During one of my interviews with Willie Nelson I asked him if we could speak about kids and cannabis.
“Absolutely!” he said. He was expecting the question.
“I don’t think it’s for minors. I think it’s for responsible adults only. I think that after you’re twenty-one you can make your own choices but up until that point I don’t think a person should smoke anything, drink anything or do anything that’s going to affect their thinking, their body, their mind, whatever.
“I don’t recommend it. But I know what happens,” he said.
“When your kids were coming up, how did you explain it?
“I didn’t explain it. I just told them there were things I thought they shouldn’t do until they were old enough. Pot was one, drinking was one, cigarettes was another. I didn’t even want them to drink too much Red Bull, you know.”
Willie had been running the razor’s edge of cannabis law reform in right-wing Texas for decades at that point, and he can be forgiven if he sounds strident regarding cannabis and kids. What we now call “Over-21 Adult Use” was Willie’s boilerplate mantra back in 2010.
A few years later I got the chance to get the other side of the story when I interviewed the whimsical albeit demented folk duo, Folk Uke, featuring Cathy Guthrie on ukulele and Amy Nelson on acoustic guitar. Not incidentally, Cathy is Arlo’s daughter and Woody’s granddaughter while Amy is Willie’s youngest daughter, and, no doubt, the apple of his eye. Put together, their patrimony contains a serious chunk of the American song catalog. Small wonder they write skewed songs of exquisite quality like the plaintive “Dumb Motherfucker (Got Fucked Up And Died In The Rain)” or the plainly-stated “Shit Makes Flowers Grow” or their recent paean to toxic masculine dicks, “Small One.” They share perfect harmony and cracked sense of humor. Their website asserts that long ago “One was a tramp and one was devastatingly pure,” but it doesn’t say which one.
I began our interview (unpublished until now) by noting that Cathy’s father wrote the classic pot pop song “Coming Into Los Angeles” and that Amy’s father was… well, Willie Nelson. So…
“Do either one of you smoke pot?”
“I do.” Amy admitted.
“And I don’t,” Cathy said.
“I figured with all those demented lyrics, somebody smoked weed.
“Cathy likes to say one of us has to,” Amy explained.
“Cathy, have you ever tried it?”
“No. I haven’t.”
“So. Your dad wrote one of the greatest marijuana songs of all time, and you’ve never smoked weed. How does that work?
“I think, growing up: my dad doesn’t, my mom does, and I just wasn’t interested, I’m not opposed to it. I think it should be legal…”
“Cathy does heroin.” Amy snarked
“That must be where the demented lyrics come from,” I cracked. They’re a very funny pair.
“Amy, did you start smoking marijuana as a teenager or as an adult?”
“More as an adult,” she recalled. “I tried it as a kid… That was my sister. She was really young and was like, Let’s do this! It was that one time, and I was hallucinating! Nothing like my experience as an adult.
“How old were you?”
“I think I was like eleven.”
“Yeah. I wasn’t really big on it in high school. A lot of my friends smoked it, but I just didn’t. I thought it was expected and I would rather just smoke cigarettes. I started smoking (marijuana) really in my twenties.”
“You smoke cigarettes?” I was somehow surprised.
“Ah! You sing so sweet for someone who smokes cigarettes.”
“It helps her hit those low notes,” Cathy snickered.
“Amy, your dad once told me he started smoking Jimson weed when he was four or five years old. He said they smoked anything back then in Texas. Did your father ever talk to you about any of this when you were younger?
“I don’t remember him telling me not to smoke it,” she recalled. “It wasn’t an issue really. I didn’t know that it was illegal until I went to school.
“Was your parent’s public pot use an issue for you when you were younger?”
Cathy said, “Not for me. My parents didn’t imbibe.” But the Nelson kid had a different story:
“As far as the actual smoking weed while parenting, I think it helped his (parental) technique (GIGGLES). You know, he was always kind of cool and mellow, and it felt okay to tell him things. I’ve never seen him blow up or fly off the handle, and I think a lot of kids who watched their dad drinking when they grew up had a different experience
“But being arrested is where the problem lies,” she continued. “That’s what really affected me when I was kid. I remember being in high school, and someone coming up to me and be like, “Ah, I heard your dad’s in jail!” It was some stranger, you know? And that’s how I found out Dad had been arrested. That was… really disturbing.”
“My mom was arrested last year at the airport,” Cathy added (her mom being the late Jackie Hyde, Arlo Guthrie’s beloved wife of 43 years who passed away in 2012).
“Yeah. It was funny because I think if I was younger it would have been more horrifying for me but this time it was like, Oh, Mom’s been arrested for weed! I knew that she was so proud, you know, taking one for the team! (GIGGLES)
“And, of course, by the time I went to pick her up at the airport she was hugging all the cops, making friends with everybody. They all wanted to take photos with my dad, you know? It was not… It was funny.”
My takeaway from what she said was that an adult’s joke can be a kid’s nightmare; and I remember thinking, Just don’t get arrested, and we should be OK…
Everyone loves irony, but no one wants to pay for it.