The mid-to-late ’60s saw the Beatles morphing from mop-topped pop stars into Nehru jacket-wearing mystics — a transformation that may have started on Aug. 28, 1964, when Bob Dylan introduced the Fab Four to the joys of smoking marijuana.
The Beatles Bible looks back on the event, which took place in the band’s suite at the Delmonico Hotel in New York, with a series of quotes from people who were there, including Beatles associate Peter Brown,John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney.
When Dylan — who was still a couple of years away from exhorting everyone to get stoned in ‘Rainy Day Women #12 & 35′ — arrived at the hotel, he asked for some wine, which the band sent road manager Mal Evans to procure. While Evans was away, Dylan suggested sparking up. As Harrison later recalled, the band had actually tried pot a few years before, but it hadn’t made much of an impression; as he put it, “Everybody was saying, ‘This stuff isn’t doing anything.’ It was like that old joke where a party is going on and two hippies are up floating on the ceiling, and one is saying to the other, ‘This stuff doesn’t work, man.’”
Clearly, Dylan was packing more potent stuff. But before he started rolling up, manager Brian Epstein revealed the band’s lack of experience with the drug, provoking an incredulous response from Dylan, who’d misheard the line “I can’t hide” in ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ as “I get high.” Which is exactly what the stars proceeded to do. Lennon later recalled, “I don’t remember much what we talked about. We were smoking dope, drinking wine and generally being rock ‘n’ rollers and having a laugh, you know, and surrealism. It was party time.”
McCartney, however, had a more detailed record of the evening, thanks to his insistence that Evans follow him around with a pencil and paper, writing down everything he said. Believing he was “thinking for the first time,” he said, “I’d been going through this thing of levels, during the evening. And at each level I’d meet all these people again. ‘Ha ha ha! It’s you!’ And then I’d metamorphose on to another level.”
But McCartney’s drug-fueled breakthrough didn’t amount to much in the morning. “Mal gave me this little slip of paper in the morning, and written on it was, ‘There are seven levels!’” he later remembered. “Actually it wasn’t bad. Not bad for an amateur. And we pissed ourselves laughing. I mean, ‘What the f—’s that? What the f— are the seven levels?’ But looking back, it’s actually a pretty succinct comment. It ties in with a lot of major religions, but I didn’t know that then.”