Cocaine Around My Brain

sung by Dave Van Ronk

In the middle of all the Cocaine research, I remembered this song, and so all that studying I’ve been doing has a back story, which often happens when I get into researching. It takes off in different directions, sometimes twists and turns. So, here’s a little twist.

Saw him sing that at the Bamboo Room in Lake Worth,  not too long before he died.

Van Ronk got the song from Reverend Gary Davis, who said he learned it in 1905  from a carnival musician, Porter Irving.

One of the people I interviewed about drug treatment for the story I’m working on, shared with me some of what he knew about the history of the drug, and its ups and downs.

Cocaine use has declined in recent years, and I asked him how come.

He said popularity for a particular drug goes in cycles. It will get a bad name and people will stop using it. Now, prescription opiates are the drug dejour, but that will change, eventually, too.

Drugs and alcohol have always been around. In 1863, Vin Mariani was a wine that had cocaine in it — it was endorsed by popes and physicians. Nobody said it tasted good. Sarah Bernhard used to say that Vin Mariani gave her strength.

In the 1900s, cocaine was in Coca Cola. Freud pushed cocaine. Some of his colleagues had problems with it. Frued said he kicked it. Lots of music was devoted to cocaine. In 1902, a pamphlet came out, “Eight Years in Cocaine Hell,” by Annie Meyers.

In 1906, we passed the Food and Drug Act, but before that, there was no such thing as a prescription in our country. In the early 1900s, that might have been the greatest period of addiction, but there were no social ramifications. People used to use laudium, everybody took it.

It was probably called something like Carrie’s Feel Good Tonic.

In the 1900s, the Chinese railroad workers were using opiates, but then other people started using opium. We passed the Harrison Act in 1914, which assoiciated drugs with crime, drugs on the street went up 500 percent because before that people didn’t have to steal to maintain a drug addiction.

It went out of fashion, and came back in with Easy Rider, Peter Fonda as Captain America and Dennis Hopper — they pulled off a cocaine deal and went around the country doing nothing and that’s when Cocaine started to  come back into the culture.

It was popular through the 1970s and 1980s, then John Belushi died, and John Delorean had troubles because of it, and it went out of fashion.

2 thoughts on “Cocaine Around My Brain

  1. ….And do not forget Sherlock Holmes’ 7% solution. Wow. Dave Van Ronk…..there’s ancient history.

    Your blog touches on issues about which I have thought for some time. Authorities both religious and secular have been banning
    substances forever, including foods. Take a look at the intricacies of Kosher and Halal law. Christians since the reformation have had a thing about alcohol as do Muslims, and that spilled over in this country to the temperance movement which resulted in a constitutional amendment. Alcohol prohibition did not stop people from drining, it simply sent it underground and it made fortunes for bootleggers, apeakeasies and distilleries in Canada and Cuba controlled in large part the mob.

    Once alcohol was legalized when FDR came in a new villain…marijuana…became the forbidden fruit in this country, culminating in the classic cult film “Reefer Madness.” By the 1960’s people of our age who didn’t smoke were simply not considered to be cool. Again who has profited by the ban on marijuana? Drug cartels in Colombia and distributors in this country. The deaths attributable to marijuana are almost entirely attributable to wars over the money this crop brings in. Unlike alcohol abusers, I do not think there has ever been a recorded incident of a stoner going home and beating his wife.
    Slowly pot is being decriminalized and IMHO will be one of those things in 20 years about which people will say “what was the big deal?”
    As for Coke, your history is dead on. I recall when I went to Machu Picchu and Cuzco in Peru it was necessary to drink coca tea and chew coca leaves to cope with the altitude. Powdered cocaine in the 70’s was everywhere, and in the velvet rope discos, doing lines out in the open was de rigeur. What happened to coke, however was more insidious. Because the price of it was prohibitive, crack was invented and marketed in the streets, largely to the poor and minorities, and criminalized in Reagan’s “War on Drugs.” (Note ..Why do we always have to declare “war” on everything?) Essentially this made a lot of black kids felons while their white counterparts kept sniffing away in their clubs and apartments without fear of punishment. I will say that overuse of coke is dangerous and I have no doubt it is more addictive than other substances when used in concentrated form. The feeling one got at 2:00 a.m. when the stuff ran out cause people to sniff whatever was on the table the couch, the floor (or so I am told!!) in hopes of getting just one more rush. Again, however if you follow the money you will see that enormous profits are made when the substance is illegal and unregulated. I doubt the pinch of cocaine that used to be in Coca Cola or the old time medicines was any worse than what you get with a double shot espresso at Starbucks.

    Prohibition of these drugs has also had a horrible unforseen consequence, the rise of home-made crystal meth. Now there’s something truly horrid, but because it is made and consumed largely in poor red states, there seems to be no outcry comparable to the rantings of the anti acohol people during prohibition, the anti pot people of the 30’s 40’s and fifties or the anti crack people from its inception through this day.

    Bottom line, legalize marijuana and cocaine but regulate it and tax it. Why is this not being done? Again, I think one would have to follow the money.


    1. Good points. I, for one, have a low threshold to drugs of any kind, so I stay away from everything (even did natural childbirth because I didn’t want the drugs). So, I don’t know what to think. Here’s a link to my unedited story that ran today, I think. It was cut to smitherines because of space issues, so figured it was just fine to put the whole thing on my site.


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