Shirley Halperin Embraces Pot Culture
It may not surprise you to learn that a book written by two self-avowed stoners has long been in the works. But although Pot Culture has been in the pipeline for a while, its authors have not been sitting idly on their couches, packing bowls to the Simpsons theme (altogether). In 1995 Shirley Halperin began her career by founding Smug magazine and so began a path that has led her to Rolling Stone, Us Weekly and most recently, Entertainment Weekly, where she serves as senior writer. Co-author Steve Bloom has contributed to Rolling Stone and Soho Weekly, while his resume also includes an extended stint as an editor at High Times. Pot Culture is subtitled The A-Z Guide to Stoner Language & Life and that it is but such a description fails to capture the spirit and humor of the book, which offers essays on music, television, movies and plenty of celebrity interludes from the likes of Jonah Hill (How To Make an Apple Pipe) Rob Thomas (The Art of Scoring) and Ray Manzarek (My First Time).
A few weeks after the publication of Pot Culture, Halperin and Bloom appeared as presenters at the Jammys. A few weeks after that, Halperin sat down for this conversation, which also touched on a magazine that went awry (_Heads_), Leslie Wests Rock Band fever at the Jammys and Halperins longstanding relationship with the members of Phish, which once resulted in a late night phone call from the band in search of Hebrew lessons
Pot Culture is quite an all-encompassing endeavor that includes both cultural history and culinary tips. Was that your intent going in?
I wanted it to focus on the slang, that was the original idea. It was an idea I came up with in college. I thought it would be really fun to have a dictionary of stoner slang. That was the original thought, this would be fun, an A to Z dictionary of the ways stoners talk.
Then it just expanded. I looked into what pot books are out there because there are a lot. Most of them are about growing and they have the Playboy model, big buds and centerfolds for people who drool over that. But people like me really dont care about that and are much more into the culture and how people interact. That was a lot more interesting to me. Im never going to grow pot, I dont know how to grow it and I didnt particularly want to learn but I do love watching stoner movies and listening to Dark Side of the Moon, stuff like that.
I had the idea but I put it on the backburner for a while. After I tried Heads, that magazine I tried to do, that kind of turned me off to the idea of doing something independently within the hippie stoner movement because it was kind of a bad experience. But after a few years I saw Harold and Kumar was gaining in popularity and when I saw that Weeds was a successful show on cable television, that really kicked this whole thing and made it happen. I said, Okay, the world is ready for this book, because it seemed like a mainstream acceptance that hadn’t really been there or at least not in a long time.
So that’s what motivated me but it took years for this idea to marinate. Then I also figured out I could do the celebrity angle with all those celebrity interviews and stuff. That’s something I acquired when I was working at Us Weekly and Rolling Stone. I just got to know a lot more celebrity stoners and they were pretty out about it. I’m pretty out about it, I’m not too secretive about it except with my parents who didn’t know the book was out until three weeks ago.
Your mom is a well-known scholar [Dr. Halperin teaches in the Hebrew department at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City], I was going to ask you what she thought about the book. Is it true that your parents didnt know anything about it?
They didn’t know anything about it. I kept it secret for so long. All my family was in on it, except my parents and my grandparents in Israel. It was killing me actually, I was tortured by the fact that I was working on it for so long and was so stressed about it and started promoting it and couldn’t tell my parents, who I talk to like every day.
It was kind of difficult, so I finally had to tell them. Originally, I was going to tell them on Passover which was April 19 this year and it just didn’t happen. I tried to call my mom but she said, Oh, I going into subway Oh were about to sit down to dinner So I decided I’d call her the next day on 4/20 which was the day the book was released and the day we had our book release party in LA. And then I decided not to do that because I thought they’d be mad and I didn’t want it to ruin my party (laughs).
So I waited another day, but every day I’d say, Today’s the day, today’s the day I’m going to tell them. I finally told them on the 21st, the day after the book came out and my mom took it surprisingly well. My dad I don’t think was so thrilled but my mom said she was proud and she just took it really well. I love my mom shes great. I was so scared, I felt like I was twelve or maybe fourteen years old again.
I really thought they were going to be mad. And the reason without getting too far into it, is I was a stoner in high school and got into a lot of trouble and I just thought it would still be like that even though Im 35 years old. Its literally 17 years, twice the time that Ive been alive and I’m still feeling like I’m in high school.
There are a number of celebrity cameos in the book. The first one is by Jonah Hill, who demonstrates how to smoke pot through an apple. I was a little surprised that his manager and publicist allowed him to participate. I’m curious if you faced interference from a variety of handlers who just didn’t want their client in the book, even if the actor or musician in question was up for it.
Not really, although there were some that didn’t work out for scheduling reasons. B-Real from Cypress Hill had a photo shoot scheduled, he was going to demonstrate how to make a cone joint and then it just didn’t happen.
I was surprised that Jonah went for it but I have connections to Jonah through his brother who manages Maroon 5 and Maroon 5 is also in the book, so its all sort of incestuous. But yeah, hes a super cool guy.
We also did a second printing and added an essay by Seth Rogen on stoner movies. He wrote about his favorite stoner movies of all time and whats the point of having a stoner in a mainstream romantic comedy like 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up, what does it lend to the story? He was someone I really wanted and for scheduling reasons didn’t work out but as soon as we heard there would be a second printing, we added another good one.
Adam Levine is another person that I didn’t expect to see in there, as Maroon 5 tends to be positioned as a rather mainstream act.
Adam Levine was a really big Phish fan. He saw a lot of shows when he was in high school and we got along and first bonded because of that. He mentioned it somehow and I was like, You smoke weed, you like Phish, were going to get along great. I did a story on Maroon 5 for High Times and the purpose of it was to make them not seem like such goodie goodie pop TRL guys. They smoke weed and they’re a little more adventurous than they might sound. After I did the interview with them in High Times, I had a conversation with Adam and asked if he would do 5 Albums To Get High To. He said yes and it happened. Yay. (laughs).
Somewhat along these lines, you were on staff at High Times and now that you’ve written this book, are you ever concerned that as a result the DEA or some other government agency, would pay unwelcome attention to you as a result?
Bloom would probably say no but I am. If I’m worried about how my parents react.. But the thing is I live I live in California and California is a very different vibe than New York when it comes to weed, medicinal and recreational. The laws are a little more lax and the paranoia isnt there. So you get this false sense of security.