MUSIC AND RHYTHM MAGAZINE
"The Modern Musical Newsmagazine"
Oct 1941 "Was Marihuana responsible for Bus Etri's Death?" - By Robert Crandall
Music and Rhythm - Oct. 1941 pg. 40
Was Marihuana Responsible For Bus Etri's Death? - By Robert Crandall
TWO MUSICIANS sped along the highway in a fast moving car near the outskirts of Culver City, California. The early morning sunlight blazed down through the trees lining the road. Inside, the young men, Bus Etri, guitar player with Charlie Barnet, and Harold Hundling, singing member of the Quintones, Barnet's vocal group, were probably laughing and joking. They had gone to a party in Hollywood given by a rising young screen actress who likes swing music. The party had been attended by Duke Ellington and some of his men, Meade Lux Lewis, Woody Herman. It had been fun. Now they were going home.
They flashed along the road nearing the intersection of Venice Boulevard and La Cienga Avenue just outside Culver City. A dump truck filled with laborers on their way to work was also approaching the intersections. . . Hard to tell what happened. It really doesn't matter now. One moment the two musicians were feeling swell. The next moment the car was a smashed hulk. Etrie was dead. Hundling was unconscious in the hospital with little hope held out for his recovery. He died, a few days later.
In the pockets of the dead man, the police found a number of marihuana cigarets. When they went to the apartment at Hundling and Etri shared with Barnet's drummer, Cliff Leeman, they found another supply of "tea," Today Leeman faces a narcotics violation charge.
Then the Los Angeles dilies went to town, rattling the skeleton that is popularly supposed to luck in every dance musician's instrument case.
"MUSICIAN KILLED, FIND 'REFERS'," read a typical headline. "MUSICIANS INVOLVED IN DOPE RING INVESTIGATION," shouted another.
To Charlie Barnet, it was one in a long line of bad breaks. The Palomar fire in which all his instruments and library were destroyed, the time Petrillo personally kicked him out of the musicians' union, his unhappy marital troubles -- all these were but a series of stepping stones to this last and greatest misfortune. Not only was there the personal loss of Etri. There was also a good chance that the band would be branded as a bunch of "hopheads" by prospective buyers.
And to the trade in general came a black mark. "Musicians are, weed smokers" ran the cry the country over. Marihuana was again in the limelight.
Marihuana is a narcotic made from hashish hemp. Dried, rolled into a crude cigaret and smoked in a particular manner, it has a narcotic effect upon the smoker. For years it has been known as "musicians' weed." As a class they probably smoked it more than other people.
Then the sensation-mongering tabloids stumbled on it. Horrible stories were written about its effect. It was habit forming. It was sexually stimulating. It made the smoker a murderer, a fiend, a sadist.
Actually marihuana does none of these things. It has to be smoked in a particular way to be effective at all. The "kick" can only be achieved by an experienced smoker.
This does not mean that the "weed" can be condoned. It is a vicious narcotic. Habitual use can effect both the brain and the body. So can habitual use of alcohol, Marihuana is definite evil, but it is not the horrible things the sensation-catering magazine and movies would have us believe. Like alcohol it releases inhibitions. If a man is sexually frustrated, "weed" will deaden centers of control. So will alcohol. Under the influence of "weed" a normal person is no more dangerous than he is under the influence of Liquor. An abnormal person is dangerous under the influence of either.
Henry Steig lost the respect of thousands of musicians by his farcical chapter on a "reefer" party in his book, Send Me Down. Now the newspapers are opening up an old wound.
Two musicians cracked up and "weed" was found in their pockets. To musicians out of 150,000 union members and many amateurs. The connection between the "weed" and the accident may have been purely circumstantial.
Had Etri smoked any marihuana before the accident? Had be smoked enough to become "high"? "Was marihuana the immediate cause of his accident?" These questions should be answered before even these two musicians, let alone all the musicians in the country can be condemned.
Secondly, even if marihuana were responsible for the accident, that makes one accident out of the any that occur to musicians every year---accidents with various other cause---fatigue, bad roads, poor eyesight. Two months ago, there appeared an article in this magazine entitled Why Musicians Crash and Die. At that time it was pointed out that the chief "occupational disease" of musicians was not alcohol or marihuana but accidents sustained on one-nighters.
It will be unfortunate if the untimely death of a fine musician is turned into an "incident" that casts a shadow on dance musicians everywhere.
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