The Beatles take LSD in Los Angeles with The Byrds and Peter Fonda

2.00pm, Tuesday 24 August 1965 (48 years ago)

This was The Beatles’ second day off during their five-day break in the 1965 North America tour. They rented a house owned by Zsa Zsa Gabor at 2850 Benedict Canyon, Beverly Hills, where they were visited by a number of people.

This was the day on which John Lennon and George Harrison had their second LSD experience. Ringo Starr tried the drug for the first time, although Paul McCartney did not partake on this occasion.

I had a concept of what had happened the first time I took LSD, but the concept is nowhere near as big as the reality, when it actually happens. So as it kicked in again, I thought, ‘Jesus, I remember!’ I was trying to play the guitar, and then I got in the swimming pool and it was a great feeling; the water felt good.
George Harrison
Anthology

Among the visitors on this day were Eleanor Bron, whom had appeared with The Beatles in Help!, Roger McGuinn and David Crosby of The Byrds, and Daily Mirror newspaper journalist Don Short.

There were girls at the gates, police guards. We went in and David, John Lennon, George Harrison and I took LSD to help get to know each other better. There was a large bathroom in the house and we were all sitting on the edge of a shower passing around a guitar, taking turns to play our favourite songs. John and I agreed Be-Bop-A-Lula was our favourite ’50s rock record.

I showed George Harrison some Ravi Shankar sounds, which I’d heard because we shared the same record company, on the guitar. I told him about Ravi Shankar and he said he had never heard Indian music before.

You can hear what I played him from The Byrds’ song Why. I had learned to play it on the guitar from listening to records of Ravi Shankar.

Roger McGuinn

Indian music and LSD were key influences in the changes in The Beatles’ music between 1965 and 1968. The drug, in particular, played a pivotal role in the group’s studio experimentation for Revolver and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

We still didn’t know anything about doing it in a nice place and cool it and all that, we just took it. And all of a sudden we saw the reporter and we’re thinking, ‘How do we act normal?’ Because we imagined we were acting extraordinary, which we weren’t. We thought, ‘Surely somebody can see.’ We were terrified waiting for him to go, and he wondered why he couldn’t come over, and Neil [Aspinall], who had never had it either, had taken it, and he still had to play road manager. We said, ‘Go and get rid of Don Short,’ and he didn’t know what to do, he just sort of sat with it. And Peter Fonda came, that was another thing, and he kept on saying, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead.’ We said, ‘What?’ And he kept saying it, and we were saying, ‘For chrissake, shut up, we don’t care. We don’t want to know.’ But he kept going on about it. That’s how I wrote She Said She Said

Paul felt very out of it ’cause we were all a bit cruel. It’s like, ‘We’re taking it and you’re not.’ We couldn’t eat our food. I just couldn’t manage it. Picking it up with the hands, and there’s all these people serving us in the house, and we’re just knocking it on the floor – oh! – like that.

John Lennon
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

According to George Harrison, he and Lennon had decided that the other Beatles should experience LSD, which they had previously taken in London sometime between March and July 1965.

John and I had decided that Paul and Ringo had to have acid, because we couldn’t relate to them any more. Not just on the one level – we couldn’t relate to them on any level, because acid had changed us so much. It was such a mammoth experience that it was unexplainable: it was something that had to be experienced, because you could spend the rest of your life trying to explain what it made you feel and think. It was all too important to John and me. So the plan was that when we got to Hollywood, on our day off we were going to get them to take acid. We got some in New York; it was on sugar cubes wrapped in tinfoil and we’d been carrying these around all through the tour until we got to LA.

Paul wouldn’t have LSD; he didn’t want it. So Ringo and Neil took it, while Mal stayed straight in order to take care of everything. Dave Crosby and Jim McGuinn of The Byrds had also come up to the house, and I don’t know how, but Peter Fonda was there. He kept saying, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead, because I shot myself.’ He’d accidentally shot himself at some time and he was showing us his bullet wound. He was very uncool.

George Harrison
Anthology

Although McCartney was wary of the experience, Starr embraced it enthusiastically.

I’d take anything. John and George didn’t give LSD to me. A couple of guys came to visit us in LA, and it was them that said, ‘Man, you’ve got to try this.’ They had it in a bottle with an eye-dropper, and they dropped it on sugar cubes and gave it to us. That was my first trip. It was with John and George and Neil and Mal. Neil had to deal with Don Short while I was swimming in jelly in the pool. It was a fabulous day. The night wasn’t so great, because it felt like it was never going to wear off. Twelve hours later and it was: ‘Give us a break now, Lord.’
Ringo Starr
Anthology

Despite the general party atmosphere, police and security were stationed around the house to keep fans away. In addition, not all The Beatles’ visitors were aware that the group was on LSD.

I was swimming across the pool when I heard a noise, because it makes your senses so acute – you can almost see out of the back of your head. I felt this bad vibe and I turned around and it was Don Short from the Daily Mirror. He’d been hounding us all through the tour, pretending in his phoney-baloney way to be friendly but, really, trying to nail us.

Neil had to go and start talking to him. The thing about LSD is that it distorts your perception of things. We were in one spot, John and me and Jim McGuinn, and Don Short was probably only about twenty yards away, talking. But it was as though we were looking through the wrong end of a telescope. He seemed to be in the very far distance, and we were saying, ‘Oh fuck, there’s that guy over there.’ Neil had to take him to play pool, trying to keep him away. And you have to remember that on acid just a minute can seem like a thousand years. A thousand years can go down in that minute. It was definitely not the kind of drug which you’d want to be playing pool with Don Short on.

Later on that day, we were all tripping out and they brought several starlets in and set up a movie for us to watch in the house. By the evening, there were all these strangers sitting around with their make-up on – and acid just cuts through all that bullshit. The movie was put on, and – of all things – it was a drive-in print of Cat Ballou. The drive-in print has the audience response already dubbed onto it, because you’re all sitting in your cars and don’t hear everybody laugh. Instead, they tell you when to laugh and when not to. It was bizarre, watching this on acid. I’ve always hated Lee Marvin, and listening on acid to that other little dwarf bloke with a bowler hat on, I thought it was the biggest load of baloney shite I’d ever seen in my life; it was too much to stand. But you just trip out. I noticed that I’d go ‘out there’; I’d be gone somewhere, and then – bang! – I’d land back in my body. I’d look around and see that John had just done the same thing. You go in tandem, you’re out there for a while and then – boing! whoa! – ‘What happened? Oh, it’s still Cat Ballou.’ That is another thing: when two people take it at the same time; words become redundant. One can see what the other is thinking. You look at each other and know.

George Harrison
Anthology

7 Responses to “The Beatles take LSD in Los Angeles with The Byrds and Peter Fonda”

  1. Karen

    I was under the impression that George’s & John’s first LSD trip was when their dentist put it in their coffee at a dinner in 1966? At least, this is what George is reported as saying. They were upset, but then later decided to try it on their own. Maybe the dentist thing happened in 65.

    Reply
    • Joe

      The dentist incident was definitely prior to 1966 (and this date). As the article says, this was John and George’s second trip, Ringo’s first.

      Reply
      • Tee Peterson

        From George and Cynthia’s account in two seperate articles, it was the first or second week of December 1965 that the dentist slipped George, John, and at least Cynthia the acid. For at least the last 20 years or so this is the account that was accepted. The Peter Fonda incident happening in Aug. of 65 is a new one to me. It was always known to be after the “dentist incident”

        Reply
        • William!

          It could have been December 1964; the time frame is plausible (they were aware of LSD during the making of “Rubber Soul” late in 1965), and the Beatles were known to sometimes be off a year or more in remembering dates. (Lennon gave the year he met McCartney as 1955, when there’s evidence that it was in 1957; in the 1980 Playboy interview he asks Yoko if they were married in 1968, when we know it was in 1969.) I’ve been wondering if it could have been during Starr’s honeymoon with Maureen in February 1965, but I could go with the previous December.

          “Lennon Remembers” mentions his and Harrison’s second experience, “in LA in August”, about six months after the first; August 1966 would have been after “Revolver” came out.

          Reply
          • Joe

            December 64 is earlier than most accounts. It’s generally thought to have been in spring 1965. The generally accepted date is 27 March, though some sources put it at 8 April. I’d like to see the accounts by George and Cynthia that mention December, as I don’t think I’ve seen those before.

            Reply
            • William!

              I could go with a spring 1965 date also; Lennon’s “six months later” (if I remember right, from “Lennon Remembers”) could have only been 3-4 months, and just seemed like longer. These guys didn’t chronicle their lives in every detail; they were too busy LIVING them.

              Reply
  2. William!

    And… as I recall, Shawn Phillips (collaborator with Donovan, and sitarist on the “Sunshine Superman” album) has also claimed to be the one who introduced George Harrison to sitar music. I have to wonder if either claim is actually true; there were sitars on the set of “Help!”, and sitar music in the soundtrack.

    Reply

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