On 28 August 1964 Bob Dylan introduced The Beatles to cannabis.
The two parties were introduced by a mutual friend, the writer Al Aronowitz, at New York’s Delmonico Hotel. Upon arriving at The Beatles’ suite Dylan asked for cheap wine; Mal Evans was sent to get some, and during the wait Dylan suggested they have a smoke.
Brian and the Beatles looked at each other apprehensively. “We’ve never smoked marijuana before,” Brian finally admitted. 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…’”
Some of The Beatles had actually been introduced to cannabis in 1960, but the drug had made little impression.
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. We were all seeing if we could do it. 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.’
After the hotel room was secured, Dylan rolled the first joint and passed it to Lennon. He immediately gave it to Starr, whom he called “my royal taster”. Not realising the etiquette was to pass it on, Ringo finished the joint and Dylan and Aronowitz rolled more for each of them.
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.
The Beatles spent the next few hours in hilarity, looked upon with amusement by Dylan. Brian Epstein kept saying, “I’m so high I’m on the ceiling. I’m up on the ceiling.”
Paul McCartney, meanwhile, was struck by the profundity of the occasion, telling anyone who would listen that he was “thinking for the first time, really thinking.” He instructed Mal Evans to follow him around the hotel suite with a notebook, writing down everything he said.
I remember asking Mal, our road manager, for what seemed like years and years, ‘Have you got a pencil?’ But of course everyone was so stoned they couldn’t produce a pencil, let alone a combination of pencil and paper.
I’d been going through this thing of levels, during the evening. And at each level I’d meet all these people again. ‘Hahaha! It’s you!’ And then I’d metamorphose on to another level. Anyway, Mal gave me this little slip of paper in the morning, and written on it was, ‘There are seven levels!’ Actually it wasn’t bad. Not bad for an amateur. And we pissed ourselves laughing. I mean, ‘What the fuck’s that? What the fuck are the seven levels?’ But looking back, it’s actually a pretty succinct comment; it ties in with a lot of major religions but I didn’t know that then.
Evans kept the notebooks until his death in 1976, when they were confiscated and later lost by Los Angeles police.