Tommy threw him a party, bought him a director's chair, a megaphone and a jacket with leather elbow patches for a classic director's look, just to boost his sagging ego. Cheech didn't care about titles. He just wanted to make a funny movie and he knew that they both wrote and directed the movies together. It got to the point where I had to tell him that something was his idea or it wouldn't get done,' he wrote.
Chong wanted to be the boss and then decided he didn't want to write with Cheech anymore. He opted to write with his sister-in-law's stoner-artist boyfriend. The writing dynamic between the two had always centered around honesty when an idea wasn't great. Cheech was bored with the same old sex, drugs and rock and roll comedy bits but Chong still wanted to play the quintessential stoner.
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Here a scene from Up in Smoke. Their film use-by date arrived in and shrinking box office numbers revealed the audience had moved on. So Cheech bailed and lamented the end in his house on the beach in Malibu, 'trying to stay in a marijuana-induced fog as long as I could stand it. Probably up Uranus,' Cheech wrote.
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He didn't stay at home too long, however; he met another woman the next morning, Patti Heid, who became his second wife and mother of his next two children. Now, Chong was the one to walk out the door when Cheech got a solo movie offer. He had grown up following the rules, drinking his milk, eating his spinach, and dreaming the 'American wet dream. That being said, after the enlightening experience, he didn't wake up the next morning addicted to marijuana and craving heroin.
He joined a fraternity with the best parties that attracted the hottest girls and was suddenly swept up in the anti-war movement after Bobby Kennedy's assassination at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles and the assassination of Martin Luther King two months earlier. The school had become a hot bed of radical student dissent, bringing in different speakers including Timothy Leary, with his LSD consciousness movement, and David Harris of the antiwar group the Resistance. Both influenced Cheech and when the great heavyweight-boxing champion of the world, Muhammed Ali, came to the Century City Hotel in LA for an anti-war speech, Cheech was there.
Ali had just joined the Black Muslims and changed his name from Cassius Clay. He refused to be drafted on conscientious objector grounds stating, 'I ain't got no quarrel with the Vietcong. He was considered either the biggest villain or the biggest hero in the country. To Cheech, he was firmly in the hero category and 'the most physically impressive human being I had ever seen' and 'the prettiest champion that ever was,' as Ali himself often declared. Cheech pushed his way to the front and handed the champ his draft card to sign, 'which he did with a clearly legible "M Ali.
I had Muhammad Ali's autograph on my draft card,' Cheech wrote. After more anti-war demonstrations Cheech was completely on board with the movement. He handed in his draft card as a display of refusing to recognize the government's authority over him. When Hershey issued sentences to the leaders of the peace movement — a chilling eight years at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas, he knew he had to head north and over the border.
With someone else's passport, he landed in Calgary and connected with a famous local potter to be his assistant and do the grunt work, while living off the land. He learned how to use a shotgun, hunt for moose and skin a bear, but when winter came and the studio was shut, he headed over to Banff where he worked as a grill cook and played a gig with a house band.
Later, he would meet his comedy partner Chong in a topless bar. He got a new draft card that reclassified him as I-A, despite being entitled to a II-S, or a student deferment. After saying goodbye to his mother, he bought a bus ticket for Calgary. Before exiting college, Cheech had discovered a new passion - pottery - after following a pretty girl into a class. In Canada, 'the land of the polite,' where 'everybody I saw looked happy,' he was intent on pursuing this passion.
Learning to ski, he broke one leg in half that pained him at the time but would be his lucky ace in the future.
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Cheech then followed his roommate over to Vancouver when the ski season ended. At the corner of Main and Pender, the most squalid intersection of Chinatown, Skid Row and Junkyville, he walked into a nightclub called the Shanghai Junk, Vancouver's first topless bar.
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He explored the scene when he signed on to write for Poppin music magazine, which didn't pay anything but gave him free admission to any show in town. Little Richard was his first assignment. In , the pair got back together for a Live Nation tour of the U. To this day, they still do occasional dates together. Comedian Richard Pryor finally rolled into town and did an interview after getting annoyed by a heckler and ended up waving his genitalia in her face. Before he left the bar that night, Cheech was told to go meet Tommy Chong, who was running an improvisational theatre company in that very topless bar he had passed the first day.
So Cheech tripped out to the countryside to go to Tommy's house. When Chong appeared from a back bedroom, he looked like a 'hippie-biker-Mongolian-weightlifter,' wearing gold-framed eyeglasses and had a big gap in his front tooth. Cheech looked like a narc with a short haircut and no facial hair. Tommy ended up hiring Cheech as a writer for the group, paying 60 Canadian dollars a week. Cheech's book detailing his life and comedy partnership with Chong is out on March It was a bizarre show, sometimes with a mime in white face and a beret, held in a strip bar.
Sometimes it was lowbrow hippie burlesque, but the crowd could get hostile and drunk and attempt to climb up on stage and beat up the performers. When the mime didn't show up one night, Cheech went up on stage and did a routine that became a bit for the future successful comedy team of Cheech and Chung. In the environment of pot and psychedelics all around, they effectively tapped into the stoner culture.
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We were just the first act to reflect it so openly. We didn't become hippies. We were hippies,' he said. It looked like a first-grade primer. The hills were rolling and green, all soft and curved like the beautiful body of a young woman. The sky was perfectly blue. And the clouds were all puffy, you know? Pure and white and glowing. When they pulled into Berkeley, the hippies were everywhere—standing on every corner, lining every avenue.
Joe had never seen anything like it. In California, the flower-child style was at its apex.
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I found that really stimulating. It made a great subject for a photographer—even though, by any middle-class standards, these people were living totally miserable lives. Joe found a place to live and began spending his days out on the sidewalk. Whenever I had money, my priorities were drugs, film, and food—in that order. There were two types of drug users on Telegraph Avenue.
One group unapologetically shot heroin. The other group took mind-altering drugs but believed that opiates were a sinister way for The Man to keep poor people from climbing out of the ghetto. One group of junior-high-aged girls, known as the Mini Mob, often showed up in Mickey Mouse t-shirts. Everything you need to learn in life is right here on the street. A lot had changed in Berkeley since , when thousands of students—many of them wearing suits and ties—gathered at Sproul Plaza to champion civil rights and demand free speech. Now, college dropouts were congregating with misfits and runaways on the other side of Sather Gate.