A Great Friend of Us All
Puffing and globbering they drugged themsleves rampling or dancing with wild abdomen,
stubbing in wild postumes amongst themselves... John Lennon, In His Own Write, (Jonathon Cape, 1964)
'Bob Dylan has said in interviews', wrote Larry Jaffe in High Times, 'that he can't remember who turned him on to pot the first time. All he knows is that weed was plentiful in Dinkytown, the bohemian Minneapolis coffee-house scene that he frequented circa 1960... According to Eric Von Schmidt, an early '60s contemporary of Dylan's in the Cambridge folk scene, where he, Dylan and singing pal Richard Farina usually got together, "a lot of pot was smoked".
A few years later, Von Schmidt remembers being backstage with Dylan at a Joan Baez concert, smoking their brains out. "I was already in a zone. All of a sudden, Joan calls Dylan out to the stage and he sings what seemed like a hundred verses of A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall. I couldn't believe how this guy could remember all the verses. He may have missed a few; he may have made up a few. I was amazed by his ability to function. He had that covered."
In an interview with Playboy in 1963, Dylan explained what opium, hash and pot meant to him: "Now these things aren't drugs; they just bend your mind a little. I think everybody's mind should be bent once in a while." He put it slightly differently in the lyric to Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 the opening track of Blonde on Blonde, which was released as a single but banned from the airwaves in 1966 for its provocative refrain: "Everybody must get stoned."
It was Bob Dylan who turned The Beatles on to pot, on 28 August, 1964, during their first visit to New York. Dylan visited the English pop stars in their suite at the Delmonico hotel on Park Avenue and (Paul McCartney told Barry Miles) Ringo took Dylans' profferred reefer and - not knowing that pot etiquette dictates that the skinny joint be passed around - smoked the whole thing. From that day, any mention of 'high' or 'grass' or 'smoke' in a Beatles song - from With A Little Help From My Friends to A Day In The Life - is always intentional. Paul has described Got To Get You Into My Life, from Revolver, as "an ode to pot".
The Fab Four were all puffing away, night and day, by the time they came to make Help at the height of Beatlemania during the Summer of 1965. By then, according to John Lennon: "The Beatles had gone beyond comprehension. We were smoking marijuana for breakfast. We were well into marijuana and nobody could communicate with us, because we were just glazed eyes, giggling all the time."
In October, 1965, The Beatles were invested by the Queen as Members of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and calmed their nerves by sharing a furtive joint in the mahogany-lined washroom at Buckingham Palace, before receiving their medals from Her Majesty. Or so John Lennon claimed in an interview in 1970; George Harrison's more recently revealed memory, is that, actually, it was a straight cigarette.
Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister responsible for rewarding John, George, Paul and Ringo for tipping the balance of trade, may have embraced The Beatles - or tried to cash in on their popularity - but it quickly became apparent that the British Establishment did not take kindly to long haired, gaudily-garbed pop stars who smoked pot.
Donovan, a home-grown, hippy-dippy Dylan surrogate who was fined £250 for possessing marijuana in July, 1966, was one of the first to suffer a lecture from a pompous judge about his status as a role model for young people. The prurient British press, ever ready to perceive a threat to decent society, joined the chorus of disapproval and stoked the fires of moral outrage.