Pneumonia Ceilings

The Love You Make - Peter Brown's story.

Excerpt from Mark Shipper's "Paperback Writer".

New English Library / Times Mirror 1978.
London Hilton scrap of paper from a suggestion by Dave Hirsch.
Chapter 12: I Don't Believe in Zimmerman.

The first few months of 1966 were pleasant ones for the Beatles. "Meet The Beatles" remained at the top of the charts all over the world, exactly where it had been since its release. Except for a brief tour of Australia, there was little real work to do, and all four were able to resume seminormal lives, for a change.

Ringo, after a brief bout with tonsillitis which forced him out of the Australian tour (Australian Jimmy Nicol filled in for him on drums), went off to Switzerland to study billiards. Harrison went to India and met up with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was later to play a role in the Beatles' career.

Lennon and McCartney remained in London, writing songs, visiting nightclubs, listening to the new crop of records, and taking in an occasional concert or two.

One of those concerts was given by Bob Dylan, the American star who was rapidly taking much of the Beatles' older, more sophisticated audience away from them. Dylan was riding on a wave of popularity brought about by a pair of precedent-shattering albums, Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. Stringing together rapid-fire streams of imagery over his hard-rocking backup band, Dylan was extending the limits of the pop song far beyond anyone else's previous attempts.

Lennon and McCartney were divided on the issue of Bob Dylan.

[One page is edited out here]

An aide of Dylan's had come to the Beatles' box to inform them that Dylan requested their company at his hotel suite. This was exactly what Lennon had hoped for. He was delighted.

One hour later, John and Paul arrived at Dylan's hotel. Dylan's appearance was startling. He looked so big onstage, and so little - fragile, almost - when he stood in front of you.

"Come on in," Dylan said. "I'm a big fan of yours. A big fan." Lennon was in heaven. McCartney was flattered, but vaguely skeptical.

"Best bloody show I've ever seen, Bob," Lennon told Dylan. "Can I call you Bob?"

"Can I call you Henry? Of course, call me anything you like. Frank. Pete. Late for supper. Donovan. Anything you like."

This was cool as Lennon had never experienced it.

Dylan asked them to sit down, then said: "If it wasn't for you guys, I'd probably still be playing acoustic. It was those songs of yours, those older ones, 'Please Please Me', and that stuff, that made me consider rock & roll again."

Lennon felt embarrassed. "Please Please Me" seemed so banal, so primitive compared to what Dylan was writing. He wished Dylan had never heard any Beatles songs before their current album.

"We're way past 'Please Please Me' now, Bob. Our new album is kind of where we're at today," he said.

"No, no... don't turn your back on your old stuff. It was great. Weird chord changes, tremendous harmony. It turned the whole country upside down. I love the new one, but those first albums were unreal."

There was an awkward silence in the room. Lennon couldn't accept a compliment about his early material, and McCartney felt slightly out of place.

"Hey," Dylan said, "you guys want a drink or joint or something?"

Lennon wanted a drink but figured it would be pretty uncool to ask Bob Dylan for one. "Yeah," he said. "Let's smoke a joint."

Dylan produced a perfectly rolled joint from his coat pocket, lit it, took a long hit, and passed it on to McCartney. Suffice it to say that the marijuana was of a quality that only the John Lennons, Bob Dylans, and Paul McCartneys of the world could get their hands on in those days.

Within minutes, the ice had melted, and it was as if they'd known each other all of their lives. They found they had a lot in common: a love for early rock & roll, an interest in th enewest musical equipment, and - especially - fame.

"I don't know if I like it," Dylan confessed.

"Like what?" a stoned McCartney asked.

"You know. Fame. Fame and fortune."

"Beats smokey nightclubs all to hell," Lennon said.

"Yeah, it does," Dylan agreed. "But I feel like I don't, you know, deserve it. I feel sort of, ah... guilty about all of it."

Lennon wouldn't hear of it. "Why should you feel guilty? You deserve it. All of it. You're the best fuckin' songwriter in the world. Your songs are deep. They mean something."

"That's just it," Dylan said. "They don't mean anything. I just write' em. I don't even know what my songs mean, and here I am, people calling me God and everything...."

"Don't let George Harrison hear you say that," McCartney joked.

"Yeah, what's his story, anyway? Was all that stuff for real about his quitting, or what?"

Lennon laughed. "To this day, I don't know."

Dylan continued, "So here I am, sitting in hotel rooms, banging away these words on a typewriter. Words! Phrases! Words and Phrases! Phrases and Words! And one morning I wake up and get a phone call and somebody tells me I'm a millionaire. Beats me." He shrugged his shoulders.

"What humility," Lennon thought. "What bloody humility!"

"What honesty," McCartney thought. "What an honest guy!"

They were all pretty bombed by this time. Dylan could see that Lennon didn't believe him, so he suggested that the three of them write a song together and he'd show them how it was done.

"Us write with you?" Lennon was shocked. Also a little scared. "We can't write like that. We write these little love songs. Little rock & roll love songs. We can't write Dylan. Only Dylan can do that."

Dylan laughed, "That's what everyone thinks. C'mon over here."

He sat down behind a typewriter at the end of an eight-foot mahogany table. John and Paul sat at either side of the typewriter.

"Okay, now what's the first thing that comes to your mind?" Dylan asked.

"I don't know. I can't think of anything," Lennon said.

"It's just words we're looking for," Dylan said. "Words and phrases. Think of words and phrases."

Lennon was silent. "Words and phrases, right?" he said weakly.

Dylan couldn't wait any longer. "Words and phrases right," he said, then typed it as the first line of the song.

"You're gonna use that?" Lennon said.

"I can use anything, John. It doesn't matter. Now you think of something, Paul."

McCartney looked down at his cigarette. "Cigarette ash", he said, challenging Dylan.

Dylan seized it gleefully. "That's it. You've got it. Now... 'Words and phrases right'... 'Cigarette ash keep me up all night!' . . . yeah, that's good." He quickly entered it into the typewriter, then asked John for another thought.

"Where'd you learn to type so fast?" John asked. He didn't want to accept the fact that this was how Dylan wrote.

"How come your mama types so fast?" Dylan said, ignoring Lennon. Then McCartney added, "At this rate she'll be done by a quarter past." Paul and Dylan laughed hysterically.

"That's good, Paul" Dylan said. "You've got the idea, but the problem with your line is that it could make sense. 'Types so fast, she'll be done by a quarter past.' Almost makes sense. Now suppose we really get out there." He lit another joint, then continued.

"Now it's 'How come your mama types so fast,' right? Hmm ... Let's see here..." His brow knotted in thought for a few seconds. "Fast. Fast. Fast," he repeated aloud. "Past. Fast. Past. Last. Past. Cast. Mast! That's it. That' the one. Try this - 'How come your mama types so fast, Is daddy's flag flyin' at half-mast?'" He repeated it aagain and was satisfied. "Yeah, that works. That works fine."

This is exactly what McCartney had expected, exactly what he criticized in Dylan, and yet he was impressed. What a fun way to write songs! Lennon, McCartney felt, was digging it too, but didn't want to say so and prove McCartney correct. As for Dylan, he was into it.

"OK, something else now," Dylan said.

"Pneumonia," McCartney pulled out of left field.

"Pneumonia," Dylan repeated. He sat back in his chair and looked straight up at the ceiling, trying to think of a line. "Got it!" He snapped back and started typing, saying as his fingers hit the keys: "Pneumonia ceilings, pneumonia floors."

"Great!" McCartney exclaimed. Try this: "Daddy ain't gonna take it no more."

"I love it!" Dylan was jumping up and down in his chair as he added this line to the song.

McCartney's lines were forcing Lennon's hand. He wasn't going to be outdone.

"Elephant guns blazing in my ears," Lennon said out of nowhere.

Dylan just looked at him. "Shit. Where'd that come from? You got it, John!" He typed the line and before he could finish the six words Lennon said, "I'm sick and tired of your applesauce tears..."

Dylan didn't stop typing until this line was added, too. "Jesus," he said slowly, "no wonder you guys are rich."

Lennon was into it now. "Thermometers don't tell time anymore," he said, "Since Aunt Mimi pushed them off the twentieth floor!"

Dylan typed it all, but not before McCartney countered with "So say good-bye to skyscrapers..."

Then Dylan finished it: "You'll read about it in the evening papers!" He was having a great time.

"I picked my nose and I'm glad I did!" Lennon screamed. Then McCartney added, "No one knows my nose 'cause I keep it hid!"

At that moment, the three of them actually fell on the floor, they were laughing so hard.

"Oh, God, it hurts," Dylan said from the floor. "I can't stop."

Lennon and McCartney looked at each other underneath the table. They could write songs with Bob Dylan. It felt terrific. Lennon started another line, but Dylan stopped him.

"Wait a minute now." Dylan was wiping the tears from his eyes. "Lemme get that last one. Now what was it? I can't even remember." They were so stoned that time was standing still.

McCartney started to tell him: "It was ... uh ..." He couldn't think of it. "What the hell was the line, John?"

"I don't remember it, either!" Lennon shrieked.

They all fell on the floor again.

"Greatest fucking line in rock & roll history," Dylan said, still on his back, "and we can't remember what it is! I don't believe it! I don't believe it! ..."

"PNEUMONIA CEILINGS" - Never released, never recorded, never even finished, here is the Lennon-McCartney-Dylan collaboration which fans call "Pneumonia Ceilings." A housekeeper at the London Hilton fished the original copy out of Dylan's thrash the day after John and Paul visited Dylan. She sold it for a mere $5 to Beatle fan. Today it is valued at $75,000!

Subject: Sir Pot and Bob
From: Brian Kelly (
Date: 16 Jan 1999 12:48:56 -0800

In the book Many Years From Now (Barry Miles, Secker & Warburg '97), Paul McCartney gives more detail on how Bob introduced the Beatles to the joys of pot smoking during the groups first US tour. Apologies if this has already been posted.


"Dylan was driven down from Woodstock by his roadie in his anonymous blue Ford station wagon, picking up {the journalist Al] Aronowitz from his home in Berkeley Hills, New Jersey, on the way. Aronowitz, who had been on the fringe of Beat Generation circles since the late fifties, had turned Dylan on to pot the year before. In the hotel lobby, police barred their way until Mal Evans [Beatle roadie] came down and the three were quickly ushered into the main lounge. Brian [Epstein] naturally played the gracious host and asked what they would like to drink.

'Cheap wine', said Dylan. Unfortunately the Beatles had been drinking good French wine with their meal so Mal was dispatched to buy something suitably nasty for Dylan. In the meantime, Dylan was offered some purple hearts, the little blue Dirnamyl pills which kept virtually every British rock group goin through the sixties when their bodies told them they should be sleeping. Dylan declined and suggested they smoke some grass instead. Brian Epstein explained with some embarrassment that they had never smoked pot before.

'But what about your song, the one about getting high?', asked Dylan. ' " And when I touch you I get high..."' The Liverpool accent had rendered the words of 'I Want To Hold Your Hand' unintelligible to Dylan. 'It goes, " I can't hide, I can't hide..."', explained John.

Victor Mamudes, Duylan's tall, skinny roadie, was naturally the one carrying the drugs - in those days this was a roadie's most important job - and he passed the bag to Dylan, who began to roll the first joint rather shakily, spilling qutie a lot of the grass unto the large bowl of fruit on the room-service table. Al Aronowitz wrote: 'Bob hovered unsteadily while he tried to lift the grass from the bag with the fingertips of one hand so he could crush it into the leaf of rolling paper which he held in his other hand. Besides being a sloppy roller, Bob had started drinking whatever expensive stuff was already there'.

With more than a dozen police in the corridor outside and reporters just down the hall, great caution was deemed necessary; Dylan and Ringo retired to the far end of the back room near the front windows, blinds were drawn and rolled towels sealed the locked doors. As snatches of Beatles songs floated up from the fans in the street below, Dylan passed a skinny American joint to Ringo, who smoked the whole thing, not knowing that pot-smoking etiquette requires that the joint be passed around.

Paul: 'The first time I got very high indeed. It was quite a breakthrough, it was something different. George Harrison, John and I were sitting with our Scotch and Cokes, and Dylan had just given Ringo a puff of it... We were kind of proud to have been introduced to pot by Dylan, that was rather a coup. It was like being introduced to meditation and given your mantra by Maharishi. There was a certain status to it.'


So now you know.

The Love You Make
Expecting Rain