< Instant Karma

Transcript

Friday, February 15, 2008

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Eastern spiritual leader who introduced transcendental meditation, or TM, to the world, died earlier this month at the age of 91. The Maharishi first visited the U.S. in the late fifties, but it wasn't until 1968 that major media outlets paid close attention to his message of self-improvement.

It was on February 16th, 40 years ago this weekend, that John Lennon and George Harrison traveled to India to study with the master.
[CLIP][SITAR MUSIC]
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER:
Far from the noise and pace of city life, in the cool, clear air of Rishikesh, North India, Pathe News reports from the meditation retreat of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the man who, through transcendental meditation, is currently bringing peace of mind to the Beatles.
[END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
John and George were soon joined by Paul and Ringo, leading The New York Times to observe, somewhat archly, that all four Beatles are now settled in a retreat by the Ganges that their globetrotting guru maintains for those who follow him in pursuit of absolute bliss consciousness.
[CLIP]
MAHARISHI MAHESH YOGI:
The spiritual life is not dependent on the renunciation of the world. It’s only dependent on morning and evening practice of meditation, which can open to us the great reservoir of intelligence and energy and bliss consciousness.
[END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
The Maharishi and the Beatles quickly attracted an entourage, what The Los Angeles Times called “a gaggle of pop stars,” including the musician Donovan and actress Mia Farrow. It was the ultimate photo-op. And then it was over, quite abruptly and amid controversy, but not before the Beatles found their muse, says New York Times music critic Allen Kozinn. Allen, welcome to the show.
ALLAN KOZINN:
Hi, Brooke. Thanks.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
So before we go to February 1968, take us back to 1967. What had the Beatles been doing that year and how were they as a band, creatively?
ALLAN KOZINN:
Well, they spent most of the year recording Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. And creatively, from one point of view, they were really at their peak. I mean, Sgt. Pepper was an amazing album that had them doing all kinds of things with orchestras and psychedelic imagery and lyrics and electronic sounds, and that kind of thing.

But they were also - certainly Lennon, at any rate, was beginning to sort of lose interest in the idea of being in a band.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
He was a little tapped out.
ALLAN KOZINN:
Yeah, he was a little tapped out. I mean, he came to those sessions with Strawberry Fields, which was then released as a single, and A Day in the Life, which was an extraordinary piece of music. But eventually he began to lose interest, and so for the rest of his songs, apart from maybe Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, he was doing things like turning cornflakes commercials into songs.
[MUSIC UP AND UNDER – GOOD MORNING]
THE BEATLES [SINGING]:
Nothing to say but what a day, how’s your boy been? Nothing to do, it’s up to you. I've got nothing to say, but it’s okay. Good morning! Good morning! Good morning!
ALLAN KOZINN:
And Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite is basically taken right off a circus poster that he had on the wall of his house. And he said in interviews that he wrote these things really just to sort of keep up with Paul, so that Paul wouldn't have all the songs -
[LAUGHTER]
- on the album. They sort of had run out of the large stock of back-catalog, songs that they had at the very beginning of their career.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And it was just a couple of months after Sgt. Pepper was released that the Beatles first encountered the Maharishi. It was George Harrison’s wife Pattie who heard him speak, and eventually the other Beatles were drawn in. What was it about his teachings that was so attractive to the Beatles?
ALLAN KOZINN:
Well, first of all, George and Pattie were both interested in Indian culture, as it was, because he was beginning to play the sitar, for a couple of years by then, actually, and ran into information about TM, and felt that it was going to show them what they were already trying to find through LSD – a door to the sort of subconscious and reality that you can't perceive with your normal senses.
They felt that TM would do this without the drugs, particularly since Lennon was, by his own account, eating LSD for breakfast, lunch and dinner [BROOKE LAUGHS] most days by then.

And so, George got interested in something; he was sufficiently interested in it that they came along with him at the end of August 1967 to a retreat in Bangor, Wales. That’s when Brian Epstein died, while they were away at that retreat, and Maharishi sort of helped them through that crisis by giving them some Hindu philosophy about the soul continuing on after the body dies.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And so, 40 years ago, this weekend, the Beatles flew to Rishikesh, India to study with the Maharishi. Set the scene.
ALLAN KOZINN:
They went to India. Ringo Starr had a very delicate stomach. I mean, he was very sick as a kid and there were sort of limitations on what he could eat, and spicy Indian food wasn't on the list.
[CLIP]
RINGO STARR:
The food was, was impossible for me because, you know, I'm allergic to so many different things, that I took two suitcases with me, one of clothes and one of Heinz beans. There’s a plug for you.
[END CLIP]
ALLAN KOZINN:
And when he ran out of those by the end [LAUGHS] of the first week, he decided that he really wasn't able to stay anymore. But the rest of them, you know, went to the lectures every day and meditated for hours on end. John would lock himself in a room and meditate for the afternoon.

And then, you know, they had their guitars with them. They started writing songs and got a lot done.
[CLIP]
BEATLE:
You know, there’s a lot of things that was actually stuff the Maharishi had said, like that song, “Come on, come on, you know, come on, it’s such a joy. Everybody got something to hide except for me and my monkey.”
[GUITAR UP AND UNDER]
Apart from the bit about the monkey, that was just what Maharishi used to always say, you know.
BEATLES SINGING:
Come on, come on. Come on, come on. Come on, it’s such a joy. Come on, it’s such a joy. Come on and take it easy. Come on and take it easy. Take it easy. Take it easy. Everybody’s got something to hide, except for me and my monkey.
[END CLIP]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
At some point, the Beatles had a falling out with the Maharishi? This had something to do with a guy they called “Magic Alex”?
ALLAN KOZINN:
Magic Alex was this character named Alexis Mardas who had sort of glommed onto the Beatles and persuaded them that he was able to do incredible inventions, you know, cars that could fly, and he was going to build them a 72-track recording studio.
[BROOKE LAUGHS]
And he started. He put a console in there with 72 inputs. It just wasn't attached to anything.
[BROOKE LAUGHS]
And - but in the meantime, you know, the Beatles were setting up their own company, Apple. They set up this Apple Electronics Division that Magic Alex was in charge of. And he went with them to India. Apparently, he felt that his position in the Beatles’ inner circle was being threatened by all the attention that they were giving to the Maharishi.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And so, he acted like Iago and planted poisonous seeds in the minds of the Beatles.
ALLAN KOZINN:
Yes, he did do this little Iago thing [LAUGHS] where he told them that the Maharishi had made unwanted advances to one of the women in the course. It’s often said to be Mia Farrow but sometimes it’s ascribed to someone else as well, and it’s not absolutely clear who it is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And John was particularly vocal about his disaffection, and it came out later in a song, Sexy Sadie, which was originally called Maharishi.
ALLAN KOZINN:
That's right. “Maharishi, what have you done? You made a fool of everyone.” George persuaded him that that probably wasn't a good idea.
[CLIP]
GEORGE HARRISON:
I said, you can't say that. You know, this is ridiculous. So I came up with the title of Sexy Sadie, and John changed it to Sexy Sadie.
BEATLES SINGING:
Sexy Sadie, what have you done? You made a fool of everyone. You made a fool of everyone. Sexy Sadie, oh, what have you done? Sexy Sadie.
ALLAN KOZINN:
Even though George ultimately, at the time, believed the story and also decided to leave with John, he did have his doubts. And he did think that what the Maharishi was teaching was valuable, and he felt that he should be treated with more respect than that.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And yet, you've said that under the influence of transcendental meditation the Beatles entered one of their most prolific and creative periods.
ALLAN KOZINN:
Once they congregated again in London after they were all back, they got together at George Harrison’s house in May, 1968, a couple of weeks before they started work on what became The White Album. And they just sat down and did demos for something like 27 songs that we know of, and we don't even know that we've heard the whole tape.

It’s incredible what they came up with because The White Album has 30 songs on it. These 27 songs on the demo made at George’s house include a number of songs that didn't get onto The White Album but did turn up later, either as solo tracks, like Paul McCartney’s Junk, or John Lennon’s Child of Nature, which he rewrote as Jealous Guy.
JOHN LENNON SINGING:
I was feeling insecure. You might not love me any more. I was shivering inside.
ALLAN KOZINN:
Songs like George Harrison’s Circles, which he didn't record ‘til 1982, Sour Milk Sea, which he gave to someone else, Jackie Lomax, to make a single with.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
You were a very young teenager when the Beatles traveled to India, right?
ALLAN KOZINN:
[LAUGHING] Right, I was like 14 or 13.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
And a rabid Beatles fan?
ALLAN KOZINN:
Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
So did you feel you needed to get into the Maharishi, too?
ALLAN KOZINN:
Well, you know, like a lot of people who followed them closely, it sort of was important to us to try and understand what the Beatles were up to. After they went to Rishikesh, books by the Maharishi began appearing in paperback, and so I bought one [LAUGHS] and actually tried to read it. I didn't get very far. My experience was very brief. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Nevertheless, you would consider the Beatles the ultimate celebrity endorsement?
ALLAN KOZINN:
Oh, undoubtedly, but, you know, the thing is that the Maharishi continued on until the time of his death, and he had many adherents, celebrated and otherwise. I mean, lots of people meditate to this day.

And if it was just the Beatles that made him interesting, then after their seven months of involvement with him was over, he would have just disappeared. So obviously, there was something there that affected a lot of people, and does to this day.

BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Allan, thank you so much.
ALLAN KOZINN:
Any time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:
Allan Kozinn is a music critic for The New York Times.
[CLIP]
REPORTER
Did you think this man’s on the level?
BEATLE:
I don't know what level he’s on, but we had a nice holiday in India and came back rested.