The actor and the acid trip that inspired The Beatles song ‘She Said She Said’
Back in August 1965, The Beatles were holed up in a rented mansion hidden deep within the mountains above Beverly Hills, California. It was the perfect breeding ground for the newly famous Beatles to open up the taps on their celebrity and head straight for hedonism.
The band’s manager, Brian Epstein, rented the property on Benedict Canyon Drive in the city of Los Angeles in an attempt to offer The Beatles a six-day rest. It came amid the height of their fame, as Beatlemania whipped around their extensive second major tour of the United States and left the country in a frenzy.
Apparently, despite renting the house as a chance for the band to hide away from the flashbulbs and groupies, the location was leaked to the press and thousands of adoring fans would flock to the address, blocking roads and attempting to scale the side of the mountain in a bid to get closer to the group—a frightening prospect for all involved.
Things had begun to turn a bit dark for The Beatles, and their fame was now becoming not only a hindrance to their work but quite possibly their health. Finding it impossible to leave the house, the police were forced to introduce what was described as a “detailed a tactical squad of officers” in order to protect the home and the band inside.
Becoming slightly restless with their captivity within the house, the members of the band began inviting friends and celebrities over to hang out in order to break the routine. The likes of folk legend Joan Baez, acclaimed actress Eleanor Bron, musicians Roger McGuinn and David Crosby all visited John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr at different times across the six-day stay.
While visitors provided a let up from the hysteria ensuing outside the house, it was the arrival of the now-iconic actor Peter Fonda that ended up defining their stay at Benedict Canyon Drive. The late, great Fonda, was the star of 1969 film Easy Rider and a figurehead of a growing counterculture movement amid the somewhat hazy 1960s.
The colourful period of this era is seemingly defined by his loose arrival in Los Angeles on a chaotic August afternoon which resulted in all night, all day acid trips with some extreme highs and, in Fonda’s case, some slightly bizarre lows.
“I finally made my way past the kids and the guards. Paul and George were on the back patio, and the helicopters were patrolling overhead,” Fonda wrote for Rolling Stone magazine about the event. “They were sitting at a table under an umbrella in a rather comical attempt at privacy. Soon afterwards we dropped acid and began tripping for what would prove to be all night and most of the next day; all of us, including the original Byrds, eventually ended up inside a huge, empty and sunken tub in the bathroom, babbling our minds away.
“I had the privilege of listening to the four of them sing, play around and scheme about what they would compose and achieve. They were so enthusiastic, so full of fun. John was the wittiest and most astute. I enjoyed just hearing him speak and there were no pretensions in his manner. He just sat around, laying out lines of poetry and thinking—an amazing mind. He talked a lot yet he still seemed so private.”
He added: “It was a thoroughly tripped-out atmosphere because they kept finding girls hiding under tables and so forth: one snuck into the poolroom through a window while an acid-fired Ringo was shooting pool with the wrong end of the cue. ‘Wrong end?’ he’d say. ‘So what fuckin’ difference does it make?'”
For both Lennon and Harrison, this acid trip wasn’t their first rodeo and, while believing in their new-found LSD enlightenment, the duo pushed both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to join them on their journey into the mind-melding trip. While Starr agreed, McCartney refused, Macca later shared his maiden voyage with his pal, Lennon. In what was supposed to be a moment for the band to bond amid some growing tensions, McCartney removed himself from the situation and left the party to those seemingly heading to a different planet.
Later in the evening, with time passing at a predictably slow pace, Fonda, Lennon, Harrison, McGuinn and Crosby all found themselves chewing the fat while slumped in a large sunken tub in the bathroom. At this point in his career, Fonda had done very little to make him well known in a creative sense, and his topics of conversation started to freak out all those people strapped in for the trip.
In what was supposed to be an attempt to alleviate Harrison, who at this point of the evening was seemingly overcome by fear that he might be dying, Fonda brought up his near-fatal (and self-inflicted) childhood gunshot accident and began to show the group his gunshot wound—not exactly what you need when you’re induced into a heavy acid trip.
Lennon, growing more frustrated with Fonda’s comments, blurted out: “Who put all that shit in your head?” in a spit of annoyance and a showing of his quick temper. “You’re making me feel like I’ve never been born,” he added. Remembering the moment, Harrison detailed his take of events in The Beatles Anthology when he said: “[Fonda] was showing us his bullet wound. He was very uncool.”
Later, during an interview in 1980, Lennon detailed the story in agreement with Harrison: “We didn’t want to hear about that,” he said in reference to Fonda’s tale. “We were on an acid trip and the sun was shining and the girls were dancing and the whole thing was beautiful and Sixties, and this guy—who I really didn’t know; he hadn’t made Easy Rider or anything—kept coming over, wearing shades, saying, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead’, and we kept leaving him because he was so boring! It was scary. You know…when you’re flying high and [whispers] ‘I know what it’s like to be dead, man.'”
Seemingly freaking everyone out, Lennon asked Fonda to leave the party and the trip calmed back to a steady pace with Lennon, Harrison, McGuinn and Crosby all returning to their happy place in that sizeable sunken bathtub.
A year later, inspired by that unusual turn of events, Lennon used the acid trip as an inspiration for the 1966 song ‘She Said She Said’ which would go on to appear on the band’s seventh studio album Revolver. While the inspiration around the song came from an event with McCartney, the creation of it in the studio was met by similar turmoil when the band’s bass player stormed out of the studio and did not contribute to the recording after an argument around the song’s arrangement.
Peter Brown, Epstein’s assistant of the time, later wrote that the song “marked the unheralded beginning of a new era for the Beatles.”