After spending six days in Los Angeles, George Harrison, his wife Pattie, Neil Aspinall, Derek Taylor and Alexis ‘Magic Alex’ Mardas, flew to San Francisco where they walked around the hippy district of Haight-Ashbury.
Photographs tell the story of this great visit by one of the Fab Pied Pipers; it is one of the best-known moments in The Great Novel. The crowds that gathered, well-meaning though they were, pressed upon the English visitors and made life difficult and a little dangerous. George didn’t enjoy Haight-Ashbury, yet it was right and inevitable that one of Them should have been there in those times.
The visit to Haight-Ashbury wasn’t the purpose of their time in San Francisco; they had gone there to visit Pattie Harrison’s sister Jenny Boyd.
We also went to see my sister Jenny, who was living with a friend in San Francisco. We flew there in a private Lear jet with Derek Taylor and Neil Aspinall and were met by a limo, then picked up Jenny, and we all went to have lunch. Afterwards we thought it would be fun to go and have a look at Haight-Ashbury, the district that had been taken over by hippies. Musicians like Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin lived there, and it was the LSD capital of America. On the way, Derek produced a tab. Would we like some? Since we were going to Haight-Ashbury, it seemed silly not to.
The area is named after the intersection of two streets, Haight and Ashbury, and as we approached, the driver said he wouldn’t drive down the street itself, he’d park among the side-streets. It seemed a little odd but we didn’t argue. We got out of the car, the acid kicked in and everything was just whoah, psychedelic and very… I mean, it was just completely fine. We went into a shop and noticed that all these people were following us. They had recognised George as we walked past them in the street, then turned to follow us. One minute there were five, then ten, twenty, thirty and forty people behind us. I could hear them saying, ‘The Beatles are here, the Beatles are in town!’
We were expecting Haight-Ashbury to be special, a creative and artistic place, filled with Beautiful People, but it was horrible – full of ghastly drop-outs, bums and spotty youths, all out of their brains. Everybody looked stoned – even mothers and babies – and they were so close behind us they were treading on the backs of our heels. It got to the point where we couldn’t stop for fear of being trampled. Then somebody said, ‘Let’s go to Hippie Hill,’ and we crossed the grass, our retinue facing us, as if we were on stage. They looked as us expectantly – as if George was some kind of Messiah.
We were so high, and then the inevitable happened: a guitar emerged from the crowd and I could see it being passed to the front by outstretched arms. I thought, Oh, God, poor George, this is a nightmare. Finally the guitar was handed to him. I had the feeling that they’d listened to the Beatles’ records, analysed them, learnt what they’d thought they should learn, and taken every drug they’d thought the Beatles were singing about. Now they wanted to know where to go next. And George was there, obviously, to give them the answer. Pressure.
George was so cool. He said, ‘This is G, this is E, this is D,’ and showed them a few chords, then handed back the guitar and said, ‘Sorry, man, we’ve got to go now.’ He didn’t sing – he couldn’t have: he was flying. We all were. I was surprised he could even do that.
Anyway, we got up and walked back towards our limo, at which point I heard a little voice say, ‘Hey, George, do you want some STP?’
George turned around and said, ‘No, thanks, I’m cool, man.’
Then the bloke turned round and said to the others, ‘George Harrison turned me down.’
And they went, ‘No!’
And then the crowd became faintly hostile. We sensed it because when you’re that high you’re very aware of vibes, and we were walking faster and faster, and they were following.
When we saw the limo, we ran across the road and jumped in, and they ran after us and started to rock the car, and the windows were full of these faces, flattened against the glass, looking at us.