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  • Robert Farago

Toots and the Maytals


And the joys of modern marijuana


Long before marijuana dispensaries became Apple Stores, my brother was a weed sommelier. He assembled jars of marijuana selected for their strength and utility for movies, study, carousing, driving, etc. He never shared them with me. So I stole small samples. Indiscriminately.



I was not a marijuana connoisseur. I bought a bag of weed, shoved some in a pipe and tried not to cough my lungs out. Period.


As for quality, I identified with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s country lament Stems and Seeds (Again).


Not that I was a country music fan. Aside from Little Feat and Steely Dan, reggae was my jam.



The music came to my attention via Jimmy Cliff’s The Harder They Come.


Mr. Cliff’s hit song was a revelation, combining a wicked backbeat with protest lyrics laced with pre-Tony Robbins positivity. Just the ticket for an angst-ridden pot-smoking teen.


All musical genres have their ideal drug. If you haven’t listened to reggae while smoking marijuana, preferably on a beach at sunset, you haven’t listened to reggae.


By the same token, I reckon reggae’s Jamaican inventors couldn’t have created the music without smoking trombone-sized spliffs.


If nothing else, the simple, endlessly repetitive bass lines are the obvious result of a kite-high player who didn’t want to think about chord changes. Or anything much, really.


Jimmy jimmied the door to stateside sales. Bob Marley and the Wailers came strolling in. Absolutely classic reggae, but Toots and the Maytals were more… rock and roll? Gospel? Catchy? Something.



Led by the late Frederick "Toots" Hibbert, the band forged elements of ska, rocksteady and reggae into a seamless whole.


Pressure Drop was my gateway drug (magnificently covered by Robert Palmer). It was mesmeric; the song that taught this white boy how to dance.


When I heard Toots was gigging at Brown University, I called the concert promoter and scored a backstage interview.


I didn’t want to show up empty-handed. I saved-up and bought my first-ever bag of expensive weed: Maui Wowie. The herb ran a hundred bucks an ounce, back when an ounce of regular marijuana cost half that.


It looked different. It smelled different. And OMG it was different.


I didn’t know that until the concert; I didn’t want to break my killer weed cherry until I was with the man.



The event was held in a large lecture hall: an austere room with sky-high ceilings. No lectern and no seats. Just a flat wooden floor, with the chairs removed.


The “dressing room” was a classroom off to one side. As I entered I saw… legs. A cloud of marijuana smoke obscured everything above chest level.


Toots was sitting in an armchair. Strike that. Toots was one with the chair. He wouldn’t have looked more relaxed if he’d been dead.


I positioned myself next to my hero, turned on my tape recorder and started the interview. I asked insightful, intelligent, informed questions about reggae’s evolution and Toots’ place within the genre.



His answers were unintelligible.


Toots’ Jamaican accent was all but completely incomprehensible. I caught a few words here and there. As far as I could tell, he was using my questions as a jumping off point to hold forth on Haile Selassie.


I knew one thing for sure: there was no way I could use anything Toots was saying for WBRU’s listeners, even if I hired a translator.


So I gave up.


“You want to smoke some of my marijuana?” I asked, bringing out my budget-busting bag of Hawaiian weed.


Toot’s bandmates emerged from the fog like vultures swooping down on road kill. They grabbed handfuls of weed. Then disappeared back into the blue gloom.


The ounce disappeared in seconds. Before I could register my shock, Toots rolled a gigantic spliff, took an enormous hit and passed it to me on my left hand side.


High doesn’t begin to cover it. I lost all sense of time and space. Listening to the tape after the concert revealed that my interview quickly devolved from ethnomusicological enquiry into probing questions like “What time is it?”


At some point, the promoter entered the marijuana-shrouded classroom and gave Toots a five-minute warning.


A important question somehow made its way to what was left of my conscious mind: how was Toots going to get out of that chair, never mind put on a show?


I left the room before the band - and walked straight into a Rhode Island State Trooper.



RI Staties are a fearsome lot, in a Nazi Stormtrooper kinda way. Back in the day, they were all six-feet or taller white guys dressed in knee-high leather boots and parachute pants, a bandolier, a big ass gun and a Smokey the Bear hat pulled to their brow line.


Not the sort of person you want to meet when you’re International Space Station high in a state where people got arrested for simple possession.


“Did you smoke pot with those guys?” the Trooper asked.


Given the fragrant smoke literally billowing out of the room behind me, I decided to do the Honor of Truth thing.


“Yes,” I said, relieved I hadn’t lost my power of speech.


“How was it?”


“Good,” I replied, and walked past him.


The concert wasn’t good. It was fantastic.


Which was totally bizarre. Toots lit up an audience of Ivy League college kids with lyrics based on Jamaica’s poverty and oppression.



54-46. Celebrating Toots’ prison number. Time Tough. Bemoaning the burden of inflation and poverty on Jamaicans’ shoulders – a challenge the Brownies had never experienced, and never would.


Toots was a ball of energy. Using call and response, he held the audience in the palm of his hand, having as much fun as a singer can have on planet Earth (assuming). And so, so funky.

Was it the best concert of my life? Sure! Then again…



It was the highest I’d ever been. Ever since ever? Unfortunately not.


Today’s marijuana is way stronger than ‘70’s weed. And you get to choose between indica, sativa and indica/sativa hybrid strains.


Sour Diesel, OG Kush, Blue Dream, Golden Tiger, Orange Blossom, Purple Haze, Alaska Grape – my brother’s first weed collection pales in comparison to the variety of herb on offer in a marijuana dispensary.


It’s too much for me, strength-wise. I can’t function.


The other day, a friend passed me a marijuana vape from Las Vegas. A couple of hits and I was literally lost. I was two blocks from my condo.


On another occasion, I smoked some indica and retired to my bedroom to masturbate. I couldn’t lift my arm off the bed, and fell asleep.


These days, I restrict my drug intake to the occasional tequila flight and daily cigars

I listen to reggae when I feel the blues closing in. Toots especially. He provided the soundtrack to some of the best moments of my life.


Should there be an afterlife, should Toots be there jammin’, I’ll remind him that he owes me some killer weed. Or does he?

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