When we think of LSD and the Beatles, John Lennon invariably gets the nod as the main mind expander of the group. After all, despite all protestations to the contrary, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” literally spells out Lennon’s indulgence in the psychedelic drug.
But it was Paul, as seen in this above newsreel, who announced that he himself had dropped acid before any other band member admitted to such. And in doing so, knowing the whole world was watching, McCartney insisted on telling the truth and facing the music, as it were.
The interview was recorded on June 19, 1967, a day after Paul’s 25th birthday. Their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had been released three weeks prior on June 1, ushering in a particular psychedelic era in London, though the band had been dropping hints (as well as lysergic acid) as early as 1966’s Revolver and 1965’s “Day Tripper.”
McCartney had already let it be known he had taken the drug in an interview a few days before in Queen magazine, which Life then reprinted.
After I took it (LSD), it opened my eyes. We only use one-tenth of our brain. Just think what we could accomplish if we could only tap that hidden part. It would mean a whole new world.
The quote sent ITV crews to McCartney’s backyard garden on Cavendish Ave. for this confrontational interview, where the interviewer wants to know first where he got the LSD from, but then chastises the singer for not keeping such a personal event quiet.
Mmm, but the thing is — I was asked a question by a newspaper, and the decision was whether to tell a lie or tell him the truth. I decided to tell him the truth… but I really didn’t want to say anything, you know, because if I had my way I wouldn’t have told anyone. I’m not trying to spread the word about this. But the man from the newspaper is the man from the mass medium. I’ll keep it a personal thing if he does too you know… if he keeps it quiet. But he wanted to spread it so it’s his responsibility, you know, for spreading it not mine.
The reporter, looking for an angle, asks “Do you think that you have now encouraged your fans to take drugs?”
McCartney puts the onus back on the reporter for sensationalizing a personal matter.
No, it’s you who’ve got the responsibility. You’ve got the responsibility not to spread this NOW. You know, I’m quite prepared to keep it as a very personal thing if you will too. If you’ll shut up about it, I will.
Funnily enough, it was Paul who came to LSD long after Lennon and Harrison had taken it for the first time…inadvertantly, that is:
John, George and their wives were slipped a dose on a sugar pill in their evening coffee by dentist John Riley, who had the couples over for dinner, and possibly some free love. Instead the four went clubbing and had their minds expanded. You can read the whole story over here at this fascinating history of Beatle drug use. Also hear John tell it in the animation above.
McCartney finally dropped acid–the last Beatle to do so–on March 21, 1967 after a recording session for “Getting Better.” Lennon had taken some acid by accident and sat out the session, unable to continue and McCartney took him home to his flat, where he decided to try LSD, to “sort of catch up” with his friend. The BeatlesBible site quotes from McCartney’s bio by Barry Miles, Many Years from Now.
And we looked into each other’s eyes, the eye contact thing we used to do, which is fairly mind-boggling. You dissolve into each other. But that’s what we did, round about that time, that’s what we did a lot. And it was amazing. You’re looking into each other’s eyes and you would want to look away, but you wouldn’t, and you could see yourself in the other person. It was a very freaky experience and I was totally blown away.
There’s something disturbing about it. You ask yourself, ‘How do you come back from it? How do you then lead a normal life after that?’ And the answer is, you don’t. After that you’ve got to get trepanned or you’ve got to meditate for the rest of your life. You’ve got to make a decision which way you’re going to go.
I would walk out into the garden – ‘Oh no, I’ve got to go back in.’ It was very tiring, walking made me very tired, wasted me, always wasted me. But ‘I’ve got to do it, for my well-being.’ In the meantime John had been sitting around very enigmatically and I had a big vision of him as a king, the absolute Emperor of Eternity. It was a good trip. It was great but I wanted to go to bed after a while.
I’d just had enough after about four or five hours. John was quite amazed that it had struck me in that way. John said, ‘Go to bed? You won’t sleep!’ ‘I know that, I’ve still got to go to bed.’ I thought, now that’s enough fun and partying, now … It’s like with drink. That’s enough. That was a lot of fun, now I gotta go and sleep this off. But of course you don’t just sleep off an acid trip so I went to bed and hallucinated a lot in bed. I remember Mal coming up and checking that I was all right. ‘Yeah, I think so.’ I mean, I could feel every inch of the house, and John seemed like some sort of emperor in control of it all. It was quite strange. Of course he was just sitting there, very inscrutably.
An Animated John Lennon Describes His First Acid Trip
Meet the Iconic Figures on the Cover of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sgt. Pepper’s Album Cover Gets Reworked to Remember Icons Lost in 2016
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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.
I always love this video of Paul. He’s making so much sense as the journalist tries to sit in judgment while using this to boost ratings.
One correction, though, in this sentence: “McCartney finally dropped acid–the last Beatle to do so–on March 21, 1967 after a recording session for “Getting Better.” This wasn’t McCartney’s first acid trip. It was his second.
Paul’s first acid trip was with his friend, Tara Browne (“he blew his mind out in a car,” the Guinness heir who died in a car accident). Interesting isn’t it that Paul resisted John and George — who were quite nasty in pressuring Paul to do LSD and ostracized him for not taking it. So Paul clearly chose to drop acid first with a friend who was less hostile about it, where there was less pressure. I imagine McCartney wanted to see how he would handle it and didn’t want to lose it in front of his band mates. Just interesting to consider the psychology of McCartney and Lennon’s VERY complicated relationship.
The other Beatles were not pleased with McCartney shooting his mouth off. The idea expressed here that he was coming clean, he was the first, he was so honest, etc – as if it was some sort of badge of honour, something admirable – is ridiculous. Truth is, he couldn’t help shooting off his mouth. Lennon, Harrison, Jagger, Richards, Jones and many other musicians in London had been taking LSD since 1965. McCartney FINALLY takes it, and the whole world needs to know. As some Beatles biographers put it, he was attention-seeking, pure ego. What an idiot.