Paul McCartney has been waxing lyrically about the one and only freewheelin’ troubadour Bob Dylan recently. The Beatles have never been shy about their admiration for the poet-singer and McCartney has kept that flame burning long after the Fab Four went their separate ways. In an interview last year, he revealed that it was Dylan who still made him feel nervous when meeting them, something we imagine is hard for the former Beatle to deal with.
“There’s one or two people who I would be quite nervous about. Bob Dylan would make me go, ‘Oh my God, what am I gonna say?’ I did see him, we did Coachella… I got to talk to Bob there and he was really nice,” recalled Macca. “I don’t know why I would’ve been nervous, but you get that with some people. It is a funny thing actually when you think about it — ‘what do you have to do to get secure in yourself.’ I would have thought that I would have done enough now to just go, ‘I’m cool, I don’t need to be nervous about anyone.’ It’s a human condition, I think.” The extra pressure and intrigue surrounding the singer may have evolved from their first meeting.
The meeting had been arranged by the music journalist Al Aronowitz and must’ve felt like a very special occasion indeed, considering the growing gravitas of each of the respective stars. At the time Dylan was coming off the back of his stunning album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and The Times They Are A-Changin’ and was arguably the most trusted voice in a generation. Likewise, The Beatles were still pumping out number ones like a bonafide hit factory but with a view on the future, the Liverpudlians were keen to take their music to the next level.
“He was our idol… It was a great honour to meet him. We had a crazy party the night we met,” revealed McCartney in 1995. In fact, Dylan was the first man to introduce the band to marijuana. Dylan brought along, via his road manager Victor Maymudes (what rock star carries their own stash?), a sizeable bag of weed and asked the Fab Four whether they wanted to get stoned with him. After sitting down with the bag he was a touch startled to learn that the band had never previously never smoked the stuff.
His consternation is expected least of all because, as Best Classic Bands notes, Dylan thought they were singing “I get high” in the chorus of their 1964 hit ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. John Lennon was quick to explain that the often misheard lyric was actually, “I can’t hide.” A touch embarrassing, perhaps? Not for long at least. After a little to and froing, the four members of the band all smoked with Dylan and while Ringo remembers it as a simple night: “We got high and laughed our asses off”, for Macca things got real deep real quick.
In fact, McCartney got so high that he somehow managed to discover the meaning of life. “I could feel myself climbing a spiral walkway as I was talking to Dylan,” remember the songwriter in 2016. “I felt like I was figuring it all out, the meaning of life… I was going ‘I’ve got it!’ and wrote down the key to it all on this piece of paper. I told [Beatles roadie Mal Evans] ‘You keep this piece of paper, make sure you don’t lose it because the meaning of life is on there.”
It’s quite the job to have to uphold, retaining the very meaning of life, but McCartney trusted Mal like a brother and he was right to. The roadie dutifully produced the piece of paper with McCartney’s meaning of life scrawled upon it: “Mal gave me the piece of paper the next day,” Macca remembers, “And on it was written ‘There are seven levels.’
“Well, there you go, the meaning of life…”
So, there you have it. If ever posed the question of “what is the meaning of life”, you can confidently say, “According to Paul McCartney ‘there are seven levels'” and walk away, safe in the knowledge that you may have just appeared bafflingly intelligent or, perhaps more likely, just baffling.