lunes, 19 de febrero de 2018

The Beatles in India: Recollections at the opening of a Liverpool exhibition

(From left) Ringo Starr looks on as John Lennon and Paul McCartney work on a composition. Photo: Paul Saltzman
The Beatles in India: Recollections at the opening of a Liverpool exhibition
The new 'Beatles in India' exhibition in Liverpool, which was opened by the two sisters Pattie and and Jenny Boyd who went with the Fab Four to to learn about meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, transports visitors to an exotic place
Monday, Feb 19 2018

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with members of the Beatles at his academy in India, March 1968. Getty

Fifty years ago, between 16 and 19 February 1968, the four Beatles and their partners flew to India to learn about meditation from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Their journey, both physical and spiritual, is being celebrated in an exhibition as part of The Beatles Story at the Albert Dock in their hometown of Liverpool. Enter the space and smell the sandalwood incense! Experience the vibrant colours of the compound! Walk in the living quarters where the Beatles wrote their songs! See Donovan’s guitar and Ravi Shankar’s sitar!
Martin King, the managing director of The Beatles Story, says, “We are trying to give a real feeling of the Ganges and the foothills of the Himalayas at the Albert Dock. Even the floor covering is like a grassy pathway. You see John Lennon’s No.9 bungalow with Donovan’s guitar outside and the idea is that they have been playing together and just left the set. We are transporting people back in time to a very exotic place. It is such an important part of the Beatles’ story and such a creative fulcrum for them. The White Album comes from their time in India.”
The exhibition was opened by two sisters with the most intriguing credentials in rock music. Pattie Boyd was a model for Vogue who married George Harrison in 1966 and later Eric Clapton. Harrison wrote “Something” for her and Clapton wrote “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight”. Boyd recalls, “I remember George playing "Something" to me on a little cassette machine and it was so beautiful, and then it was so powerful and big in the studio. I love hearing the song. It is just glorious, a very happy moment.”

Jenny Boyd, Pattie Boyd and Paul Saltzman reminisce at the opening of the 'Beatles in India' exhibition in Liverpool

Jenny Boyd, a model like her sister, was a close friend of Donovan, and they both went with the Beatles to India: she married Mick Fleetwood and wrote a book about creativity in rock music, It’s Not Only Rock’n’Roll. Boyd tells me, “Donovan played this lovely song for me, "Jennifer Juniper". At first I thought it was really pretty and nice and then I realised it was how he was feeling about me. I was so sorry that I couldn’t reciprocate his feelings but he was a wonderful friend.”
The mid-60s had been a spiritual journey for many young westerners. Jenny had experienced the college kids who were turning on, tuning in and dropping out in San Francisco, and Harrison and Pattie visited her there. Back in England, Pattie attended a talk by Maharishi in London and told Harrison about him. The Beatles went to see Maharishi in north Wales, and he invited them to Rishikesh. “It was going so well in Bangor,” says Pattie, “until we heard that Brian Epstein had died. He had been their friend, their mentor and their manager. I had never seen people in such shock and Maharishi knew that they had to grieve properly. It was lucky that they were with him as he was very solid, very wise and the perfect guide. He told them to come to India where it would be very calm and they could sort out what they wanted to do.”
A reconstruction of John Lennon’s No.9 bungalow with Donovan’s guitar outside at the 'Beatles in India' exhibition

The Beatles’ time in India was private as they lived in Maharishi’s ashram with no reporters on site. Maharishi was hosting a course for 60 TM (transcendental meditation) teachers as well as guiding the Beatles and their party. The only outsider was a Canadian filmmaker, Paul Saltzman, who had been working in India. “I got a letter from my girlfriend Trisha saying that she had moved in with someone else," he says. "I was heartbroken and somebody said I should try meditation for the heartbreak. That is what led me to the ashram. I didn’t know that the Beatles were there. I did a 30 minute meditation and it was an absolute miracle. The knife in my heart was gone. The screaming I could hear in my head was gone. What replaced it was this state of bliss. I had done drugs in the 60s and I had been seeking this state of bliss. I thought that if Trisha is happier with him, then I am happy for her.”
Jenny agrees. “I was incredibly happy in India. I was naturally shy and if you smoke pot and are shy, it makes you even more introverted. I wasn’t doing that anymore and I felt much more relaxed and much more open to everything that was going on. I wasn’t looking for a guru so I never felt that Maharishi was the one, but I knew that meditating was exactly what I had been looking for.”
Saltzman took the most enduring image of the Maharishi and his guests. “Maharishi had hired a photographer from down in the village who had an eight by ten plate antique camera. Everybody got dressed up and the garlands arrived. Maharishi directed where everyone should be and everyone on the course got an 8 by 10, black and white print to take away. I wasn’t part of the set-up as I wasn’t on the course, but the picture cried out for colour photography and I took those pictures. Harrison and Pattie had a camera, Ringo Starr had a camera and Mal Evans the roadie had a camera so they wanted me to take them. I had four cameras around my neck, my Pentax and their very expensive Nikons.”
Ravi Shankar's sitar in the 'Beatles in India' show

In normal circumstances, Starr was the most easy-going Beatle but he was uneasy in Rishikesh. He and his wife Maureen returned home on 1 March with Ringo saying that it was “just like Butlin’s”. The food had been too spicy for his delicate stomach but he had known that and brought supplies of Heinz Baked Beans. Jenny says the reason for his departure is much simpler. “Ringo wasn’t on a spiritual search; he was quite happy as he was. He and Maureen had just had a second son and they had left their children in England. They missed them and being in India was too much of a strain for them.”
One of the captions in the exhibition has Paul McCartney saying that if they had found what they were looking for, they might not have returned. “No, no, that’s nonsense” says Pattie, “They would have returned. They were western guys. They wrote their songs on acoustic guitars and they wanted to work them out in a recording studio with electric instruments. They needed the tools of the west and they had plans to start Apple and to find a new manager.” 
Neither of those worked out well but they weren’t to know that. But then neither did the Indian experience with John Lennon accusing Maharishi of sexual harassment and writing “Sexy Sadie” with its key line “You made a fool of everyone”.

Visitors are transported to an exotic place in the Liverpool show to be with the Beatles in India

Among the songs written in Rishikesh was “Dear Prudence”, which Lennon dedicated to another of their party, the sister of Mia Farrow. “Every day we did meditation and we would go to lectures and eat together but if somebody was having a long meditation, they wouldn’t be disturbed,” says Pattie, “Food would be left outside their door. We noticed that Prudence’s door had two plates of food outside, so she had missed two meals and we were getting worried about her. She had been depressed and John wrote that beautiful song for her, "Dear Prudence". She was in a deep place and couldn’t come out of it and John was saying, ‘Come out and play’.”
After years of disrepair, the ashram itself has opened as a tourist attraction, but for some the memories of Rishikesh remain with them every day. “Life comes and goes and when I get tense, I try and remember ‘Breathe Paul, come back into your own core, come back into your own inner self,’” says Saltzman, “I still meditate, and meditation and prayer are both keys to an inner domain. They are keys to the soul which is a connection to whatever divine presence there is in the universe.”
‘Beatles in India’ is now open as part of The Beatles Story, based on the Albert Dock in Liverpool. The exhibition will run for two years.

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