Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

David Peel & The Lower East Side—
Have A Marijuana


Released 1968 on Elektra
The Seth Man, September 2002ce
With more references to reefer per minute than most reggae albums, “Have A Marijuana” caught David Peel and his backing group, The Lower East Side live in a simple, funny and intensely passionate folk’n’freak-out record. Although the cover states it was ‘Recorded Live on The Streets of New York’ by the thinness of the cheering and applause it sounds more like the proceedings were captured in Washington Square Park (or in keeping with the locale of the group’s name, further east in Tompkins Square Park.) Because of the inciting tones and subject matter of their songs, it seems highly doubtful that the New York City Police Department would’ve consented to having some troublemaking troubadours barricading off an entire block of Avenue A to record an album’s worth of anarchic sing-alongs with titles like “Here Comes A Cop,” “Show Me The Way To Get Stoned,” or “I Like Marijuana.”

It has been recently pointed out that one of David Peel’s later songs was a definite influence on The Clash’s “White Riot.” Which surprised me (not only because I had never heard anyone voice that comparison before, but) because I had come to the very same conclusion the night before and it’s true: David Peel’s voice predates Joe Strummer’s vocals on the first Clash album, but in an adenoidal Noo Yawk accent of the most streetwise non-nuancing AND IT’S ANGRY. NAW: MAYBE JUST FURIOUS. BUT FOR THE MOST PART HIS SINGING IS MORE A HILARIOUS SORT OF SCREAMING THAT GRABS YOUR ATTENTION AND BALLS AT ALL AT ONCE AND MAKES YOU LAUGH WITH ITS RUDE IMMEDIACY AND EXHILARATING VOLUME.

It’s a cop out to compare this record to other Lower East Side bands like The Fugs or The Godz (But I will, anyway) because it DOES have a comparable obscenity quotient akin to The Fugs and the simple, skeletal folk qualities of The Godz. But if The Fugs were The Mothers of Invention if they didn’t rehearse and replaced their jazz and Varese elements with lyrics about group sex borrowed from William Blake, then the equation would run that The Godz were The Fugs if they took too much acid and didn’t care about the whole jazz/beatnik nexus that those oldsters were into, And then David Peel & The Lower East Side would be The Godz if they weren’t so abstract and expressionistic and had all their equipment stolen then found two broken 12 string guitars in the garbage, fashioning a tambourine outta a trash can lid with beer can pop top rings and spent all their money on marijuana but were so pissed off it didn’t calm them down one bit but only made them even more agitated. And then spending all their time on the street, hollering themselves hoarse screaming at passing squares in the park, the sidewalk and everywhere “HAVE A MARIJUANA!!!” just to send them into a typically uptight and grumpy slowburn.

The stentorian bellowing of David Peel breaking through a thicket of acoustic guitars and handheld percussion to bray in one of the most amazingly snottiest voices ever is this album’s primary focus. And this recording in the field (or rather, on the concrete) starts with the anti-war blast of “Mother Where is My Father” and at once you’re faced with a very spindly group sound with a voice that roars out like a street hippie version of the Bowery Boys singing drug anthems with all the larynx-destroying delivery of “London’s Burning,” “Deny” or “1977” by The Clash. The instrumental backing is all madly strumming out in almost middle European-type balalaika cycles on acoustic 12-string guitars with occasional touches of Spanish guitar flourishes handled by Larry Adam and Billy Joe White, while George Cori is on what sounds like a 1-stringed broom-and-metal-basin stand up bass as Harold C. Black whacks tambourine and Peel himself is on acoustic guitar banging out the barest of skeletal acoustic riffs while frothing at the mouth. There’s lot of high-spirited banter in between tracks, too. In fact, one of the highlights is just before their classic, “I Like Marijuana” when he starts REALLY bellowing at the assembled multitudes with a full head of steam. You cannot believe this man’s voice as he continually -- what -- Sings? Speaks?? Shrieks? Ha: it’s all of the above. It’s a loud, fuming tantrum although all he’s doing is asking “MAKE MEEE PREZIDENT OF DA YOO NI TED STATES...!” three times, and the very last one is so over the top, I play it over and over and over and it sends me to the floor every time because he is truly raving at the top of his lungs in an almost terrifyingly cartoon but dead serious underground comic kinda way where someone really freaks out and loses their temper, tearing out their hair and there’s rays of light sizzling from their head or when Fat Freddie’s on the kitchen floor flat on his back going “Gibber, gibber, tweet!” because The Freak Brothers are out of food or pot or both and he’s cracking up like an oversized Baby Huey flapping his atrophied appendages furiously straight up in the air like he’s soiled his nappies and had a bad dream and the whole world is closing in so bad all the time you just wanna cry or shit your pants to make yourself be somewhere else as quickly as possible like poor old’ Chef in “Apocalypse Now” raving like a madman after a near death experience with a tiger: “I CAN’T TAKE THIS FUCKIN’ SHIT ANYMORE, MAN!!! ALL I WANTED WAS A FUCKIN’ MANGO!!!”

“MAKE MEEE PREZIDENT OF DA YOO NI TED STATES...!
I PROMISS YOU...!
MORE FORRIN AID...!
WITHOUT TAXES TO MEXICO...!
WE WILL BUY MORE MARIJUANA FROM THEM!!!”

One of the most intense vocals I’ve ever heard on record or ANYWHERE, for that matter. And if that doesn’t flat out get it, then the squirrel joke right before the amazing “The Alphabet Song” on side two unequivocally does. I can’t even repeat it, because it wouldn’t do it justice at all. Just to hear the punch line in that roaring Bronx cheer of a voice sends me into hysterics every time.

These are truly a crazy moments of sheer manic panic, and it’s utterly absurd because typical politicians don’t scream out pleas for election or make up rude jokes about squirrels on the spot. But David Peel was no politician and he tells only what he wants to and decorum be damned. Hell, there’s even a song called “Up Against The Wall” and wouldn’t you know it -- the entire lyrics are: “Up against the wall / Motherfuckers!!! / Up against the wall / Motherfuckers!!!” Well, there’s also a coupla “La, la, la, la, la, la”s thrown in to flesh it out, as well as ending on a jaunty “Cha-cha-cha!”

Side two is dominated by the huge tenement sprawl of “I Do My Bawling In The Bathroom” which free associates all over the place. It starts with the spoken opener “Girls an’ guys come to The Village, lookin’ for sumpthin’ ta do...They want to have love and sex” and continues with this narrative for a while until he stops the song dead by yelling, “WAIT A MINUTE!!!” and sidetracks it into how these girls, guys and then even he are gonna be different from straight people by bawling in their bathrooms. Minutes later, it switches gears again and pretty soon it’s fairly apparent that although he’s singing “bawling” he’s obviously intending it as “balling.”

Right before the grand finale of “We Love You” Peel announces “Ladies and gentlemen: we have completed a great album!” to celebratory applause and cheers. And for the only one time in the history of Elektra Records, the credits are not typeset on the back cover in Rockwell Bold but are announced in Peel’s barking tones even stronger than that most solid and in-your-face of typefaces, and at about 50 picas larger: “Production supervisor was Jac Holzman!!! Producer, Peter Siegel!!! Recording Engineer, Peter Granite!!! Art Director, William Harvey!!! Publicity Director, Danny Fields!!! And last but not least...Photographer, Artist and Designer...Bob Heimall!!!”

You know, it’s not a comedy album because it’s still funny after multiple plays. And it’s not a novelty either, because it’s got some very heavy energy and some real subject matter pushing it forward so recklessly gutsy and with so much heart that it makes it on sheer fuck balls alone.