With a lovely Bay Area summer in full flower, I am determined — determined, I tell you — to finally polish off Bob Spitz’s gigantic Beatles book, which has been languishing around my apartment with a slowly advancing bookmark in it for something like a year and a half.
It’s difficult, though, because periodically some little detail or reference will cause me to go rent a movie, or listen to one of the albums, or just drift off into a reverie that impedes my progress. Consider the following, which recounts events from 1967:
After a number of wildly productive months and a reinvented image, the Beatles decided to reinvent Brian [Epstein]’s party as a full-fledged acid blowout. Their tripping, which had always been dependent on the drug’s available supply, suddenly knew no bounds, thanks largely to John. He had figured out how to tap the mother lode — the source of the purest LSD ever made, courtesy of the legendary chemist Stanley Owsley, whose lab operated out of San Francisco. Buying it was no problem; John had the money and agreed to pay top dollar for a lifetime supply. The problem was smuggling it into Great Britain. With the help of a few film freelancers, he commissioned a cameraman named Steve Sanders to film the Monterey Pop Festival, over the June 17 weekend. It didn’t matter that the festival’s film rights had long been sold to ABC-TV. When Derek Taylor reminded John of that fact, John didn’t demur. The film wasn’t intended for distribution, he explained, but for his own private viewing. He might have enjoyed watching it, too, had there ever been film in the canister, but that wasn’t John’s motive. Instead, the crew’s equipment was used to conceal the acid.
Over the next three weeks, under the influence of the especially potent blotter acid, the Beatles seemed locked on a course of reckless hedonism. First they traveled to Greece, under the clutches at the time of a despotic military junta, for the purpose of buying a cluster of islands in the Aegean, where they could live and record communally, in splendid isolation. “The idea was that you’d have four houses with tunnels connecting them to a central dome,” Neil Aspinall recalled. The scenic space in between would be filled with meditation posts, recording and painting studios, a go-kart track, and a private landing strip…. According to several well-placed insiders, this was the brainstorm of Alexis Mardas, the son of a major in the Greek secret police, who had recently ingratiated himself into the Beatles’ circle by beguiling them with stories of his mind-boggling inventions…Magic Alex, as John dubbed him.
I’m not sure which mental image amuses me more:
- John’s personal lifetime supply of Owsley acid winging its way across the Atlantic inside a camera meant to contain images of Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire.
- The Beatles living the life of Riley in their private island pleasuredome, meditating, painting, and playing music, then getting whacked to the gills on John’s acid and riding their go-karts. This would have made a great movie, the natural progression from A Hard Day’s Night and Help!. (One assumes that, to guarantee the general happiness, Yoko would be restricted to John’s quarters and kept out of the common areas.)
And there, it’s happened again, my reading has been delayed for another hour…curse you, Magic Alex!