Select Page

Get in the Cannabis Van



– G. Murray Thomas

This piece was originally published by Poetic Diversity.
Bio: G. Murray Thomas has been an active part of the SoCal poetry scene for over 30 years. He has performed throughout the L.A. area and beyond.
His most recent book of poetry is My Kidney Just Arrived, published by Tebot Bach in 2011. His previous books are Cows on the Freeway and Paper Shredders, an anthology of surf writing. He is currently working a book about being a music fan. More information can be found at


The first time I smoked pot was at a rock concert. The first time I got stoned was at a rock concert. They were not the same concert.

The first time I smoked pot was at a Ten Years After/ Procol Harum concert, in 1972; I was 14. I was in the front, near the stage. A joint came floating through the crowd. I took a hit. It did nothing for me, but I didn’t expect it to. The point was, I had smoked pot!

Today, both bands are relegated to “one hit wonder” status on Classic Rock Radio (“Whiter shade of Pale” for Procol Harum; “I’d Love to Change the World” for Ten Years After), but they we both big names in 1972. Procol Harum’s keyboard based rock placed them on the poppier edge of prog rock. Ten Years After, still riding high on their performance at Woodstock, sat on or near the top of the blues rock mountain (and it was a mountain in 1972). At the time, their guitarist, Alvin Lee, was considered the fastest guitarist in rock’n’roll (a title he lost in the late 70’s to Eddie Van Halen). In fact, I had positioned myself near the front so I could watch his guitarwork, although I had absolutely no understanding of guitar technique.

The concert was great, although I no longer remember much of it. I have a clear memory of a large grand piano on the stage for Procol Harum, and of Ten Years After playing a lot of blues and a lot of boogie. For the next few years I considered it the best concert I had seen yet.

But hitting that joint is what I really remember best.

The first time I got stoned was an Alice Cooper concert a year later (the Billion Dollar Babies tour). That may seem like a long interval, but I don’t think I smoked much pot in the intervening year. Also, it was pretty well accepted “knowledge” that you didn’t get stoned the first time you smoked pot. (Do stoners still this to be true? Or is the pot that much stronger now?) My understanding is that this has less to do with the actual effect the marijuana has on you, and more to do with your ability to recognize that effect. That is, you do get stoned, but don’t recognize the experience as being stoned. 

That’s certainly what happened to me. It’s only in hindsight that I can see just how stoned I was. At the time, I just felt a strange disconnect between my mind and the show. I had to keep bringing myself back to the concert, like reminding myself, “Hey, you’re watching Alice Cooper, enjoy it.” I walked out feeling like I had somehow missed half the concert. That it is the exact opposite of most of my subsequent experiences with pot and music. Marijuana usually helps break down the distance between my mind and the music, helping me to immerse myself totally in the music.

All I can think is that I wasn’t used to doing that yet. Not only was I not used to being stoned (and probably part of what was going on was my mind going, “Hey, what’s happening to me?”), I was not used to experiencing music by immersion. Up to that point I had experienced concerts intellectually — what songs are they playing, what kind of show are they putting on, etc. The notion of just immersing myself in the music hadn’t yet occurred to me. Those moments of “You’re at a concert, enjoy it” were actually my mind fighting against getting lost in the music.

Further, Alice Cooper was probably not the best show to get lost in the music (unlike, say, Ten Years After). I mean, I love that era of his music, but the concert was more show than music. The stage was amazing, a multi-leveled structure lit from beneath by bright white floodlights. Alice prowled this stage like a cat, at one point (during the song “Billion Dollar Babies”) skewering plastic baby dolls with a sword. He was executed by guillotine, while singing “I Love the Dead,” and he kept singing after he was “dead.” Although I could list many of the songs he played, I don’t remember the actual music near as much as the show.

The first time I truly immersed myself in music while stoned was not even a concert.

It was about a year later; my buddies and I decided to camp in a nearby park. Since it was mid-February in upstate New York, we obviously weren’t interested in normal camping activities. No, the idea (no surprise) was to get away from the parents, and smoke a lot of pot. Which we did.

At some point another friend picked us up in his van, and we drove around aimlessly for a couple of hours (maybe there was some mission we were on, who knows?). The driver put on the first Aerosmith album, probably on 8-track. I had not heard before. I got totally lost in the music, complete with multi-colored, abstract visuals to go with it. I thought it was the greatest music I had ever heard. Aerosmith was amazing!

The thing is, the next time I heard the album, I didn’t recognize a single note of it.

All this was just a start. Truly transcendental moments lay far in the future.