By Benjamin Ortiz | Special to the Tribune
November 7, 2008
They were just two wild-haired vatos locoscrazy, heavy-duty
dudeswho got their heads together in the '60s and decided to smoke
dope and play music for a living. Along the way, they jammed with
Hendrix, opened for the Stones, bopped around London with Peter
Sellers and shot hoops against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Dylan.
Mixing Laurel and Hardy with The Merry Pranksters, they created "hard
rock comedy," a fusion of musical counter-culture and improvisational
sketch-humor, planting the seeds for Beavis and Butt-Head, Harold and
Kumar and the picaresque weed-run as epic cinematic quest.
After nine top-selling records and a Grammy, eight feature films and
their ascent to pop-culture icons, followed by a quarter-century of
being broken up, the hippie and the low-rider are back on the road.
Richard "Cheech" Marin, 62, and Tommy Chong, 70, are passing the
peace pipe for their Light Up America Tour, a flashback more than a
generation in the making.
"I remember very vividly taking Cheech's hand to do a bow at the end
[of our last show], and that was it," Chong says in a telephone
interview. "But there was something we had together. … I guess time
heals all wounds."
In separate interviews from Los Angeles, the duo confirm that they've
sparked the creative flame once again, working out the artistic
differences that split them up. "Even the day before we decided [to
tour] we had a big blowout," says Cheech. But the tour "had to be now
or never, because we're not getting any younger."
The passing of George Carlin creates a backdrop for their reunion as
"foot soldiers for the cultural revolution" of their generation. As
Cheech puts it, "We're the last of a dying breed."
Even their first meeting sounds like a joke: A hippie
Chinese-Canadian Motown guitarist (Chong) and a draft-dodging Chicano
pottery artist (Cheech) walked into a Vancouver strip joint in 1968.
Cheech said their "cultural outsider point-of-view" fueled their art.
After their mid-'80s break-up, Cheech pursued a more conventional
career in movies and TV ("Nash Bridges"), while Chong continued doing
stand-up, with a detour on "That '70s Show" and a nine-month prison
stint from a federal bong sting. Chong wrote about it in his
best-selling "The I Chong" (2006), followed by this year's "Cheech &
Chong: The Unauthorized Autobiography."
He still wasn't talking much to Cheech when he penned that rollicking
tale of smoking pot, jamming and playing basketball with a wild cast
of characters like in their movies, from Redd Foxx to Geraldo Rivera.
But in e-mail exchanges moderated by his son Paris, Chong said to
Cheech, "If we can't work together, why can't we just be friends?"
This started them on the path to reconciliation, but there still is
tension. Chong says, "My son e-mailed my response to Cheech, so it
wouldn't be nasty."
Reunited, they stay focused on their work over their egos, and the
pair seems to be enjoying the road. Chong says the key is "staying
true to the dregs of society. When we tried to move away from those
characters, we lost." Expect their new show to pair old musical
numbers (like "Mexican Americans" and "Born in East L.A.") with
updated sketches, blended into something like a "Latino Bollywood,"
"In a struggling economy we're selling out every show and adding
second shows without the benefit of an album or movie," Cheech adds.
Upcoming projects will likely keep Cheech and Chong together into the
"We're doing a DVD of the tour, a roast for the TBS Las Vegas comedy
festival and maybe another movie, maybe a stage show along the lines
of 'Spamalot.' … We might make an animated video of 'Save the
Whales,' " Cheech says.