The singer, born David Rosario, first came to notoriety in the late Sixties when he and his band the Lower East Side – named after the New York City region where they routinely performed on the streets – scored an offbeat hit with "I Like Marijuana," off the group's 1968 debut Have a Marijuana....John Lennon sang about David Peel in a song called "New York City":
Peel and the Lower East Side's first studio album, 1970's The American Revolution, also boasted pro-pot tracks like "Legalize Marijuana" and "I Want to Get High," but also examined more social issues of the era, including his anti-Vietnam War stance ("I Want to Kill You," "Hey, Mr. Draft Board") and a song about "bad cops" ("Oink, Oink").
"Up come a man with a guitar in his hand / Singing, 'Have a marijuana if you can' / His name was David Peel / And we found he was real/He sang, 'The Pope smokes dope every day' / Up come a policeman, shoved us to the street / Singing, 'Power to the People today.'"Listen to the John Lennon song here. Here's the audio of David Peel singing "I Like Marijuana." It's not good and I don't think it was ever intended to be good, just kind of fun and stupid, which expresses the essence of marijuana, no? Here's a clip of Peel singing "Marijuana," which I'm linking to only because something horrible becomes visible at 0:58. Here's Peel explaining himself and showing off a hippie style of speaking in 1979. Before clicking, just stop and think how you would answer the question "Who are you?" in the style of a hippie:
Was your answer weirder/funnier? Also: Were you around in NYC in the 1970s? I was! If you were, do you remember seeing Peel? I don't, but that doesn't mean I didn't. I saw a lot of the old street characters of New York back then.
Here's the NYT obituary:
Peel — a reference to banana peel, once thought to induce a marijuana-like high — was not his name. He was born David Michael Rosario. According to his F.B.I. file, he was born on Aug. 3, 1942, in Manhattan to Puerto Rican parents. His father, Angel Perez, was a restaurant worker; his mother, Esther Rosario, was a homemaker....Time Magazine, misreporting since at least 1968.
Mr. Peel grew up in Midwood, Brooklyn, and served two years in the Army, which stationed him in Alaska. A fellow serviceman from New York excited him with tales of the developing folk scene in Greenwich Village, and after completing his military service he made his way to the neighborhood....
The somewhat mysterious album title “Have a Marijuana” intentionally repeated an error in a Time magazine article in April 1968 about a large Yippie demonstration at Grand Central Terminal, where a police officer had spotted Mr. Peel and asked him to sing a few songs to keep the crowd happy.
“They poured into the vast main concourse of Manhattan’s Grand Central Station 3,000 strong, wearing their customary capes, gowns, feathers and beads,” the magazine wrote. “They tossed hot cross buns and firecrackers, and floated balloons up toward the celestial blue ceiling. They hummed the cosmic ‘Ommm,’ snake-danced to the tune of ‘Have a Marijuana,’ and proudly unfurled a huge banner emblazoned with a lazy ‘Y.’ ”