Riding So High – The Beatles and Drugs

If you’re enjoying this feature, read the full story! Riding So High – The Beatles and Drugs charts the Beatles’ extraordinary odyssey from teenage drinking and pill-popping, to cannabis, LSD, the psychedelic Summer of Love and the darkness beyond.

The only full-length study of the Beatles and drugs, Riding So High tells of getting stoned, kaleidoscope eyes, excess, loss and redemption, 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 on the image below for more information or to order.

Riding So High: The Beatles and Drugs ebook and paperback

LSD (part four)

On 17 June 1967 Life magazine published an interview with Paul McCartney in which he admitted having taken LSD. Two days later, following intense press attention, he gave an interview to Independent Television News in which he discussed his use of the drug and the media reaction.

I remember a couple of men from ITN showed up, and then the newscaster arrived: ‘Is it true you’ve had drugs?’ They were at my door – I couldn’t tell them to go away – so I thought, ‘Well, I’m either going to try to bluff this, or I’m going to tell him the truth.’ I made a lightning decision: ‘Sod it. I’ll give them the truth.’

I spoke to the reporter beforehand, and said, ‘You know what’s going to happen here: I’m going to get the blame for telling everyone I take drugs. But you’re the people who are going to distribute the news.’ I said, ‘I’ll tell you. But if you’ve got any worries about the news having an effect on kids, then don’t show it. I’ll tell you the truth, but if you disseminate the whole thing to the public then it won’t be my responsibility. I’m not sure I want to preach this but, seeing as you’re asking – yeah, I’ve taken LSD.’ I’d had it about four times at the stage, and I told him so. I felt it was reasonable, but it became a big news item.

Paul McCartney

The Beatles’ use of LSD decreased after the 1967 Summer of Love. For George Harrison, the turning point came during a trip to San Francisco’s hippie distric Haight-Ashbury on 7 August 1967. They walked around the area while tripping on LSD, but became increasingly uncomfortable as they became surrounded.

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.
George Harrison

The crowd began to grow hostile as they returned to the limousine, and those outside began rocking the vehicle as their faces pressed against the windows. The narrow escape increased Harrison’s resolve to move away from LSD.

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.

George Harrison

On 26 August 1967 The Beatles publicly renounced the use of drugs, pledging their belief in Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s system of Transcendental Meditation instead.

Although their attempts at sobriety were short-lived, among John Lennon’s reasons for his declining use of LSD was the number of bad trips he experienced, along with a gradual diminishing of his ego.

I had many. Jesus Christ. I stopped taking it ’cause of that. I mean I just couldn’t stand it. I dropped it for I don’t know how long. Then I started taking it just before I met Yoko. I got a message on acid that you should destroy your ego, and I did. I was reading that stupid book of Leary’s and all that shit. We were going through a whole game that everybody went through. And I destroyed meself. I was slowly putting meself together after Maharishi, bit by bit, over a two-year period. And then I destroyed me ego and I didn’t believe I could do anything. I let Paul do what he wanted and say, them all just do what they wanted. And I just was nothing, I was shit. And then Derek [Taylor] tripped me out at his house after he’d got back from LA. He said, ‘You’re alright.’ And he pointed out which songs I’d written, and said, ‘You wrote this, and you said this, and you are intelligent, don’t be frightened.’ The next week I went down with Yoko and we tripped out again, and she freed me completely, to realise that I was me and it’s alright. And that was it. I started fighting again and being a loud-mouth again and saying, ‘Well, I can do this,’ and ‘Fuck you, and this is what I want,’ and ‘Don’t put me down. I did this.’
John Lennon
Lennon Remembers, Jann S Wenner

By the time of his death in 1980 Lennon had stopped taking LSD, but nonetheless defended it against common public perception of its effects.

A little mushroom or peyote is not beyond my scope, you know, maybe twice a year or something. But acid is a chemical. People are taking it, though, even though you don’t hear about it anymore. But people are still visiting the cosmos. It’s just that nobody talks about it; you get sent to prison…

I’ve never met anybody who’s had a flashback. I’ve never had a flashback in my life and I took millions of trips in the Sixties, and I’ve never met anybody who had any problem. I’ve had bad trips and other people have had bad trips, but I’ve had a bad trip in real life. I’ve had a bad trip on a joint. I can get paranoid just sitting in a restaurant. I don’t have to take anything.

Acid is only real life in Cinemascope. Whatever experience you had is what you would have had anyway. I’m not promoting, all you committees out there, and I don’t use it because it’s chemical, but all the garbage about what it did to people is garbage.

John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff

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