Bob Dylan turns The Beatles on to cannabis

Bob Dylan was in a mischievous mood, answering the telephone by saying ‘This is Beatlemania here.’ He also attempted to discuss music with John Lennon, but the two songwriters had differing priorities.

He’d be saying, “Hey, John, listen to the lyrics, man”. Forget the lyrics! You know, we’re all out of our minds, are we supposed to be listening to lyrics? No, we’re just listening to the rhythm and how he does it.
John Lennon
Anthology

Derek Taylor was still in the hospitality room. After several hours of being pressured for an audience with the Beatles, he called the suite to see whether some of the other guests might be admitted.

A madman with the lowest of low Liverpool accents answered: “Ay, doanbingennywon inere kozweerorl oussuvaredz.” It was impossible to identify the source, though it could only have been Neil, a Beatle or Mal – no one else in New York could do that accent except me.
Derek Taylor
Fifty Years Adrift

Eventually Taylor left the hospitality suite, a bottle of Courvoisier cognac in hand, only to encounter Epstein in the corridor. The manager’s mood had darkened since the earlier hilarity, and he scowled at the press officer: ‘You’ll pay for that bottle, Derek. That is to go on your bill.’

Taylor returned to fend off the celebrity guests and deal with the incessant phone calls, until a call came from the Beatles for him to come, alone.

The room was quite dark, lit only by a couple of lamps and some candles; the atmosphere was thick and fragrant with incense. Epstein, reeling around holding a flower, appeared to have gone mad. The visitors stood in a mystic threesome by a small table. The bearded and stout Aronowitz, my dear practical friend, was still recognisably sensible, though silent, immobile and beaming. The saturnine Maymudes was a romantic figure in exotic clothes; while between the two of them, thin and beaked, with the beady-eyed gaze of a little bird, stood Bob Dylan. Strange, thin cigarettes were being passed round and everyone looked very happy. Brian came over to me and said I must try it, this wonderful stuff that made everything seem to float upwards. Paul enveloped me in a bear-hug and told me he had been “up there”; up there, he repeated, pointing at the ceiling. George offered me a smoke. I refused: “Not for me, thanks. I’ll stick to drink.” I was fairly alarmed and saw it as my duty to “stay normal” – whatever that meant at this stage of my life. George said, “We’ve been turned on,” and from then until I left, maybe 15 minutes later, it was a smoky, murky muddle of strange new expressions – “turned on, stoned, way out” – peppered with the more familiar “incredible, wow, fantastic, fab, gear, man”.
Derek Taylor
Fifty Years Adrift

Reporters and photographers were all strictly barred from the Beatles’ suite that night. ‘None of us travelling with the Beatles was even aware,’ said Larry Kane, one of the travelling press pack. The following day, and throughout the rest of the tour, no mention was made of their experimentation with cannabis.

The band knew the personal significance of the experience, and delighted in the fact that they felt no ill effects.

It was such an amazing night and I woke up the next day thinking, “What was that? Something happened last night!” I felt really good. That was a hell of a night.
George Harrison
Fifty Years Adrift, Derek Taylor

Paul McCartney was proud to have been turned on by Dylan. "That was rather a coup," he said in Many Years From Now. "It was like being introduced to meditation and given your mantra by Maharishi. There was a certain status to it."

The meeting with Dylan was a game-changer, for the Beatles and for popular music at large. Although they would almost certainly have met at some point, the timing was perfect: in 1964 both acts were on the cusp of a major artistic breakthrough – the Beatles in their pursuit of more introspective songwriting and greater artistic credibility, and Dylan for his adoption of electric instrumentation and retreat from the purist expectations of the folk world. As their two worlds collided, the repercussions would be heard for many years.

Riding So High – The Beatles and Drugs

This is an edited extract from Riding So High, the only full-length study of the Beatles and drugs.


The book charts the Beatles’ extraordinary odyssey from teenage drinking and pill-popping, to cannabis, LSD, the psychedelic Summer of Love and the darkness beyond, with a far-out cast including speeding Beatniks, a rogue dentist, a script-happy aristocratic doctor, corrupt police officers and Hollywood Vampires.

Available as an ebook and paperback (364 pages). By the creator of the Beatles Bible. Click here for more information and to order.

Live: Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, New York
Live: Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, New York
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