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Greta Rybus

Greta Rybus is a photojournalist and photo editor living in Portland. She started her blog, “Who I Met," as a way to begin juicy conversations with interesting people she meets. The blog has migrated with her from Montana, Europe, and, finally, to her new and dearly-loved home in Maine. You can see more of her work at www.gretarybus.com

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Who I Met with Greta Rybus
Posted: March 25, 2014

Johnny Crashed – marijuana farmer, caregiver, musician

A cashier at a local music store recently told me about an upcoming performance of a marijuana-themed musical called “Somewhere, Maine: A Marijuana Musical.” He introduced me via email to a man named Jonathan Leavitt, the musical’s producer. After a few exchanges, Jonathan wrote, “I guess you could interview me, but I think the guy you really want to interview is Johnny Crashed.” I began emailing with Johnny Crashed and interviewed him at his farm in Sumner, Maine. During his interview, Johnny referenced Jonathan Leavitt as a collaborator and the writer behind “Somewhere, Maine.”

After this interview was written, both me and my editor had a few questions about Johnny Crashed. I also spent some time thinking about this blog and what it represents. The Who I Met blog is centered around conversation. It’s about meeting someone at one moment in the timeline of their life and learning about their experiences, perspectives, and opinions in that moment. I value opinion and I value the stories we tell ourselves and tell each other. I feel that this blog honors our differing ways of experiencing and understanding this wild, wonderful world. Sometimes, people surprise me with their identity, their reality, and their truth.

After some research, I discovered that Jonathan Leavitt and Johnny Crashed are the same person. He has two distinct identities. “Like Spider-Man,” the cashier from the music store later told me.

So here’s what I do know about Johnny:

Johnny lives in a renovated barn in Sumner, at a farm called “Open Sky Farm” but everyone calls “Openly High Farm.” He’s been growing marijuana legally since 2009, and this April (on 4/20), Port City Music Hall will showcase a musical based on a year of his life.

Johnny is quiet, keeps his gaze lowered and his hands on his glass pipe and lighter. He gets animated occasionally, his voice rising above a low murmur when discussing art and music. It seems like Johnny’s life has been pockmarked with pain, both physical and otherwise. He suffers from chronic pain and anxiety, he said, and a tendon problem that causes him to limp. And like his patients, he needs medicine, finding it in a song, a dance, a walk in the woods, or a swift puff of smoke.

 

TELL ME ABOUT GROWING MARIJUANA

It’s a full-time occupation. It takes over your life. There are challenges to make sure it’s bringing something positive into your life. The world you become a part of takes a toll on anybody. With the sentiments of this culture, you get shunned. I believe in the idea that people have a right to have a relationship with this plant. But within the marijuana growing community, it’s a real challenge to stay above the darkness that still exists within the prohibition policy. Being involved with marijuana is an opportunity to get screwed over. It’s a crutch for some people, and it can be a liberator for some people. It’s a divider of friends and a destroyer of families; but it can also pay your bills, feed your family.

WHAT HAS MARIJUANA GIVEN YOU?

It’s an exit strategy. It allows me to not have to participate in a world I don’t like. This is my home; this is my community. I don’t have to have a lot of interaction with what people call “the real world.” This farm needed a lot of work to be sustainable. It was run down and not used for many years. Marijuana has given me the opportunity to turn this farm into much more than a marijuana farm. It’s become a place where people can come for music events and dance performances, for healing and for good food, and for people to medicate openly. This stuff ­- marijuana – helps keep the alcohol and other crappy drugs away.

 

TELL ME ABOUT MARIJUANA AS A MEDICINE

A lot of different ways to talk about that. There’s a clinical reality that it works to alleviate symptoms. It allows you to eat when you can’t eat or sleep when you can’t sleep. It alleviates muscle pain or anxiety. Growing the plant can also be medicine. Veterans and other people with traumatic backgrounds often have a really strong connection to the plant; just growing the plant gives them something really life-affirming. Up here, there are a lot of people dealing with alcohol abuse, narcotics, and opiates, and growing marijuana can give the possibility of salvation. Being able to interact and nurture the plant is one of the strongest parts of the medicine. I’ve seen it dozens of times. Part of the medicine is people’s relationship to me as a grower and their connection to the farm itself. When we have excess vegetables, they go out to our patients as well. It’s like we have a CSA model, with marijuana at its core. And our patients can come to shows. People can come and get food, medicine, and music.

TELL ME ABOUT THE MARIJUANA MUSICAL

I just had a bunch of songs and music I had written based on a difficult, interesting year in my life growing marijuana. Jonathan Leavitt (as noted above, Leavitt and Crashed are the same person) contacted me and said he wanted to write a musical about my story. And I had written a bunch of songs and so we started getting together and smoking a lot of weed and soon we had a marijuana musical.

 

 

TELL ME A BIT ABOUT THAT STORY, THAT YEAR

A musician friend, a 400-pound brother with dreads named Van Laughton, and I had a band called Stoned Mountain Boys. Van had significant seizures and marijuana was the only way to not have them every day. One time he was on the phone with his mother and had a seizure and they called the EMTs and they called the staties and they took his medicine. Three weeks later, he was dead. He needed a lot of medicine. And that’s where the story began. And that was the year the laws changed, in 2009. It started there, with Van’s passing and my decision to grow a lot of weed. It felt like it was something that needed to happen to show folks what now could be done, to come out of the closet. At the same time, the mother of my children and I were starting our downward spiral. It starts in October and ends the following October, when my children got taken away because I was a marijuana grower. The story is about how I was doing what I needed to do, and there’s a lot of singing and dancing in the process.

TELL MORE ABOUT YOUR ROLE IN THE MUSICAL

I wrote the songs and lyrics. Me and my band, the Rednecks, will be on stage as a musical part of it. It’s going to be interesting doing a theatrical performance medicated. It’s been a pretty intense six-month production. We have a 20-piece choir called the Openly High Choir that will be fully medicated, and this is their first show. There’s a character like Mother Mary Jane, she runs a “smoke-easy” in a fictional town called Normal, Maine. In the play, she’s a different kind of nun. There’s Rebecca and Jezebel who are two homeschooled Christian girls who are part of the Gentempo Family Singers and they travel around the country seeking souls to save through song and dance. Then there’s Redneck, a local drug-dealer hell-raiser who is a father trying to make ends meet in Somewhere, Maine. He and Johnny, the character based on me, are working on a new strain called Redneck Revenge with a secret ingredient of dove guano.

 


DO YOU USE DOVE GUANO FOR YOUR STRAINS?

Yeah. Not many people have doves. We have two doves – Sampson and Delilah – and they head up our fertilizer division. Sam and Skyler, the dogs, are our security team.

WHAT DO YOU WISH PEOPLE KNEW ABOUT MARIJUANA?

I’d tell them about the 94-year-old World War II vet I take care of as a patient. He gets baked and listens to Glenn Miller. That’s really, really cool. We make him oils and salves and he rubs them on hands that are blackened from age. It was the first time he tried it and he tried it with his daughter who is also a patient, he had heard about it his entire life and never done it. He’s always happy to see me.

DO YOU HAVE HOPE FOR MARIJUANA’S FUTURE?

Yeah, I mean it’s clearly just a matter of time now. In this country and worldwide, that shift has passed the 100th monkey stage. The bigger question right now is once it’s available, who’s going to control the supply? Will it become part of the framework that turns everything else to crap?

WHAT HAS MARIJUANA TAUGHT YOU?

To slow down.  For me, as a musician, marijuana is a fantastic tool to have real musical dialogues with people you are on stage with. You will notice a difference with people’s music. The rhythms they create are different whether they are fueled by alcohol or marijuana. It’s very life affirming, that rhythm.

WHAT IS IMPORTANT YOU?

Getting my kids back. I have two, they were taken two years ago.

WHAT LESSON HAVE YOU LEARNED RECENTLY OR ARE LEARNING NOW?

Hell hath no fury like a wife scorned. I may not have been the best boyfriend, but I was a great father.

WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST GIFT OR BLESSING?

My ability to sing songs.

WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST STRUGGLE?

Sanity. However you want to look at it, trying to stay sane.

WHAT IS TH BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?

For me, it’s when I go hiking, whenever I head out by myself with my dogs. 

 

To learn about the marijuana musical: www.portcitymusichall.com

To learn about Johnny:johnnycrashed.com

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