Last week, David Peel, the irrepressible and quintessential street musician, died in New York after a heart attack. He was 74.
David Peel was famous — at least in certain street, musical, and marijuana circles (pass to the left in his honor) — chiefly as the composer and performer of the doggerel ditty I Like Marijuana, which you can see and hear in all its glory (?) in the clip below, shot live at the iconic Woodstock site in 1991:
I was informed about David Peel’s demise by my webmaster/publisher, who like me, saw Peel and his ragtag band “The Lower East Side” play in NYC parks and on street corners innumerable times back in the 1960s and 1970s. My buddy, however, went the extra mile and was friends with him on Facebook, which I hadn’t thought of doing myself (I’m not much of a Facebook person).
David invented his last name-de-guerre very simply as a parody of the concept of bananadine, an urban-mythical substance from bananas that would allegedly get you high (similar in concept to today’s jenkem).
But the man was a realist in many ways. His talent was not music per se (you can hear nearly his whole repertoire on his first album) but finding a niche and never losing sight of his audience. We were all breathlessly scandalized back in the day: radio stations would censor songs at the merest hint of drug use, but David Peel was singing “I like marijuana” in public FFS! Other musicians would slip sly references into their songs (cf Jim Morrison “they got the guns, but we got the numbers”), but David Peel was hanging it all out there all the time.
He was really the perfect street musician, with his bit-of-a-tough-guy attitude, raspy masculine voice with just the breath of a lisp, and a posse before they even had that name for it. And what a professional: he always acted like he was on stage at Madison Square Garden in front of 25,000 people, even if there were only a dozen stoners in the audience.
As my friend privately remarked, David would have been quite amused to find out that his obituary was published in The New York Times. We will all be poorer for his loss.