By Shirley Halperin
Photos by Brian Jahn

The year is 2002, and the multi-platinum Matchbox Twenty are about to release their third album, More Than You Think You Are. As the record’s getting its final touches, I’m invited to listen to some of the tracks at New York’s Hit Factory studio. Coming in, I expect to hear hits—as in hit singles. The engineer blasts songs like “Disease” (co-written by Mick Jagger) and “Bright Lights,” both future radio smashes, through the monitors. What I don’t expect to hear is the sound of bong hit after bong hit of the kindest New York nugs packed into a little plastic red Graffix. Frontman Rob Thomas is in the studio lounge waiting for feedback.

“Want a hit?” the singer-songwriter asks with a courteous gesture of the bong.

The smoke clears, and what transpires next is two hours of the most insightful, witty and intelligent conversation that I’d had in a long time, not to mention an absurd amount of pot consumed throughout. Admittedly, I had come with a certain perception of Thomas as the author of countless lite-rock staples, which automatically deemed him uncool. The closest Thomas had come to being cool was the 1999 Grammy he received for collaborating with Carlos Santana on the ridiculously catchy “Smooth.” The general consensus was that Matchbox Twenty were for suburban secretaries, not stoners. After hanging out and getting high with Thomas, though, I was ready to change that tune about him.

The more I ran into Thomas over the next few years—sneaking a joint at a black-tie music-industry function, being followed by the camera of Gillian Grisman (Grateful Dawg, Press On), who’s documenting his maiden solo voyage, Something to Be...—the more I came to like him. And the more I learned about his past—which includes a long and sometimes dark history with recreational drugs—the more convinced I became that he might be one of the coolest rock-star potheads alive.

But the moment that clinched my eternal fondness for Rob Thomas came on the day of his HIGH TIMES photo shoot, when he received a goodie bag as a parting gift and ended up immediately misplacing it. Classic space-out move, right? But here’s the kicker: Five minutes later, in the midst of his interview-packed schedule, Thomas returned to the photo studio inquiring about the lost bag. Now that’s a true, dedicated stoner. “If it was a watch, I wouldn’t have come back. But for weed….” He was given a replacement goodie bag. (The lost bag ended up on the street near the studio and, luckily, was found by a HIGH TIMES employee.)