Illegal Smile

Album: John Prine (1971)

Songfacts®:

  • "I have to confess, the song was not about smokin' dope," the folk singer-songwriter told Performing Songwriter of the opening track from his debut album. "It was more about how, ever since I was a child, I had this view of the world where I can find myself smiling at stuff nobody else was smiling at. But it was such a good anthem for dope smokers that I didn't want to stop every time I played it and make a disclaimer."

    "When I first started singing it I went on this underground TV program, and the only stage set they had was two chairs and this fake marijuana plant. I came on and sang 'Illegal Smile,' and they kept having the camera pan in, real psychedelic-like, on the plant. On top of that, I got fine by the musician's union for not taking any money to do the show." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Kurt - Seattle, WA
  • This was used in Ron Mann's 2000 documentary Grass, about the history of marijuana in the US.

Comments: 5

  • Didjman from St. Louis, MissouriYou're welcome, Charles.
  • Charles from ClevelandThank you Didjman. While listening to the song just now I was wondering about the Judge Hoffman line and your explanation makes perfect sense and is also informative and interesting.
  • Didjman from St. Louis, MissouriThe theory about the Hoffman reference alluding to LSD is interesting, but almost certainly wrong.

    The discoverer of LSD spelled his last name as "Hofmann," and all of the lyrics for the song I've seen spell it as "Hoffman."

    Furthermore, the judge named "Hoffman" line comes in a verse, where Prine is listing the reasons for wanting to escape, and not in the chorus, where he describes escaping.

    Finally, the line almost certainly refers to Judge Julius Hoffman, who presided over the Chicago 8/7 trial, and was a noriously bad, biased judge.
  • Cliff from San Diego I used to listen to this song under the influence of LSD in my youth, back east... ‘it don’t cost very much, but it lasts a long while’. I’m very saddened to hear John has pneumonia in both lungs due to COVID-19. I’m hoping he recovers. Godspeed, JP!
  • The Real Truth from San Diego Really? Lol someone is fibbing. There is a clear LSD reference in not only with the Judge being named Hoffman (Albert Hoffman) the creator of LSD, but he has the key to escape reality. That key is 120 to 140 micrograms if the truth is told.
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