Friday, May 23, 2008

"Beware of being the roller, when there's nothing left to roll..."

WWSU Playlist
23 November 1988

Peter Schilling – “Major Tom”
H Torn Pockets – “Just the Boys”
TOTW Art of Noise – “Kiss”
H Sharkbait – “Break a Bone”
DC Negativland – “Perfect Scrambled Eggs”
M Corpses as Bed Mates – “Venus Handcuffs”
H Skinny Puppy – “Testure”
PM REC Krackhouse – “Kennelration Generation”
H Rapeman – “Log Bass”
H Diamanda Galas – “Maladiction”
K Dementia Precox – “Maladie D’Esprit”
DC New Salem Witchhunters – “Quinn the Eskimo”
LS Woodpecker – “Bowl of Water”

Leather Nun – “Gimme Gimme Gimme”
H Borghesia – “Naked, Uniformed, Dead”
TOTW In Tua Nua – “All I Wanted”
M Human Hands – “Lurk”
DC Dole – “A Day”
H Laibach – “One After 909”
K Stan Ridgway – “Camouflage”
LS Timelords – “Doctorin’ the Tardis”
PM REC – “Bongwater – “Pornography”
H Alice Donut – “Lisa’s Father”
M Ben Vaughan – “Darlene”
DC Butthole Surfers – “Boiled Dove”
M Frank Tovey – “New Jerusalem”

Robyn Hitchcock – “Acid Bird”
H KMFDM – “King Kong Dub Rubber Mix”
TOTW The Fall – “New Big Prinz”
DC The Residents – “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”
H AC Temple – “Weekend”
M A Split Second – “Scandinavian Belly Dance”
H Keith Levene – “If 6 Was 9”
PM REC Savage Republic – “Viva Rock & Roll”
LS Circus 13 – “Under the Library”
DC Voice Farm – “Mamma Made Me Do It”
H Ministry – “Deity”
K Treat Her Right – “I Think She Likes Me”
H Shel Silverstein – “The Great Smoke Off”

I’m certain that Shel Silverstein was not on our playlist, but a little deviation from the list isn’t always a bad thing, is it?

I first remember hearing "The Great Smoke Off" in the late 1970’s, probably ’78 or ’79, definitely when I was a geeky junior high kid. I was a big fan of the Dr. Demento show, which was a syndicated program that aired Sunday evenings on a tiny little college radio station in Oxford known as WOXY. Because the signal was weak and difficult to find on the dial (this was before digital tuning) I kept the station permanently tuned in on the radio in my bedroom, and Dad helped me string extra antenna wire around the room for better reception. The station played punk and new wave during the day, opening my world to Talking Heads, The Police, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Blondie, Television, Devo and many more.

Anyway, the Dr. Demento show was designed to fit into a two-hour programming block with ad breaks, but at the time the station didn’t really air commercials – there were public service announcements for the military, and underwriting by SDS Pizza in Oxford, but the station could never fill all the slots. There was usually between 10-15 minutes left at the end of the show that the DJ had to fill, and seven times out of ten he’d play “The Great Smoke Off.”
I’m sure one of the reasons he chose this song was because it was over ten minutes long, and I’m sure another reason was because it fit loosely into the category of “humor.” That the song is a poem about a couple of stoners trying to out smoke each other is perhaps a third reason the student DJ would choose it to fill up the rest of the hour. Whatever the case, this poem is a far cry from the wonderful children's books he's written, like A Light in the Attic, Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Giving Tree.

See for yourself:

The Great Smoke Off
In the laid back California town of sunny San Rafael
Lived a girl named Pearly Sweetcake, you prob’ly knew her well.
She’d been stoned fifteen of her eighteen years and the story was widely told
That she could smoke 'em faster than anyone could roll.
Her legend finally reached New York, that Grove Street walk-up flat
Where dwelt The Calistoga Kid, a beatnik from the past
With long browned lightnin’ fingers he takes a cultured toke
And says, “Hell, I can roll ‘em faster, Jim, than any chick can smoke!”

So a note gets sent to San Rafael, “For the Championship of the World
The Kid demands a smoke off!” "Well, bring him on!" says Pearl,
"I'll grind his fingers off his hands, he'll roll until he drops!"
Says Calistog, "I'll smoke that twist till she blows up and pops!”
So they rent out Yankee Stadium and the word is quickly spread
"Come one, come all, who walk or crawl, price – just two lids a head
And from every town and hamlet, over land and sea they speed
The world's greatest dopers, with the Worlds greatest weed
Hashishers from Morocco, hemp smokers from Peru
And the Shamnicks from Bagun who puff the deadly Pugaroo
And those who call it Light of Life and those that call it boo.

See the dealers and their ladies wearing turquoise, lace, and leather
See the narcos and the closet smokers puffin’ all together
From the teenies who smoke legal to the ones who've done some time
To the old man who smoked “reefer” back before it was a crime
And the grand old house that Ruth built is filled with the smoke and cries
Of fifty thousand screaming heads all stoned out of their minds.
And they play the national anthem and the crowd lets out a roar
As the spotlight hits The Kid and Pearl, ready for their smokin' war
At a table piled up high with grass, as high as a mountain peak
Just tops and buds of the rarest flowers, not one stem, branch or seed.

Maui Wowie, Panama Red and Acapulco Gold.
Kif from East Afghanistan and rare Alaskan Cold.
Sticks from Thailand, Ganja from the Islands, and Bangkok's Bloomin' Best.
And some of that wet imported shit that capsized off Key West.
Oaxacan tops and Kenya Bhang and Riviera Fleurs.
And that rare Manhatten Silver that grows down in the New York sewers.
And there's bubblin’ ice cold lemonade and sweet grapes by the bunches.
And there's Hershey’s bars, and Oreos, ‘case anybody gets the munchies.
And the Calistoga Kid, he sneers, and Pearly, she just grins.
And the drums roll low and the crowd yells “GO!” and the world’s first Smoke Off begins.

Kid flicks his magic fingers once and ZAP! that first joint’s rolled.
Pearl takes one drag with her mighty lungs and WOOSH! that roach is cold.
Then The Kid he rolls his Super Bomb that’d paralyze a moose.
And Pearley takes one super hit and SLURP! that bomb’ defused.
Then he rolls three in just ten seconds and she smokes 'em up in nine,
And everybody sits back and says, "This just might take some time."
See the blur of flyin’ fingers, see the red coal burnin’ bright
As the night turns into mornin’ and the mornin’ fades to night
And the autumn turns to summer and a whole damn year is gone
But the two still sit on that roach-filled stage, smokin' and rollin' on
With tremblin’ hands he rolls his jays with fingers blue and stiff
She coughs and stares with bloodshot gaze, and puffs through blistered lips.
And as she reaches out her hand for another stick of gold
The Kid he gasps, "Goddamn it, bitch, there's nothin' left to roll!"
"Nothin’ left to roll?", screams Pearl, "Is this some twisted joke?”
“I didn't come here to fuck around, man, I come here to SMOKE!"
And she reaches 'cross the table And grabs his bony sleeves
And she crumbles his body between her hands like dried and brittle leaves
Flickin' out his teeth and bones like useless stems and seeds
And then she rolls him in a Zig Zag and lights him like a roach.
And the fastest man with the fastest hands goes up in a puff of smoke.

In the laid-back California town of sunny San Rafael
Lives a girl named Pearly Sweetcake, you prob’ly know her well.
She’s been stoned twenty-one of her twenty-four years, and the story’s widely told.
How she still can smoke them faster than anyone can roll
While off in New York City on a street that has no name.
There's the hands of the Calistoga Kid in the Viper Hall of Fame
And underneath his fingers there's a little golden scroll
That says, Beware of Bein’ the Roller
When There's Nothin’ Left to Roll.

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