Brian Blomerth is a brilliant artist and arguably the premier psychedelics illustrator this side of the Mississippi. A torch carrier of R. Crumb and other heavy hitters from the underground comix scene, Blomerth has become the go-to Micron maestro for anything pertaining to plant medicine and related subcultures, including recent commissions by The Grateful Dead, Phish, and Tame Impala.
More importantly, Blomerth is the author/illustrator behind the two greatest visual histories on mind-altering substances: Bicycle Day, his faithful retelling of how LSD was invented, and Mycelium Wassonii, which tracks how magic mushrooms were introduced to Western culture. As I wrote in an earlier article about these tripped-out tomes, these are perfect children’s books (at least in format) that are made for adults who are curious about psychedelics and their evolution throughout the US zeitgeist. Both are essential reads, and you should buy a copy here!!!
These intros can sometimes be a bit long-winded, and I could write a whole book on the ingenious nature of Blomerth’s craft, so I’ll try and keep things brief. I have worked as Brian’s editor and co-conspirator on and off since 2014 — he used to pen a weekly comic for me when I was working at VICE, as well as different one when I was editing Merry Jane — and I’ve written about him and his work numerous times. He’s also a close friend and one of the best storytellers I’ve ever met.
Due to his reputation as the “trippy illustrator guy,” you’d maybe expect Brian to be a regular consumer of the substances he renders in pupil-dilating ink. But alas! Despite making art for pot brands and cranking out dozens of comics about a weed-smoking firedog, Blomerth himself avoids the devil’s lettuce. (He does, however, make it a tradition to consume acid or mushrooms at least once per calendar year.)
I’ve always known that Brian does not enjoy smoking weed, but I was never quite sure why. I had a feeling there was a good story behind his breakup with the plant, and decided to call him up to learn the backstory for this edition of Cash Only. As expected, the tale behind his last hurrah with marijuana was stranger than fiction and undoubtedly “Blomerthian.” Turns out that a fateful, nightmarish experience at a Dave Matthews concert was what scared him straight.
I don’t want to spoil any more details, so you’ll just have to read on. Big shouts to Blomerth. I’ll never ask you to hit the spliff, but I still prefer to be in your company while I’m really baked 😉
What’s up, Mr. Blomerth? Let’s talk about your relationship with weed.
Brian Blomerth: When I first started working for you at Merry Jane, I remember you asked me, “Are you pro weed or anti weed? As long as it’s one of the two, we’re good. Doesn’t matter which” [laughs].
That is correct. Let’s jump back a second, though. What was your first time smoking weed like?
Shit, man. I remember people in high school doing the “honey blunt-in-the-microwave” type of garbage.
What’s a honey blunt?
You’ve never heard of a honey blunt? Are you kidding me? Am I insane? You roll a blunt, then break open the Dutch Master and put a little honey on it, and then it briefly goes in the microwave. You microwave it for like two seconds and then smoke the thing. I remember some kid in my high school being like [*nasally voice*] “And thaaaat’s a honey blunt!”
My friend’s mom was gone so we smoked a honey blunt at her place. Then I watched my friends skateboard terribly in front of the house. I was maybe 15. I think I got high, but I don’t remember it being anything special or whatever.
What about the first time you were actually stoned, like memorably stoned?
It had to be in college. Those are the weed experiences that really stick out to me and have good tales related to them. Are you ready for this? One of the first times I remember getting very, very high was in college and I was looking at all my own drawings. I was like, “What the fuck is this shit?” It was a real confrontation with my ego. I was staring at my work and thought, “It’s unfair to make anyone look at this garbage.”
There was another time, or more like a week, when I was into hash. We were smoking hash and went to a river, and my friend put his two fingers in his mouth to make himself gag — like, as a bit — but him doing that made me actually throw up. And I was pissed because I had just eaten a nice sandwich for lunch. “Goddamn it! I’ll be starving in an hour.”
Did you enjoy being high, despite the vomiting situation?
I think so, yeah. There was another time that week where I smoked a bunch of weed, ate a whole bag of Doritos, and then also threw up. It was fine, but looking at my drawings while high made me way too paranoid. It was too confusing for me. It didn’t change my art practice or anything, but it just freaked me out [laughs].
At what point were you like, “This shit is not for me. I don’t like weed”?
I can tell you the exact moment, and this story’s wild. I was working at the dorms at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. This woman comes up to me and is like, “Hey, I’m giving staff members free tickets to see Dave Matthews in this basketball stadium, do you want them?”
I said, “Yes, give me 8 tickets,” and she said, “OK, cool.”
So she gives me 8 tickets to see a Dave Matthews acoustic set. Me and my whole cadre of friends were like, “Hell yes. It’s time to smoke some fucking WEED before we go to this thing.”
Apparently, we smoked so much weed that one of my friends was convinced we’d also done Robitussin. That’s how high we were; he thought we were Robo-Tripping. I know for a fact that we had just smoked weed, though. No, sir, it was just weed.
So we go to the basketball stadium, and Dave comes out and he’s going nuts. It’s just Dave and this other acoustic guy, but the other guy has all these filters and shit so he can make his guitar sound like a violin or whatever. But the show starts, and all these frat guys are grinding on their girlfriends super intensely. Immediately, I was thinking, “This is too fucking heavy for me. This is insane.”
This was before Obama got elected, right? And here’s where things get a little offensive and crazy…
Dave was wasted out of his brain, and I don’t know if you know anything about him, but he’s an on-and-off alcoholic. He cut his teeth in Charlottesville, and it’s maybe 45 minutes away from Richmond. So you’d always meet people, like professors or whoever, who had tales about Dave Matthews being wasted and doing something crazy.
For example, I had one friend who delivered him a canoe at 8am one morning, and Dave was holding two Budweisers, one in each hand. My friend was like, “Sick, he’s going to give me one of these beers.” But Dave did NOT give him a beer. My friend even reached his hand out to take the second beer. He thought it was for him and he’d get to enjoy a morning beer with Dave Matthews — but no dice! Dave pulled the beer away from him, gave him a look like, “What the fuck?” and just pointed to where he wanted the canoe on his property, despite having both hands full.
One more local story about Dave and then I’ll return to my own tale. OK, so my friend is at this bar in Charlottesville, and she thinks there are a bunch of jackets under this table. She’s got her feet like resting on these jackets. And at the end of the night, she looks down there and it’s not a bunch of jackets… it’s Dave Matthews passed out [laughs]. I swear to god! Completely blacked out, under the table.
So what happened at that Dave Matthews concert you got really high for?
So we’re at the show, and it’s before Obama was elected. Dave’s like, “The whole worlddddd’s rooting for Obama! We got Irish people being like, [*bad Irish accent*] Lickety-di-Obama! We’ve got African people being like, Click-clack-click-clack-Obama!” He keeps going, and I’m just sitting there like, “What the flying fuck is this? What the fuck is he talking about?” And then Dave goes, “The Chinese are saying Ching-Chong-Ching-Chong-Obama!” The audience is cheering after each line, and I’m increasingly weirded out by all this and how racist it is.
He then goes: “OK, I wrote this song about Obama. It’s called ‘Crash.’” And then he plays the infamous song, “Crash.” Everybody cheers, and I’m just like, “What the fuck does this mean? This is the END of me and weed. I am so fucking confused and freaked out right now.”
I look around and people are still cheering, but it meant nothing. It was like, “What does this statement even mean? What does Obama have to do with ‘Crash’? What is going on here?”
From then on, I decided I’ll never smoke weed again [laughs].
That’s wild. Isn’t “Crash” about coming inside of someone? Like, that’s in the lyrics.
Yeah, I think so. I’m pretty certain. And that makes it all the more twisted. Also, it’s called “Crash” and he got all these anti-Obama people to be hype, all these pro-Obama people to be hype. It wasn’t even English! What language is this man speaking, and what is he trying to say? And everyone was so into it, despite the overt racism.
So Dave Matthews scared me straight. You’d think he might have scared me away from alcohol and all the other shit, but for whatever reason, I thought, “This is the weed’s fault. Not Dave Matthews’ fault.” And yes, I realize this is a problem with Dave Matthews and not a problem with marijuana, but I just couldn’t handle Dave and marijuana together. It was just too much.
There you go: Cash Only…. [laughs].
Did you ever smoke weed again, or was this really your last hurrah?
I did smoke one or two other times after a friend was like, “Come on, Brian! Please.” That kind of shit — alright, alright, I’ll take a little sippy-sip. And it was fine. It was OK. It mostly makes me very paranoid and stressed out. I confront my life way too much when I’m high. I don’t think that’s good for me. I’m one of those people.
I bet a lot of people imagine you smoke based on your art, but I think it’s way tighter that you’re the trippy psychedelics illustrator who doesn’t smoke weed.
That’s what I love to hear. Yeah, weed’s cool. It’s just too confusing and it makes it hard for me to focus. I really respect your style and people who smoke weed and can just blaze through monotonous tasks. I think that’s fucking awesome, but it doesn’t work for me.
What’s your favorite weed-related image to illustrate? You’ve done a thousand at this point.
I can’t remember if I drew this for you or another publication, but drawing the actual plant and the leaves is obviously super fun. I did a full 18” by 24” illustration of the plant for someone once, and it was tight, but they told me they couldn’t use it. So I like drawing the plant. It’s a very pretty plant.
What drugs do you enjoy doing these days? I remember you telling me that you usually do psychedelics just once per year.
Yeah, it’s still a once a year thing. But I enjoy that annual trip quite tremendously [laughs]. Part of my once a year rule is that I can’t try very hard to seek them out. So it’s typically when someone just randomly presents the opportunity, like someone saying, “Hey, I’ve got these tabs for $20 a pop, want to buy one right now?” I don’t actively plan a trip; it usually comes to me.
In the middle of COVID shit, I found a huge bag of mushrooms on the ground. But I was like, “You know what? This ain’t me right now” [laughs]. I left them there for someone else to find. I thought it’d be way cooler for someone else to come across because I wasn’t in that space. I was in a weird spot, housing-wise, and I knew I couldn’t be that high at the time. It would have been nightmarish — and don’t get me wrong, nightmarish can be good sometimes — but I was just not ready for something like that right then.
What would it take to get you to smoke again today?
Not very much, I’d just have to want to do it [laughs]. Not that much. If the right opportunity presented itself. Like if someone cooked an elaborate-ass meal and was like, “The only thing that would enhance this meal and truly make it the greatest thing ever is this weed I grew,” then I’d smoke the weed. If it was a scenario like that, I’d be like, “Yes, this is beyond acceptable.”
What are your general thoughts on weed culture in 2022? Anything about the current weed zeitgeist that you have an opinion on, one way or the other?
I wish you could go into a weed store and buy really crappy weed. Like 1960s weed. I know I’m not original in this thought, but I wish there was access to dirt weed. Shit that makes you want to wear a different colored outfit, you know? There should be more shake around. I want the type of nug you find hidden in a record sleeve that’s like decades old. If I was to smoke weed again, that’d be what I look for.
What about the aesthetics of weed? Do you have any opinions about the imagery used in weed branding today?
If I’m being honest, I haven’t looked that hard. The only thing that’s annoying for me is that I’m kind of over working with weed brands on illustrations. It’s confusing, and the brands never know what they want. They never work with me a little bit to figure out something that will work for them. They always move the goal post. I’ll work for them on a single project for a long time, and they can’t bring it through the finish line. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want it to be one-and-done for those types of gigs. It’s too much and too confusing.
If you were to return to weed, who would be in your dream blunt rotation?
It’d be funny to smoke with three Dave Matthews. Literally three clones. That’d be such a nightmare, three Daves. I don’t think I could handle that, though. That’s a triple threat. I think my casual “I don’t smoke weed” stance would be converted to a strong anti-weed stance if I smoked with three Daves. Yeah, every time I wanna get scared straight again, I’ll smoke with three Dave Matthews.
If I’m being more serious, I like listening to gurus talk, so maybe the Maharishi and all his transcendental meditation vibes. He’d be way too intense, but it’d be fun to be like, “Nah just chill man.” He’s got a good voice, too.
You know what? I wanna go with people who have amazing voices. So let’s add Orson Welles. It’s all about listening to beautiful tones while you’re smoking. We need a lady, maybe someone with a gravelly voice. How about Delilah Rene, from “Delilah After Dark.” If you listen to mom radio, like adult contemporary, she comes on at night and has this really soft voice and she’s crying a lot. She’s cool. She plays love songs and takes dedications from callers. And people call in and talk about the pain in their life and then ask for Matchbox 20 to be played [laughs]. Let’s also add Diane Rehm from NPR and “On My Mind.” She also has a great voice.