In Love with Meher Baba, by Pete Townshend

Page 2 of 7

My Last Dope-Smoking Days

It is on this basis that I approach another of Baba's most powerful and controversial statements:

"Drugs are harmful mentally, spiritually and physically."

I repeat these words parrot fashion, not knowing honestly whether I would have said it myself had Baba not said it first. One thing I do know, the last acid trip I took (on a plane coming back from the Monterey Pop Festival) would have been my last whether I had heard the above from Baba or not. Acid had taken me apart but not put me back together again, and it is clutching another of Baba's statements about drugs that I justify what I did to my brain:

"For a few sincere seekers, the use of hallucinogenic drugs may have instilled in them a state of longing that has brought them into my contact, but further injection would not only be harmful, but have no purpose."

Somebody asked me if Baba ever took acid. That's where I have to walk away. It's clear that they can't act on the unqualified words of a stranger in India when they don't even accept that he is really the Avatar. If they accepted he was the Avatar they wouldn't ask if he had tried acid. So they keep on keeping on, and I try to stay cool. Even writing a piece like this makes me feel like a miniature Billy Graham.

Pot was a little different. I never did make a personal decision that pot was screwing me up. For one thing I never used it to write on or play at the time I heard about Baba. I always got good buzzes from listening on it though, even if they got a bit cliched.

After about six months of Baba following, Baba was still alive then, I met a guy in San Francisco who had met Baba in India called Rick Chapman. Rick lives in Berkeley and runs Meher Baba Information from Box 1101 at the Post Office there. He is the man responsible for the glut of Don't Worry, Be Happy cards that you must have seen if you live in San Francisco. As we sat in a shared hotel room in San Diego I rolled a joint, spouting some high flown guff about being a happy Baba lover. Rick took it very calmly considering that he spends a good part of his time lecturing on the spiritual side effects of "soft" drugs and what Baba had said about them. Anyway, that day was my last stoned day in the normal sense. It was easy to give it up. Like a lot of others, I was getting a little bored with pot highs which seemed limited to the strength of my imagination at any given moment. In other words I was looking for an excuse to say no to the joint as it came round to me.

Rick explained that pot was in fact hallucinogenic, but when smoked worked in a mild way. Nonetheless it was hallucinogenic. Baba specifically named it in his sweeping condemnation of hallucinogenic drugs. The penny began to drop—why DMT and other hash derived extracts had acted in such violent and freaky ways. Why pot did heavy things when you ate it instead of smoked it. Tetrahydrocannabinol. That's why.

I once sat on wooden stool on the floor of a BBC television studio and openly admitted I used dope. That was in 1966. I had been introduced to it by one of my dearest friends, an American who also introduced me to the music that was turning on the Stones about that time. He had piles of Jimmy Reed, Howling Wolf, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Mose Allison, Bo Diddley, Booker T., Lonnie Mack, Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith cuts, and a few rather less obvious gems which none the less changed my head, the shape of my fingers, the way I walked and generally improved the appearance of the ladies I associated with. This was in the days when the Who were known as the Detours. We tended to sandwich Jimmy Reed tunes in between out latest carbon copies of Top 20 hits. I remember the buzz I would get as we launched into "Plum Nellie" and my arm would leave the guitar I was getting off so well.

I smoked too much those days, it tended to alienate me from the rest of the guys (Keith was not yet in the group in 1964), and as a pointer to today, it made me feel superior and extremely paranoiac about my role in the group in general. Roger was much tougher in those days. It had been his group, and it was a hard battle, despite the fact that he was very musically hip, to turn the musical policy of the group around.

I don't mean that the group were against playing R&B, the exact opposite was true, but I felt that it was my music because I was stoned and they weren't. As the group developed, and Keith came in, I eased off a lot of dope. I played straight, or three parts drunk, and everything went better.

On the surface then, it seemed I owed a lot to dope. It gave me confidence, it gave me beautiful girls, it gave me R&B. What it didn't give me was the feeling that any of the above were really mine. They were all thanks to dope. That's where the paranoia came in. If I hadn't been stoned that solo would have been a bummer. If I hadn't been stoned that chick would not have wanted to know. If I hadn't been stoned the sun wouldn't have come up. I do not lay awake worrying about that particular problem anymore. I have written some of my best songs straight. Played the I would best solos of my life straight, and despite the fact that I had to get thoroughly plastered to write the first love note to my wife, we have lived straight ever after. In fact, it was the biggest surprise of my life to find that I could get right into music straight. That I could still crash the car when "Green Onions" came on the tape player. What I am trying to put across is that I still love the idea of getting stoned, I remember the days of colorful highs with acute nostalgia, I would be a fool to myself if I didn't allow myself the luxury of a past. The crux of it is, that I am now stoned all the time. It's hard to take, I know, but it's true. It's not a dizzy, smashed high, it's a fairly alert and natural one. Just about as natural as you can get. Everyone knows that there is such a thing as a natural high. Try thinking of it as the natural high.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

More Song Stories entries »