“Sometimes, the riff is so fucking good you want to hear it over and over again for fifty-two minutes.”

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Even the name of the band, ‘Sleep’, is redolent of one bong too many.

I recently watched the documentary Such Hawks, Such Hounds, which is an examination of one of my absolute favorite musical genres, stoner rock.

Ironically, I have a strong aversion to the happy herb; my last encounter with it was in Amsterdam. I was instructed, one Saturday night in early 2007 that regardless of my propensity for pot-induced paranoia, that I must try the local produce.

I went to the coffee shop (strange name; as those that have been will know, there is not much coffee to be had) and was promptly handed a joint that looked like a paper trumpet, no less ridiculous than the joint in Withnail and I. I lit up and every time I took a drag, I literally felt myself climb a few inches higher.

Halfway through I ground it out, believing that I could not possibly get any higher and remain vertical on my stool as the vibration of the earth turning beneath might cause me to fly off into the atmosphere.

The kickboxing was on the television, the reason I had made the pilgrimage to Holland. Shin on shin as they kicked each other; ‘Jesus, that must hurt’, I thought. Then, it occurred to me; perhaps I had just altered my brain chemistry in such a way that would have destroyed my appetite for fighting.

“Nicky,” I said to my companion, “I have to go home.”

“What’s the matter with you?”

“I’m freaking out. I have to go home.”

“Nonsense,” said Nicky, taking a drag on his own trumpet. “The best thing when you feel that way is to be with people.”

“No, really dude, I have to go home.”

Nicky drove me home. I went inside and crawled under my bed where I lay awake all night, convinced I could hear people breaking in downstairs.

**

Sleep have a much better relationship to THC. One of the things drugs can achieve is to make the passage of time disappear (or so I’m told). You feel as if you’re a surfer in a cylinder of sound, perpetually rolling toward a beach that never arrives. It’s just crystalline water and sunlight, turning around and around. Drugs put you on the wave and music becomes the sensation of its turning.

Their third album, Dopesmoker, was one of the great lost classics of rock and roll, a veritable Moby Dick to anyone who likes their music loud and heavy.

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After two successful independent albums, they were engaged by London Records, former home of The Rolling Stones, to produce album number three. They had decided to undertake their masterpiece; a fifty-two minute song about a caravan of dope smokers, the Weedians (no shit), delivering their sacred herb in the holy land.

Legend has it that they spent most of their sizable advance on marijuana, something which Matt Pike, guitarist for Sleep and eventual guitarist and singer for High on Fire says might be close to the truth. They also spent around $70,000 building custom-made equipment; old-fashioned amps with valve systems for the warmest possible sound.

They handed Jerusalem, also known as Dopesmoker to London Records, who were horrified. They tried to remix it, then shelved it, and Sleep disbanded in the wake of terrible disillusionment. Eventually, apocrypha and whispers built the reputation of the album until it began to emerge on the internet and finally gave rise to the reunion of the original three members.

The following is a link to an excerpt from Such Hawks, Such Hounds that introduces you to the principal cast in conversation, relating one of the most peculiar and remarkable stories in popular music. Keep an eye on the bass player, Al Cisneros. His hippy-dippy stoner persona is the gateway to a remarkable gift of eloquence; his insight into the role of drugs in art is worthy of consideration.

This is a somewhat indulgent post; I love Sleep. Their music actually lives up to their legend, and to see the contrast between fire-and-brimstone guitar player Matt Pike and post-hippie stoner Cisneros in reunion is a singular joy.

Their new single, ‘The Clarity’, does not disappoint. It’s certainly good enough to listen to, over and over again. At least for ten minutes, anyway.

Sleep plays the Corner Hotel on December 6 and 7.

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