Whether you’re someone who has only heard of the name Beatles, or you’ve hummed on ‘let it be’ with a slight ache in your heart, The Beatles reached the ends of the earth with their soul-stirring music. At the Jaipur Literature Festival 2018, we got a different perspective on the lives of the revolutionary Beatles. As a pop culture and music biographer, as well as a best selling author, Philip Norman gave us insight on the band’s connection with India. Read on to get an insider’s information about the people who made the term ‘boy-band’ cool in the 1960s!
The year 1967 was a pivotal year for the Beatles.
Their manager Brian Epstein passed away in August 1967. The Beatles were, at the time, dipping their toes into the spiritual revolution that swept the late 60s, and were in Bangor, Wales at a 10-day seminar organised by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This was cut short by the death of Epstein, who treated the Beatles almost like his own children, according to rock biographer Philip Norman. He said, “It is a miracle that the biggest rock band in history was managed by such an honest man.”
Norman was at the Jaipur Literature Festival to discuss the Beatles’ time in India and their stay in Rishikesh to study Transcendental Meditation under the Maharishi. Epstein’s death hit the Beatles hard, with Paul McCartney saying later, “If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian”. In his 1970 Rolling Stone interview, Lennon also agreed that Epstein’s death marked the beginning of the end for the group: “I knew that we were in trouble then … I thought, ‘We’ve had it now'”.
In the throes of subtle shifts in their internal dynamics, the Beatles arrived in Rishikesh in mid-February 1968. Also in residence were several expatriates like actress Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence, and the Beatles entourage and aides, including Lennon’s wife Cynthia, despite having an affair with Yoko Ono at the time. After two weeks Lennon asked to sleep in a separate room. In fact, for the duration of his stay at Rishikesh, Lennon was to receive missives from Ono via telegram like “I am a cloud. Look for me in the sky.” and “Breathe”. On the flight back to England, Lennon confessed to Cynthia about his adultery, detailing not just his liaison with Ono, but hundreds of women he’d slept with for the duration of their marriage. It was to lead to an incredibly messy divorce later in 1968, and this upheaval in his personal life contributed in large part to Lennon’s withdrawal from the Beatles as well.
Regardless of the drama surrounding their relationships, this was an incredibly fertile creative ground for the band, with over 30 songs being written in a span of weeks. Many of the songs later made it onto The White Album and Abbey Road. “Dear Prudence” was written by John Lennon for Prudence Farrow who had been meditating for three weeks straight. McCartney wrote “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?” after seeing two monkeys mating. This song became one of the flashpoints for Lennon’s split with the rest of the band, as Lennon felt deeply resentful that McCartney had recorded the song without him. Lennon also levelled allegations of impropriety with female students against the Maharishi, with the song “Sexy Sadie”, which led to his and Harrison’s hurried departure from the Maharishi’s ashram (Starr and McCartney had left after ten days and a month, respectively). After leaving the ashram, the car they were in kept breaking down, leading to the completely ridiculous rumour that the Maharishi had placed a curse on them. The Beatles later apologised to the guru for their accusations, which were the result of hearsay. Having given up touring in 1966, this trip to India was the last time all four Beatles travelled together.
If you’re a music junkie, a musician or a literature enthusiast like us, we’re sure you would enjoy one of the several books written by Philip Norman, who has written extensively not just on the lives of the Beatles and individually on the lives of Lennon and McCartney, but also the Rolling Stones and Buddy Holly.
The images used in this article have been sourced from external websites. The featured image is from Republic World, the second image is from http://www.atouchofstarlight.com/ and the final image is from http://music.jaipurliteraturefestival.org.