The Beatles would probably be considered by most people as a serious contender for the greatest band of all time. With a long list of songs that became instant hits the moment they were released, the group rose to be the most famous and successful popular music band in the world, a status which has endured the test of time and casts the surviving members in the strong yet flattering light of ‘living legends’.
Exploring this vein of brilliance, it’s only natural that Bob Dylan comes to mind. The American singer/song writer had, and still has, huge success of his own and had a strong musical/lyrical influence on the Beatles. Paul McCartney once said that Dylan’s second record ‘The Freewheelin’ was ‘all they played’ on the Beatles tour bus.
Paul also said that Dylan was the one who introduced the group to smoking cannabis. While the Fab Four debuted in 1960 with a squeaky clean image, over time they evolved into more a psychedelic and interesting outfit. But were the Beatles as ‘clean’ as their image suggested? Did Bob Dylan Really Introduce The Beatles to Weed?
It was on August 28, 1964 that Dylan and the Beatles were introduced by a mutual friend, Al Aronowitz, at New York’s Delmonico Hotel. After arriving at The Beatles’ suite Dylan allegedly asked for some cheap wine. Road manager Mal Evans was sent to get the wine and while Evans was away Dylan allegedly suggested they have a smoke. Although the band had actually tried the drug a few years ago it apparently hadn’t made much of an impression on them. When manager Brian Epstein informed Dylan of this, that the band lacked the experience with regard to puffing the magic dragon, Dylan supposedly looked disbelievingly at everyone present. Apparently he had misheard the line "I can’t hide" in "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as "I get high."
Before the sacred deed, they secured the hotel room; blinds were drawn and bathroom towels were placed carefully by the locked doors. The first joint was rolled by Dylan and then passed to John Lennon. Lennon passed it to Ringo, who finished the joint without knowing that the etiquette was to pass it on. The next few hours were party time for the Beatles as they smoked dope, drank the ‘cheap’ wine (surely millionaire Dylan could afford at least mid-range wine?) and became generally intoxicated. Finally, all smoked out and fatigued from laughing, the Beatles aired out the room and room service was called to clean up the mess.
Although The Fab Four didn’t fall under the spell of marijuana immediately, after a few months the act of meeting in their hotel rooms and stuffing towels under the door became ritualistic and very much part of their life on the road. And who knows, perhaps they deserved to unwind after long high pressure shows and legions of stalkers tracking their every move.
The Beatles were unarguably great songwriters and musicians, with or without the use of marijuana, but one thing is obvious – the content and style of their music was greatly influenced by the drugs they took. This is evident in subtle references (‘We all live in a yellow submarine’) and some not so subtle references (‘I found my way upstairs and had a smoke, and somebody spoke and I went into a dream’). These indications have certainly not gone by unnoticed – the great Bill Hicks noted that "The Beatles were so high they let Ringo sing a few." The music also clearly shows the influence of different levels of consciousness on the part of the players, such as the transcendent colourful sounds of ‘Octopus’ garden’ and the truly unique brilliance of ‘Come together.’ Not to mention ‘I am The Walrus’, ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ and ‘The Magical Mystery Tour.’
It was again Paul who remarked, many years later, that "we were kind of proud to have been introduced to pot by Dylan. That was rather a coup." I have no way of knowing if this is an accurately reported statement, or simply the invention of a bored journalist in some unenlightened office, but it’s intriguing nonetheless.
So, did Bob Dylan Really Introduce The Beatles to weed? Well, as Dylan’s organist Al Kooper puts it, ‘I stopped believing the stories of history once I was in them.’ There has no doubt been fabrication, mythology and out right lying surrounding both Dylan and The Beatles, but I guess if Paul McCartney maybe said it, and he, Ringo and Dylan are indeed the closest we’ll get to factual sources on this matter, then we can perhaps assume the answer is yes. ‘Yes’ is certainly the most fun answer. Let’s stick with it.