“One thing I can tell you is you got to be free.”
While we may not come together on many issues, my mother and I see eye to eye on the important stuff. You know, like agreeing “The Thing” was Kurt Russell’s best performance and that Alfred Hitchcock was the greatest director of the 20th century. But while my mom insists that the Beatles were at their prime in the early 1960s, I cannot neglect the introspective and innovative benefits that a few joints had on the mop tops from Liverpool in what arguably changed music and popular culture, forever.
I would give up my entire bong collection for a chance to sit on a cornflake beside John, Paul, George and Ringo on that fateful night of Aug. 28, 1964. Huddled in a suite of the Hotel Delmonico, fans screaming from the sidewalks of Manhattan’s Park Avenue below, the most popular and commercially successful band in history received a glimpse of the artistic possibilities that a few joints can offer.
You could give all the credit to Bob Dylan, although his joint rolling skills were less than par according to Al Aronowitz – the Blacklisted Journalist who credits himself with the Beatles’ herbal induction in his book Bob Dylan And The Beatles, Volume One of the Best of the Blacklisted Journalist. You could even give the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein some recognition for going along with the whole idea. To his own admission, Epstein was so high that evening he was “on the ceiling.” While it may have been Aronowitz’s stash the Beatles lit up, I’m going to have to pay most of my tribute to Dylan’s roadie and expert roller Victor Maimudes.
Surprisingly, the Beatles were unaware of the common pothead etiquette of puff-puff-pass. While Ringo burned down the first joint like Humphrey Bogart, Maimudes skillfully rolled many more, allowing each member to individually enjoy their ticket to ride. Maimudes, Aronowitz said, was able to roll a joint like “a regular cigarette” – a tight, cylindrical formation that should have been proudly displayed in the Smithsonian, right next to Washington’s crack pipe.
Maybe I’m giving Maimudes too much of the glory and Aronowitz’s side of the story is correct. Whatever truth lies behind the surface, the simple fact remains that the Beatles’ experimentation with weed opened the doors of perception on popular music.
Just look at the music produced after 1964. Aside from the re-recordings in Beatles VI, their 1965 albums Help! and Rubber Soul were a fatty leap in their musical innovations. Songs like “It’s Only Love” clearly referenced their new experimental habit, but numbers like “Norwegian Wood,” which also made use of the sitar, were a small taste of the innovative genius soon to follow in albums like Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour.
Expanding their minds was a favorite pastime, but the Beatles used the cognitive effects of weed to propel themselves into alternate realms of music and spirituality. They didn’t sit around their English homes and get stoned all day: The Beatles used the benefits of herb as an influence on their creativity, expanding upon their talents as musicians only to receive worldwide recognition for their influential stamp on the times.
While many denounce weed for its effects of sloth and childishness on the individual toker, the Beatles’ musical expansion clearly displays the positive benefits marijuana can have on the artistic process. You could argue that it was artists and not the weed that drove the solid drum rhythms and picked the groovy bass lines, but you cannot ignore the obvious references to the psychedelic and the fusion of Dylanesque folk that inspired a nation during the Summer of Love.
Would the Beatles have been the same without herbal experimentation? Not a chance in an octopus’s garden. Would they have been able to garner their early fame under marijuana’s influence? It’s hard to say – touting suits and mop tops probably got them more play than the Backstreet Boys. All I know is that John, Paul, George and Ringo sure look good above my couch as they cross Abbey Road – if only for inspiration.
Daily Nexus columnist Jeff Gibson is the Walrus, goo goo g’joob.