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.