(Originally published in 2004)
And then the Beatles toy got weird. While I had been out playing basketball and kickball in the schoolyard the Beatles had recorded what became known as their trilogy of “psychedelic drug” albums: Revolver, Sgt Pepper, and Magical Mystery Tour. Now there’s nothing new about “musicians and drugs.” There have always been “drug songs.” There are all sorts of drug references in those old jazz songs from the ’30s and ’40s, mostly veiled references to “tea” and “reefer” and “skag.” But it was only the jaded old hipsters and hepcats on the bohemian circuit that were hip to what the musicians were singing about. What was unprecedented about the Beatles “drug music” was that, for the first time, it was being marketed directly to millions of little kids like me. Piped right directly into all the kiddies bedrooms as a matter of fact….
And there was another thing about the Beatles “drug music” that was slightly unsavory. Many, many of the Beatles drug songs could easily be looked at as direct appeals to the listener to take drugs. One of the great secrets of the Beatles great song-writing was their use of the word “you.” “She Loves YOU.” “P.S. I Love YOU.” “I Want to Hold YOUR Hand.” Etc. It gave the Beatles songs a directness, as if they were singing directly to YOU YOU YO-O-OU (as the song goes). And in their “drug” songs the Beatles kept up that direct approach:
“Turn off YOUR mind relax and float downstream…”
“Let me take YOU down cuz I’m going to…”
“Picture YOURSELF on a boat on a river…”
“The Magical Mystery Tour is dying to take YOU away…”
And of course the all-time classic:
“I’d love turn YOOOOOOOUUUUU on…..”
The Beatles were talking to YOU and nobody but YOU, pal. So there was Paul McCartney–the Cute One–as carnival barker no less, inviting one and all to the Beatles fabulous LSD drug party, the Magical Mystery Tour. “Step right this way! Step right this way! Roll up for the Mystery Tour! Satisfaction guaranteed!” (Be sure to check the fine print. No refunds. The management cannot be held responsible for loss of brain cells, etc.)
And there was that loveable, sad clown Ringo, reassuring the rubes: “When you buy a ticket for the Magical Mystery Tour, we guarantee you the TRIP of a LIFE-TIME! The incredible MAGICAL-L-L MYSTERY-Y-Y TOUR-R-R-R-R (spoken with heavy-echo Wizard of Oz-like special effects).
McCartney has said many times that the Magical Mystery Tour was directly inspired by Ken Kesey and his magic bus. You might remember Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. They were famous in the early ’60s for throwing these big, wild LSD bashes. Like the one they threw in Los Angeles back in 1966. The Pranksters had big buckets full of free Kool-aid that was dosed with pure LSD, man. Many of the people in the crowd didn’t even know what LSD was, let alone that the Kool-aid was spiked with it. And there was ’60s icon Wavy Gravy–later famous as the emcee at Woodstock, the greatest LSD bash of the decade, standing behind the counter ladling out the free LSD to one and all. Many cool cats ended up in the nut-house later that night (“Never trust a Prankster!” ha ha). What a cool party it was.
Of course Paul McCartney, ever the cautious one, cleverly left the word “LSD” out of the lyrics to the “magical mystery LSD trip” so that nobody would get the wrong idea (wink wink). But whaddaya’ know, millions of kids DID get the wrong idea (or was it the right idea?) and immediately went out looking for that magical LSD stuff. Last year it was gobbling down jellybeans, this year its gobbling down LSD-25. And it now comes in many exciting flavors: Orange Sunshine! Purple Haze! Blue Cheer! (“But don’t eat the Brown Acid, kids, its a bummer!” “Thanks, mister!”)
Remember those old Pez candy-dispensers? Well, now it was like the new improved Beatles toy came with this fabulous new accessory: the LSD Pez dispenser. Just pop the top of the plastic John Lennon head and a hit of acid pops out at the end of John’s smiling tongue! Cool!
Years later Paul, as cute as ever, would say: “I didn’t want to excite people into taking LSD. Drugs have now become such a serious menace that it is very difficult to write about the subject; I don’t want to influence anyone in this day and age–I’ve got kids of my own.” But back in THOSE days, McCartney didn’t seem to have any problem with inviting millions of OTHER people’s kids to the Beatles fabulous new LSD drug party.
The Magical Mystery Tour was followed by the animated Beatles movie Yellow Submarine. So now you had a psychedelic cartoon movie for kiddies. What a life, sheesh. All aboard the Yellow Submarine, kiddies, we’re on our way to that magical realm of Pepperland. And who’s that at the head of the ship leading us on our voyage. Why it’s John “the Walrus” Lennon, captain trips, the man of a thousand LSD trips. Talk about fun. And now the Beatles toy came with an exciting new accessory, not just regular old I-want-to-hold-your-hand-type Love, but now the Beatles toy comes with new improved Cosmic Love. All you need is love love love. Them Beatles were always going on about love love love. They were full of it. Or something.
And so, at age 12, John Lennon replaced Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers as my new space hero. Only now we were voyaging into Inner Space. To Pepperland. With those plasticene porters and looking glass ties and flowers that grow so incredibly highhhhhhhhh.
Now I know what some of you are probably thinking: “Sour turd blames the Beatles for his own drug abuse.” And there’s probably some truth to that. But what’s the point of writing a fucking book in the first place if I can’t even a few old scores in the process?
But ya see, maybe it wasn’t just me. Maybe there was also something a little odd about the fabulous Beatles cartoon toy in the first place. Because like I said, unlike all the other cartoon characters in cartoon-land, there happened to be grown men inside the Beatles cartoon. It was as if after the Woody Woodpecker Cartoon Show was over, old Woody went backstage to his dressing room and pulled his cartoon mask off and there was a grown man behind it. And then Woody took out a cigarette and smoked, maybe rubbed the beard stubble on his chin or scratched his beer gut. And then Woody pulled down his pants and ejaculated on the face of one of his girl fans, and then took out a big hit of heroin and injected it directly into his arm. And then the man put his Woody Woodpecker mask back on and went back out and did his kiddie cartoon show. YEAH!! Its PECKER-MANIA!!
So yeah, you could say there were some disturbing connotations to the new improved Psychedelic Beatles Cartoon Show. The Beatles toy that all of us kiddies had been playing with had suddenly got WEIRD. And it was about to get weirder.
The Magical Mystery Tour is dying to take you away……………..