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Apr 16

AFROMAN – “Because I Got High”

Popular35 comments • 2,685 views

#911, 27th October 2001

Afroman If rock criticism was a stoner, one of its endlessly repeated good-vibes stories would be Paul McCartney waking up and ‘discovering’ the melody to “Yesterday” in his head as “Scrambled Eggs”. McCartney, no enemy of the herb at this point, became convinced he’d heard it before, only gradually accepting that he’d stumbled upon the tune via luck or talent or sheer morphic resonance – the theory popularised by Dr Rupert Sheldrake in the 80s that blue tits learn to open milk bottles because they’re all connected by a kind of blue tit superconsciousness, mind blown, except it wasn’t true. Though it was true enough for a physics teacher I had to suspend lessons so he could give us all crosswords to fill in, staggered batch by batch to see if morphic learning was happening.

But I digress. “Because I Got High” seems to be another of those “Scrambled Eggs” phenomena, a song so perfect in conception that it feels like it fell out of some superstructure and into the mellow lap of Afroman and then into the charts. “Because I Got High” is folk music, it’s always been with us, or at least it might always have been with us if the man hadn’t made it his business to hassle smokers until a song like Afroman’s had to be passed round the Napster circle PC to PC until in a wave of grassroots popularity – phantom offstage Beavis laughter – it got signed and floated hazily to number one anyhow. The first fruits of a supposed 6-LP deal, which tells you more about the early 00s than anything on any of the records this year.

It was treated as a joke because it was a joke, but there’s a saving mordancy in it, as Afroman’s troubles wax and deepen. “I fucked up my entire life, because I got high” has a bitter nihilist after-taste lacking in low-bar antecedents like “Rainy Day Women Nos 12 & 35”. Parts of it can even jolt you out of the comfortable haze of 2001, into the present: “I wasn’t gonna run from the cops, then I got high” was surely never as abstract as its white college listeners might have imagined, and now sounds the opposite of jolly. But the song is nothing if not flexible – its template can be extended beyond the horizon, and was. The parody listings on the “Because I Got High” Wikipedia entry are a thing of horror – but the specifics of the original can be recovered. A career washout keeping the flame lit, even if the only reasonable audience were his weed buddies.

You can hear that in it, too. You’d have to reach back a decade, to the rushiest parts of the early 90s, to find explicit drug songs which sound so steeped in their drug – the campfire ad libs, whooshing outrushes of breath, and on the LP version a collapse of even the record’s tenuous rules: “I don’t believe in Hitler that’s what I said / Now all you skins, please give me more head… MUH FUH!”. “Because I Got High” is critic-proof in a way – it sounds really, really fucked up, and is selling purely on that basis, as a stoned campfire song. But that very straightforwardness also makes it weed-proof – there’s nothing on it that smoking might actually enhance, no doors it can open. “Because I Got High” is an ironic song about how terrible pot is that’s also an unironically terrible advert for pot. If you smoke it, you get it, but you also don’t need it.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Billy Hicks on 26 Apr 2016 #

    I don’t think I even heard this until a few years ago – I’d have probably found it gloriously edgy as a 13 year old, but I was still clinging onto a rapidly fading 90s pop-scene at the time.

    I was never a huge weed smoker – my first try of it wasn’t until 2009 and it left me cold. Most #1s of the late noughties remind me of shameless late-teenage/early twenties alcohol abuse though…

  2. 27
    pink champale on 27 Apr 2016 #

    Being thick, I still don’t understand why it was an appropriate date.

    My feeling about BIGH is that it seemed strangely out of time for stoner humour. Wasn’t the early nineties the heyday of Take Me to Your Dealer and I Love the Pope because the Pope Smokes Dope (er, no he doesn’t, though the two words do rhyme)? Or perhaps this stuff is ever-present and it is just that I was at university in the early nineties.

  3. 28
    Rory on 27 Apr 2016 #

    Pink Champale, here you go.

  4. 29
    Mark M on 27 Apr 2016 #

    Re27: Yeah, it’s eternal – e.g., Cheech & Chong’s Up In Smoke (1978), Harold & Kumar Go To White Burger (2004) – but drifts out of your focus depending on your proximity to stoners of a certain sort (as noted above, there are plenty of the ‘we’re not doing this for a good time, we’re doing this to expand our consciousness’ type, too. God, I hated them).

  5. 30
    Phil on 27 Apr 2016 #

    #29 – White Castle shirley?

    #27 – David Peel recorded (and caught John Lennon’s attention with) The Pope Smokes Dope in 1971! Culturally speaking, any time’s a good time to discover cannabis & babble on about it as if you’re the first person ever to do so. Which is appropriate, really, for a drug that achieves its effects through short-term memory loss. David Matza likened being stoned to waking up out of a deep sleep and gradually getting yourself back together – then doing it all over again at five-minute intervals. Or there’s the bit in Gravity’s Rainbow where a stoned Tyrone Slothrop says (doesn’t get as far as ‘asking’) “What are we”. A couple of minutes later somebody asks him, what are we what?, but not only has Tyrone forgotten what he was going to ask, he’s lost in contemplation of the words “what are we”.

    Can’t be doing with it myself – give me beer any day.

  6. 31
    Mark M on 27 Apr 2016 #

    Re: 30 Yes, obviously. Sorry.

  7. 32
    pink champale on 27 Apr 2016 #

    Thanks Rory. Wierdly I don’t think I ever came across that in my Cheech n Chong Days. Unless I forgot about it.
    #30 I was thinking of the …Pope t-shirts they used to sell from the small ads in Viz etc. I had no idea the phrase had a noble lineage in “raw acoustic street rock” that “appealed mostly to hippies” (thanks Wiki!).

  8. 33
    Valentin on 19 May 2016 #

    This song is a great song and I love it, I would love to see him performing in a concert, as I love reggae concerts and gigs. Working for an events promotion company in London, I am used to seeing many reggae concerts and events, but I really like what I see here on your blog

    Valentin – http://jorlio.com

  9. 34
    Erithian on 20 May 2016 #

    Guess this was one for which you had to be there! At first it’s as much of a laugh as they’re having but it palls quite quickly, and kudos to those above who identify the running from the police gag as not at all funny in the 2010s. In the end it’s as much of an advert for weed as Trainspotting was for heroin – i.e. if you feel more like taking the drug after watching the film you want your head examined.

    Since people are fessing up on this thread, I can say that I’ve partaken, ooh, four times in my life – but because I don’t smoke cigs, I probably didn’t inhale enough for it to take effect. Once on a leisurely day in Oxford with my predecessor at the French lycée I’d taught at; once at a footy friend’s birthday do (the host’s housemate turned out to be a police cadet, sufficiently “not off duty” to say to the bloke who produced the joint “if you don’t put that away you’re leaving this party in a different car to the one you came in”); and twice in the company of an Aussie work colleague. That last time I felt woozy enough to suggest I was getting the hang of it though.

  10. 35
    Mark G on 20 May 2016 #

    “Now I’m leaving this party in a different car to the one I came in, and I know why…”

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