Although the group made it back to their limousine safely, the experience made a deep impression on them. For George Harrison, it marked the point where he moved on from taking LSD and decided to explore more spiritual matters.
We went up to San Francisco in a Lear jet. Derek took us to visit a disc jockey, and we went straight from the airport to the radio station in a limo. The DJ gave us some concoction and then we went off to Haight-Ashbury. I went there expecting it to be a brilliant place, with groovy gypsy people making works of art and paintings and carvings in little workshops. But it was full of horrible spotty drop-out kids on drugs, and it turned me right off the whole scene. I could only describe it as being like the Bowery: a lot of bums and drop-outs; many of them very young kids who’d dropped acid and come from all over America to this mecca of LSD.
We walked down the street, and I was being treated like the Messiah. The Beatles were pretty big, and for one of them to be there was a big event. I became really afraid, because the concoction that the DJ had given me was having an effect. I could see all the spotty youths, but I was seeing them from a twisted angle. It was like the manifestation of a scene from an Hieronymus Bosch painting, getting bigger and bigger, fish with heads, faces like vacuum cleaners coming out of shop doorways… They were handing me things – like a big Indian pipe with feathers on it, and books and incense – and trying to give me drugs. I remember saying to one guy: ‘No thanks, I don’t want it.’ And then I heard his whining voice saying, ‘Hey, man – you put me down.’ It was terrible. We walked quicker and quicker through the park and in the end we jumped in the limo, said, ‘Let’s get out of here,’ and drove back to the airport.
It certainly showed me what was really happening in the drug culture. It wasn’t what I’d thought – spiritual awakenings and being artistic – it was like alcoholism, like any addiction. The kids at Haight-Ashbury had left school and dossed out there, and instead of drinking alcohol they were on all kinds of drugs.
That was the turning-point for me – that’s when I went right off the whole drug cult and stopped taking the dreaded lysergic acid. I had some in a little bottle (it was liquid). I put it under a microscope, and it looked like bits of old rope. I thought that I couldn’t put that into my brain any more.
People were making concoctions that were really wicked – ten times stronger than LSD. STP was one; it took its name from the fuel additive used in Indy-car racing. Mama Cass Elliot phoned us up and said, ‘Watch out, there’s this new one going round called STP.’ I never took it. They concocted weird mixtures and the people in Haight-Ashbury got really fucked-up. It made me realise: ‘This is not it.’ And that’s when I really went for the meditation.
The party was driven to the airport, from where they flew to Monterey in a Lear jet. Unfortunately, the flight was no less terrifying than Haight-Ashbury had been.
I was sitting right behind the pilots; two big brown-brogue-shoed Frank Sinatras. As it took off, the plane went into a stall – we hadn’t got very high before we went into a steep turn and the plane made a lurch and dropped. The whole dashboard lit up saying ‘UNSAFE’ right across it. I thought, ‘Well, that’s it.’ Alex was chanting, ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna,’ and I was saying, ‘Om, Christ, Om…’
Somehow it recovered itself, and we flew down to Monterey and stopped there. We went to the beach and became calm again.
In a Monterey café, the long hair and hippy-style clothes worn by the party meant they had trouble getting service.
We went on to Monterey, and had difficulty getting coffee in a coffee-shop. When the waitress, pretending not to see us in this Lytham-St-Anne’s-on-Pacific, was hailed by George (‘We have got the money, you know,’ he said finally, not quietly, waving a thousand dollars in bills) she recognised him and dropped every piece of crockery she was holding. Dozens of plates and saucers and cups shattered on the floor – she had collected them, too many of them, as she busied herself to avoid the cloud of denim in the corner. Things hadn’t loosened up everywhere yet, it seemed.
Also on this day...
- 2014: Paul McCartney live at EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City
- 1969: Recording, mixing: Come Together, The End
- 1968: Tape copying, recording: Hey Jude, Not Guilty
- 1963: Live: Springfield Ballroom, Jersey
- 1962: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (evening)
- 1962: Live: Cavern Club, Liverpool (lunchtime)
- 1961: Live: Litherland Town Hall, Liverpool
- 1957: The Quarrymen first play the Cavern Club
Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.