Book Review: Inside the Seventies Weed Business in Wild Times in Old Austin
Dazed, confused, and profitable
Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, Fri., June 10, 2022
As someone who savors his precious reading time and usually spends that time venturing into weightier fare, it would be dishonest of me to say I didn't genuinely enjoy this slim volume of stoner crime fluff. Using the alias Casper Nomad, the author serves up a cavalcade of era-appropriate escapades: an out-of-state acid-laced rock festival; wild drug-'n'-booze-fueled lake parties; encounters with the Mexican mafia and other shady dealers; close encounters with the law; and, perhaps inevitably, a bust. Straight from the get-go, it seemed apparent that much of what is presented here should be taken with a large grain of salt.
That's not to say this is outright fantasy, but rather that the passage of time may have skewed the intricacies of reality, while Nomad's flotation within a constant smoky haze just might have affected his original perceptions of how things went down. There certainly seems to be a penchant for exaggeration here but, indeed, that tends to make the dubious details all the more entertaining. In fact, paging through the chapters, I constantly flashed on Gilbert Shelton's Austin-created Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers underground comics and how Nomad's episodic vignettes are wistfully reminiscent of the spirit evoked by Franklin, Phineas, and Fat Freddy. While some of the episodes take place in Houston and briefly in Florida, this is, as the title suggests, an Austin-centric book. That said, it's rather disappointing that so little is offered up to the reader to give a real feeling of what it was like to live here back in the day. Sure, there's mention of Hemphill Park, the Congress Avenue Bridge, and stashing cocaine in a South Austin La Quinta. Yet what self-respecting pot dealer in the 1970s makes absolutely no mention of the Armadillo World Headquarters, a haven for pot smokers and Austin's premier counterculture institution of that entire decade?
The author's sometimes subtle and irreverent sense of humor and his displays of empathy and kindness toward wayward characters are refreshing. But the proliferation of misogynistic comments throughout is indicative of a less-enlightened, Seventies mentality and comes across as clueless in this age of #MeToo. The book's final story tells how our antihero's life is saved by advice from a psychic's dream. It's an apropos finale to this unabashed guilty pleasure of a read.
Wild Times in Old Austin: True Tales of the Dope Business in the 1970s by David Blackburn, 184 pp., $12.99 (paper), available at BookPeople