The Beatles song John Lennon wrote to save Mia Farrow’s sister from cosmic disaster
Many Beatles fanatics would attest to the Fab Four’s songs saving them from one emotion or another. Whether its the extra dose of happiness they imbued ‘Yellow Submarine’ with to save you from a glum day or the trip down to the ‘Norwegian Wood’ to relieve you of boredom—Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr produced songs capable of changing the atmosphere.
One such song, allegedly composed on the spot, was written to save the sister of actor Mia Farrow from a spiritual meltdown, as she got lost in the pursuit of transcendental enlightenment. Instead, John Lennon and George Harrison reacted and performed a rough version of ‘Dear Prudence’.
The group were embarking on a trip to India in early 1968, to partake in the practice of yoga and transcendental meditation under the tutelage of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It was a significant moment in The Beatles history and influenced much of their later work. It was a retreat that welcomed many celebrities including Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence.
Prudence had flung herself into India and the Maharishi’s teachings and had become slightly obsessed with the practice and was, according to Lennon, going a little “barmy”. Prudence would later say in Womack’s book The Beatles Encyclopaedia: “I would always rush straight back to my room after lectures and meals so I could meditate. John, George and Paul would all want to sit around jamming and having a good time and I’d be flying into my room. They were all serious about what they were doing, but they just weren’t as fanatical as me.”
Lennon and Harrison had become close with Prudence after she revealed that she had come to India following a traumatic experience with LSD, they were even assigned as her “team buddies” by the Maharishi. It was a responsibility the duo took very seriously and when they were asked to coax Prudence out of her room and partake in the group’s activities.
Acclaimed singer-songwriter Donovan was also present at the retreat and remembered in a later Mojo article that “we were diving deep inside ourselves, not just for 20 minutes in the morning and the evening, but we had days of it… deep exploration of the deep psyche… So Prudence was in deep, and this [song] was John’s way of saying, ‘Are you OK in there?'”
Paul McCartney remembered in a 1994 interview that the song was composed during her seclusion and that it helped to bring her back into the group. “He (John) wrote ‘Dear Prudence, won’t you come out and play…’ and went in and sang it to her,” said Macca, before adding: “And I think that actually did help.” Farrow would later say that she hadn’t heard the song until it was released on The White Album later that year.
As part of Lennon’s iconic interview with David Sheff of Playboy, the singer-songwriter offered up his own opinions on some of the song’s conception: “‘Dear Prudence’ is me. Written in India. A song about Mia Farrow’s sister, who seemed to go slightly barmy, meditating too long, and couldn’t come out of the little hut we were livin’ in.” They selected me and George to try and bring her out because she would trust us. If she’d been in the West, they would have put her away… We got her out of the house.”
Clearly proud of his human achievement and now distancing himself from the Maharishi he said: “She’d been locked in for three weeks and was trying to reach God quicker than anybody else. That was the competition in Maharishi’s camp—who was going to get cosmic first. What I didn’t know was I was ‘already’ cosmic.”