Today is famous in Beatles lore as the day John Lennon took acid in the studio, supposedly by mistake. Says The Beatles Bible,

Lennon carried with him a small silver art nouveau pill box which he had bought from Liberty of London. He kept a range of stimulants inside the box, and was in the habit of taking it out and selecting different drugs to take.

As today’s session dragged on, with Paul and George M. absorbed in tinkering with the fine details of “Getting Better,” John reached into his magic box and pulled out what he thought was a speed pill, but turned out to be LSD. George Martin says:

John, down in the studio, was obviously feeling unwell. I called over the intercom, “What’s the matter, John? Aren’t you feeling very well?”

“No,” said John. [Ed. Note: I imagine this being said in a Withnail voice.]

I went down and looked at him, and he said, “I don’t know. I’m feeling very strange.” [Ditto.]

Martin, not the hippest cat in the room, suggested that John get a little fresh air — up on the roof. So in some of the universes this is where John exits, 13 years earlier than in ours. He hadn’t even turned 27 yet, so he would have been a charter member of the 26 club. Can you imagine a world in which a tripping John Lennon falls or hurls himself off the roof of Abbey Road? Would people have still taken acid after that? Probably, but surely not as much.

Fortunately, in our reality Martin at least went along with John to keep an eye on him, and though he didn’t know much about LSD, he knew something was up; John was “swaying gently against my arm…resonating away like a human tuning fork.” (Bit of a contact high happening there, George?)

I remember it was a lovely night, with very bright stars. Then I suddenly realised that the only protection around the edge of the roof was a parapet about six inches high, with a sheer drop of some ninety feet to the ground below, and I had to tell him, “Don’t go too near the edge, there’s no rail there, John.”

In his book The Beatles Bob Spitz describes a comic scene where Paul and George Harrison, upon being told where Martin has taken their fried bandmate, sprint to the rescue and burst through the door to the roof only to find that all is well.

At this point Paul — who was not the hippest guy in town either, but at least had some experience with psychedelics — took charge of the situation. The session was abandoned and Paul decided to take John home to babysit him. But “somewhere between Abbey Road and Cavendish Avenue,” says Spitz,

Paul reached a pivotal decision. “I thought, maybe this is the moment where I should take a trip with John….”

Into the night, stretching almost until dawn, the two most important songwriters of their generation hallucinated like madmen, staring inscrutably into each other’s eyes – “the eye contact thing we used to do,” Paul called it – and communing with the unknown. He imagined that they “dissolved into each other” and envisioned John as “a king, the absolute Emperor of Eternity.” No doubt they’d both drilled deeply into their subconsciouses; a good deal of transference took place. Otherwise, there was a lot of laughter and reminiscing about the past. Nothing was mentioned about their dense tangle of differences. Except for a brief walk in the garden, they hardly budged for about five hours. Still, it was a powerful, emotionally tumultuous five hours, especially for Paul. “It was a very freaky experience,” he said, “and I was totally blown away.”

Was this, then, a crucial moment of reconnection for John and Paul, one that reinvigorated their partnership and extended the life of The Beatles? Maybe. Let’s keep an eye out.

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