Weblog of Leland Rucker

Random header image... Refresh for more!

Palo Duro Canyon: The Heart of Comancheria

October 28, 2014.

After breakfast, we went up to Ft. Sill and spent some time at the museum on the original square there. The fort was on the highest point in the area, and as we drive along the square you can see the lower elevations below on the east. We find the old fort cemetery, which contains the remains of Quanah and Cynthia Ann, finally together, prominently buried alongside American soldiers he fought and some of his chiefs and friends.

Quanah Parker's gravestone in Ft. Sill Military Cemetery. (Click to enlarge.)

As Gwynne relates, Cynthia Ann Parker, Quanah’s mother, was one of the most unfortunate individuals to walk the earth. In 1836, at the age of nine, she was taken with four other captives by the Comanches during a raid on their family compound in a dangerous area of west Texas, and watched as the Indians raped the other women and tortured, scalped and killed others before she was led away into Comanche territory, where she was integrated into the tribe for 24 years, rose in stature, married the chief, Peta Nocona, and had three children, including the first-born Quanah and brother Peanut.

Cynthia Ann and her younger daughter Prairie Flower were recaptured by Texas Rangers, including future cattle baron Charles Goodnight, in December, 1860, and spent the last ten years of her life trying to return to her Indian family, the rest of whom she never saw again. Prairie Flower died in 1864 of pneumonia, and Cynthia Ann, distraught and disillusioned, died of influenza and malnutrition in March of 1871 and was buried originally near Poyner, Texas. It’s a story that, like the Alamo seige, have become part of Texas history and myth.

Her journey wasn’t over yet. In 1910 Quanah had her body moved to Post Oak Mission Cemetery several miles west of Cache. When he died in February 1911, he was buried next to her, but it wouldn’t be their final resting places. Their bodies were moved in 1957 to the Fort Sill Post Cemetery.

From that cemetery, we took Quanah Parker Road outside the fort a few miles to the Apache Cemetery, where Geronimo and many of his family, friends and warriors are also interred. We also drove through Rucker Park, a nice area that looks like an old-time park like Swope Park in Kansas City, inside the fort.

The grave of the great chief Geronimo is located in the Apache Cemetery outside Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. (Click to enlarge.)

Wednesday afternoon we drove to Canyon, Texas, just a few miles west of Palo Duro Canyon, our final destination, about three hours west of Lawton. This was our chance to drive into the area once known as Comancheria. The tribe commanded a huge swath of what is now the American Southwest. At its peak, Comancheria included much of the western part of Texas and Oklahoma, the southwest portion of Kansas, southeast Colorado and the eastern half of New Mexico.

Most of it is rolling, mostly flat plains, but we skirt the southern edge of the Wichita Mountains, declared a wildlife refuge after T.R. visited. Mostly this end of the “mountains” is a series of volcanic cones sticking out of the rolling prairie for 40-50 miles along the highway. We drove through Altus and Hollis, both in Oklahoma and both looking down on their luck, with boarded-up, historic downtowns and a Subway that was open 24/7.

The crossover into Texas offers no change in scenery. Small towns, depressed for the most part, and a Subway in every one. Clarendon was especially loaded with huge white crosses every couple of blocks and other reminders about how Jesus saves while the rest of us will lick hellfire.

Mile after mile of plains. No wonder white people were swallowed up in Comancheria and never came out. As flat as it is, and with the route we take, we never really notice that we are leaving the rolling plains and entering the Llano Estacado, the “Staked Plain” that begins in the middle of the Panhandle and extends west into eastern New Mexico. Quanah, before his surrender, commanded the Staked Plain and the Palo Duro canyon, a giant fissure that cuts through the Llano Estacado, which we will visit tomorrow.

We pull into Canyon after dark and find the Best Western almost immediately. There is a restaurant, Thundering Buffalo’s Grill and Saloon, next door, and after depositing our stuff in the room, walk over for dinner. The food is mediocre, and my fried catfish has heavy breading and some strange blend of hot sauce. But even more interesting, we’re in “dry country.” I have to fill out a form to become a member of the restaurant in order to get a drink. Texas leaves this to counties, and this county only has one restaurant/liquor license — Thundering Buffalo’s. Yes, we are back in a place where businesses stay closed on Sunday and everybody drinks at home.

The next morning after breakfast we visit the Panhandle Plains Museum on the campus of Western Texas A&M (they’re the Buffaloes, too) and tour it for a couple of hours. A truly amazing place, one that we will return to tomorrow. We walk for hours and never really find everything. One of the best museum experiences I have ever had, hands down.

Photography is encouraged, and there is an interactive old west town as well as an area that celebrates the oil industry, with a giant drill rig they brought in and another area that lets you feel like you’re working in an oil production area. Pretty amazing stuff. And in the midst of the paleontology and oil exhibits, students had put up shrines to everybody from Michael Jackson to Robin Williams, which made the whole area even more surreal. Dinosaurs, Comanches, Western towns, Texas Rangers, oil barons and pop star shrines. Oh, my.

Overlook into Palo Duro Canyon near the Main Entrance. The canyon, most of it private land, cuts a jagged swath 130 miles along the Llano Estacado. (Click to enlarge.)

We drove out to Palo Duro Canyon in the early afternoon. Seeing part of a deep canyon that stretches for hundreds of miles along the Llano Estacado makes it easier to understand why the Comanches utilized the area and why, within a year of Quanah’s surrender, it would become a major portion of Charles Goodnight’s famous cattle empire. We stop for a bit at the gift shop, which rests rustically along the canyon’s rim at a particularly scenic overlook.

Inside, there are some wonderful films with a lot of Comanche history running in places throughout the gift shop, alongside the books, chimes, jewelry and Palo Duro paraphernalia. I find a “distressed look” canyon cap. We drive to the end of the road and back and decide to return at sunset and see if the light is better. Just as we’re ready to leave, we find three beeves, Texas longhorns, grazing in the tall grass near the entrance, reminders of the Goodnight ranch that quickly replaced Quanah’s hide-out the year after he surrendered.

Miss Billie and Miss Sookie along the Gypsum Trail inside Palo Duro Canyon. (Click to enlarge.)

The canyon is only ten miles almost directly east of our hotel, ten miles of seemingly endless, exceedingly flat land severely disrupted by the canyon. We head out again at sunset to see if we can get some colors we couldn’t get at midday. We don’t succeed as much as I had hoped, but driving down in the canyon again is wonderful, and we hit a road we hadn’t found earlier. The canyon area accessible to us is mostly for campers and hikers, and we decide that tomorrow we’ll leisurely hike a few of the trails and get a better feel for the canyon from ground level.

Looking up out of Palo Duro Canyon at one of the buttes. (Click to enlarge.)

Thursday we headed back to the canyon after breakfast and hiked three of the many trails. All were great. One took us through an area of gypsum rock along an idyllic stream. Another passed by an old homesteader’s earthen home. We spend the rest of the afternoon at the Museum again. I found several areas I hadn’t yesterday. Another fun way to spend two hours. We eat dinner at Feldman’s Wrong Way Diner, a goofy place that had miniature trains running above our heads.

Friday morning we find ourselves at dawn at the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo. We head north and find Lockhart for breakfast and rush hour in Denver before finally disembarking in Boulder. Comancheria has been good to us.

A stop at dawn at the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, about 25 miles northwest of Palo Dura Canyon. (Click to enlarge.)

December 25, 2014   1 Comment

The Star House and the Empire of the Summer Moon: An American Story

Our first view of Quanah Parker's Star House, in Eagle Park, Cache, Oklahoma. (Click to enlarge.)

October 27, 2014.

The whole point of this trip was to see Quanah Parker’s Star House in Cache, Oklahoma. In 2011, Billie and I both read S.C. Gwynne’s breathtaking Empire of the Summer Moon, the story of the American subjugation of the Comanche, the most powerful and dangerous of all the Native American tribes, of Cynthia Ann Parker, the white girl who was captured by the Comanches in 1836 and integrated into the tribe before being recaptured in 1860, and of Quanah Parker, Cynthia’s half-breed son, who lived the first half of his life as a hostile Comanche warrior and the second half as a cattle rancher, businessman, fierce and controversial advocate for his broken people and founder of the peyote religion.

Quanah surrendered in 1875. By the late 1880s, the chief decided that he needed a house that fit his stature as the head of the Comanche nation, not the tepee in which he had been living at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. The government turned down his request, but financed by some rancher friends, the Star House was built as a home for his seven wives and numerous children and grandchildren and a place to entertain guests in a style befitting his stature.

This view of the front porch shows severe roof deterioration. (Click to enlarge.)

When Gwynne related in his book that the Star house still existed, I went immediately to Google Maps and found it within thirty seconds of zeroing in on Cache, Oklahoma. In a final ignominy, Parker’s once-splendid, two-story wood home, probably the finest of any vanquished Indian chief in history, now sits on concrete blocks, decaying in exquisite isolation in the back end of Eagle Park, an amusement park and rodeo complex that closed in 1985,  along Cache Creek about five miles south of where Star House was originally built.

And how was I able to find the house so quickly on Google Maps? That’s one of the best parts of the story. Quanah, for reasons only known to him but generally assumed to be his love for military uniforms, had large white stars painted on the red roof on his home, a feature that gave the house its name. For me, it was a Biblical “Saul struck blind on the road to Damascus” kind of moment. It was as if Quanah, in his infinite wisdom, through his messengers S.C. Gwynne and Google, left a tangible sign for us. Beseeching us to check it out. Urging us to stand inside it. Asking us to stop by.

Quanah Parker's Star House view from Google Maps. After seeing this, I knew we had to go see this place.

And we wanted to stand in that house, that unique, strange slice of American history, and then drive through what was once Comancheria. The Empire of the Summer Moon, the enormous swath of land controlled by the Comanches, a tribe with no formal leaders nor centralized seat of power, made it the most difficult for manifest-destiny-driven Americans to penetrate, overcome and control. We wanted to spend a couple of days exploring Palo Duro Canyon, Quanah’s last Comanche stronghold.

Almost four years later, on Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014, we headed off on the more-than-500-mile drive from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Lawton, Oklahoma, our first destination. It was a long day’s drive, one of those that, if you decide to travel the Great Plains, you have to do occasionally, so great is its immensity. This one was made somewhat easier by the fact that we found four-lane highways all the way south across Kansas to Wichita, where we picked up I-35 to Lawton. Still, it was after dark when we finally found a Best Western at a great price for two nights as we were running out of gas.

After reading stories, I found out that the only way to get inside was to contact Wayne Gilson at the Trading Post Restaurant and Indian Store in Cache. With his sister Ginger, Gilson inherited the property after the death of their uncle, Herbert Woesner. I had called Wayne in early October and told him of our plans, and he said to contact him sometime during the morning of the day we wanted to see the house. Monday was fine, he said, but Tuesdays were dicey because he had a medical treatment that afternoon.

After breakfast, we visited the Museum of the Western Plains and the Comanche Museum in Lawton. At the latter, we talked to a Comanche named Junior Saupitty. When we told him where we were heading, he told us about the problems the tribe had been having with Wayne over the house’s stewardship. The tribe would like to work on the house, clean it up and maintain it at the least, but so far that’s not been an option. The tribe would rather buy it outright — according to several sources, it has offered a million dollars — but nothing has been negotiated.

Wayne told us to meet him at 1 p.m. at the trading post. We drove early out to Cache along the Quanah Parker Parkway, Highway 62 — it’s about 15 miles west of Lawton. I had hoped to be able to get to the home’s original site after finding the coordinates on the Star House Wikipedia page. I found a road on Google Maps that seemed to lead out to it. But when I mentioned it to Junior, he warned me that though the original foundation still exists, the property is inside Ft. Sill and off-limits to civilians.

He was right about that. The road I had found on Google Maps that would lead to the site was gated and closed where I had hoped to enter, so we drove a couple of miles up the highway just to get a feel for the area. It’s beautiful, mostly undulating woodlands at the southernmost point of the Wichita mountains, a series of rocky outbursts along the highway that are all part of Ft. Sill, the oldest continuously run of the many forts once built in the Great Plains during the Indian subjugation. There’s a nice little mountain north of the Quanah property.

We got to the trading post at about 1 pm. Wayne was sitting in a booth, waiting for us. He had told us that everybody has to clear out of the trading post before he can take us out to the house, but there was nobody in the restaurant, so when I introduced myself, he was ready to go. He instructed us to follow him in the car, and we passed the locked gate into the strange, elegiac remains of Eagle Park. Heading down a bumpy dirt road, the house popped up on the horizon but then just as quickly disappeared as we headed down a hill along the winding path.

This view of Eagle Park, from the front yard of the Star House, shows an amusement park rusted and rotting back into the earth. (Click to enlarge.)

We pass a few isolated buildings and the ruin of what was once a rodeo arena. Over to our right a ferris wheel, narrow-gauge railroad, Tilt-a-Whirl, skating rink, bumper cars, concession stand, dance hall and other buildings are rusting, rotting and slowly disappearing back into the weeds and forest from whence they came. We finally pull up in front of a gated fence that leads to a ghost town, all buildings from the 19th and early 20th century hauled here by Herbert Woesner, who added the old town as part of Eagle Park. It was probably pretty cool back in the 1960s and ’70s.

Right next to us is a Wild Mouse ride that hasn’t been touched in almost thirty years, now exquisitely tangled and gnarled with bushes, trees and weeds. Next to it is an ancient, crumbling opera house, leaning precariously, from about the same period as the Star House. Across the way is a wooden church building, a newspaper office, one-room school and a few others scattered around the property. We stop at a fenced-in area that includes the old buildings. Even on this late October date, it’s almost eighty degrees.

I can remember riding a Wild Mouse ride back in the days when Eagle Park thrived.

Walking a few yards past the fence, we turn and get our first view of the house. Two of those same stars I saw on Google Maps are easily visible even from the ground. A horse grazes to the left of the front porch, just as there might have been when Quanah and his family lived there at Ft. Sill. (Wayne tells us later that the horse is there to keep the grass down around the house.)

Once we get inside the house and the foyer, Wayne sits down, relaxes, warms to his subject and works into a long spiel about the house and how it finally wound up in its present location.

It’s quite the story, one that Glenn Frankel also tells in the book The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend. (John Ford’s strange western film The Searchers is very loosely based on her story.) Quanah himself searched long and hard for his mother’s grave and had always wanted to have her buried close to him. He finally found her plot near Poynter and got her remains moved to a small cemetery at the Post Oak Mission near the Star House in 1909. The remains of her daughter Prairie Flower were moved as well. Quanah died a year later and was buried next to them.

In the late 1950s, the army wanted to use the land where the Star House and the cemetery were located for a firing range for the then-new M-65 Atomic Cannon, which had been used to actually shoot a nuclear bomb into the air and let it explode a couple of miles downrange at the Nevada Test Site as part of the Upshot-Knothole series of tests back in our “fear of Ruskies” days.

Long story short: Cynthia Ann and Quanah were re-buried, hopefully for the final time, in the post cemetery inside Ft. Sill alongside many of their comrades as well as the soldiers they fought before they surrendered. The test site was never used, and Atomic Annie, the cannon that fired the test bomb in Nevada, sits at Ft. Sill amidst a large field of old military hardware.

The house’s story continued, however. It was already rotting by the 1950s, and the Army suggested blowing it up or moving it. Laura Birdsong-Parker, one of Quanah’s daughters who owned the house, chose the latter. It was divided in half, jacked up on flatbed trucks, and left for the winter. Then the two sections were moved to a vacant lot in Cache and reattached, without chimneys, porches or running water.

Birdsong-Parker contacted local historian Woesner, an old friend, and traded the house for one that had amenities. Woesner loved the house and had it moved it to its present location, near Cache Creek west of town in the back of his new amusement park, and added the porches again after he moved it to the park.

This wheelchair apparently belonged to the family, was used by his wife and might have been used by Quanah himself. (Click to enlarge.)

Woesner kept the place up at first and made significant improvements,  hoping to eventually use it as a centerpiece for the park.  Eagle Park opened around 1960 and enjoyed a 25-year run before a series of what Wayne explained were skyrocketing insurance costs forced the family to close it in 1985.

The famous dining room, with the table from which Quanah entertained many famous people, including those he fought before surrendering, and from which he never turned anyone away. (Click to enlarge.)

And so, like so many buildings that go unused in the Great Plains, Eagle Park and Star House have been basically left to the elements. After the park closed, upkeep became even more difficult. Woesner gave tours of the Star House, and Wayne continues the tradition. He estimates 3,000 people a year visit, all by appointment at the trading post, and he only takes donations, so he doesn’t make enough for even basic upkeep that he knows the house desperately needs.

Star House, which will be 125 years old in 2015, has had no foundation for at least the last half century. The paint is peeling, and there are holes throughout the ceiling and roof. The stars on the roof that led us to the house are seriously faded, the roof color more orange than red. I know that preservationists can do wonders. On this one, they’re going to have their hands full.

At the Comanche museum, Junior had reminded us of the weather’s toll on the home: Over the course of each year there are variations of freezing sleet, high winds, wild temperature fluctuations, snow and rain in Oklahoma. The house has no gutters. An entire section of the roof over the porch has no shingles. It’s just a section of exposed original wood with a tree leaning over it. Visitors aren’t allowed on the second floor, and even looking up a stairway from one of the rooms downstairs made it seem that there were good reasons for not wanting to go up there. The fact that we could still walk around inside on the first floor seems nothing short of a miracle.

Still, it was easy to see how cool it would have been with a picket fence around it and his seven wives and little Quanahs running around the property and up and down the steps. The rooms are spacious, with ten-foot ceilings, some with original wallpaper. Even in its sad shape today, it literally oozes history.

Wayne takes us into the dining room, pulls away the tablecloth and explains that this is the original table where Parker’s guests would dine with the chief, who according to the stories, never turned anyone away from his table. When I ask if it’s the place where Teddy Roosevelt sat, Wayne said that, according to his research, and apparently he hired someone to do the history, he can’t authenticate that Roosevelt actually visited the house when he stopped in Cache.

This is one of the big stories of Star House. We do know that Roosevelt spent time with Parker during a huge wolf hunt that Quanah attended. We saw a pair of earrings at the Comanche museum the president gave to Quanah’s favorite wife during the 1905 excursion. Quanah and TR are pictured together, but not inside or outside the house.

Many history books, including The Empire of the Summer Moon and The Searchers, mention it as fact that Roosevelt dined at Quanah’s table, so the story persists, and it certainly makes the chief’s story more compelling. Frankel’s account even mentions that Quanah found large wine glasses, larger than the ones Roosevelt served him at the White House, for the president’s visit.

But the only sources I can find in the books are recollections of people, mostly family members, years later recalling that Roosevelt supped at Star House. Wayne says his researcher was looking for newspaper stories that mention it. I can find no contemporary accounts that verify that Roosevelt dined there, either.

Wayne took us through the first floor, showing us the entrance room, dining room and kitchen, both part of a single-story addition to the original home, a living room/parlour area that led to Quanah’s bedroom and his favorite wife’s bedroom across the hall. Inside, you definitely move into the past. You can almost imagine how the house appeared back then.

Quanah Parker, the last of the Comanche chiefs. (Click to enlarge.)

When we asked about the house’s condition, Wayne said that he would like to do more upkeep, and that he has gotten many offers to buy the house. Since suggestions have included using it as the centerpiece of a casino complex along State Route 62, which runs past Cache, I can’t completely blame him.

Though he can’t keep the house up, and it’s now listed as both a historic and an endangered structure, like his uncle, he is reluctant to allow a museum or the tribe to take over. Frankel suggests that it’s because of Herb Woesner’s statement that it remain where it is. Selling it would also entail moving it, or somehow losing control of the building.  As Wayne says, “things are at an impasse.”

All in all, it’s an amazing, bittersweet experience that leaves me feeling helpless, since it’s doubtful the house, in my mind at least an important piece of American history, will last many more years in its present location/condition. But until the impasse is broken, looks like it will remain the way it is. A quietly deteriorating piece of Americana in rusting Eagle Park.

(Read part two of our trip through Comancheria here.)

December 25, 2014   2 Comments

Here to There: Remembering Steven Fromholz

The two faces of Frummox: Dan McCrimmon (left), and Steve Fromholz

Steven Fromholz, one of Texas’ finest songwriters and the poet laureate of Texas in 2007, died Jan. 19 at the Flying B Ranch near Eldorado, about 40 miles south of San Angelo, Texas. Fromholz, who lived in the area, was heading out to hunt feral hogs with his girlfriend when a rifle in a case but unzipped at the bottom was being transferred from one vehicle to another. He was 68.

We’re going to remember Fromholz’s life and music on Sunday, Feb. 9 during a special Roots & Branches (9-11am MT KGNU 88.5 FM or kgnu.org), when I’ll be joined by Dan McCrimmon, the other half of a group that called itself Frummox, which is where I first picked up on the Fromholz story.

I can’t remember exactly when or where I was when I picked up an album called Here to There by Frummox. I do recall that it was already in the bargain bin. 1970 or 1971. Weird name for a group, I thought. Frummox? The cover was enticing — a big fella, about two sizes larger than life, with a young Buffalo Bill beard and haircut standing on the prairie in front of a mountain range standing tall and proud looking off into the distance. It didn’t look real, though; the mountains looked like the Tetons, and the whole thing looked like it had been Photoshopped, though this was decades before Photoshop.

On the back, with the desert as background in an equally altered photo, was another fella in a jean jacket, beardless, bespectacled and looking in the opposite direction of the Buffalo Bill guy. For me, it was the first outlaw album, first real Texas album, but before Willie and Jerry Jeff made Outlaw a movement and put Austin on the map as a music destination.

The cover drew me in, but what sealed the deal for me was a title on the back. “Song for Stephen Stills (High Country Caravan).” If a guy who looked like that wrote a song to one of my favorite songwriters whose first solo album was currently lighting up my Circle of Sound stereo system, I was willing to spend a buck to find out what he sounded like.

Ah, what I got for that dollar. It began a lifelong appreciation for Here to There, one that continues today. The record is a little schizophrenic with no real cohesive sound, but I can’t think of a better album about life on the plains of Texas or Kansas that also manages to capture that high country caravan feel of Colorado, too. As a guy who discovered Frummox out on the Great Plains and later made his adopted home in Boulder, Colorado, the album means even more. There is a reason for Here to There’s dual identity, and a connection to my adopted hometown, or more specifically a tiny community called Gold Hill, eight miles west high in the foothills, where Steven Fromholz, the bearded guy, was living when Here to There was conceived. We’ll find out more about that story on Sunday morning.

So I didn’t know anything about Fromholz or Dan McCrimmon, the guy with glasses on the back cover, at the time. The first song, “The Man With the Big Hat,” has always been one of my favorite go-to Roots and Branches songs, for shows about Texas, or storytellers, or travel. It’s a killer riff, killer song, and few have ever heard it. Gil and I have learned, recorded and performed a rough version of it when we got hot on the song. I have played it on Roots & Branches several times, on various shows about cowboys or Texas or traveling.

The album begins with McCrimmon, sounding like he’s in a bar in Arizona on a sultry summer’s day, setting up the song, which is about meeting a larger-than-life fella in a bar who tells stories of being a cowboy on the plains, “working for Wells Fargo and the coming of the trains.” It is recorded perfectly, with a crack band and a steel guitar, which back then was just beginning to tickle my fancy after hearing Stephen Stills’ playing the steel on Judy Collins’ version of Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon” and catching the Flying Burrito Brothers live in Lincoln, Neb., with Sneaky Pete Kleinow giving me an intense lesson in the atmospherics of that fabulous instrument that boggled my little brain.

The first song on the second side is called “Texas Trilogy,” and it’s a three-song pastiche of life in a real little town in Texas called Kopperl along the Brazos River in Bosque County. Its imagery and poetry were probably among the reasons Fromholz was chosen Poet Laureate of Texas for the year 2007. (Here’s Fromholz’s own story of how the Trilogy came into being.) Lyle Lovett recorded a great version of the Trilogy. One song, “Texas Legend,” was fodder for this Missouri kid.

Elsewhere, the song named for Stills was a great one, too. Michael Murphey recorded “High Country Caravan” for the Flowing Free Forever album a few years later, in 1976. During that tour Murphey stopped in Kansas City, appearing at Memorial Hall. It was one of the first times I got to go backstage, where I found Murphey to be accommodating and friendly as hell. I told him that I was working on “High Country Caravan,” and he handed me his old Martin, which I think he said he got from his grandfather — it’s pictured on the inside cover of Flowing Free Forever — and told me to sing it and he’d sing harmony. One of my favorite memories of the early rockcritter days.

And Here to There was one of those albums that I kept finding in the dollar bins. I bought as many copies for 50 cents or a buck as I could find and distributed them to friends and tried to push the album to anybody who would listen. It was just one of those records that I thought everybody missed and it was my duty to change that. There have been many of those over the years.

I followed Fromholz’s career sporadically. Though we never saw him in the many years we went to Austin for SXSW, Gil and I went up to the Gold Hill Inn probably 15 years ago and caught Fromholz, who lived up there back in the Frummox days. So did Stephen Stills, whose music company was conspicuously called Gold Hill Music. Fromholz said that night that he added Stills’ name to get his attention. He did, too, and wound up playing in his band for awhile. He also played on Rick Roberts’ solo record that he recorded in Boulder before joining Firefall.

On that night up in Gold Hill, Fromholz had to perform another of his songs of which I am particularly fond, “Bears,” three times. Twice for the crowd and once more for one of the cooks, who didn’t get to hear it the first two times. He could have sang it again as far as I was concerned. He was gracious and accommodating as he told stories of his days in Gold Hill, as much raconteur as musician.

I have performed “Bears” in public many times, most notably in several towns around the state, when I would provide the opening act for a lecture tour developed and given by Billie through Sinapu titled “A Year in the Life of a Black Bear.” Love that last line: “They just don’t come no better than a bear.”

Sunday, we’ll remember the life of Steven Fromholz. Thanks to Dan McCrimmon for making this possible. He’s continued to play live, and he will on Sunday, and is a luthier in Littleton, Colorado. Check out his fine music and instruments here.

February 8, 2014   No Comments

Self Portrait, Rock Criticism and Me

With the release of Another Self Portrait: The Bootleg Series Vol. 10, there’s been yet more endless analyses of how awful Bob Dylan’s original Self Portrait album was. I have always been amused by the kerfuffle over this one.

Well, not always amused, I guess. I was 23 years old when Self Portrait was released in June of 1970. It was an exciting, strange time in my life. I can’t remember when I began actually subscribing, but I was beginning to read Creem, Crawdaddy and Rolling Stone pretty regularly. A bit later I started a fortnightly ritual: As soon as it arrived, I would roll up a joint and smoke it while I devoured Rolling Stone cover-to-cover.

I had also just bought (and devoured) a paperback copy of Paul Williams’ Outlaw Blues, the first book where someone else articulated the kinds of things I was thinking about the music that had helped changed my worldview. During the spring semester, for a Recent American History class, I had completed a twenty-page essay, titled A Compendium of Rock: The Medium And the Message, after a McLuhan book, The Medium is the Message, that was popular my last years in college. The paper was all about rock music and its importance to me and my generation.

My friends and I were beginning to use rock music as a filter through which we could see the world, enough so that we fancied ourselves a kind of karass, vaguely interpreting a notion from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle, another popular tome of the time.

And I was in the midst of my exit from the Lutheran Church-Mo. Synod. I would last another year, through a teaching stint in Roselle, Illinois, that finalized my decision to leave. Crazy as it seems now, less than two years after I started playing guitar, I was heading out to make my way as a musician. That wouldn’t work out so well, and I was almost five years from first being published. And though I certainly wasn’t aware of it at the time, I was beginning to think like a critic.

I loved Self Portrait right away. And when I read the reviews, as we’ll see shortly, I was really pissed off. I considered a letter-to-the-editor but chickened out and wound up sending my thoughts in a letter to my friend Frank Kresen, who was in Japan at the time — he had joined the Prince of Peace Volunteers to teach English in Hokkaido. It accompanied a reel-to-reel tape of the album that I copied with some equipment I checked out at Concordia Teacher’s College in Seward, Nebraska. He replied, equally enthusiastically, that the album was a look at Dylan’s darker side as he interpreted the songs of others. But it was our little secret, because the rest of the world seemingly hated it.

Here’s the part of the letter where I write about Self Portrait, which I now realize is the very first piece of music analysis I ever wrote. Reading it again today, many of the elements (literary references, righteous indignation) that became, for better or worse, my style are all in there.

I was sitting here with Bob Dylan’s Self-Portrait and the new Rolling Stone review of it, written by the whole staff, who ripped it miserably. Now I’m reading the review of each song as it plays, listening with avid interest because Bob Dylan never ceases to amaze me. Paul Williams, in his book Outlaw Blues (which I got last week, a memorable work), quotes Dylan back in 1966: “I’ve stopped composing and singing anything that has either a reason to be written or a motive to be sung. The word ‘message’ strikes me as having a hernia-like sound.”

But the musical “experts” at the leading rock periodical still insist on looking to Dylan as the leader, the spiritual god to which we all must lay our alms for the wondrous word on what’s happening. And what say I? Leave the man alone, and accept him on his own terms. He loves country pie and Nashville skyline rags and he seems pretty happy, so why not enjoy him for what he is, and not what you want him to be?

The LP for me, then, is just what it portends to be, a self-portrait of a man musically. The cover tells the story, and the inside photos, including the session- and farm-locale shots, further reflect on Dylan’s tranquility. (Is that his farm he’s standing in front of?)

And the music? Well, for me it’s very pleasant, a pleasing change from a world that looks dismal indeed.

And poor Rolling Stone, they can’t believe that the mighty Allah can blow his lines. “Like a Rolling Stone” is a mess, they say. I disagree totally. So what if the words aren’t right? Dylan’s vocal is superb, and the Band is magnificent. But Greil Marcus is totally disillusioned. Man, can’t you just let it be?

“Living the Blues” is superb, much better than the Great White Wonder (ed. note, the very first bootleg album) version, good feeling and emotion. “Copper Kettle” is magic. Likewise “Belle Isle.” “Kettle” almost takes me back to old Missouri in 1800 and misty lakes and rivers before technology. “Belle Isle” is unusual for Dylan, a knighthood in flower song – maybe he read Ivanhoe or Sir Walter. The only song I really don’t like is “Early Morning Rain.” The vocal sounds lifeless.

But “The Mighty Quinn,” “Minstrel Boy,” and “She Belongs to Me,” all from the Isle of Wight, are very alive and well, thank you. But I suppose Greil Marcus can’t stand mistakes, damn perfectionist.

The Nashville cuts (that is, the country songs that Dylan didn’t write) are great in their own way. I’ve grown to like that kind of music.

So, Mr. Dylan, I say bravo, good job, thanks for giving me some joy. Greil Marcus — go to hell. Try to enjoy some good country music. Don’t impress us with your criticism.

Many years later, in 2002, I wrote a review of Self-Portrait for Stereophile magazine’s annual Records to Die For section. The deal is that you get 100 words each to describe two of your favorite albums — records to die for. For that year I chose a Doug Sahm live disc and Self Portrait.

The only real problems with Dylan’s most misunderstood and unheard album are the timing and the title. Were it released as The Bootleg Series Vol. 6 in 2002, it might not have dismayed critics and confused most of the rest of his audience. Dylan has long claimed it was his response to unauthorized, bootleg recordings, and that description fits — from the scattershot sequencing to the wildly eclectic repertoire. Given the current Dylan penchant for unpredictable covers in his live show, mixing up country ballads, folk standards and contemporary favorites and a sprinkling of his own songs seems downright rootsy. Most interesting is that except for his voice, Self-Portrait isn’t much different from his onstage act today. What goes around comes around. Self-Portrait takes us full circle.

I rest my case.

September 4, 2013   No Comments

‘Legs Shut Up’: The Most Fun I’ve Had Watching the Tour de France

Jens Voight is the heart and soul of the Tour de France.

This is our tenth Tour de France — we began watching in 2003 on the day when Lance Armstrong, after a crash by the leader Joseba Beloki, took a shortcut to get back on the road and continue the Tour — and there are so many reasons I love watching this event.

We saw Armstrong’s victories and endured his bike attacks on mountain finishes and competitors and his nasty verbal attacks against anyone willing to tell the truth, as we all began to figure out that yes, despite his vociferous denials, despite his fight with cancer, he was doping, which finally came to a head with his confession last year and the final realization that all the riders we had been watching for years had been cheating, with almost no chance of interdiction, for many years.

And so we fans have been holding our collective breaths, waiting for the dope hammer to fall again. This year, so far, no riders have been accused of anything and there have been no positive tests. Blood profiles have become common — first championed by Boulder team Garmin and its CEO Jonathan Vaughters — and riders know that they can be caught, if not today, then next year or the one after that.

And, I believe, the generation coming up, without the teams promoting their drug use and the code of silence finally broken, is a generation that isn’t into doping. Perhaps we’ll be disappointed again, but I don’t think so. Winner Chris Froome has been questioned, incessantly, about whether his performance this year has been enhanced. He released his data for analysis, and it was deemed within normal limits. I’m sure we’ll see more statistic checking in the coming months.

Let’s remember Froome wasn’t questioned last year when he led Bradley Wiggins to the yellow jersey and many, myself included, thought that he looked stronger than the winner. He was the overwhelming favorite coming into the race, and he has proven himself time and again. He was hardly put in a spot of real bother throughout. So give him credit — he stayed with his attackers and often took on his competitors at crucial moments high in the mountains to prove his superiority and team strength. Team Sky’s tactics and his final attack at the top of Mont Ventoux over the rising star Nairo Quintana, was one for the ages, an ascent so difficult that Froome required oxygen after he crossed the finish line. We will not quickly forget that moment when he overtook Quintana and soloed to the end.

Seriously give it up for Richie Porte, who played lieutenant to Froome as Froome did for Wiggins and Team Sky last year. This guy, wearing mostly an almost silly grin behind his white sunglasses, led Froome up steep, winding mountain passes, fell back a couple of times and still managed to come back with the main contenders near the top of the climbs. Had he not lost serious time on one stage, he might have made the podium himself.

Give it up for Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez, two of those new names that have no connection to past and wound up on the podium with Froome. Both exceptional climbers, they will be a lot of fun to watch in the high passes for the next few years.

Big kudos to the sprinters. The green jersey competition went to suave Peter Sagan. Mark Cavendish’s reputation as the fastest of his generation is well-deserved, and he is now tied with Bernard Hinault in second place in the all-time standings for Tour stage wins, but he has serious competitors: giant Andre Greipel, Sagan and powerful Marcel Kittel, who won four stages and clipped Cavendish and Greipel at the line on the Champs-Elysee in Paris on the last day, are all worthy competitors. The green jersey battle might even be better next year. To that end, Cavendish reportedly has gotten Mark Renshaw, his favorite lead-out guy, to join the Omega Pharma squad.

Give it up for Alberto Contador, who was just outclassed by Froome, and he knew it. Contador did everything he could with a strong Saxo/Tinkoff team to dislodge Froome, but in the end was overtaken by Rodriguez and Quintana for the podium positions and ended more than seven minutes behind. This year he looked more like an outlier than a contender. He said in an interview Saturday that he would skip the Vuelta, which he won last year, and concentrate on how he can regain the form he’ll need to beat Froome (and Quintana and Rodriguez). He’s got some work to do.

And let’s hear it for Alejandro Valverde, who came to the tour in great form to win and lost the race in the strangest and most fascinating flat stage I ever watched. There were some chances for enterprising teams to take advantage of the wind in Stage 13, and both Belkin and Omega Pharma (who we found out later had planned this the night before) took out Argo Shimano’s Marcel Kittel in an initial burst of speed at just the right moment on the course, and Saxo Tinkoff and Contador were able to gain almost a minute on Chris Froome and Team Sky nearer the end of the stage with the same tactic. Unfortunately, during the first attack, Valverde had a flat tire, there was no team car close and lost enough time to blow his chances to win the tour as a result. He wound up supporting teammate Quintana the rest of the Tour.

Even more unfortunate was Pierre Rolland, who decided to go for the king of the mountain jersey. He attacked again and again to try and catch up with Froome, whose late mountain attacks early on put him ahead. He finally overtook Froome’s point total during the first climbs of Saturday’s stage. But all his efforts were to no avail, as Quintana swept him and the field on the final mountain ascent, for which he got 50 points and the polka-dot jersey.

Give it up for Cadel Evans, who won three years ago and, as he did last year, was unable to keep up with the top climbers. By the end, he admitted he was happy to just finish the Tour, and the former champion might, if he returns, come back as support for TeJay Vangarteren, the new BMC hopeful for a possible Tour victory in the next few years. Vangarteren had a frustrating, up-and-down tour that he almost salvaged with a stage win before Christophe Riblon blew the field on the second climb of L’Alpe d’Huez at the end of Stage 18.

The commentating team seemed stronger than in recent years. Phil Liggins was sharper than he has been in recent years, and Paul Sherwen, except for his incessant obsession with Andy Schleck (we all wish Schleck well in his recovery, but Sherwen was super effusive and repetitive in his praise), offered his usual counterpoint. Of the rest, Scott Perino, who rode the Tour on a motorcycle and provided up-to-the-moment coverage from behind the peleton, did the best job.

Give it to the Tour organizers, who really outdid themselves this year making each stage as difficult as possible for the riders and as exciting as possible for the fans. The roads around Corsica were dangerous in the first three days, always a twitchy time in the peleton, and there were a fair share of major crashes. Several times, it appeared that it was far more dangerous than it should have been, with too little space for too many bikers heading for a tiny point in the distance. Most sprint finishes demanded that teams help the sprinters over tricky little hills and small mountains. The two climbs up L’Alpe d’Huez to end Stage 18 were an inspired bit of the torture and ecstasy of the tour.

And really give it up for Jens Voight, easily my favorite rider of all time, and — who knows? — this might be his last tour. He seems able to capture the whimsy as well as the rigors of bike racing, and he’s a tough guy. Who can forget a few years back when he skidded on his face after crashing going downhill, taking him out of that tour? Or, after an epic struggle to lead a teammate to the top of a mountain, seeing his legs go wobbly 50 meters from the crest of the climb? Or last year when he quipped that he could see Canada from the top of Independence Pass during his stage win in the U.S. Pro Challenge here in Colorado? Oh yeah. He also is the one person who says he didn’t dope during the EPO era that I believe. He took off on a splendid breakaway on the penultimate stage that failed but gave us at least one last look at the emblem of what makes the Tour de France so enjoyable. And you know he was saying all the way, “Legs, shut up.”

July 22, 2013   No Comments

Waging Heavy Neil

I was at Oskar Blues in Lyons the other night, and an acoustic quartet performed an exquisite version of “Harvest,” introduced by the singer asking, more than once, “what does this song mean?”

I felt a little like that after finishing Waging Heavy Peace (Blue Rider Press), a generous, rambling slog through the peculiar brain of Neil Young, filmmaker, model train guru, hater of mp3 sound, lover of old Cadillacs, and, oh, yeah, one of the foremost songwriters and singers of his (my) generation, and the author of “Harvest,” which he doesn’t explain.

I have read a lot about Young and listened to countless hours of his music, and, back in the rockcritter days, alternately praised and thrashed him over the years. (Full disclosure: I’m a big enough fan that I once wrote a column “The 15 Worst Songs Neil Young Ever Wrote.” And here are a couple of recent reviews of Denver shows, at Wells Fargo Arena in 2007 and Magness Arena in 2009.)

But Waging Heavy Peace just tickled the shit out of me, all five hundred often repetitive, desultory pages. Young is obsessive, impatient, curious, difficult and impulsive, often at the same time. He ambles through his life like a locomotive through one of his massive, museum-quality toy train layouts on his California ranch. He writes with great passion of trying to gain perfection in the way model trains slow as they climb hills, of the power of sound and intricacies of his electric guitars and amplifiers, of the biomass fuel that will allow all those old Cadillacs we’ll be driving around in to get 100 miles to the gallon or his Pono sound system that he argues will give digital music the same power as analog vinyl album once did. And yeah, he shares a few stories about the music he made that all of us carry in our DNA by now.

Given the meandering style and day-to-day detail in the book, I’m guessing there was no editing involved. If you’re expecting a chronological dissertation or explantion of his songs, you might be disappointed. “If you are having trouble reading this,” he even warns at one point, “give it to someone else.”

His arguments about sound quality and how digital files fail listeners are persuasive, even if their frequency makes them begin to sound like commercials. But this issue particularly bothers Young. “I can’t go anywhere without the annoying sound of mp3s or some other source of bad sound grating on my nerves and affecting my conversations,” he writes. “I will not rest until the impact has been made and Puretone (later Pono) or something like it is available worldwide to those who love music.”

The title even refers to his battle against bad sound quality. When someone asked him if he was waging war on Apple, he said no, but he was waging heavy peace.

In a sense, Young’s is testament to the notion of being able to control your own life. All of us want to do that, but few have the option to actually make it happen. “I will use my own money when I shouldn’t because I hate waiting,” he writes. “That may be why I spent so much money and built so many things. I just like to do it myself. I hate waiting for approval, because I have my own Approve-o-Meter. It works like a charm.”

But what I really admire about Young is his sense of nostalgia, his respect for the past and his absolute devotion to his family, his collaborators, his friends, and his infatuation with trying to make things better for himself and others. He writes warmly and openly about long-time collaborators he has lost along the way, especially Danny Whitten, Jack Nitzsche, Ben Keith and David Briggs. I knew of his model-train obsession and association with Lionel, but his stories of building a transformer so that his son Ben, who has cerebral palsy, could run a model train are more moving than any of the revelations about the music.

“I accept that I cannot have every dream come true at once. Life is too shoet for that,” he writes.

That doesn’t mean he won’t stop trying.

March 6, 2013   No Comments

Another Great Book About What Happened on 9/11/01

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, in custody at Guantanamo.

Much has been said and written about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which even has its own feature film. But about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who actually planned and executed the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001? Not so much.

That’s what makes Terry McDermott and Josh Myer’s The Hunt for KSM: Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed> such a compelling read and major addition to 9/11 history. It tells the story of the loose terrorism network that finally hooked up KSM and bin Laden, and the decade-long search by a few intrepid FBI investigators to track down the man who conceived and carried out the attacks before they happened. KSM was finally apprehended in 2003 in Pakistan and, after being tortured by the U.S. on numerous occasions, is incarcerated in Guantanamo Prison in Cuba.

I’m not trying to lessen Osama bin Laden’s part of the story. He was the kingpin, providing money and logistical support to a plan brought to him about blowing up iconic American buildings, and his part of the story is told elsewhere, in Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower and several of Peter Bergen’s books about al Qaeda.

But KSM, whose nephew, Ramzi Yousef (aka Abdul Basit), planned the 1993 bombing of the WTC,  and then spent more than a decade crisscrossing the globe hatching plots of mayhem and death in far-flung places (thank him every time you remove your shoes because of the Robert Reid attempted footbomb, among other plots, including one to blow up several jets simultaneously over the Pacific in 1994.

KSM came to bin Laden and al Qaeda with the crazy idea of taking down the World Trade Centers using airliners as bombs. The book explains how they conspired to pull it off, but as it makes clear, KSM wasn’t actually an al Qaeda operative or member, just a like-minded terrorist whose interests coincided with al Qaeda’s at a critical moment.

The book provides plenty of evidence of the stupendous inefficiency the various agencies involved in American security displayed in the years leading up to the attacks. At one point, they came within a few minutes of apprehending KSM in 1996, and then he disappeared for seven years.

As always, I invite any of my friends who suspect or believe that 9/11 was an “inside job”  to read this book. We still don’t have all the answers, but books like this are beginning to provide a better understanding of what happened that day. More on my views about 9/11 Truth here.

January 21, 2013   No Comments

Toking in the New Year in Colorado

Governor John Hickenlooper signed Colorado Amendment 64 less than a month ago, and as 2013 begins, two marijuana social clubs, one in Denver and another in Del Norte, have opened, member’s-only places where adults can consumer marijuana with other like-minded individuals.

Details on private clubs – the amendment is quite specific in not allowing public consumption – will be forthcoming as the legislature takes up rules and regulations of marijuana this year. But until then Robert Corry, an attorney who is credited with helping push the legislation through, and Paul Lovato, who owns the White Horse Inn in Del Norte, assume that as long as it’s private and no sales are taking place, for now it’s legal. Details at the Denver Post.

In other news, the Dacono City Council shut down its dispensaries and forced owners to mulch their product, but it will take up the issue in its meeting Wednesday. The council might decide to rescind the ban or put the reopening issue to a public vote. More here.

UPDATE: The White Horse Inn in Del Norte closed after opening on Dec. 31 for a couple of hours to enjoy the distinction (especially in the media) of being the first pot shop to open. His landlord didn’t approve — the lease began Jan. 1 — and  owner Paul Lovato was forced to close. He told media that he might open again after the rules for shops are in place. Full story here.

January 1, 2013   No Comments

About Pot, the Feds Have a Scheduling Problem

4-20-11, CU campus Smoke-Out. CU spent $278,000 to try and end it in 2012.

Much of the problem with marijuana is its current designation as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government. The government’s persecution of marijuana goes back at least to 1935, when the newly created Bureau of Narcotics, needing some narcotic to fight, created a campaign of disinformation intended to make people believe that pot was directly related to crime, violent behavior, insanity and sexual deviance. Which led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which considerably restricted the usage, distribution and production of cannabis products. (For much more on the government vs. marijuana back in the 1930s, here’s John Lupien’s master’s thesis on that subject.)

But it was the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 that codified the War on Drugs, President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell’s misguided plan to stamp out psychotropic drugs in the United States.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy says that the government will spend about $15 billion this year trying to keep people from smoking marijuana. 15 billion dollars. Multiply that by 40 years, take into account that marijuana is easily available to anyone in America who wants it, and you have a policy of utter failure. (I get these numbers from the Drug War Clock, which uses government figures.)

According to the act, Schedule I substances must include the following characteristics:

1) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.

2) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.

3) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

I won’t argue point one today except to say that any drug has a potential for abuse. Marijuana’s is less than most. How about another cup of coffee? And “high potential” is completely subjective. No one has ever overdosed on pot.

But with a host of studies suggesting marijuana’s medical benefits and 19 states (including the District of Columbia, which proves that Congress and the Justice Department can’t even control it in their own district) allowing medical patients to purchase and consume cannabis for pain or symptom relief, marijuana’s current status seems ready, if nothing else, for a second look.

This story has been told before, but let’s not forget the circumstances of marijuana’s Schedule 1 status. The Controlled Substances Act was aimed at the marijuana/LSD menaces Nixon and Mitchell perceived, much as the Bureau of Narcotics had 35 years earlier. Remember, the hippies were running wild and naked and fornicating all across America with blunts of the dreaded reefer sticking out of their mouths.

Anyway, Nixon dispatched a former Pennsylvania governor, Raymond Shafer, to study pot abuse in America and come up with some “wink, wink” proposals. Shafer’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse took the charge seriously and recommended the decriminalization of marijuana for adults in small amounts. It’s a document worth perusing. Here’s one paragraph that, given all the surveillance over citizens these days, all Americans should ponder. “The criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use. It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate,” the report states. “The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”

Nixon and Mitchell roundly rejected the findings and put pot in Schedule 1, right up there with heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, mescaline, Quaaludes, peyote and psilocybin. Cocaine, because of its limited medical use, got a Schedule 2 classification, considered by the federal government to be safer than marijuana. Even before the commission’s report was released, Nixon told Shafer he would only embarrass himself and that they would pay it no heed. Read about this and other hallucinatory Nixon conspiracy theories involving marijuana, homosexuality, communism and Jews in this Gene Weingarten Washington Post column.

Now, 42 years later, two states, for starters, in November called the Justice Department on its bullshit hypocrisy. Given the mood of the electorate and, happily, the lack of concern today’s younger generation has for legalization, we won’t be the last.

So instead of Gov. Hickenlooper seeking “clarity” on marijuana from Justice – a truly laughable notion in itself — he should be asking why marijuana continues to be listed as a Schedule 1 drug when cannabis is grown and sold for medical uses in almost forty percent of states, including his own and the District of Columbia.

December 14, 2012   No Comments

On the Day Pot Becomes Legal, It’s Reefer Madness Again in Boulder

Bike rack, Table Mesa and 40th Bus Stop, Boulder, Colorado. (Leland Rucker)

Bruce Springsteen put it aptly at his Denver concert last month. “I understand that Colorado just underlined its Rocky Mountain High.” The word’s getting around about our state, the budding Amsterdam of the American West.

On Nov. 6. about 55 percent of Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which allows anyone over 21 years of age the right to have an ounce or six plants of marijuana for personal use.   Even glowing-red El Paso County came out for decriminalization, though just barely. Voters in Denver and Boulder overwhelmingly supported the amendment and were mostly responsible for its passage. Today, December 10, 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the amendment into law.

Colorado voters in 2000 approved a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana for patients with approved cards in Colorado. But it wasn’t until the spring of 2009, following a Justice Department edict that said that the federal government wouldn’t interfere with state marijuana laws, that Colorado erupted in a crescendo of craziness and reefer madness.

Under a volcano of optimism, entrepreneurs – old pot dealers, mom-and-pop businesspeople, everybody, it seemed  – got into the legal medical business. Legislators, caught off guard, for whatever reasons, didn’t deal with state regulations for months, leaving it to local jurisdictions to deal with an onslaught of dispensaries, grow operations and card-carrying patients. Cities reacted in various ways. Some banned dispensaries outright; others, like Breckenridge, completely decriminalized pot within its boundaries.

That crazy period is well documented in Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America’s Most Outlaw Industry, a great book by Greg Campbell, a Ft. Collins journalist who writes of getting a medical marijuana card and growing six plants in hopes of selling to dispensaries amidst the craziness.

Now Colorado has legalized pot, which brings up more than a few grams of questions and even more reefer madness. First, it puts the federal government on notice that more and more of its citizens, even those who don’t smoke pot, are sick and tired of the hypocritical Drug War rat hole down which billions of our tax dollars plunge each year criminalizing the act of smoking a plant anyone can grow and Grandma now uses to ease her chronic pain. Unless President Obama’s Justice Department decides to revisit marijuana’s current Schedule 1 status, the passage of Amendment 64 might ignite a hell of a states’ right battle.

The Obama administration has followed its predecessors, waffling on its pledge not to interfere in states that have approved medical marijuana. Locally it has issued cease-and-desist orders to dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school, even if they were in local compliance. It recently reminded Washington state, which also legalized pot in November, of its Schedule 1 status.

Attorney General Eric Holder has not replied to requests from Colorado congresspeople or Gov. John Hickenlooper, for clarity, perhaps because, when it comes to the Feds and marijuana, there is no clarity, no common sense and no science involved in its decision-making process. For seventy-five years marijuana has been demonized by its Schedule One classification, and for forty of those years the federal government has waged a so-called drug war, with our tax dollars, incarcerating mostly poor and minority pot smokers while allowing the marijuana market in the United States to grow into perhaps the nation’s largest agricultural product. Make no mistake; pot is far more ubiquitous and easy-to-find today than it was in when the government began waging war on it.

Locally, Stan Garnett and Mitch Morrissey, district attorneys for Boulder and Denver counties, announced they would drop all pending marijuana possession cases, while Weld County D.A. (and fierce opponent of Amendment 64) Ken Buck said he would prosecute people up until, well, today.

Boulder’s city attorney, Tom Carr, who was voted out of the same office in Seattle at least in part because of his anti-marijuana policies, recommended the city not allow dispensaries because the window for the state to write its regulations and the city to start issuing business licenses is only a few months away and asked a two-year moratorium before revisiting the situation. No less than Nobel laureate Eric Cornell denounced Carr’s actions, quickly seconded by former City Council member and County Commissioner Paul Danish. Wisely, current council members reminded Carr that 2/3 of the voters in Boulder approved Amendment 64 and that perhaps he should revisit his current thinking.

And then, University of Colorado President Bruce Benson, in a bizarre email sent to alumni late Friday night, wrote that he personally had worked to oppose the passage of Amendment 64 and suggested that the university might lose a billion dollars a year in funding because of its passage, an astounding claim. “The glaring practical problem is that we stand to lose significant federal funding,” Benson wrote. “CU must comply with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which compels us to ban illicit drugs from campus.”

Benson generally keeps his opinions to himself, but he is the guy who authorized CU to spend more than $278,000 to try to stop the 4-20 Smokeout at CU in April. Congressman Jared Polis, in effect calling Benson a liar, pointed out that the university already has banned illicit drugs from the campus and that the amendment’s passage has nothing to do with CU funding. Local entrepreneur and CU donor Brad Feld called for Benson to retract his comments and leave his personal agenda out of CU-alumni communications.

There is more of this kind of lunacy ahead. Even Hickenlooper opposed Amendment 64 before its passage. Who knows what mischief our Republican friends in the state House of Representatives might already be cooking up to subvert Amendment 64 in the legislature’s next session?

All of this is just a reminder that, even here in our broad-minded enclave next to the Flatirons, a significant minority of people with significant power, for whatever reasons, don’t want to see marijuana regulated like alcohol in Colorado. Look for more insanity as reefer madness gives way to the fear of a stoned planet.

December 10, 2012

December 10, 2012   No Comments