Colin Hogg goes on the road in the Altered States of America

by Russell Baillie / 09 November, 2017
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A medical cannabis dispensary in Colorado. Photo/Getty Images

The High Road by Colin Hogg is a true joint effort.

Declaration: I worked with the venerable Colin Hogg towards the end of his newspaper rock-critic days and towards the start of mine. We haven’t stayed in touch since. But even as he swerved in and out of a two-decade career as an arts television producer, it’s been heartening to know Hogg, the terrific writer, rattles onward.

There have been his columns of good-bloke whimsy in women’s magazines. There’ve also been nine mostly autobiographical books, starting with his 1989 Angel Gear, a very rock’n’roll road diary of a poetry tour with Sam Hunt.

Two years ago, Hogg delivered Going South, an affecting account of gently hooning around Otago and Southland with his terminally ill, lifelong mate Gordon McBride.

That book, as much a meditation on Kiwi male friendship as a trip down memory lane for the two former Southlanders, was never going to have a happy ending.

It’s got an exceptionally cheery encore, though, in The High Road, a book that comes with a public health warning as a subtitle: “A journey to the new frontier of cannabis”.

It’s an infectiously amusing account of Hogg’s travels in the US states that in recent years have legalised dope – California, Oregon, Washington and Colorado. The budget didn’t extend to Alaska. It did, though, extend to taking along another old mate, Bruce, as designated driver and taciturn sounding board.

That subtitle makes it sound as if Hogg is on a fact-finding mission, and he does find, and include, many. He neatly captures how, in those states, the cannabis counterculture has been transformed into an across-the-counter-culture, and the unsettling feeling of finding himself in a THC Disneyland.

Colin Hogg: not a stoner. Photo/Alistair Guthrie

He also closes with a fine argument about why dope-propelled lawbreaking baby boomers such as him deserve to see the end of New Zealand’s prohibition. And that’s having prefaced the book with a frank account of his long relationship with cannabis. The chapter is entitled: “I am not a stoner”. The best proof of that is that stoners aren’t funny. Hogg is, in his terse, cynical, occasionally oversharing, frequently ripped-to-the-gills way.

No, the book’s informational load, its arguments or its sober conventional travel writing are never at risk of overtaking the sheer entertainment value of following the pair as they vape heroic amounts of expertly cultivated American dope.

Then they get up and do it the next day, with pauses for large American meals and enough boutique pale ale to suggest that if dope was legalised, it poses no threat to New Zealand’s craft-beer industry.

Like Angel Gear and Going South, it’s another road tale of old buddies acting up. It might not quite touch the same spots of those previous excursions, but it’s an absorbing account that induces a curiously pleasant wooziness as Hogg and Bruce’s intrepid joint effort keeps rolling along.

THE HIGH ROAD, by Colin Hogg (HarperCollins, $36.99)

This article was first published in the September 23, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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