The Austin Chronic: Cheech and Chong and Toking With a Troll

Stoner icons materialize for surprise C-Boy’s appearance

Cheech & Chong’s Last Movie

You usually don’t put out a joint when Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong walk past you, but I did on a recent Monday night. I was on the back deck of C-Boy’s – getting in the right headspace and talking to all the old-school scenesters there for Swollen Circus – a SXSW-week local hootenanny that Michael Hall from the Wild Seeds and Walter Salas-Humara from the Silos have been throwing since around 1995. The veteran comedy duo’s publicists had alerted me that they’d be making an appearance at the club that night, but it was unclear what it would consist of ... and I figured they’d be showing up, promoting their new doc, and splitting.

I was sitting at a table with Nick Fong from Loteria, probably wearing out his ears talking about the formative childhood moment of discovering the Big Bambu in my dad’s record collection (the 12” rolling paper had been used decades before), when I spied the countercultural heroes and their crew, including Chong’s actor/producer daughter Robbi, heading toward the club’s back door.

“Oh shit! It’s really happening,” I stubbed out the joint, absentmindedly leaving it in the ashtray, then hustled into the packed club and stood sidestage as David Bushell stepped up to the mic to introduce himself as the director of Cheech & Chong’s Last Movie, which was premiering at SXSW the following afternoon, and asked if we’d like see the stars of that film?

Marin and Chong – 77 and 85 years old, respectively – entered the stage waving to a crowd with minds blown and phones up. Chong picked up an acoustic guitar and strummed on it, but the sound was only coming through the main speakers, not the monitors, so he set it back down.

“Thank you and goodnight,” Marin said, pantomiming leaving the stage. Without fuss, Chong turned around and picked up a TV yellow Gibson Les Paul Jr. that was leaning on an amplifier and gave it a confident strum as Marin began singing:

“Mexican Americans don’t like to just get into gang fights

They like flowers and music and white girls named Debbie too...”

It reminded me how in 1980’s Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie, from which the song originated, Cheech follows it by saying: “How do you like it? It’s like a protest tune,” and how Marin really is a prominent ambassador for the Chicano community – including opening the world’s definitive Chicano art museum. And he’s continued to expose younger generations to aspects of culture, which I know because my 4-year-old son is obsessed with the Cars movies where Cheech portrays Ramone – a low and slow ’59 Impala who gives other cars in Radiator Springs cool paint jobs. He closed the song with a couplet that’s not in the movie:

“Mexican Americans have been here forever

And we’re gonna be here forever and we only want what’s fair.”

In Next Movie, Chong says he was writing another song while Cheech was singing “Mexican Americans” and then sings the word “beaners” a couple times before they get interrupted by a phone call. On Monday, the crowd at C-Boy’s actually got to hear that song as Chong expounded on it – ex. “Beaners, they like to drown in their cologne” – and it ended with him saying he loved his friend Cheech.

Fifty-six years on, their special chemistry remains intact.

Before they were hustled off into a waiting van out back I gave Marin a high five and thanked him for coming. He laughed and said, “Of course, man. I love all you crazy people from Austin.”

The table I’d been sitting at was now full of people and I begged their pardon as I reached into the ashtray and found my joint still there. The next afternoon, the two elderly stoner icons arrived in style to the Paramount Theatre for the premiere of Last Movie, co-produced by local peace-and-love billionaire John Paul DeJoria, riding in a black sedan pulling a smoking 60-foot joint.

Despite SXSW having a drastically declining number of cannabis-related panels, which I reported on in January, one could still stay busy going to marijuana-related events during the conference. This included an Outlaw Party benefiting the Last Prisoner Project; a doc premiere for Kiss My Grass, which highlights underrepresentation of women of color in the cannabis industry, and a subsequent panel with Rosario Dawson, Mary Pryor, Whitney Beatty, Hilary Yu, and Hope Wiseman; and a really fascinating panel – oriented around a company called FloraWorks – where I listened to really smart biochemists discussing developing therapeutics from minor cannabinoids ... you know, the 100-plus elements that aren’t THC, CBD, CBN, etc.

More on that in another column. For now, I want to leave you with a tip on smoking with Austin’s newest resident.

Kevin and Malin (Courtesy of Kevin Curtin)

On March 15, a 20-foot-tall troll appeared in Pease Park. Created by Danish artist Thomas Dambo, it’s a wondrous work to see in person: a sweet face of cleanly planed wood, hair made from curly branches, body constructed from recycled pallets and pickets, and a very bohemian stone necklace. The big-nosed creature’s name is Malin and, I assure you, Malin has great vibes.

If you are like me and you want to smoke a joint with Malin, I’d like to give you some firsthand advice. The troll is crawling with kiddos all day and evening, but if you go at 7am you can watch the sun come up through the trees as it illuminates this breathtaking piece of park art and hardly see anyone except for some early morning runners on the trail nearby. It’s a world-class wake-and-bake experience and when you look at its hexagonal eyelids, you’ll wonder if maybe Malin smokes some troll herbs too.

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Cheech & Chong’s Last Movie, Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong

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