Basketball Jones

“That basketball, was like a basketball to me.”

At the time it was just plain funny, and edgy in a Mad Magazine sort of way. It was the coming out moment for those early 1970s heroes of so many adolescents and teenagers: Cheech & Chong, previously relegated to clandestine record albums our parents really had no idea about. We’d crack up in our bedrooms after school and repeat the jokes ad nauseam during the various self-directed, youth-oriented activities that filled our days.

The song sung by “Tyrone Shoelaces” appeared on a 1973 LP and featured members of George Harrison’s cadre of musician friends at the time (including Billy Preston and Jim Keltner) and the Mamas and the Papas on backing vocals. This animated short film was made the same year but most widely seen as the featurette preceding the great, and now pretty much unavailable, 1976 comedy “Tunnelvision.”

I am pretty sure I saw it on television sometime in the 70s but am a bit hazy on the specifics.

What is remarkable about Basketball Jones, the film, is the extreme, err, political incorrectness that leaps off the screen today. In 1976, not so much. In fact, I thought of Basketball Jones as a tame, mainstream sort of introduction to Cheech and Chong since it wasn’t focused on the certain illicit substances that comprised the central concern of their oeuvre up to that point.

To get a sense of how our mores and rules have changed over the past 40 years, Basketball Jones is a good measuring stick: Tame at the time; outrageous today.

While some people still hold to the ridiculous idea that modern American, left-wing-driven culture is becoming more free, the reality is just the opposite. What we are becoming is more sensitive and restrictive. It’s possible the freest we have ever been was in the 1970s when our president was Richard Nixon and you could buy record albums with giant rolling papers included.

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