Currently reading Jonathan Gould's Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, which has received favorable reviews. It's pretty good, though not as good as expected. A little too much about the 19th century industrial history of Liverpool and not enough about the Byrds hanging out with the Beatles in 1965.
At the height of Beatlemania, the Fab Four wound up meeting several important cultural figures from the United States. Some of these encounters wound up influencing the group both artistically and personally.
In August 1964, Bob Dylan came to their room at Hotel Delmonico in New York City, where they shared a joint, the first time the Beatles had ever tried marijuana. Over the next year, John Lennon's songwriting became increasingly influenced by Dylan's work. And George Harrison and Dylan would go on to become lifelong friends.
In July 1965, the Beatles spent a week in Los Angeles, resting in a luxurious and secluded house in Benedict Canyon, off Mulholland Drive. Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and other members of The Byrds paid a visit to the group, along with Peter Fonda. John, George and Ringo tried LSD for the first time (though John and George had experienced LSD inadvertently earlier that spring when a dentist spiked their coffee with the drug at a party.) Lennon, in particular, became profoundly influenced by the drug, taking it "as often as twice a week" over the course of 1966. It also had a big impact on Harrison, though he became disillusioned with the whole drug scene after visiting Haight-Asbury in 1968. Ringo rarely took it again. McCartney didn't take the drug until a year and half later, though he would become the first Beatle to publicly acknowledge that he had turned on.
That same week, they were invited (after a year of arrangements) to the Beverly Hills mansion of their idol Elvis Presley. This encounter didn't go over as well. Gould says it was marked by "little warmth" between the group and Elvis, who obviously "resented" the Beatles. One of the guys in the Presley entourage couldn't tell the guests apart and kept addressing them: "Hey! Beatle!" George, however, "shared a joint and discussed Hindu philosophy with Elvis' hairdresser and spiritual adviser."
Allen Ginsberg reading at the Royal Albert Hall in London, June 5, 1965. Over 7,000 people attended the event.
I already knew those stories. The one I had never heard before concerns an astonishing cultural encounter between the Beatles and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, which also took place in 1965, only weeks before their journey to Los Angeles.
According to Gould, the birth of the countercultural movement in London, which came to be known as the Underground, "could be traced back to June of 1965, when a group of poets including Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Christopher Logue gave a reading at the Royal Albert Hall that attracted an overflow crowd of more than seven thousand people, most of whom had never imagined that there were so many other kindred spirits living in London at the time."
As it turns out, Ginsberg was staying at the the home of Barry Miles, whose book shop Indica (after cannabis indica) served as the hub of the counterculture scene. Miles, who was a friend of Paul McCartney's, "had developed at least a nodding acquaintance with every scuffling poet, writer, artist, filmmaker and avant-gardist in the city . . . [and] he began to serve as a kind of staff intellectual and librarian to McCartney and his fellow Beatles."
By this time, Ginsberg had already become good friends with Bob Dylan. It was an important relationship for both men, as well as for the broader cultural milieu of the 1960s, as it allowed Dylan to meet other important poets and artists, which gave him a certain intellectual cachet, while Ginsberg would have access to one of the key figures in the world of rock and roll, which helped bring his counterculture message to a broader audience. The two remained friends until Ginsberg's death in 1997, working on several projects together over the years. So, if the shape and feel of Rock and Roll and the Sixties were fashioned in large part by the connections - both artistic and personal - between Dylan and the Beatles, the Dylan-Ginsberg connection also played an important underlying role, fusing popular and intellectual culture.
Robbie Robertson (of the Band), poet Michael McClure, Dylan, and Ginsberg in front of City Lights Bookstore, 1965.
So, did a kind of triangle of influence develop between the Beatles, Dylan, and Ginsberg?
After the enormously successful Royal Albert Hall event, Ginsberg asked Barry Miles to invite the Beatles to a birthday party for himself.
It's interesting to note that the meeting with Ginsberg took place a few weeks before the Beatles took acid for the first time. Perhaps the outcome would've been different if they had met him after the trip to LA.
Here's Gould's report on the encounter between some of the 20th century's cultural giants - The Beat Meets The Beatles:
As it turned out, the meeting was very brief. John Lennon and George Harrison accepted the invitation and arrived at the party with their wives. . . . So far, so good. John and Cynthia. George and Patti. A famous American poet. A swinging party in London. But . . .
when they were greeted
who was naked
a "No Waiting" sign
that was hanging by a string
from his genitals.