The Beatles titan recently claimed, allegedly during a talk with friend and self-proclaimed "king of bitter divorces" Alec Baldwin a few days ago, that he has grown physically sick from the latest charges by his estranged wife in their divorce proceedings. (Her latest claim is that he stole paintings by Picasso and Renoir from their once-shared lodge.) But, let us revisit for a moment one of the more interesting charges leveled by Heather against Paul, shall we? Let us return to the drugs.
In college in the late 1970s, I had a girlfriend from The Hamptons who had been the baby sitter for Paul and Linda McCartney. (Paul and Linda and their children lived in that elegant Long Island suburb through most of the 1970s). Lizzie hated babysitting for the McCartneys because they were slobs (messy house) and because there were "drugs all over the place," right out in the open where theoretically one or all of their four young children could get at them. When I questioned Liz more closely about the drugs, she mentioned white powders, mushrooms and (no surprise) marijuana.
Lizzie detested drugs back then, because she was worshiping a poet named Robert Bly, and Robert Bly hated drugs. But I must admit, for me, this tidbit added substantially to Beatle Paul's always questionable hipster cred.
In the recent divorce case between Paul and his anti-landmine activist soon-to-be ex-wife Heather Mills McCartney, Heather filed a court statement, according to the British tabloid press, stating that McCartney had attacked her with a broken wine glass, and that he used illegal drugs and drank to excess.
I'm in no position to comment on any propensity Sir Paul may have towards violence, although a biography written by the tabloidesque rock writer Christopher Sandford promises, in a synopsis on Amazon.com, that "McCartney is a tale of self-destruction, violence and epic excess." (Imagine that. Paul McCartney: the Great Beast.) And McCartney himself has made clear that he drinks heavily when he's depressed (after the breakup of the Beatles in 1970, after the death of his first wife Linda, and while he toured for his hardest rocking solo album, "Run Devil Run" in 1999).
But when it comes to Macca and drugs, there is quite a bit more to talk about.
Join me then on a magical mystery tour:
Paul McCartney and Drugs: A Timeline
The Beatles play frequent late night shows in seedy clubs in Hamburg, Germany, popping stimulants — mostly Benzedrine — to stay awake.
Bob Dylan turns The Beatles on to marijuana. He is shocked to discover that they're pot virgins.
John Lennon and George Harrison are slipped LSD at a dinner party thrown for them by their dentist. McCartney is elsewhere.
McCartney becomes the last Beatle to try LSD
McCartney is turned on to cocaine by Robert Fraser, an art dealer and a central figure in the London counterculture, who was art director for the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover (the image itself was done by Peter Blake). He uses cocaine a bit during his work on Sgt. Peppers, although he apparently doesn't share it around with his mates. Cocaine is very obscure in 1967 and doesn't become second nature to rock stars ’til around 1969.
McCartney is the first Beatle and the first major figure in rock to admit that he and the other Beatles had taken LSD. While this would seem to have been obvious to anybody who had been listening to their recent recordings, the great majority of people were way more clueless than they even are now and so the admission stirs up quite a bit of controversy. Lennon is miffed that McCartney came out of the closet as an acid head first.
In Life magazine, McCartney describes himself as "deeply committed to the possibilities of LSD as a universal cure-all."
July 24, 1967
All four Beatles sign a petition published in The Times of London calling for decriminalization of Marijuana. Sir Francis Crick and Francis Huxley also sign the petition. The Beatles also pay for the ad.
Paul and Linda McCartney are busted for smuggling hashish into Sweden. He pays a $2,000 fine.
McCartney is busted for growing marijuana on his farm in Scotland. He is fined the equivalent of $240.
McCartney visits John Lennon and Harry Nilsson, who are living together in L.A. while Lennon produces Nilsson's album, "Pussy Cats." A bleary-eyed Nilsson offers McCartney some PCP. Paul asks, "Is it fun?" "No," Nilsson replied. So McCartney passes on the PCP.
According to a book written by May Pang called Loving John: The Untold Story about the time she spent as John Lennon's girlfriend, John Lennon and Paul McCartney drop acid together one day in New York City in 1974 and decide to go visit David Bowie.
Bowie has just received the final mix of his latest album, Young Americans which includes two songs that John Lennon worked on. One was a reworking of The Beatles song, "Across the Universe," and the other was to become Bowie's first number one hit, "Fame," co-written with Lennon. Bowie proudly plays the new album for his two Beatles heroes and they're impressed. And so he plays it again. And again. And again. Eventually, McCartney excuses himself and bolts out the door, Lennon following quickly behind. Bowie's drug of choice in the mid-1970s might explain his obsessiveness that day: mountains of cocaine.
An interesting side note: In The Beatles version of "Across The Universe", the line "nothing's gonna change my world" comes across as a sort of cosmic meditation on the divine perfection of the eternal now. In Bowie's version, the same line becomes an expression of terrified desperation. This might be interpreted as the difference between psychedelics and coke, as well as the difference between the 60s and the 70s.
Linda McCartney is busted for possession of marijuana in Los Angeles, but charges are dropped.
Sometime around 1976-77
I can't find the source so this is from memory, but at some point the McCartneys hosted a party for the original cast of Saturday Night Live. Mescaline was on the menu, according to one of the many SNL histories.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney and wives are sitting around Lennon and Ono's apartment one Saturday night getting stoned on weed and watching SNL, when Lorne Michaels does one of his occasional routines offering The Beatles a ridiculously small amount of cash ($3,200) to reunite. They briefly consider heading down to the show as a lark to claim half of the money, but they're too stoned to deal with it.
January 16, 1980
McCartney famously busted in Japan at the start of a planned tour with Wings with approximately half-a-pound of marijuana in his suitcase. He spends ten days in prison in Japan before being released and deported. After his release, he promises to quit but also argues that it is less harmful than Valium or alcohol. He also later comments that he just couldn't leave the pot behind because "it was such good stuff."
Paul and Linda McCartney busted in Barbados for possession of marijuana. Several days later, Linda is busted again flying into Heathrow Airport in London with marijuana.
McCartney, now a Knight of the British Empire, tells Musician magazine, "I support decriminalization. People are smoking pot anyway and to make them criminal is wrong."
September 22, 1999
At an after-party for a celebration/performance for McCartney's new album, Run Devil Run, held at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, McCartney is observed smoking vast quantities of weed with Woody Harrelson and Laurence Fishburne. McCartney's publicist gives a photo of the red-eyed trio to High Times magazine and encourages them to publish it. High Times published the photo under the heading, "The Three Stoners."
June 22, 2000
McCartney delivers a keynote speech in England on "Drug Awareness Day" about "heightening parental awareness to drug misuse, and to outline Government activity in this area." Rank hypocrisy? In fairness to Sir Paul, the talk repeatedly uses the term "misuse" and singles out heroin and cocaine as "the drugs that cause the greatest harm."
In a prime example of the media's tendency to recycle old news as though it were fresh news, the British press goes wild with headlines like "Sir Paul Admits He Used Drugs!" The articles quote from an interview McCartney gives to "Uncut" magazine. He disclosed that he once smoked heroin, but didn't get high. He says that "Got to Get You Into My Life," off of the Revolver album was about pot and that the hit single, "Day Tripper" was about acid. He also admits the obvious, that "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was about LSD, something the song's main author, John Lennon, always denied. While he tells the magazine that he's grown out of using drugs, he also tells them he "was flattered when he was recently invited by a group of Los Angeles teenagers to share their marijuana." McCartney was quoted as saying, "To me, it's a huge compliment that a bunch of kids think I might be up to smoke a bit of dope with them."
Other McCartney Fun Facts
Drugs In Song
However much McCartney may like his altered states, particularly those derived from cannabis consumption, direct drug references are rare and allusions are subject to debate and interpretation. Nevertheless, aside from the songs mentioned earlier, "Got To Get You Into My Life" and "Day Tripper," I present a few McCartney lyrics that reference drugs, or seem like they probably reference drugs.
I'm Looking Through You
1965, Rubber Soul
Ripped on weed, McCartney sees deeply into his then girlfriend, model Jane Asher, and decides she's a phony. This story has been told by McCartney himself.
On the surface, a child's rhyme; but the song was taken as a winking assertion of hippie, psychedelic, drop out escape from the dreary mainstream culture into the upcoming party utopia. It was even adapted by some new left activists as a theme song for those seeking an alternative culture.
With A Little Help From My Friends
1967, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
He gets high with a little help from his friends. What does he see when he turns out the lights?
Fixing A Hole
1967, Sgt. Peppers
Taken by some to be a heroin song (fixing being a term used for shooting up], but also works as a contemplative pothead song or, for that matter, a plain old contemplative person's song. Another song lyric with a drop out vibe.
1967, Sgt. Peppers
"When are you free to take some tea with me?" George Harrison has commented that The Beatles frequently used tea as a pseudonym for pot. On the other hand, they were Limeys, so maybe tea is just tea.
A Day In The Life
1967, Sgt Peppers
"Found my way upstairs and had a smoke and somebody spoke and I went into a dream." Probably not a ciggie, but you never know.
Magical Mystery Tour
1968, Magical Mystery Tour
"Roll up!" "A mystery trip." And the whole album/movie concept was taken from Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters.
1968, Magical Mystery Tour
"The pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray." Hey, wouldn't a florist be selling poppies from a tray? In England, heroin was medicalized and made available to addicts, who were given injections by nurses. Also, "Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes." George Harrison grew up in a suburb near this street, Penny Lane. I recall a story about how George went back there on acid to grok it in all its weirdness. This may have inspired Paul's song.
1970, Let It Be
"Jo Jo left her home in Tuscon Arizona for some California grass." Is the grass just grass? What, she couldn't find any grass in Tucson?
"When I fly above the clouds, when I fly above the crowds, you could knock me down with a feather."
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
"Hands across the water. Heads across the sky." Ahh, peace and drugs in the early seventies. References to heads in the late sixties and early seventies were pretty much understood to mean psychedelic drug heads.
1973, Red Rose Speedway
"I'd never get to heaven if I filled my head with glue. What's it all to you?" A rejection of a bad high, and yet, ain't nobody's business but his own.
Hi Hi Hi
1973, Red Rose Speedway
This one is blatant and should have been titled High High High. He's "gonna get high high high." Mediocre song, though.
Band On The Run
1973, Band on the Run
Not about drugs, but about being busted for drugs and Macca's concerns about being "stuck inside these four walls, sent away for ever.'
1975, Venus and Mars
"The tension mounts you score an ounce ole!"
1975, Venus and Mars
McCartney's first anti-hard drug song for Wings. Wings guitarist, Jimmy McCulloch, had an ongoing problem with heavy drugs, and eventually died from a heroin overdose. It's generally thought that McCartney wrote these lyrics trying to challenge and discourage his behavior. "Dead on your feet, you won't get far if you keep on putting your hand in the medicine jar."
1976, At The Speed Of Sound
Apparently, McCartney continued to preach it to brother McCulloch. "Pill freak spring a leak you can't say no."
The Song We Were Singing
1997, Flaming Pie
Apparently a bit of misty nostalgia for old-fashioned psychedelic philosophizing and The Beatles heyday, which also seems to permeate the entire album. "For a while, we could sit, smoke a pipe. And discuss all the vast intricacies of life... Take a sip, see the world through a glass and speculate about the cosmic solution."
1997, Flaming Pie
"I took my brains out and stretched 'em on a rack. Now I'm not so sure I'm ever gonna get 'em back... Go ahead, have a vision."
Final Thoughts from Sir Paul
So there you have it. The world's most complete roundup of Paul McCartney's relationship with drugs over the years. Does it matter? What does it mean? Let's give Sir Paul the last word, from his as-told-to 1997 biography Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now, co-written with Barry Miles (Miles has also written bios of Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Charles Bukowski):
In today's climate, I hate to talk about drugs because it's not the same. You have someone jumping on your head the minute you say anything, so I've taken to not trying to give my point of view unless someone really very much asks for it. Because I think the "just say no" mentality is so crazed. I saw a thing in a women's magazine the other day: "He smokes cannabis, what am I to do. He laughs it off when I try to tell him, he says it's not really harmful..." Of course, you're half hoping the advice will be, "well, you know it's not that harmful; if you love him, if you talk to him about it, tell him maybe he should keep it in the garden shed or something," you know, a reasonable point of view. But of course it was, "No no, all drugs are bad. All drugs are bad. Librium's good, Valium's good, ciggies are good, vodka's good. But cannabis, oooh." I hate that unreasoned attitude. I really can't believe it's thirty years since the sixties. I find it staggering. It's like the future, the sixties, the sixties to me, it hasn't happened. I feel like the sixties are about to arrive. And we're in some sort of time warp and it's still going to happen.
Willie Nelson's Narcotic Shrooms
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Hallucinogenic Weapons: The Other Chemical Warfare