Monday, June 13, 2005

Where are the stoners now?

If you are in the vicinity of my age or a few years older you may recall a subculture during the mid to late 70s called the "stoners".

That word, along with the subculture it described, appears to have vanished in the mists of time.

It was mainly during my period between grades 5 to 8 (1975 to 1978) that I remember being aware of these folks. They were on average five years older than me. I even had a teenage babysitter whose crowd included such people.

So what are stoners you ask? I guess it is about time that I got around to describing them.

Well first of all the name says much of it. Not really hard stuff like heroin. Not fashionable stuff like coke or ecstacy (which didn't really exist then). Some acid. Occasional uppers and downers. But lots and lots of good 'ole fashioned THC, in the familiar forms of hash and grass.

Being from Canada, these guys (and girls) also drank copious quantities of beer. However their most blatant transgression: They smoked. That was probably the one major delineating factor starting around grade 7 or 8 that determined one's future high school clique. To this day at some level I continue view smokers as a different breed - more hidebound, tougher, stronger, scarier.

So what did these people look like? Well the closest thing in the contemporary era might be Axl Rose, at least in certain photos. Kind of plainly dressed, jeans, t-shirt, jean jacket. Long lanky hair. Invariably Caucasian, and most likely of Nordic or Anglo-Saxon stock. The guys and girls dressed similarly and both had long (usually blond) hair, but there was no gender-bending. The guys were pretty tough and definitely not androgynous, and the girls were generally quite feminine. Often quite attractive.

The drugs and long hair may invoke the image of hippies, but those were the only hippy factors about them. Their politics were not especially liberal on the most part. The seventies were a selfish and aggressive decade as far as the youth were concerned. Strangely enough, the adult mid-level establishment (people like teachers and librarians and city councilors) were strongly influenced by the liberalism of the previous decade, but teenagers were listening to Led Zeppelin instead of Bob Dylan. Some were driving around in muscle cars. I remember some of them even being a bit racist. But on the whole they were sincere and honourable individuals. If any were racist it stemmed more from simply being a dork than out of principle. The Axl Rose meme just doesn't go away, does it?

Some were quite intelligent and were able to keep up their grades in spite of herbal influences in the opposite direction.

So what happened to them? Well by the time I hit high school in 1979 it was either punk/new wave or preppie. The stoners just vanished.

I sometimes wonder, what became of the stoners? Their age would be around the neighborhood of 45 now. What are they doing for a living? Many are probably working-class and have families and likely continue to drink copious quantities of beer. They are probably pretty mellow. Many others probably wear suits and are climbing the corporate ladder.

So many subcultures are celebrated on the web by people nostalgic for their youth - hippies, punks, new wavers, mods. I have yet to see a stoner website.


Randy Ray said...

The "Stoners" you speak of were known as "Bangers" short for "headbangers" in Sarnia. Though they are extinct here in Toronto, in smaller towns around they are alive and well. You can spot a few on a drive through Hamilton or St. Catherines on a summer Saturday night. But if you still have any doubts, check out all the metal reunion tours selling out the air canada centre. My friend Katia went to an Iron Maiden and Motorhead (I think) show and took a lot of pictures. She also has pictures from the Kiss reunion tour. There were people in their 40's couples still dressed in their concert shirts and tight jeans, but quite overweight after 25-30 years of beer drinking, and some of them even brought their kids.

I think they were an American phenomenon that especially thrived in the midwest, and neighbouring south-western Ontario. I knew a lot of them growing up, honest, simple folk who liked to party. Any racism on their part was the result of being hick and ignorant, rather than an official policy. If you drank and smoked and liked the same bands, race didn't matter. Actually, a Calgary filmmaker made an excellent fake documentary a few years ago on this culture called FUBAR (fucked up beyond all recognition).

New American Patriot said...

Prime example of what happens to 'em: Jack Black in School of Rock (or the Tenacious D videos).

Having been one from age 11 (!) to 20, I knew many and met them again after a 15-year hiatus. It was bizarre; like time had stopped for them. Their personalities and lives were exactly the same as the teenagers I knew. I think the reason you don't see stoners is because their habit (pot-smoking) destroys motivation and they just kind of melt into obscurity because they never accomplish or do much of great note or influence.

That's not knocking stoners -- they're all very happy, friendly, benevolent folk -- just a little spaced out, boring and inconsequential.