Zsa Zsa Gabor, the much-married Hungarian-American actress and socialite (and great aunt of Paris Hilton) passed away yesterday at the age of 99. While she was an entertainer, her life didn’t have any obvious crossover with topics normally pursued on this site, but there was one. She played a not insignificant role in the creation of the Beatles song “She Said She Said”—even if she wasn’t actually aware of it.
As their 1965 U.S. tour wound down, the Beatles had a day off and used it to hang out with some Hollywood friends at a house they were renting from Zsa Zsa for six days. At the very height of Beatlemania and unable to socialize in public, with Gabor’s Spanish villa being besieged by hordes of fans and even paparazzi photographers trying to get shots of them from helicopters, they invited English actress Eleanor Bron over—she had appeared in Help! earlier that year—as well as folk singer Joan Baez, Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and the rest of the Byrds, actress Peggy Lipton, and Peter Fonda. The day in question was significant in terms of the Beatles’ transition from mainstream showbiz to more of a counterculture act with a working familiarity with psychedelic drugs. John Lennon and George Harrison used LSD for the second time that day, and it was the first go-round for Ringo Starr. Paul McCartney had used LSD previously, but he chose not to join them that day.
It turned out that George had a really, really bad trip and needed to be talked down by Peter Fonda. George’s problem was that he thought he was about to die. Here’s Fonda’s version of events:
I told him there was nothing to be afraid of and that all he needed to do was relax. I said that I knew what it was like to be dead because when I was 10 years old I’d accidentally shot myself in the stomach and my heart stopped beating three times while I was on the operating table because I’d lost so much blood.
John was passing at the time and heard me saying “I know what it’s like to be dead.” He looked at me and said, “You’re making me feel like I’ve never been born. Who put all that shit in your head?”
The Beatles in late 1965
In the book Lennon Remembers, a 1971 book that features the Beatle’s interviews with Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, John described the day—at the outset he is explaining that the Beatles had little experience with LSD and so didn’t understand the risks that taking it would bring. Among other things they were worried about the presence of a Daily Mirror journalist named Don Short who had also been invited:
We still didn’t know anything about doing it in a nice place and cool it and all that, we just took it. And all of a sudden we saw the reporter and we’re thinking, “How do we act normal?” Because we imagined we were acting extraordinary, which we weren’t. We thought, “Surely somebody can see.” We were terrified waiting for him to go, and he wondered why he couldn’t come over, and Neil [Aspinall], who had never had it either, had taken it, and he still had to play road manager. We said, “Go and get rid of Don Short,” and he didn’t know what to do, he just sort of sat with it.
And Peter Fonda came, that was another thing, and he kept on saying, “I know what it’s like to be dead.” We said, “What?” And he kept saying it, and we were saying, “For chrissake, shut up, we don’t care. We don’t want to know.” But he kept going on about it. That’s how I wrote “She Said She Said”....
Competitive John wasn’t about to be out-deaded by anybody. For the record, below are the opening lines of “She Said She Said,” which was the final number to be recorded for Revolver—some consider it the pivotal track on the album. In their book All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release, Jean-Michel Guesdon and Philippe Margotin stated that it “represented the very essence of the album.”
She said “I know what it’s like to be dead
I know what it is to be sad”
And she’s making me feel like I’ve never been born.
I said “Who put all those things in your hair
Things that make me feel that I’m mad
And you’re making me feel like I’ve never been born.”
She said “You don’t understand what I said”
I said “No, no, no, you’re wrong”.....
Just think: If the Beatles hadn’t decided to use Zsa Zsa’s villa as a den for illicit drug behavior, it never would have been written…...
Below, Lennon’s acoustic home demo for the “She Said She Said”:
Thanks to Tim Connors for reminding me of this connection!
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Zsa Zsa Gabor and the psychedelic land of dinosaurs: ‘Pookie? Pookie ver are yoo?’