Pubdate: Wed, 03 Aug 2005
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Section: Pg C01
Copyright: 2005 The Washington Post Company
Author: David Segal
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Heroin)


If only there were a highlight reel. As one of the first pop music 
journalists in the business -- the godfather of rock journalism, he was 
often called -- in the '60s and '70s Al Aronowitz knew everyone worth 
knowing. The Rolling Stones, Ray Charles, David Bowie, Johnny Cash, Pete 
Townshend -- he either wrote about them, befriended them or both.

Aronowitz, who died Monday night at the age of 77, was a trove of great 
yarns. But one stood out. It was Aug. 28, 1964, in a hotel room in New 
York. That was the evening Aronowitz introduced Bob Dylan to the Beatles. 
It was also the night Aronowitz introduced the Beatles to pot.

A big deal? Well, it was to the man who arranged it all. "Looking back, I 
still see that evening as one of the greatest moments of my life," he wrote 
in a 1995 essay. "Actually, I was well aware at the time that I was 
brokering the most fruitful union in the history of pop music, certainly up 
until then," he modestly judged. And he wasn't referring to the dope.

The next year, 1965, you can hear the echoes of Dylan in John Lennon tracks 
like "Norwegian Wood," a moody and introspective number that was a long way 
from "Do You Want to Know a Secret." Dylan, for his part, would put more 
rock in his folk, performing with an electric guitar for the first time in 

But we don't need to overstate the impact of this smoke-filled tete-a-tete 
to realize that it must have been one heck of an evening. Aronowitz might 
have been the only guy who could arrange it. Born in Bordentown, N.J., a 
graduate of Rutgers University, Aronowitz made his first splash in 
journalism in 1959 with a 12-part series for the New York Post about the 
"beat" movement, getting him close to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.

A few years later he met the Beatles in Liverpool, on assignment for the 
Saturday Evening Post. His cover story on the band, he'd later claim, sold 
more issues of the magazine than had ever before been sold, and he became 
chums with Lennon. Aronowitz had written for the Post about Dylan as well. 
Initially, neither of these titans wanted to meet the other -- Lennon 
because he felt that Dylan was already so big a deal that there'd be an 
imbalance of power. "Yeah, I wanna meet 'im," he told Aronowitz. "But on me 
own terms." Dylan dismissed the Beatles' music as "bubble gum." The idea of 
an audience of shrieking 12-year-olds horrified him, Aronowitz recalled.

Despite all these misgivings, Aronowitz persisted in trying to bring them 
together. When the Beatles took their second trip through the United States 
in '64, they stayed at the Delmonico Hotel in New York. Aronowitz received 
a call from Lennon. He was ready. Dylan came down from his retreat in 

Aronowitz and Dylan didn't arrive empty-handed. The Beatles had never 
smoked pot until then, Aronowitz claimed. Like a lot of people at the time, 
Aronowitz recalled in his essay, the Fab Four didn't differentiate between 
marijuana and harder drugs, like heroin. At first, both Aronowitz and Dylan 
were incredulous. Wasn't Lennon singing "I get high! I get high!" on "I 
Want to Hold Your Hand"?

Actually, it was "I can't hide! I can't hide!" Lennon would later explain.

The Beatles offered some champagne. Dylan asked for his beverage of choice, 
cheap wine. Aronowitz suggested lighting up. Dylan rolled the joint, 
Aronowitz remembers, with some of the pot falling into a fruit bowl on the 
table. The battalion of cops stationed outside the hotel room door to 
protect the Beatles from their fans was apparently oblivious.

None of the Beatles, it seems, was eager to inhale, but somehow Ringo went 
first. ("You try it!" Lennon told him.) Instead of passing it around, he 
treated it like a cigarette and kept puffing. Soon enough, everyone had a 
joint of his own and then the whole thing turned into an outtake from a 
Cheech and Chong movie.

"In no time at all, [Ringo] was laughing hysterically," Aronowitz wrote. 
"His laughing looked so funny that the rest of us started laughing 
hysterically at the way Ringo was laughing hysterically. Soon, Ringo 
pointed at the way Brian Epstein was laughing, and we all started laughing 
hysterically at the way Brian was laughing."

Paul McCartney then instructed a road manager and friend named Mal Evans to 
follow him around with a notepad and write down everything he said. Not 
long after, the band began a new creative phase. As authors Peter Brown and 
Steven Gaines put it in "The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of the 
Beatles," the band "started to compose under marijuana's spell." In late 
'64 the band released "She's a Woman," which contained the line "Turn me on 
when I get lonely," a winking reference to pot, the Beatles later 
acknowledged. But the effect of both Dylan and drugs would surface most 
notably in the group's gradual evolution away from teeny-bop pop toward 
more mature and even dark themes like "Baby's in Black," a tune about 
courting a woman in mourning.

Aronowitz had many giggling evenings and many stories ahead of him. He 
would later become a music columnist for the New York Post, and he wrote 
for the Village Voice, among other publications. There were personal 
falling-outs -- so many of his tales ended with him explaining why he and 
one star or another never spoke again. Toward the end of his life, a tinge 
of bitterness crept into his writing that had something to do with his lack 
of money. To his chagrin none of his access and connections ever yielded a 
big payday. He also lacked friends.

But he was never one to understate his own significance -- and if you had 
introduced two of the greatest creative forces in the history of rock, 
maybe you would feel the same way. "The '60s," he once wrote, with no 
irony, "wouldn't have been the same without me." 
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