The Beatles and marijuana: the day Bob Dylan gave them the first joint

The Beatles and marijuana: the day Bob Dylan gave them a taste of reefer and the world changed forever

On Friday night, August 28, 1964, in a New York hotel suite, he changed the world. A (not so) small step for Man, a big step for Humanity.

On that hot day more than half a century ago, the brains of the four Beatles got their first taste of the psychoactive effect of THC . That night, Bob Dylan brought them a bag full of buds as a gift and everything was transformed forever. The culture, the music and the way of looking at things changed at that moment and there was no turning back (fortunately).

The meeting of these five megastars generated a Big Bang-like chemical combination that somehow forever altered the course of rock, pop, fashion, spirituality and more.

After that meeting, the Liverpool boys jumped from adolescent candor to the lyrical and musical depth of adulthood. And Dylan didn’t come out of that collision unscathed either: on his next album he abandoned folk and added electric guitar and vocals to the collective American unconscious.

Although they were the same age – between 21 and 24 years old – the Beatles idolized Dylan ever since they heard The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963). The Minnesota musician also admired the British four-piece and was fascinated by what they generated around the globe.

For this visit to New York, the two parties made the necessary moves to get to know each other. After the show at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, the quartet quickly returned to the sixth-floor suite of the Delmonico Hotel in Manhattan, where they were staying.

While DJ Murray the K was preparing the records for the post-concert party, the Englishmen and their manager Brian Epstein went to dinner in a suite.

The man in charge of bringing Dylan to the hotel was New York Post journalist (later rock band manager) Al Aronowitz, who had introduced Dylan to marijuana the year before, after meeting with poet Allen Ginsberg and other members of the beatnik movement.

The truth is that on that night in 1964 someone picked Bob up in the Woodstock area, where he lived, then they picked up the journalist in New Jersey, and from there they all marched to the phone booth in front of the Delmonico, from where they called to be brought up.

– Hey, here we are.

Nearly three thousand people surrounded the phone booth and the famous building on Park Avenue and 59th Street where the Beatles lived. The sixth floor was full of policemen in the corridors.

In the suite, expensive drinks abounded. But when Epstein asked Bob what he wanted to drink, he replied with his characteristic dryness, “Bring cheap wine.”

Simultaneously, someone in the group offered him some “purple hearts,” Drinamyl brand amphetamine pills that kept everyone awake and which, up to that point, was the only drug the Beatles had consumed with any regularity during their Hamburg bar experience. But Dylan turned them down and then suggested the master plan: smoke some flowers.

Epstein confessed to him that they had never done it. Dylan laughed in disbelief and then asked what they meant by “and when I touch you I get high, I get high” in the song I Want to Hold Your Hand.

Surprised and laughing, Lennon explained that he had misunderstood, that the song said “I can’t hide” instead of “I get high”. Then Dylan’s tour assistant, Victor Maymudes, passed him the bag full of cannabis buds, which they filled into a fruit bowl, and Bob Dylan rolled the first joint the Beatles would ever smoke.

Reactions of the Beatles to smoking the first joint

Lennon designated Ringo as the “royal taster,” and Dylan took him into another room and passed him the cigarette. Everything had an unusual and playful solemnity. The drummer’s inexperience led him to smoke it whole, without passing it around, and it looked as if he had stuck his head in the drum of his drum kit during “Helter Skelter”.

“It was the first time I actually smoked marijuana and laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed,” Ringo recounted in a television interview, many years later.

Paul also gave an account of the moment in “Many Years Ago,” a book by Barry Miles published in 1997: “The first time I smoked it really hit me hard. It was quite a discovery, something different. George Harrison, John and I were sitting in the main room of the suite, drinking. We were there with our whiscolas and Dylan had just taken a puff of Ringo.

Ringo came over and we asked him, ‘How is it?’ The ceiling is coming down on me,’ he replied. And we exclaimed, ‘Oh, God, we’ve got to try it,’ and we jumped up and ran into the back room, first John, then George and I, then Brian. We all took a puff and for about five minutes we’d say, ‘This doesn’t do anything. Do you feel anything?’ And we’d start laughing uncontrollably.”

It hit everyone in a special way. Epstein, who was an elegant and reserved person, was found with a blot between his lips. He would look in the mirror, point at himself and shout “Jew!”. George walked like a mime behind Paul, and John and Ringo were laughing their heads off on the floor.

Dylan also went into sync, and for a long time he kept answering the phone in the room, shouting “Hello, this is Beatlemania! Years later, on the Conan O’Brien show, in front of millions of viewers, Starr recalled: “Imagine: Dylan was your first dealer!”.

Paul McCartney thought he was going through a moment of enlightenment and asked for pen and paper: “I spent the whole night running around, and later, when I got back to the bedroom, I discovered the Meaning of Life. I wanted to tell people what it was all about. I was the greatest discoverer, in that sea of marijuana, in New York. I was sailing the seas and I had discovered it.” When assistant Mal Evans finally found him pen and paper, he jotted down a somewhat mysterious proto-tweet: “There are seven levels.”

“It’s a pretty succinct comment; it relates to a lot of major religions, although I was unaware of it at the time. We know it now because we’ve paid a lot of attention to that stuff since that time, but that was the first time,” McCartney told Miles thirty years later, admitting, “We were kind of proud that Dylan had initiated us into marijuana. It was like being initiated into meditation and having gotten your mantra from the Maharishi.”

Discography The Beatles

Influence of marijuana on the Beatles

From that night on, the influence of cannabis on the Beatles’ artistic development became transcendental and opened the doors of perception for them. “They broadened his mind,” in the words of his press officer, Derek Taylor. “Until the advent of rap, pop music remained largely influenced by that night at the Delmonico. The meeting not only changed pop music, it changed the times,” Aronowitz later analyzed.

The truth is that after that episode, words such as “high” or “grass” began to appear in Beatle literature, and songs that in one way or another made mention of marijuana, such as “A Day in the Life” or “With a Little Help from My Friends”.

The same goes for Dylan, who barely a year and a half later released Blonde on blonde (1966), which opens with Rainy Day Women ♯12 & 35, a hymn straight to the heart in which he laughingly belts out “Everybody must get stoned.” The song was banned from many radio stations at the time, but still reached No. 2 in the U.S. charts.

In the Beatles, Paul wrote the first song entirely about marijuana: “Got to Get You into My Life”, included in Revolver, also from 1966.

“It’s a song about that, it’s not about a person, it’s about marijuana. It is an ode to marijuana as if someone else wrote an ode to chocolate. I liked it, it didn’t make me have a bad time and for me it served to expand the mind, literally,” he detailed. These are the first verses of the song:

“I was alone, I went out for a walk.
I didn’t know what I was going to find
another road where I could see a different way of thinking.
where I could see a different way of thinking.

While already during the filming of the movie Help! In February 1965, the Beatles recorded and filmed cannabis-smoked scenes, it is especially on the album Rubber Soul (December 1965), that marijuana took on a significant role in the artistic quest.

The Beatles committed no greater excess than smoking joints and sitting down to compose or record. “The idea was being investigated that music could be made through marijuana, so you’d smoke a joint, and then you’d sit down at the piano and think, ‘Ah, this could be a very good idea,'” McCartney recounted.

Rubber Soul could be considered one of the smokiest albums in history. “It’s the joint record,” Lennon confirmed in 1972. It is a work that represents a stylistic break in the band’s biography, which, from then on, becomes more complex and mature.

Already its title contains hints of cannabis humor: “Rubber soul” literally translated as “Alma de goma”. But it is also an ironic reference to the black music genre that many English rockers were beginning to experiment with, and for which they were singled out in the United States (the Rolling Stones had been criticized for making “plastic soul”).

The recording of Rubber Soul was the click that opened multiple windows and started a colorful and different and quite hippie way (at least for a while) for the Beatles, and later with Revolver, Magical Mystery Tour or Sgt. Pepper. “Dylan started us all on marijuana and really opened us up to a different kind of sensibility; more like jazz musicians,” Paul recalled in Many Years Ago.

Lennon defended the use of cannabis as a militant, starting with the campaign led by Allen Ginsberg, which earned him persecution by the Nixon government. “The only thing you can be sure about marijuana is that it is non-violent,” John remarked in a speech in Canada in the 1970s.

Paul also lowered his line in Miles’ book, “If someone asked me for real advice, I’d tell them to stay clean. But in a stressful world, I would still say that marijuana was one of the best tranquilizer drugs. People tend to fall asleep under its effect rather than go commit murder.”

What would have happened to our tastes, our influences and our record shelves if Bob, instead of going to the Delmonico that day, had stayed in his armchair reading? … Plato is credited with a phrase that could be the caption of the photo of that meeting: “When the mood of music changes, the walls of the city tremble”.

Why not believe that on that Friday in August 1964, the revolution of the 1960s really began?

Maybe it’s like McCartney told Barry Miles: “To me, the ’60s is like the future, it’s like it didn’t happen. I feel like that decade is coming. And we’re in a kind of time warp and it’s still to come.”

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Information about the Beatles and marijuana (frequently asked questions)

When did the Beatles try marijuana?

The Beatles’ first joint of marijuana was on Friday night, August 28, 1964, in the suite of the Delmonico Hotel in New York. In 2001, Donald Trump bought the hotel to build housing and named it The Trump Park Avenue.

What Beatles music is inspired by marijuana?

The first Beatles song entirely about marijuana was “Got to Get You into My Life”, on the album Revolver (1966). However, years earlier, since they tried the first joint in 1964, we find various references to marijuana. In the filming of the movie Help (1965) they filmed smoking scenes, and many songs mention weed, such as “A Day in the Life”, or “With a Little Help from My Friends”. Their most smoked album is Rubber Soul (1965), according to Lennon, because they were inspired by smoking joints to write the songs.

Fero Soriano
Periodista especializado en la historia del cannabis. Autor del libro "Marihuana, la historia. De Manuel Belgrano a las copas cannábicas". En poco más de dos décadas de periodismo, fue distinguido [...]

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