Dylan, The Beatles, And Weed: The Night Bob Got The Fab Four High
Left: The Beatles pose for a portrait in front of an American Flag, New York City, 1964. Right: Milton Glaser's poster portrait of Bob Dylan. Sources: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; eBay
When Bob Dylan encountered The Beatles in New York City in 1964, it was a meeting of the minds and a historic moment of mind-expansion. Dylan brought weed, and the Beatles were newbies. The Fab Four had played a concert at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens that night, and Dylan visited them at the Delmonico Hotel (now the Trump Park Avenue), their home base and a magnet for throngs of teenage female fans. Marijuana was becoming more and more popular, particularly among artists and musicians, and The Beatles would claim they'd tried it once before, but had been unimpressed. Maybe Dylan just had better stuff.
When people think about the Beatles, they hear their extraordinary symphony of sound. Some might also think about the historic’s band’s proclivity for drug use. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” and “Day Tripper” are classic "drug songs" about LSD, but those were years off. On August 28, 1964, the night they met Dylan, the Beatles were in their mod phase, wearing matching suits and Beatle boots, not day-glo bandleader jackets or dashikis. The voice of a generation assumed the Beatles were into weed because he'd misheard the lyrics to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” Nevertheless, in a New York City hotel room, Dylan opened the eyes of the Beatles to sweet sensimilla.
Not The Beatles’ First Rodeo
In reality, the Beatles had tried pot years before but didn’t think much of it. According to George Harrison, “We first got marijuana from an older drummer with another group in Liverpool. We didn’t actually try it until after we’d been to Hamburg. I remember we smoked it in the band room in a gig in Southport and we all learnt to do the Twist that night, which was popular at the time. Everybody was saying, 'this stuff isn't doing anything.' It was like that old joke where a party is going on and two hippies are up floating on the ceiling, and one is saying to the other, 'This stuff doesn't work, man.'" Whatever ganja the Beatles tried before, it paled in comparison to the heat Dylan was packing.
Wait, What About “I Wanna Hold Your Hand?”
According to Peter Brown, the exchange between Dylan and Boys over their relative inexperience with weed was hilarious. “We’ve never smoked marijuana before.” Dylan looked disbelievingly from face to face. “But what about your song?” he asked. “The one about getting high?” The Beatles were stupefied. “Which song?” John managed to ask. Dylan said, “You know…” and then he sang, “and when I touch you I get high, I get high…” John flushed with embarrassment. “Those aren’t the words,” he admitted. “The words are, ‘I can’t hide, I can’t hide, I can’t hide…'”
Lennon And McCartney
The two men who truly made the Beatles the great band ever, experienced their highs very differently. For Lennon, it was all a haze, "I don't remember much what we talked about. We were smoking dope, drinking wine and generally being rock 'n' rollers and having a laugh, you know, and surrealism. It was party time."
McCartney, on the other hand, took a more clinical approach. He instructed their road manager, Mal Evans, to take a detailed recording of everything that happened that evening. Two of the highlights were McCartney believing that he was “thinking for the first time” and something that only McCartney could describe, "I'd been going through this thing of levels, during the evening. And at each level I'd meet all these people again. 'Ha ha ha! It's you!' And then I'd metamorphose on to another level." Riiight.
Sgt. Pepper’s Green Inspiration
Dylan may have introduced the Beatles to the power of pungent pot but the Boys caught on quick. McCartney looks back on the experience fondly, “We were kind of proud to have been introduced to pot by Dylan. That was rather a coup.” After that night, the Beatles smoked a lot of weed, “We were smoking marijuana for breakfast,” said Lennon, and any time he wanted a toke he would shout “Let’s ’ave a larf!”
One exchange between McCartney and a reporter told the tale of the Beatles and marijuana in the ‘60s. “Do you know what caused Pepper?” McCartney told a reporter. “In one word, drugs. Pot.” “But you weren’t on it all the time.” “Yes, we were. Sgt. Pepper was a drug album.” Of course, the BBC tried to put a stop to the Beatles’ glorification of drugs, banning some of their songs.
Naturally, that only helped fuel their popularity while the Beatles went on their merry way, even lighting up in one of Buckingham palace’s royal bathrooms! They even tried to pass along their positive experience to everyone in Britain by taking out a full-page ad calling on the government to
• Allow scientific research into cannabis
• Remove cannabis from the list of dangerous drugs and make possession punishable by a fine
• Permit the use of cannabis in private premises
• Release everyone imprisoned for marijuana possession.
Clearly, they were a band ahead of their time in many ways.
Tags: Bob Dylan | Drugs | George Harrison | John Lennon | Marijuana | Paul McCartney | The Beatles
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