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Musical inhalation

Your musical guide to 4.20's sweet oblivion

As a term, 4.20 is often believed to be the number of chemicals contained in marijuana (actually, the number is just over 300). In the early 1970s, a group of California teenagers created and popularized the term as part of their secret stoner language. Now, millions of people across the world smoke pot on April 20 in honor of that magic, mythical number. This year in the Triangle, several bands often tied to jamming or to pot culture will make appearances on that sacred day or shortly thereafter (because you're always late when you're stoned, eh?).

The bands include: Government Mule (Disco Rodeo, April 20), The Disco Biscuits (April 20 & 21), Widespread Panic (Alltel Pavilion, April 21 & 22), Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band (The Pour House, April 20).

But maybe you don't want to dance in a club. Maybe you want to relax at home. Maybe you don't even want to get high. Maybe you just want to sit at home, forgoing the weed but zoning out and remembering bygone days of blunts and bongs. So, whether you're smoking or lounging, we present a program of music to guide (or push or roll) you from 4:20 p.m. until well past midnight on Thursday, April 20, 2006.


Phase 1: Pumped to be stoned

Phrase of Passage: "Oh, yeah, man."

The herb is extracted, and the preparations are made. There are obvious, simplistic choices for smoking pot: Cypress Hill, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, the Nuggets box, Bongwater. But, for the sanctity of this 4.20 holiday, the music needs to be special.

The sitch starts something like this: My buddy's bright idea to smoke pot for eight hours has turned into an indecisive Led Zeppelin-vs.-Dr. Dre listening session. He's all giddy for the LBC and Nordic nonsense. I'm along for the ride whether I like it or not. Wrestling the CDs away from him is a must. Really, I just can't live with the shit-earin' irony of listening to The Chronic in this kind of setting. So I pop in a Brothers Quay DVD to distract him, and let the stoner rock beckon.

Corrosion of Conformity is first, a little after 4:30. Friends with Metallica and bongs, COC's metal-punk turned sludgy (and Sabbath-y) on 1994's Deliverance. The album's got its highs and lows, but, when the riffs slow down to a half-time crawl and Pepper Keenan's gravel driveway/throat spits and sputters on "Seven Days," I know I made the right choice.

When 5:30 rolls around, the syrupy head-bobbing just isn't cutting it anymore. I ignore my pal's Tool requests, telling him that a good time is in danger of turning into a veg-out. I toss in some Jim Carroll, the Basketball Diaries guy. Leonardo DiCaprio played him in the movie--a druggy classic 'bout delinquent youth.

The soundtrack's best song is by Carroll himself: "People Who Died," his slipshod ode to friends who OD'd, eats up about four minutes of glue-huffing and pill-popping references. Pep is the name of the game here, and it keeps the mood from dropping. The chorus, replete with backup singers that can belt, goes like this: "These are the people who died, died. They were all my friends, and they died." It'd be a damn heavy sentiment if it weren't masked by the gang of happy voices. And, uh, the pot.

After all the death-talk, some novelty tunes sound like a good idea. Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks--that compilation from the mid-'90s with all the slacker indie rock doods--proves pretty enjoyable around 5:40. Shannon Hoon sings from beyond the grave about magic numbers or something. Chavez does a trippy, spoken-word grime-up of "Little Twelvetones," and Biz Markie goes absolutely bananas for energy on "The Energy Blues." But when Daniel Johnston's "Unpack Your Adjectives" comes along, his edge-of-sanity thing creeps me out (again), and I remember maybe Dr. Dre wasn't such a bad idea.

By now, my buddy's done with the spooky claymation and begging for Outkast. He wants "Ms. Jackson," but I'm too cool to give in to the obvious--compromise time. It's "SpottieOttieDopaliscious" off of Aquemini when 6:30 rolls around. Andre 3000 goes on for seven minutes in that space-funk, intergalactic-pimp mating call, while the guitars go down easy and the smoke in the studio seeps through the speakers. This is the ticket. So I put the CD player on repeat for the next 20 minutes and watch iTunes visualizations.

Like a loser. --Robbie Mackey

Grayson Currin's Phase 1 Picks. Dem Franchize Boys, On Top of Our Game (Screwed & Chopped); Flat Duo Jets, In Stereo; Black Sabbath, Paranoid; The Allman Brothers Band, At Fillmore East; Soul Jazz Records, Studio One Dub; Baby Huey, The Baby Huey Story.

Brian Howe's Phase 1 Picks. Kanye West with Paul Wall, "Drive Slow"; The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday; Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Volume One DVD; Lil Wayne, Tha Carter 2; Mott the Hoople, All the Young Dudes.

Phase 2: The mellow man

Phrase of Passage: "Oh, man, this is good stuff."

As the evening moves on, the energy of the initial baking session wanes. That couch begins to look mighty inviting, and the impulse to lounge overrides the impetus to rock. As Neil Young would sing, "Baby, mellow your mind."

Brian Eno's ambient music, like Ambient 1: Music for Airports,is designed to lurk in the background, but right now it's at the center of my attention. That bag of Cool Ranch Doritos looks awfully tempting, but I don't want crinkling and crunching sounds to dilute the experience. This music produces visions--an idyllic, scrolling landscape on "1/1"; a great cosmic mouth opening and closing on "2/1"; a piano tumbling gently through space on "1/2." Besides the intermittent chk of the lighter, it's all the sound in the universe.

But, God, nobody realizes how brilliant this R. Kelly, "Trapped in the Closet" shit is! The instrumental track's like cold water trickling down my spine. We all knew that R. Kelly was good for maudlin, inspirational hits and for the occasional round of watersports (p.s. ick!), but who knew that he was a mad visionary capable of such high drama? It's an epic R&B soap opera with more twists than a Twizzler! He's doing voices and dialects! Every song ends with a cliffhanger! There's a gay preacher and a well-endowed dwarf and a crooked cop! Genius: Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. As the final twist rams home, I'm spent, as if I've read A Tale of Two Cities in under an hour. Time to take it down a notch. I wish I had some Twizzlers....

Now, Antony & The Johnsons' "Hope There's Someone" is just about perfect for that. Antony's voice is literally out of this world; it sounds like a signal flung through deep space. That vibrato gives me goosebumps even when I'm dead sober. I don't even remember to breathe until the stormy piano part at the end reminds me to. I wonder what Antony thinks of "Trapped in the Closet"? I'd love to hear him make something like that. It could be about a bunch of moths and butterflies who all hook up after a serendipitous night at the same chrysalis. ...

It now occurs to me that an Antony-style Trapped in the Closet is a pretty terrible idea. Which means it's time to ... there. Judgment re-impaired. I still feel a little keyed up; Leonard Cohen's always good for bringing me back down. Lyrically, "Stranger Song" is flawless. All the images are so vivid and precise, superimposing themselves on each other so quickly my breath catches. A golden arm dealing cards rusts from elbow to finger; the highway curls like smoke above the dealer's shoulder even as he "talks his dreams to sleep."

Few pop songs are more conducive to a reverent, almost religious experience than Imogen Heap's a capella, vocodered masterpiece, "Hide and Seek." If robots believe in angels, this must be how they sing. And to think that this was on an episode of The O.C. Maybe the popular culture isn't as spiritually bankrupt as it lets on. I find it really hilarious that my spellchecker wants to change "vocodered" to "locoweed." Locoweed?

What's next? Jan Svankmajer's stop-motion animation videos portray dudes made of food and garbage, eating each other as Claymation heads face off with various tools for tongues (1982's Dimensions of Dialogue from The Collected Shorts of Jan Svankmajer, Vol. 2--the Later Years). I totally get this. Don't even ask me to explain it. It's obvious. --Brian Howe

Robbie Mackey's PHASE 2 Picks. Gillian Welch, "Dream a Highway"; Campfire Songs, Campfire Songs; Fennesz, Endless Summer;Michael Hurley, "Werewolf"; Loscil, "Argonaut I."

Grayson Currin's Phase 2 Picks. Octavio Paz's poetry collection A Tree Within; Six Organs of Admittance, For Octavio Paz; Devendra Banhart, Oh Me Oh My; Steely Dan, Aja; Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool; Various Arists, The Secret Museum of Mankind ,Vol. 6: Central Asia: Ethnic Music Classics, 1925-48.

Phase 3: Liftoff,
or bedtime

Phrase of Passage: "Oh, man,
I am sooO stoned."

Phase 2 tends to protract itself and, if one isn't careful, the holiday gets cut short by the comfort of being ensconced on the living room sofa. Maybe you'll need more self-medicating to get going again, or maybe you just need some psychedelic rock and some primo drones.

Imogen Heap? Wow, first I was getting sleepy, now I've got vocoder-overload dream-dance fever. That's viral. I guess I need some medicine.... There, better now.

The rest of the night will be a long, strange trip, I assume, and few bands have had a rockier, more intriguing roll than Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Neil Young's "Looking Forward," recorded endearingly for the band's 1999 comeback LP of the same name, embodies that best, his open-road imagery offering vistas about "the highway of our love."

Of course, I like to imagine "Isis" and Bob Dylan rolling down the highway of my baked mind, just after their fifth day of May marriage. Dylan's delivery is all about the ironic irritation of love here, making tension of what should be pleasantries: "Isis, oh, Isis, you mystical child, what drives me to you is what drives me insane/ I still can remember the way that you smiled on the fifth day of May in the drizzlin' rain," he practically spits in the last chorus, just as I reach for another shot of Young. Dylan's 1975 gem juiced my flow, and I'm feening more for the growl of Neil Young's Ol' Black guitar than the trusty hum of his Martin dreadnought. Oh, the electric rip of "Cortez the Killer," epically stated on Live Rust. How could it pierce anymore?

Easy: It could have been third axe in Harvey Milk, the tragically obscure Athens, Ga. metal band that made one of the 1990s' best albums, Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men. I've always loved but never quite gotten the first track, "Pinnochio's Example," seemingly structureless riffage. But, really, it's just pulling on ostinatos stamped out by a floor tom and a split-octave guitar, over and over again: This makes total sense right now, all delirious and headlong. Where is my mind, Harvey Milk?

Now, I'm all amped for guitars and the metal they make. I could drone out on overdrive forever in this frame of mind, which is exactly why Sleep's Dopesmoker exists. The first track runs for 64 minutes, sludging through a love letter to weed. I don't think I've sung along to this in previous listens, but why not? "Drop out of life with bong in hand/ Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land/ Drop out of life with bong in hand/ Follow-the-smoke! Jerusalem!" Oh man, HEAVY!

I need to mellow it a bit. Some jazz maybe? My best option is "He Loved Him Madly," an overlooked late-Miles gem, the first of four sides on 1974's Get Up With It. Miles sounds like a ghost here, shrinking beneath the band and aching pure trumpet texture alongside David Liebman's psychedelic high-standard flute work. This is 30 minutes of textural brilliance, but I'm kinda getting spooked.

I'll perk up by moving back in time: The Grateful Dead's second album, Anthem of the Sun, is perhaps the only record anyone really needs for a weed (and acid?) trip, a perfectly exuberant, experimental rock record with big ideas and bigger execution. 2003's re-issue gets ultra-outbound with a 23-minute segue from "Alligator" to "Caution (Do Not Stop on Tracks)," followed by a three-minute feedback outro that does me just right. This isn't that customary "Casey Jones" shit, popped collar. This is brilliant.

The same adjective describes the next two tracks, both forays into minimalism. Steve Reich's "Come Out," recorded in 1966 as an early experiment with manipulating spoken samples, is a vortex of sound, beginning with a black man during the Civil Rights Movement talking about squeezing his bruises until the blood comes out. Twelve minutes later, it's a wall of noise split into eight channels. Tony Conrad's "Heterophony of the Avenging Democrats, Outside, Cheers the Incineration" is no less perplexing, a simultaneously gorgeous and shrill violin drone that almost makes Western harmonic sense by Conrad standards. But I can't focus on specifics with this: Ask me to explain this piece right now, and I'll probably just sigh and turn it up. Shrieeeeeek. Smiiiiiiile.

It's close to bedtime (I won't commit to that whole Sleep, "drop out of life with bong in hand" thing just yet), so maybe I need an organic nightcap. Sun Ra would understand. That dude is mad high in space right now, because--like his 24-minute mindblower holds--"Space is the Place." I just need to avoid taking Ra's advice in deciding I need to explore that place that is space. If I try, my best friends will likely be playing the single most degrading get-stoned song of any trip. That's right, you guessed it: "Freebird." --Grayson Currin

Brian Howe's Phase 3 Picks. The Boredoms, Vision Creation Newsun; King Geedorah, Take Me to Your Leader; Liars, Drum's Not Dead; Boards of Canada, Geogaddi; Excepter, Throne; Faust & Dälek, Derbe Respect, Alder.

Robbie Mackey's Phase 3 Picks. Holy Modal Rounders, The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders; Harvey Milk, Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men; Suicide, "Frankie Teardrop"; Comus, "Song to Comus"; Dame Darcy (of Caroliner) on TV's Blind Date.

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