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John Sinclair

The hardest working poet in the industry

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Radio Free Amsterdam
BLUES, JAZZ & REEFER | KEEPING THE MUSIC ALIVE
FREE THE WEED 54—August 2015 E-mail
Columns
Tuesday, 01 September 2015 21:15
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FREE THE WEED 54  A Column by John Sinclair  I’ve been talking in this space all year about my forthcoming book from the MMM Publishing Company called IT’S ALL GOOD—A John Sinclair Reader, and our hope was to have it available for the Cannabis Cup in Clio. But that proved impossible, and now it’ll hit the streets right around the first of September.  I’ve been running excerpts from the book to try to pique your interest in what’s coming, and here’s an excerpt from the lead number in the book: On The Road….  Although this writer has followed faithfully the bardic path for fifty years, I waited a long time to hit the road as a poet. There were so many other things to do along the way, and I did them.  As a cultural activist I directed the Detroit Artists Workshop, the Allied Artists Association, Jazz Research Institute and Detroit Jaz Center. I managed the MC-5, Mitch Ryder & Detroit and other bands. I produced dance concerts at the Grande Ballroom, free concerts in the parks, the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festivals, and countless left-wing benefits, community cultural events, jazz concerts and poetry readings.  I’ve booked bands, bought talent and done publicity for nightclubs, bars and concert halls, developed programs, written grants and raised funds for jazz artists and community arts organizations, and produced records by artists from the MC-5, Little Sonny and Deacon John to Sun Ra, Victoria Spivey and Roosevelt Sykes. I’ve been a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, a professor of Blues History at Wayne State University, director of the City Arts Gallery for the City of Detroit, an award-winniing community radio programmer and producer of WWOZ’s live broadcast from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.  As a professional journalist I’ve written columns, features and reviews centered on jazz and blues, rock & roll and poetry for publications of all sorts, from obscure local papers to downbeat and Playboy magazine. I’ve published poetry books and journals, edited underground newspapers, arts quarterlies and blues magazines, and written liner notes for albums by artists from Louis Armstrong to Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes.  As a political activist I fought the marijuana laws through Detroit LEMAR, the Amorphia organization (“We want free legal backyard marijuana!”) and a five-year struggle in the courts of Michigan that cost me 2-1/2 years in prison before I won my case and got the old laws thrown out. I was the chairman of the White Panther Party and its successor, the Rainbow Peoples Party, battling Richard M. Nixon and his goons from the beginning of his administration to the bitter end.  It was my court case challenging Nixon’s “national security” wiretap program that produced the historic Supreme Court decision in U.S. vs. U.S. District Court that warrantless wiretaps would no longer be allowed.  There’s much too much more to mention, but let it suffice to say that I’ve enjoyed a full and productive life in the arts and community affairs for fifty years … and helped raise four terrific daughters in the process.  But I started my adult life as a poet, setting my verses to music and performing them with jazz musicians and blues guitarists, and it was always my intention one day to take my own show on the road and pursue my performing arts career in earnest.  So for the past twenty years I’ve criss-crossed the United States and western Europe, working through a vast time-tested network of old friends and new comrades to assemble myriad bands of Blues Scholars and book myself into funky nightclubs, blues bars, art galleries, coffeehouses, churches, cultural centers, college auditoriums and music and poetry festivals from coast to coast to coast….  The great thing about travelling the bardic path is the incredible community of people who light up the way and see to the poet’s modest needs while I’m in their town.  These are the people who pick me up at the train station and take me to the airport, bring me into their homes, put me up in their spare bedroom or let me sleep on their couch, feed me and get me high. They help me set up my gigs, drive me there, introduce me to all the cool people they know, take me out to dinner afterwards and help see to my recreational needs.  They’re the amazingly sweetest of friends, but they’re also fellow artists and journalists and educators and broadcasters and producers, and their lives pulsate within the nexus of creative activity and social consciousness which obtains in the places they live. They’re always doing things themselves, making things happen, and they know what’s going on around them as well.  And all this activity takes place well beneath the radar of popular culture and the entertainment industry, in locations only people like ourselves know about, involving music the likes of which is only rarely heard on the radio today, never played or seen on TV or even given notice by the daily press.  We used to call it the underground, because we were so far down out of sight that they couldn’t even see us, and as mainstream culture narrows and tightens the boundaries of what kind of life is acceptable in this country, the underground world continues to grow in size and scope and to encompass an ever greater diversity of denizens.  The downside to underground life in America is the relentless economic terrorism that grips our existence and very rarely lets up, even for a week or a month at a time. Nothing ever pays enough to cover the costs of everyday life in an appropriate time frame: we’re behind on the rent, out of groceries, always trying to keep them from turning off the electricity or the phone. Our cars break down, we don’t have any insurance and god help us if we get sick.  If we get high we’ve got to worry about the police, and pay too much for our supplies, and go through a maze of incredible changes just to secure the substances we require. If we make music we’ve got to find people who will let us play and give us enough money to pay for what it cost us to get there.  If we’re poets or writers or painters or dancers or fine artists of any sort, we are never allowed to forget that our work is not valued and will not be properly compensated no matter how good it may become. If we publish our magazines or produce our recordings and books we will never solve the incessant problem of effective distribution and thus will always fail to reach our intended audience.  But as an artist in America, I always say, once a person takes the vow of poverty, one may be as creative and productive as one is capable, and it is possible to do many great things despite the ever-present shortage of sufficient funds to provide for the necessities of daily life.  And if we can continue to have easy access to our medicine, our creativity and productiveness can continue to bloom. Free The Weed!  —Detroit  August 20, 2015  ©2015 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.

 
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