Cheech and Chong are best known as a 1970s-era stoner comedy act, but a song from one of their albums, “Earache My Eye,” has proved to have an unexpectedly long life. Part of a larger skit on their 1974 “Wedding Album,” the song was released as a single (credited to Alice Bowie, in a jab at the glam rock of the era) and reprised in the duo’s revered 1978 stoner full-length feature, “Up in Smoke.” Over the years the song has been covered by Soundgarden, Henry Rollins, Korn and many others — and is sampled heavily in Eminem’s furious new song, “Untouchable,” which aggressively addresses racism and race relations in the U.S. today (head here for some sample lyrics and to hear the song). Variety caught up with Tommy Chong over the phone on Friday afternoon.
I assume you’ve heard “Untouchable,” what do you think?
We’ve got our lawyers looking into it.
Really? Didn’t they clear it with you first?
Naw, I’m only joking (laughter). I love it, are you kidding? I love Eminem. I love white black guys!
Do you agree with the sentiments in the song?
Totally, you sing about what you know, and he knows it. It’s a good take. It shows you the meshing, how our cultures are getting so intertwined, they’re not so separate, and it makes us stronger, like another strand of rope around it.
That’s a pretty peaceful take on the song.
He’s a warrior, rap people are warriors. I’m more of a pacifist, I’m the old guy who says “Eh, it’s gonna be okay.” Everybody has to go through these learning things. We did a documentary about “Up in Smoke” recently, and Cheech mentioned that when we edited the movie my character said “Man” too many times so they’d have to edit them out. And I said, “Do you know where the term originated?,” and it falls in line with Eminem’s thing: I got it from black jazz musicians like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, they called each other “man” because back in the day they were called “boy” no matter how old they were — “Boy, open that door, boy, bring me this” — it was dehumanizing. So I picked it up as my character — it’s to acknowledge the racism that existed back then, and now it’s coming out and being destroyed with knowledge, and Eminem is giving you the target.
I had a conversation with some friends, “Why did Trump get elected?” and I said because he appealed to the racists. They took offense and said “Not everybody who voted for Trump is a racist!” and I said “Oh yeah, they are!” They said “But a lot of black people voted for Trump!” “Well, they’re racists.” Racism is ignorance, that’s all it is, and that’s what Eminem is pointing out. So if you voted for Trump you’re ignorant – and he’s proving my point every day.
When did Eminem’s people get in touch about using the song?
Through our publisher. We’ve been sampled before and I’ve been on a few rap albums, Dr. Dre and B-Real, so it wasn’t a stretch. We’ve got fans in all areas of the world.
What are your favorite covers of “Earache My Eye”?
I like ‘em all. Henry Rollins’ is great, Soundgarden’s is great, Korn’s is great – Cheech sang with Korn on their version. And there’s a big thank you and hug and kiss from Cheech and Chong to Eminem, we love you for it.
What are you working on these days?
We’re putting the finishing touches on a documentary on Cheech & Chong, and we’re gonna be promoting “Up in Smoke”’s 40th anniversary on blu-ray, and I’ve been talking with Paramount about doing “Still Smokin’” on blu-ray. But I’m semi-retired and I’m working on a plan to save the world with art – Cheech has his own museum of Chicano art in Riverside, and I’m working on ways to promote art and marijuana simultaneously. I wanna rehab the entire world with art! Plus, Cheech and I still do shows, we work together and we’re friends and colleagues but we have our own lives too. And in fact he has his own brand of weed – called Cheech’s Private Stash and I have my own called Chong’s Choice.
Which one is better?
Oh, Chong’s Choice, by far. Cheech’s is too Mexican.