Paul pot

This week’s MacBreak Weekly was a step up from recent episodes, and not just because Merlin Mann was on. Amazingly, Alex Lindsay actually said something interesting and intelligent about Ping and how recommendations on iTunes should work. Maybe I’ll get to that in a later post, but now I want to talk about Paul McCartney and pot.

You see, the show started with a discussion of that weird “Steve Jobs detained at an airport in Japan for carrying shurikens” story, and Leo said it reminded him of when John Lennon got jailed in Japan for trying to bring in marijuana. Merlin pointed out that it was Paul who’d been arrested, but Leo wasn’t buying it. Merlin, being a polite guest, let it drop.

Of course, Merlin was right. It was Paul who was put in jail for several days in early 1980 when Japanese customs officers found a bag of weed in his suitcase. I’m kind of surprised anyone would get this wrong; when it comes to getting busted for pot, Paul is the Willy Nelson of the British Isles.

Although it was 30 years ago, I remember Paul’s arrest quite clearly. I remember everyone’s surprise that he thought he could just walk into a country (that had once denied him a visa because of a drug arrest) with a baggie full of marijuana next to his socks and underwear. I remember our amusement that a fossil like him (he was all of 37) was still living in the ’60s. But mostly, I remember an odd quote in the news stories about the arrest.

The reports from Japan said that when customs confronted Paul with the bag of weed, he identified it as “some hemp for my smoking.” The weird phrasing was assumed to be the result of a double translation from English to Japanese and back.1

I confess I was a little dubious about my recollection of the quote, so I Googled “mccartney hemp for my smoking” and came up with a couple of links to the text of a contemporaneous High Times article2 about the arrest.

Customs officials quoted Paul’s first admission of smuggling after five hours of questioning: “I brought some hemp for my smoking.”

This, I think, is the greatest use of the Internet: confirming three-decades-old memories of pop culture ephemera.

  1. Yes, children, we had that back in the days before Google Translate. It was funny back then, too. 

  2. No, I didn’t read the quote in High Times; it came from a wire service report. Most likely, I read it in the Daily Illini, the proud former home of Roger Ebert, Larry Doyle, Hugh Hefner, and, errr, Steven Hager