The Day the Turtles Took Drugs in the White House
What happens when one of the biggest pop groups of the mid-to-late-'60s gets invited to perform at the White House? For the Turtles, who played 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. on May 10, 1970, it involved lots of drugs, hitting on a former First Daughter and having the Secret Service pull guns on them.
In his autobiography, Shell Shocked: My Life With the Turtles, Flo and Eddie and Frank Zappa, co-frontman Howard Kaylan (the Eddie of Flo and Eddie) told the story. Apparently, the Turtles were the favorite group of Tricia Nixon, the then-24-year old daughter of President Richard Nixon, and they were invited to perform at her coming-out party. Despite being politically against Nixon, the Turtles' managers demanded that they accept.
According to Kaylan, as excerpted in Rolling Stone, the day got off to a rocky start when the Secret Service began inspecting their equipment piece-by-piece, and a switch on their electric metronome/tuner was accidentally flipped. The Secret Service drew their guns and forced them up against a wall until they could figure out what to make of the ticking little box. After a very long 10 minutes, during which time the device was dismantled, they were given the all-clear. They were eventually reimbursed $17 for the damage.
Once that scare was out of the way, the party continued. Kaylan wrote, "[W]e were given President Lincoln's library to use as our dressing room [...] It was amazing. We were loaded -- high from smoking pot back at the hotel and a wee bit tipsy from all the French champagne that was being freely dispensed -- and we were roaming around the most important home in America unsupervised."
Kaylan said he decided to take things one step further. "One member of our crew still had a few tricks up his sleeve, however, and not only did I get to take a few precious tokes of his mystery stash before the show started, but we were able to actually lay out lines of coke on Mr. Lincoln's desk. As the powder flew up my nose, I wondered if this was exactly what the founding fathers had in mind. Land of the Free, indeed. Well, I felt free and on top of the world."
For all the craziness, the concert, which also featured the Temptations and Helen Reddy, went off with barely a hitch. Even their topical stage banter was well-received. The only snag? "[M]y career-long partner Mark Volman, had a few balance issues," he continued. "He fell off the stage a few times, much to the amusement of all present."
Volman also later embarrassed himself by hitting on Lucy Baines Johnson -- the daughter of Nixon's predecessor, Lyndon Baines Johnson -- right in front of her husband. But the situation was diffused before it got out of hand.
As for the whereabouts of the president, he was out of the country, for which Kaylan remains grateful. He wrote, "I am absolutely positive, considering our states of mind that evening, that I -- or some other equally messed-up Turtle -- would have given him an earful of our contempt and probably would have ended up in Gitmo."
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