Johnny’s in the basement mixin’ up the medicine.” It continues:
Maggie comes fleet foot, face full o’ black soot
Talkin that the heat put plants in the bed but
The phone’s tapped anyway, Maggie says that many say
They must bust in early May, orders from the DA…
Look out kid, they keep it all hid
Better jump down a manhole
Light yourself a candle
Don’t wear sandals
Try to avoid the scandals

Dylan's only direct song about marijuana, "Rainy Day Women 12 & 35" (1966) with the lyric, "Everybody must get stoned" is an anthem against overindulgence, along the lines of The Who's "My Generation." That same year Dylan wrote, “He just smoked my eyelids/and punched my cigarette” in Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.

Million Dollar Bash (1967) may have written "bash" for "hash":
Well I’m hittin it too hard / My stones won’t take…
I took my potatoes / down to be mashed
Then I made it over to that million dollar bash

Paul McCartney has now admitted that "Got to Get You Into My Life" was written not to a woman, but to marijuana. (Source: Barry Miles, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. ) In 1970 Dylan wrote a song with George Harrison called "I’d Have You Any Time" with the lyrics “let me roll it to you / let me grow it on you.” It makes one wonder if the lyric, “I’d be sad and blue…I just wouldn’t have a clue / Anyway it wouldn’t ring true / if not for you” is about a person or a joint. (Dylan and Harrison performed that song together, giggling, at the Concert for Bangladesh.)

The 1970s saw more smokey, rolling lyrics from Dylan. Day of the Locusts (1970) harkens to VIP Nathanael West’s novel of the same title, in which Mexican marijuana was a key plot element. In Wallflower (1971) he writes, “I have seen you standin’ in the smokey haze.” Watching the River Flow, from the same year says, “This old river keeps on rollin tho,” and in Silent Weekend (1973), “She’s uppity, she’s rollin’, she’s in the groove.”

Tangled Up In Blue (1974) has the lyrics:
She lit a burner on the stove and offered me a pipe…
Then she opened a book of poems and handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet from the 13th century
And every one of them words rang true
And glowed like a burning coal
Pouring off of every page
Like it was written in my soul from me to you
Tangled up in blue


Was the Italian poet real? Perhaps Dylan meant the 14th century French poet Eustache Deschamps (aka Morel), whose La Chartre des Fumeux (December 9, 1368) inspired Les Fumeurs, a group of musicians who sang about the pleasures of smoking an inebriant. The song mentions Delacroix (a fishing town in Louisiana, also a French painter and member of Le Club des Hashishins, Eugène Delacroix). It ends: "But me, I'm still on the road / Headin' for another joint."

In perhaps a farewell to his weedy friend, 1974’s You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go talks about Rimbaud and “Dragon clouds so high above,”  with lyrics like, “Flowers on the hillside, bloomin' crazy” and “Can't remember what I was thinkin' of.” It ends,

I'll look for you in old Honolulu,
San Francisco, Ashtabula,
Yer gonna have to leave me now, I know.
But I'll see you in the sky above,
In the tall grass, in the ones I love,
Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go.

Except for noting that his Turkish grandmother smoked a pipe, and that a woman he lived with was a viper, Dylan doesn't come close to mentioning pot in his autobiography, Chronicles Part I. But after giving us timeless songs like "Masters of War," "Blowing in the Wind" and so many others, our heir to Woody Guthrie can't be blamed for trying to avoid the scandals.

(More in the forthcoming VIP book, Hidden Delights: Cannabis in Western Literature and Art)

*In their early days in Hamburg, the Beatles were expected to play four and a half hours each night, and six hours on the weekend. Club owners freely dispensed Preludin, an amphetamine marketed legally as a diet pill, to their musicians. George wrote to a friend of "eating Prellie sandwiches" and John washed copious amounts down with alcohol. Paul was cautious about them and only then-drummer Pete Best abstained altogether.

When The Beatles came to America in 1964, New York Post columnist Al Aronowitz took Dylan to meet them at the Delmonico hotel. When offered Drinamyls and Preludins, Dylan reportedly shook his head saying, "How about something a little more organic? Something green. . . marijuana." Though others had passed some low-potency pot to the Beatles beforehand, the band's manager Brian Epstein was unaware of this and said, "We've never really smoked marijuana before." Dylan countered, "But what about your song. . . and when I touch you, I get high, I get high. . . " John replied, "Those aren't the words. It's 'I can't hide, I can't hide.'"

Dylan rolled a joint and passed it to John, who handed it it Ringo Starr, calling him "my official taster." Ringo went to a back room and smoked it down, emerging wearing a grin. Paul recounted, "We said, 'How is it?' He said, 'The ceiling's coming down on me.' And we went, Wow! Leaped up, 'God, got to do this!' So we ran into the back room--first John, then me and George, then Brian." "We were just legless, aching from laughter," George told Derek Taylor, who joined them later on. Paul greeted Taylor with a bear hug, saying "he'd been up there" and pointing at the ceiling. (SOURCE: The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz (Little, Brown and Company, 2005)

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