THERE'S NO QUESTIONING the importance of covering the passing of Ronald Reagan--a man whose impact on America and the world was profound. Plus it's been more than 30 years since the capital has seen a presidential funeral. But such historic moments have a habit of overshadowing news that, under lesser circumstances, would have garnered more attention. How unfortunate, for example, for the intellectual and literary giants C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley, who both happened to die on November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Or how fortunate (at least for a few days) for Ted Kennedy that his accident at Chappaquiddick took place on the same weekend as the moon landing in July of 1969.
And so it is that as the world mourns the death of the Great Communicator, little notice will have been paid to otherwise earth-shattering news out of England: In an interview with Uncut magazine, ex-Beatle Paul McCartney has finally admitted that "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" really was about LSD.
Maybe this isn't as important as the G-8 summit (also receiving little coverage), but for Beatles fans everywhere, it is the equivalent of realizing, after all these years, that Alger Hiss really was a spy.
FOR THOSE NOT INDOCTRINATED, it seems fairly obvious: "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" is a mnemonic for LSD. It's nothing new--songs about drugs and alcohol are quite common, from Billy Joel's "Captain Jack" to Phil Collins's "Tonight, Tonight, Tonight" (about meeting up with a cocaine dealer) to Eric Clapton's "Cocaine," which is about, well, cocaine.
But you needn't go any further than the lyrics of "LSD":
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
and she's gone
Where exactly has she gone to? Did her eyes change from kaleidoscopes into the sun or are these two different girls? Clearly the only way to "dig" the message is by going on an acid trip. And not too long after the song came out in 1967, most people figured this out. Yet, for decades, the Beatles continued to deny the reference to LSD--claiming that, in fact, the title of the song came from a drawing by Julian Lennon, John's son, who was 3 years old at the time. As is revealed in the Beatles Anthology (and collected from other sources like Rolling Stone), Lennon is adamant that it's all happenstance:
I saw Mel Tormé introducing a Lennon-McCartney show, saying how "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" was about LSD. It never was, and nobody believes me. I swear to God, or swear to Mao, or to anybody you like, I had no idea it spelt LSD. This is the truth: My son came home with a drawing and showed me this strange-looking woman flying around. I said, "What is it?" and he said, "It's Lucy in the sky with diamonds," and I thought, "That's beautiful."
Lennon goes on to explain that "the images were from Alice in Wonderland. It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg and it turns into Humpty-Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep, and the next minute they're rowing in a boat somewhere--and I was visualizing that. There was also the image of the female who would someday come to save me--'a girl with kaleidoscope eyes' who would come out of the sky. It's not an acid song."
Yes, sadly this means the girl with kaleidoscope eyes is none other than Yoko Ono. Even worse: Lennon is saying "it's not an acid song."
Fast forward to this month's Uncut interview with Paul McCartney, who explains that "A song like 'Got to Get You Into My Life,' that's directly about pot, although everyone missed it at the time." "Day Tripper," he says, "that's one about acid. 'Lucy in the Sky,' that's pretty obvious. There's others that make subtle hints about drugs, but, you know, it's easy to overestimate the influence of drugs on the Beatles' music."
THIS NEW DISAGREEMENT isn't just a matter of interpretation between Lennon and McCartney. Previously, Paul went along with John's story, saying in the Anthology, "I showed up at John's house and he had a drawing Julian had done at school with the title 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds' above it. Then we went up to his music room and wrote the song, swapping psychedelic suggestions as we went. I remember coming up with 'cellophane flowers' and 'newspaper taxis' and John answered with things like 'kaleidoscope eyes' and 'looking glass ties.' We never noticed the LSD initial until it was pointed out later--by which point people didn't believe us."
The cuddly anecdote of Julian showing his father his artwork turns out to be true. It actually does exist and can be seen here. And that you get the letters LSD out of the title can indeed be sheer coincidence. As Ron Schaumburg writes in Growing Up with the Beatles, "[Lennon] has always been open and honest, if not always careful in what he says. He admitted to using drugs, he admitted to taking over a hundred LSD trips. Why on earth would he bother to deny one little story about the origins of a song unless it wasn't true?" Even the urban-legend-busting snopes.com agrees there's no connection.
But while Lennon referenced Alice in Wonderland and insisted that "It's not an acid song," McCartney now states it's "pretty obvious" the song is about drugs. And Beatles fans are left wondering who is right. "I've always half-thought that both stories were true," says blogger and Beatles expert Kenneth Killiany. "The kid did do the drawing, and Daddy found it hysterically funny. They were in their mid-twenties, after all, and people on dope seem to giggle about everything."
As for McCartney's recent admission of drug references in songs, including "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," Killiany agrees that "It is kind of odd that he's saying it now. John contradicted himself on virtually every story, and Paul has been more consistent. But relying on memories of who said what while on some drug or other is probably pretty dicey at best. They supposedly agreed not to talk about LSD, and then Paul went and told Life magazine when they ran the psychedelic portraits by [Richard] Avedon. He does seem to have a penchant for portentous announcements." Another journalist well-versed in Beatles lore, who I refer to as The Walrus, also found it funny that "though McCartney may be one of the most famous people in the entire world and of all time, he still has this need for attention."
If only Lennon were alive to give his side of the story. Maybe he would explain it was all a big joke (such as getting away with singing "tit-tit-tit-tit" on the song "Girl"). But alas, he's gone. Beatles fans will have to decide for themselves.
And if we were wrong about the truth behind "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," could we also be wrong about those rumors that Paul is dead?
Victorino Matus is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.