Paul McCartney defends his right to take LSD, 1967
We’re dipping into the Far Out vault to look back at The Beatles own Paul McCartney defending his rights to use mind-altering drugs despite being seen as a role model. On this day in 1967, Macca gave the TV world a piece of his mind.
It’s hard to ignore the impact that LSD had on The Beatles and their output during the swinging sixties. In fact, it’s hard to deny it’s importance to all music during that time. It’s easy to see the influence the drug had on John Lennon’s writing, however it was, in fact, Paul McCartney who first publicly announced his penchant for the mind-expanding drug.
In this clip, McCartney is defending his rights to use the drug but, while doing so, he is also taking a not-so-veiled shot at the mass media who had not only made him—and the rest of The Beatles—role models but also tried to entrap them to sell papers.
What takes place is a frank and intelligent response to the encroachment of their personal lives in 1967, one that had seemed to gather pace since Beatlemania began and by this time had become unruly.
McCartney was facing the cameras in a very public display, after a comment he had made in Queen magazine where he admitted to not only taking the hallucinogenic drug but highlighting the benefits of its use. He said: “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.”
It sent national news teams flying into action and the tabloid reels began to whirr in anticipation for sordid headlines and drug-related column inches—it was exactly what they wanted. It was a headline they had already been enjoying with The Rolling Stones’ flagrant use of narcotics and had sold millions of newspapers because of it, even encouraging the papers themselves to set up stings.
Now the clean-cut Beatles had fallen victim to the underbelly of the counter-culture and it was a tantalising prospect. When the TV cameras arrived on June 19th, 1967, a day after McCartney’s birthday, they were licking their lips at the chance to catch Macca in a frank interview and hopefully get a little more exposure on the issue. Yet, what they met, was a newly-25-year-old with a quick wit a burning injustice and a silver tongue—a dangerous concept.
The interviewer begins by asking Paul where he got the LSD from. With a wry smile, McCartney deflects the question as inappropriate and unimportant (as it is), though it may well have been the same source as Lennon and Harrison’s jaunts. The interviewer then goes on the attack and suggests that such a high-profile musician should keep the consumption of narcotics away from the public eye—McCartney sees not only the irony of the question but a red mist descend and he delivers a scathing reply to what he determines as a moronic question.
He responded: “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.”
It had been quite clear that The Beatles were experimenting with drugs, it had permeated their music for some years. Not only was there 1965’s ‘Day Tripper’ but the revolutionary album Revolver had clearly been speckled with substances and had seen the band’s style evolve from their previous clean-cut boyband act. It has even been labelled as the band’s “pot album”.
Then, of course, there was the album, which had dropped just a few weeks earlier, Sgt. Pepper. The record had offered a psychedelic pop sound as nobody had ever known and even included John Lennon’s paper-thinly veiled (though much debated) ode to the drug, ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’. Considering McCartney once referred to himself as the “director” of Pepper, it’s safe to say he oversaw proceedings of the record.
It was clear from the media that while the art created while enjoying the effects of the drug were to be enjoyed, the acknowledgement of acid as a beneficial substance to that creation was not to be explored. The interviewer points to McCartney’s profile as a role model: “Do you think that you have now encouraged your fans to take drugs?”
Again McCartney responds by pushing the onus back on the media: “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.”
Paul McCartney was actually the last Beatle to take acid. George Harrison and John Lennon had taken it long before McCartney when they were “dosed” by the dentist John Riley in 1965. Debates rage on regarding who McCartney first took the drug with was (some say John while others claim it was subject of ‘A Day In The Life’ Tara Browne) the fact is by the summer of 1967 Macca wasn’t shy about letting people know.
In McCartney’s biography by Barry Miles, Many Years from Now, the legendary Beatle detailed his experience, with Lennon: “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.”
Macca continues to explore the joy the shared: “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.”