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James Taylor's regret about giving John Lennon opiates

“The basic thing nobody asks is why do people take drugs of any sort? Why do we have these accessories to normal living to live? I mean, is there something wrong with the society that’s making us so pressurised, that we cannot live without guarding ourselves against it?” – John Lennon

People who walk through the glittery door of showbiz almost always go down the slippery slope of drug addiction coupled with alcoholism. To cope up with the demands of a brutal public life, artists have fallen back on drugs time and again to make themselves feel “normal”. For a commoner who looks up to these larger-than-life figures and their glamorous lifestyles, the idea of popularity being overbearing might be a little hard to grasp. But in truth, the very act of maintaining this God-like stature can make one extremely wretched. Moreover, excessive visibility exposes the artists’ vulnerable selves, making them victims of unfiltered and unwanted criticisms from thousands of unknown people. It’s almost like they wait eagerly for one slip up so that they can hurl chunks of opinions, causing the receiver injury.

John Lennon was similarly pulled into the dark hole of drug dependency. Although the period of the cultural revolution, spanning from the 1960s to early 1970s, saw the increased use of hallucinogenic drugs, often for creative purposes, Lennon’s relationship with it transgressed the artistic boundaries. The Beatles’ fixation on weed was not unknown, but it was mostly an innocent habit, an endorsement of the cultural wave: “The Beatles had gone beyond comprehension. We were smoking marijuana for breakfast. We were all into marijuana and nobody could communicate with us, because we were just glazed eyes, giggling all the time,” said Lennon.

However, Lennon soon started craving heroin that pushed him away from his bandmates, which marked themselves safe from this dangerous practice. “He was getting into harder drugs than we’d been into and so his songs were taking on more references to heroin,” he said. “Until that point, we had made rather mild, oblique references to pot or LSD. But now John started talking about fixes and monkeys and it was harder terminology which the rest of us weren’t into. We were disappointed that he was getting into heroin because we didn’t really know how we could help him. We just hoped it wouldn’t go too far,” remarked Lennon’s musical better half Paul McCartney.

Lennon’s addiction peaked during the sessions of ‘Let It Be’, making him more and more reclusive creatively. Lennon, however, provided the context of this dark phase in Lennon Remembers by Jann S Wenner. “Heroin. It just was not too much fun. I never injected it or anything. We sniffed a little when we were in real pain. I mean we just couldn’t – people were giving us such a hard time. And I’ve had so much shit thrown at me and especially at Yoko. People like Peter Brown in our office, he comes down and shakes my hand and doesn’t even say hello to her. Now that’s going on all the time. And we get in so much pain that we have to do something about it. And that’s what happened to us. We took H because of what The Beatles and their pals were doing to us. And we got out of it. They didn’t set down to do it, but things came out of that period. And I don’t forget.”

The way in which popular media and the Beatles fans mentally harassed the couple was indeed cruel. They even went on to blame Ono for breaking up the band and held a grudge against her for years naming her ‘The woman who broke up The Beatles’. However, the American singer-songwriter James Taylor has pleaded guilty for setting this tear in motion in an interview with The Guardian last year.

Taylor met the band through Peter Asher, who was the brother of McCartney’s then-girlfriend. Taylor had just gone to London in 1968 after New Year’s Day when Asher, impressed by his demo, arranged an audition with Harrison and McCartney. At that time, the band was working on the White Album. Impressed by Taylor’s rendition of ‘Something in the Way She Moves’, they signed him then and there to help him make his first album. “I was very nervous. But I was also, you know, on fire…In my sort of mellow, sensitive way,” recalled Taylor. “We intersected in the studio a lot…They were leaving as I was coming in. I often came in early and would sit in the control room and listen to the recording – and hear playbacks of what they had just cut,” he added.

Taylor, who was struggling with the problem of drug addiction at that time, found himself in heaven in the sixties London, where a variety of opiates – including heroin – was available at a very cheap price. Caught in the act by his father before, Taylor was resisting his urge of consumption until he came to London unchaperoned. “I picked up pretty soon after I got here…you used to be able to buy something called Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne, which was an old-fashioned medication. Essentially, it was a tincture of opium, so you’d drink a couple of bottles and you could take the edge off.” According to Taylor, since this time collided with the Beatles incident, it was kind of messy. “I was a bad influence to be around the Beatles at that time, too…Because I gave John opiates.” When asked if he introduced it to Lennon, Taylor replied: “I don’t know.”

However guilty might Taylor feel, it is not on him. Rifts appeared in the band way before due to creative differences. Although it was deepened by Lennon’s drug problems, it would have always happened one way or the other. Moreover, Taylor didn’t introduce Lennon to heroin, as stated by various sources. Even if Taylor did introduce him, Lennon being an adult, was perfectly capable of handling the situation, taking the responsibility into his own hands. If anything, the media, fans as well as the band are to blamed for pushing Lennon into this gyre.