Highest holiday greetings from Amsterdam and Happy New Year to everybody. I’m writing from my favorite spot, the 420 Café, where I landed a month ago from New Orleans to find that the 27th Annual High Times Cannabis Cup has been seriously disrupted by the local authorities who claimed that the Cup’s organizers had failed to obtain the proper permits for its five-day exposition of cannabis and weed-related products and shut down the affair. It’s no secret that the Netherlands and its business partners in America and the European Union have been increasingly unhappy with the relatively wide-open public availability, vending and smoking of weed in Amsterdam and in towns and cities all over the country. Nothing is more repulsive to these powers-that-be than the dread Cannabis Cup and its unbridled flaunting of cannabis freedom for more than a quarter of a century.
Three years ago the Cannabis Cup expo was raided by more than a hundred Amsterdam police officers and the event was severely curtailed. Since then the Dutch government has attempted to bar tourists from the coffee shops and to convert the cannabis cafes to private clubs whose members would have to be registered with the government.
The latest communiqué from the Ministry of Health mandates a maximum THC content of 15% in all weed sold over the counter in The Netherlands starting January 1. The highest THC content I’ve seen reported was 29%, so that’s like cutting the available potency of your weed in half.
If I understood this shit I’d try to explain it to you, but it makes no sense to me at all. I just know I’ll continue in this new year to take full advantage of any liberties they allow the weed smoker wherever I might be, and if they aren’t allowed I’ll continue to take the liberties just the same. Free The Weed!
When I was in Flint in November to play at the Golden Leaf Social Club I enjoyed a very productive conversation with my publisher, Ben Horner, host of this column for the past 46 episodes since MMMR was established almost four years ago.
I knew Ben was interested in publishing books as well as this magazine and I proposed that he bring out the American edition of my collection called It’s All Good: A John Sinclair Reader, issued by Headpress in London six years ago.
This book started its life in Italy when the publisher Stampa Alternative translated a selection of my poems and prose into Italian and issued it as a book called Va Tutto Bene. Then Headpress wanted to publish the work in English (or American, as I prefer to think of it) in 2008, I expanded the text to 22 poems and 22 stories in honor of my 44 years as a poet and journalist.
This coming June it’ll be 50 years since the printing of my first book of poems, This Is Our Music, by the Artists Workshop Press, and I’ve added six more poems & stories for the American edition of It’s All Good, plus a bonus poem at the end and an opening essay to make 52 pieces so we’ll be playing with a full deck.
With your permission, I’m going to preview the collection over the next several months until its release by presenting excerpts from It’s All Good: A John Sinclair Reader in this column, starting with the introductory essay:
YOU HAD TO BE THERE
You had to be there. The stiff crust of the American social order was cracking open. Black people were moving for social and political equality in a big, inspirational way. The Cuban Revolution was taking place. The President of the United States was gunned down by a hellish collective of CIA agents and Mafiosi. Artists and academics were beginning to speak out forcefully for nuclear disarmament and against the ever burgeoning war in Vietnam.
You had to be there. White people were discovering the blues. Hippies refused to cut their hair or get a job, smoked dope and dropped acid, resisted the military draft, dropped out of the consumer society and lived together in urban and rural communes, plugged in their guitars and played rock & roll music. American poetry and creative music and art were at an all-time high point and giants of every artistic discipline walked the earth.
You had to be there. Soul music was on the radio. Black people were on the move. Martin Luther King was leading massive civil rights marches and demonstrations and sit-ins all around the country. Students were rebelling. Draft resistance was on the rise. The government was on the defensive. Malcolm X was assassinated in the middle of a sermon. Four little black girls were blown up by white racist bombs placed in a church in Alabama. Voter registration workers from SNCC and CORE were murdered in Mississippi and elsewhere in the South.
You had to be there. The music was everywhere, fresh and exciting and charged with the moment. Freedom Suite by Sonny Rollins. “Haitian Fight Song” and “Better Get It in Yo’ Soul” by Charles Mingus. Freedom Now by Max Roach & Abbey Lincoln. Let Freedom Ring by Jackie McLean. Change of the Century by Ornette Coleman. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra. Giant Steps and Africa/Brass and “Out of This World” and A Love Supreme by John Coltrane.
You had to be there. You had to be there when the records came out. You had to be there in the little nightclubs and coffeehouses where the music was made. You had to be there where the music was, and the musicians, and the people whose lives were illuminated and reshaped by the music in action. You had to be there to see and hear what was going to happen, and when it happened, and how you could be a part of it.
You had to be there. If you were looking for a way out of the American stasis and a stake in the immediate future, you had to be there. It was all there in the music, spelled out in fiery notes and relentless rhythms with ceaseless intelligence and spontaneous improvisation, and you had to be there to stand under the music and understand what it was telling you.
You had to be there. There was no other place you would want to be. You had to be there to hear and see and feel the message of freedom and immense human possibility blazed across your mental sky by the music of John Coltrane & his compatriots made in America between 1959 and 1967. There was nothing like it then, and there’s nothing like it now.
You had to be there. But since you couldn’t be there, maybe this book of verse and prose will help give you a tiny idea of what it was about, and how it reached us, and what it made us feel and think and do as we received it and figured out how to act on it, and how we acted on it from there well into the 21st century.
You had to be there. I was there. I had to be there. That was exactly where it was at, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.