Highest greetings from London, where it’s still a crime to smoke and possess cannabis products and the medical use of marijuana is not yet recognized by the forces of the Crown. Like the guy at Customs told me a couple of years ago when he seized my medically prescribed cannabis in its official Dutch medical container and refused my offer to present my Dutch prescription and my Michigan medical marijuana card: “This is just smuggling drugs to us.”
I’m in London to mark the release of my new album MOHAWK from Ironman Records and play a couple of little gigs with my drummer and comrade Steve The Fly, who produced the album for me in Amsterdam and is here with me for the month where we’re guests of Caleb Selah and The Fuck You Sound internet radio studios in the Blackheath sector of southeast London.
We’re in good hands here and our medical and recreational needs are being well attended, and that’s a very good thing. At the end of the month I’ll be enjoying the great honor of opening for Marshall Allen & The Sun Ra Arkestra at the Sun Ra Centennial concert at the Barbican Centre—one of the highest points of my performing arts career, now in its 50th year, and I’m very happy to be here.
But I have to confess that I’m looking forward to fulfilling my artistic duties here and moving on to my favorite roost, the beautiful city of Amsterdam, where my daily life is centered on the coffeeshop called the 420 Café located right in the center of the city. I’m the Poet In Residence at the 420 when I’m in town and I take my post there just about every afternoon, plug in my laptop, have a coffee and roll a joint, greet my friends, conduct my correspondence, record my radio shows and work on scheduling and posting the programs for my internet radio station, RadioFreeAmsterdam.com.
As a poet, writer, internet broadcaster and public intellectual fueled by art, information, marijuana and espresso, there’s no better place for me than the 420 Café to hang out and get my work done without interruption or discomfort. In my travels and in daily life, all I need to keep up with my work is a place with Wi-Fi to plug in and work my keyboard, and I’m usually hunched over my MacBook at a table in somebody’s kitchen as a guest in their home, but it’s far more satisfying for me to be able to take care of my little business in a public setting where I can quietly fit in to the flow of humanity around me and feel more like a human being myself.
Since I left New Orleans in 2003 to try to base myself in Amsterdam I haven’t had a home of my own, and after my first 60 years residing in a series of apartments and houses while I found my way in life, married, had children, remarried, gained more children and somehow got them all through the Detroit public schools, then moved to New Orleans and spent 12 years in residence there with my wife Penny, I was ready for something different.
A house fire in New Orleans in 2000 burnt up my most prized possessions, my music and book collections, and with the counseling of my Buddhist friends I learned to live without them. I set out for Amsterdam a couple of years later with “a suitcase stuffed with clothing / & a bag full of manuscripts / & hand-burnt CDs.” My wife was settled in Detroit attending to her aging mother while I went ahead to try to make a place for us across the Atlantic Ocean, but it turned out she didn’t like it there and decided to stay in Detroit. So I left the furniture and all my other possessions there with her and kept on with my quest to establish myself in a strange—but very comfortable—new place with very few material encumbrances.
After a lifetime as a tenant with familial responsibilities I was on my own in a foreign land without a housing budget or any visible means of support, suddenly dependent on my friends and sympathizers for a place to sleep and the means of survival. Twelve years in New Orleans living by my wits as a music writer, performer, community radio broadcaster and slash-&-burn barnstorming bard had produced barely enough remuneration to keep up with the rent, and I concluded that if I had to starve in New Orleans, I could just as well try to starve in Amsterdam where at the very least I wouldn’t have to be worrying about the police and nobody was armed.
So I starved for several years until I could get my footing, but the 420 Café has sustained me throughout my entire occupation of Amsterdam and provided me with a stable base from which to operate, ensure my survival, make new friends, and keep up with my self-imposed workload. They play music that you can listen to, my own tunes are on the playlist, the splendid staff of the 420 has furnished some of my closest friends, and I’m always made to feel more than welcome in the warm, comfortable environs of this old-school cannabis café.
The great thing about the cannabis café culture is that there’s one for everybody. There used to be 750 coffeeshops in Amsterdam, but even with the continual shrinkage mandated by the government over the past 20 years there are still more than 200 operating coffeeshops that cater to every stripe of the smoking community. Each has its own distinctive ambience, its own musical direction, its own menu of weed and hash, its own non-alcoholic drink specialties, and its own idiosyncratic clientele.
There are coffeeshops in far-flung neighborhoods for the local tokers, many varied spots in the Centrum for touring smokers of every origination, hard-rock coffeeshops, joints that play house music, rap, reggae, jazz and classic rock. If you’re a resident or a regular visitor, you choose your favorite hang and fall in whenever you want to. It’ll have the menu you want to pick from, the music you want to hear and the patrons you want to be with, or you move on to another place that looks like where you want to be at.
As a life-long daily marijuana smoker, this is my idea of civilization. In my old age I’ve managed to arrange my affairs so I can get to stay in Amsterdam for about half the year, traveling to London and around Europe to perform as requested and returning to the States to visit my daughters and granddaughters, do enough work to keep paying my way, and stay in touch with what my hundreds of friends in Detroit and New Orleans and all around the country are doing to make life more interesting all the time.
One of my brightest dreams remains to establish a coffeeshop like this in Detroit where the laws would now allow it, a place where registered marijuana patients could come, present their cards, take a seat at the table of their choice, have a coffee or a juice or a soft drink with their friends, and light up and be somebody while the music of Radio Free Amsterdam is played continuously as the appropriate soundtrack for the setting.
I’m out of space for this month but think about how great that will be when it finally happens. Free The Weed!
May 25, 2014
© 2014 John Sinclair. All Rights Reserved.