One John Lennon song was the moment The Beatles began to break up
When looking through the iconography of The Beatles and their subsequent split it is easy to get wrapped up in the bitter jibes the members of the band through at each other following their public disbandment. John Lennon’s song ‘How Do You Sleep?’, Paul McCartney’s ‘Too Many People’ or even George Harrison’s ‘Run of the Mill’— all of the songs provide a caustic reflection on the time the Fab Four had spent together. However, if you look back a little further, you can almost pinpoint the moment the band began to unravel to one song in particular.
That song, featured on The White Album, may well have signified the end of The Beatles but the aim of Lennon was trained on the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The Beatles had become infatuated with India and the teachings of the Maharishi when the four travelled to meet the guru and learn Transcendental Meditation under his tutelage. But, by the time the band had left, Lennon was calling the Guru a “cunt” and a “twat” in a new song he had written for him, later titled ‘Sexy Sadie’.
“That’s about the Maharishi, yes,” recalled Lennon later in his life. “I copped out and I wouldn’t write ‘Maharishi, what have you done? You made a fool of everyone’. But now it can be told, Fab Listeners.” It was a disastrous time for Lennon. The singer was still struggling to find himself within his new paradigm and the teachings of Maharishi had offered a new light for the Liverpudlian to follow. Accompanied by George Harrison, Lennon had thought he’d found his guy in the Guru.
Instead, while the group were in India after Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney had left the ashram, Lennon’s friend Alexis Madras arrived with some bad news. “Alexis and a fellow female meditator began to sow the seeds of doubt into very open minds,” recalled Cynthia Lennon. “Alexis’ statements about how the Maharishi had been indiscreet with a certain lady, and what a blackguard he had turned out to be gathering momentum. All, may I say, without a single shred of evidence or justification. It was obvious to me that Alexis wanted out and more than anything he wanted The Beatles out as well.”
Whether Madras was wholly concerned with getting the band out of the TM teachings or otherwise, Paul McCartney also remembers the whole escapade too. “It was a big scandal,” he recalls for Barry Miles’ Many Years From Now. “Maharishi had tried to get off with one of the chicks. I said, ‘Tell me what happened?’ John said, ‘Remember that blonde American girl with the short hair? Like a Mia Farrow lookalike. She was called Pat or something.’ I said, ‘Yeah’. He said, ‘Well, Maharishi made a pass at her.’ So I said, ‘Yes? What’s wrong with that?’ ‘He said, ‘Well, you know, he’s just a bloody old letch just like everybody else. What the fuck, we can’t go following that!’”
While for Harrison and Lennon, the act had besmirched the guru’s entire teaching, for Macca, it was a little bit different. “They were scandalised. And I was quite shocked at them; I said, ‘But he never said he was a God. In fact very much the opposite. He said, ‘Don’t treat me like a God, I’m just a meditation teacher.’ There was no deal about you mustn’t touch women, was there? There was no vow of chastity involved.’ So I didn’t think it was enough cause to leave the whole meditation centre.”
John Lennon and George Harrison did, however, and even began composing the song ‘Sexy Sadie’ immediately with the original working title of ‘Maharishi’. “That was written just as we were leaving, waiting for our bags to be packed in the taxi that never seemed to come,” Lennon remembered in 1974. “We thought: ‘They’re deliberately keeping the taxi back so as we can’t escape from this madman’s camp.’ And we had the mad Greek with us who was paranoid as hell. He kept saying, ‘It’s black magic, black magic. They’re gonna keep you here forever.’ I must have got away because I’m here.”
Harrison helped to temper Lennon’s scything tongue, “John had a song he had started to write which he was singing: ‘Maharishi, what have you done?’ and I said, ‘You can’t say that, it’s ridiculous,'” Harrison remembered for Anthology. “I came up with the title of ‘Sexy Sadie’ and John changed ‘Maharishi’ to ‘Sexy Sadie’. John flew back to Yoko in England and I went to Madras and the south of India and spent another few weeks there.”
All well and good, but how did it showcase the moment the band began to unravel?
Ringo Starr was, is and always will be a fairly affable guy. The drummer had a habit of keeping friendships with almost everybody he met and was the only member of the band to remain friends with every other member after The Beatles had split. So let’s count him out. Meanwhile, John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney were all experiencing some sort of turmoil. The band had recently lost their professional leader in Brain Epstein after his tragic passing and it had a devastating effect on the group.
John Lennon had turned himself away from music and had begun to concentrate not only on the alluring affections of Yoko Ono but of heroin too. After the Maharishi turned out to be fallible, Lennon fell headfirst into both vices. Likewise, Paul McCartney’s time with the guru hadn’t exactly turned him into a freewheeling troubadour. The singer had seized control of the Fab Four’s creative output and the release of Sgt. Pepper was proof of that. Alongside Linda Eastman, he was beginning to eyeing up his options outside the group. Equally, if not more positively, George Harrison was beginning to see himself as a songwriter of equal footing with Lennon-McCartney. It was a powderkeg ready to blow.
When sizing it up, it’s hard to see this song as anything but the starting pistol for the band’s eventual split. It’s a song full of bitterness, broken promises and the beginning of the end charm which would not only see the final moments of the group but those final moments be some of their best. Though the music would never truly be the reason for the band’s split it is easy to see how this song, this moment, became the spark which lit the fuse, it saw the band begin their outward perspectives and onward journies away from the other three Beatles.