The Beatles in Bangor

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In the foreground is the site of the former Normal College (now part of the University of Wales, Bangor), where the Maharishi's seminar took place in August 1967

In late August 1967, the English rock band the Beatles attended a seminar on Transcendental Meditation (TM) held by Indian teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at a training college in Bangor in north-west Wales. The visit attracted international publicity for Transcendental Meditation and presented the 1960s youth movement with an alternative to psychedelic drugs as a means to attaining higher consciousness. The Beatles' endorsement of the technique followed the band's incorporation of Indian musical and philosophical influences in their work, and was initiated by George Harrison's disillusionment with Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, which he visited in early August.

The train transporting the Beatles from London to Bangor was nicknamed "the Mystical Special" by the British press, some of whom reacted with suspicion to the band's sudden devotion to the Maharishi. The four band members were accompanied by their partners and by fellow artists such as Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull and Cilla Black. While in Bangor, the Beatles learned of the death of their manager, Brian Epstein, on 27 August. Shocked by this loss, they cut their visit short. Impressed by the Maharishi's teachings, the band agreed to join him at his ashram in Rishikesh, India, to further their studies in meditation.

Background and introduction to the Maharishi[edit]

Shopfronts in Haight-Ashbury. The Beatles came to Transcendental Meditation following Harrison's visit to Haight-Ashbury and his disillusionment with the drug culture there.

In the mid-1960s, the Beatles became interested in Indian culture,[1] after the band members, particularly John Lennon and George Harrison, began using the psychedelic drug lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) in an effort to expand their consciousness.[2][3] In September and October 1966, Harrison visited India,[4] where, in addition to furthering his sitar studies under Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar, he developed a fascination for Vedic philosophy.[5][6] Eager to find meaning in the Beatles' worldwide popularity, Harrison and his wife, Pattie Boyd, investigated several options in their search for a guru, or spiritual teacher.[7][8] According to Boyd, in February 1967, she began attending meetings in London held by the Spiritual Regeneration Movement, an organisation that espoused the Transcendental Meditation technique devised by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and she soon shared her discoveries with Harrison.[9] In early August, the couple visited the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, an area that represented the international centre of the hippie movement during the Summer of Love.[10][11] Harrison was dismayed that Haight-Ashbury appeared to be populated by drug addicts and dropouts, rather than enlightened members of the counterculture.[12][13] Mindful of the Beatles' considerable influence on Western youth, particularly after the release of their 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,[10] Harrison decided to quit taking LSD.[7] On his return to London, he shared his disappointment with Lennon, who had similarly begun to question the benefits of LSD.[14][nb 1]

Harrison, Lennon and McCartney first met the Maharishi at the London Hilton, on Park Lane.

The Maharishi was familiar to the Beatles through his appearances on the Granada Television program People and Places years earlier.[19] Alexis "Magic Alex" Mardas, a Greek friend of the Beatles, had heard a lecture by the Maharishi in Athens; when it was announced that he was to make a public appearance in London in late August that year, Boyd and Mardas encouraged the Beatles to attend.[20] The London-based sculptor David Wynne has also been credited with the introduction.[21] In Harrison's recollection, it was Wynne who told him about the Maharishi's upcoming visit and recommended that Harrison attend.[1]

On 24 August, Lennon, Harrison and Paul McCartney, together with their respective partners, attended the Maharishi's lecture in the ballroom[20] at the London Hilton, on Park Lane.[22] Ringo Starr was not present, due to the recent birth of his and Maureen Starkey's second child, Jason.[1][20] The Maharishi had announced his intention to retire, so this engagement was expected to be his last in the West.[23] The Beatles were given front row seats and then met the Maharishi in his hotel suite after the lecture.[24][25] During the meeting, he invited them to be his guests at a ten-day training retreat that was to begin the following day, in Bangor in north-west Wales.[26] Impressed by the lecture and meeting the Maharishi, the band cancelled a recording session in order to accompany him to Bangor.[27]

Departure and experience[edit]

On 25 August, the Beatles travelled by train to Bangor. In their enthusiasm for the Maharishi, the group had invited friends such as Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Cilla Black, and Harrison's sister-in-law Jenny Boyd to join them.[28] It was the first time for several years that the band had travelled without their manager, Brian Epstein, and tour managers, and they had not even thought to bring money.[29] Lennon remarked that it was "like going somewhere without your trousers on".[30] The Beatles arrived at London's Euston Station late in the afternoon and were caught up in a large crowd, made worse by the fact that it was the Friday before the UK's late-summer bank holiday weekend.[31] Left to carry their own luggage due to the absence of their assistants, the band members were mobbed on their way to the station platform. Lennon's wife Cynthia became separated from the group, and then, mistaken for a fan, was held back by police officers.[32] Peter Brown, an executive at Epstein's company NEMS, arranged for Neil Aspinall to drive Cynthia down to Bangor by car.[33][34]

The band and their entourage were under constant scrutiny by reporters, photographers and television film crews,[34][35] who dubbed the train "the Mystical Special".[36] During the journey, the Beatles joined the Maharishi in his first class compartment, partly to escape the attention of the press.[36] In Faithfull's recollection, Harrison and Boyd were the "real spiritual seekers" and Lennon also, "in his own way", but McCartney was "very cynical" about the venture.[37] All of the Beatles were drawn to the Maharishi's contention that bliss was attainable through short sessions of meditation, with minimal change to their working day and regular lifestyle.[36] Starr later said of his first meeting with the Maharishi: "The man was so full of joy and happiness and it just blew my mind ... I thought 'I want some of that'."[38][nb 2]

A large crowd of fans were gathered at Bangor railway station, awaiting the Beatles' arrival.[39] The retreat was held at Bangor Normal College and served as an initiation course in Transcendental Meditation. The Beatles, along with around 300 others,[26] learned the basics of TM,[40] and each initiate was given a personal mantra.[41] In a 1967 interview, Harrison explained the process:

Each person's life pulsates in a certain rhythm, so they give you a word or sound, known as a mantra, which pulsates with that rhythm. By using the mantra … to transcend to the subtlest level of thought … the mantra becomes more subtle and more subtle, until finally you've lost even the mantra, and then you find yourself at that level of pure consciousness.[35][nb 3]

As was the custom for all initiates, the group were asked to donate a week's wages.[43] Soon afterwards, Lennon described the financial arrangement as "the fairest thing I've heard of", adding: "We'll make a donation and we'll ask for money from anyone we know with money … anyone in the so-called establishment who's worried about kids going wild and drugs and all that. Another groovy thing: everybody gives one week's wages when they join ... And that's all you ever pay, just the once."[44]

On 26 August, the Beatles announced at a press conference that they were giving up hallucinogenic drugs.[45] The announcement came as an about-turn after McCartney, to the dismay of his bandmates,[46] had publicly admitted in June 1967 to taking LSD.[47][48][nb 4] Although their renouncing of psychedelic drugs was in keeping with the Maharishi's teachings, it was a group decision made before meeting the Maharishi.[53][54][55] The Maharishi did advise them privately to avoid involvement with the "Ban the Bomb" movement and to support the elected government of the day.[56] Lennon later described the retreat as "incredible" and recalled that Jagger immediately telephoned his Rolling Stones bandmate Keith Richards, telling him to come down with Brian Jones and the other members of their band.[44][nb 5]

Epstein's death[edit]

The Beatles' intention was to attend the entire ten-day seminar but their stay was cut short by the death of their manager, in London, on 27 August.[58] Epstein had arranged to entertain friends at his property in Sussex over the bank holiday weekend, but had said he might join the band towards the end of the seminar.[59] The Maharishi consoled them by saying that Epstein's spirit was still with them, and their good thoughts would help him "to have an easy passage"[60] and journey to his "next evolution".[41][61] Still in shock after receiving the news, the Beatles held a press conference, during which Lennon and Harrison passed on the Maharishi's views on death to the media.[62]

According to McCartney, the Maharishi "was great to us when Brian died".[61] Cynthia Lennon later wrote: "it was as though, with Brian gone, the four needed someone new to give them direction and the Maharishi was in the right place at the right time."[63]

Aftermath and cultural influence[edit]

The Beatles in a sequence from Magical Mystery Tour

The Beatles made plans to spend time at the Maharishi's training centre in India in late October.[64][56] However, at McCartney's urging, they postponed the trip until the new year to work on their Magical Mystery Tour film project, since he was concerned that they should first focus on their career, with the loss of Epstein.[65] Harrison and Lennon appeared on David Frost's television program in autumn 1967 espousing the benefits of Transcendental Meditation,[66][67] at which point, according to his wife, Lennon was "evangelical in his enthusiasm for Maharishi".[63][nb 6] Due to the interest generated by their first appearance on the show, on 29 September, Frost invited the pair back a week later, when they discussed TM with a studio audience comprising clergymen, academics and journalists.[69]

We want to learn the meditation thing properly, so that we can propagate it and sell the whole idea to everyone. This is how we plan to use our power now. They've always called us leaders of youth, and we believe this is a good way to give a lead.[70]

– John Lennon, September 1967

The Beatles' allegiance to the Maharishi and his teachings marked the first time that the band had committed to employing their influence to popularising a cause.[70] Their attendance at the Bangor seminar, together with Harrison and Lennon's promotional activities, resulted in Transcendental Meditation becoming a worldwide phenomenon.[71][72] In his book American Veda, author Philip Goldberg likens the Maharishi's Hilton lecture to Swami Vivekananda's visit to the West in 1893, in terms of its importance for Indian religion.[73] As a result of the coverage given to the Beatles' interest, words such as "mantra" and "guru" became commonly used in the West for the first time.[74] While the band's new, anti-LSD message was met with approval,[62] their championing of the Maharishi and his TM technique was often the subject of confusion and ridicule in the mainstream press,[71][75] particularly in Britain.[76] At a court event in October, Queen Elizabeth II remarked to Sir Joseph Lockwood, the chairman of EMI: "The Beatles are turning awfully funny, aren't they?"[76] Now publicised as "The Beatles' Guru", the Maharishi went on his eighth world tour, giving lectures in Britain, Scandinavia, West Germany, Italy, Canada and California.[77]

Jagger, Faithfull and Brian Jones (back row: second, third and fifth from left, respectively) meeting with the Maharishi in Amsterdam in September 1967

Among the counterculture and the underground press, the Maharishi's ascendancy was viewed as a significant development in the youth movement's search for universal spiritual awareness.[78] To some members of the US counterculture, the Beatles had found the "answer"; their endorsement of meditation was especially welcome in Haight-Ashbury, where summer's end was marked by an increase in drug casualties.[79] The Beatles' more spiritually aware peers were also inspired by their example.[71][80] Scottish singer Donovan sought out the Maharishi in California,[81] having bonded with Harrison following the latter's return from India in late 1966. Donovan later said that he and Harrison had avidly read Hindu spiritual texts and discussed meditation as a way to achieve genuine higher consciousness, but they had lacked the method and a "guide" until meeting the Maharishi.[73] Harrison also introduced Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys to the Maharishi[82] when he and Lennon joined their teacher at a UNICEF benefit in Paris in December.[83] Other artists who followed the Beatles' lead into TM included members of the bands the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane,[84] all of whom met the Maharishi with Jagger and Donovan in Los Angeles that autumn.[85]

In November 1967, The Village Voice said that, given how many rock musicians had embraced meditation, and the popularity of TM initiation courses on university campuses, "it looks now that Maharishi may become more popular than the Beatles."[84] In February 1968, having twice delayed their departure for India,[68] the Beatles and their wives or girlfriends joined the Maharishi at his ashram in Rishikesh.[86] Their fellow students included Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and American actress Mia Farrow.[87][88]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Of all the four Beatles, Lennon and Harrison shared an interest in Hindu philosophy and were dedicated to incorporating utopian ideals into the group's music.[15] Harrison's fully Indian classical-styled "Within You Without You" represented the band's most committed spiritual statement on Sgt. Pepper,[16][17] and one that Harrison was keen to separate from a drug-inspired "high".[18]
  2. ^ Starr added that it was "one of those mind-altering moments of your life".[38]
  3. ^ According to the Maharishi's teachings, there were seven "levels" of consciousness. In author Gary Tillery's description, these were: waking, dreaming, deep sleep, pure or "transcendental" consciousness, cosmic consciousness, God consciousness, and Supreme Knowledge.[42]
  4. ^ Despite Lennon and Harrison's urging since 1965, McCartney had declined to join them and Starr in their LSD experimentation until late 1966.[49][50] His abstinence had created friction in the band,[49][51] and his mid-1967 announcement was viewed by the other Beatles, particularly Harrison, as an example of McCartney craving attention.[46][52]
  5. ^ Richards subsequently said he admired the "basic drive" behind meditation, but it "reached … insane proportions" due to the Beatles' interest. He added that, in contrast to Jagger's curiosity, "I was quite proud I never went and kissed the Maharishi's goddamn feet."[57]
  6. ^ Lennon said that, thanks to meditation, "I'm a better person and I wasn't bad before",[62] while Harrison stated that "the world is ready for a mystic revolution."[68]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c The Beatles 2000, p. 260.
  2. ^ Kozinn, Allan (7 February 2008). "Meditation on the man who saved the Beatles". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  3. ^ Shouler & Anthony 2009, pp. 218–19.
  4. ^ Rodriguez 2012, pp. 251–53.
  5. ^ The Beatles 2000, p. 233.
  6. ^ Lavezzoli 2006, pp. 177–78.
  7. ^ a b Clayson 2003, p. 223.
  8. ^ Schaffner 1978, p. 86.
  9. ^ Boyd 2007, pp. 95–96.
  10. ^ a b The Editors of Rolling Stone 2002, p. 37.
  11. ^ Shouler & Anthony 2009, pp. 220–21.
  12. ^ The Beatles 2000, p. 259.
  13. ^ Doggett 2007, pp. 100–01.
  14. ^ Tillery 2011, p. 54.
  15. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 233.
  16. ^ Lavezzoli 2006, pp. 6–7.
  17. ^ Shouler & Anthony 2009, p. 220.
  18. ^ Ingham 2006, p. 199.
  19. ^ Miles 1997, pp. 400, 403.
  20. ^ a b c Brown & Gaines 2002, p. 242.
  21. ^ Telegraph staff (9 September 2014). "David Wynne – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  22. ^ Boyd 2007, p. 96.
  23. ^ Goldman 2001, p. 273.
  24. ^ Tillery 2010, p. 63.
  25. ^ Goldman 2001, p. 274.
  26. ^ a b Brown & Gaines 2002, p. 243.
  27. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 232.
  28. ^ Clayson, Alan. "Express Yourself". In: Mojo Special Limited Edition 2002, p. 113.
  29. ^ Boyd 2007, p. 99.
  30. ^ Boyd 2007, p. 97.
  31. ^ Brown & Gaines 2002, pp. 243–44.
  32. ^ Sounes 2010, p. 190.
  33. ^ Boyd 2007, p. 98.
  34. ^ a b Brown & Gaines 2002, p. 244.
  35. ^ a b Schaffner 1978, p. 87.
  36. ^ a b c Clayson 2003, p. 224.
  37. ^ Faithfull, Marianne. "We Love You". In: Mojo Special Limited Edition 2002, p. 146.
  38. ^ a b Booth, Robert (10 December 2015). "Indian retreat where Beatles learned to meditate opened to public". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  39. ^ Dearden, Chris (25 August 2017). "The Beatles: Historians say 1967 Bangor visit was a turning point". BBC News. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  40. ^ Coghlan, Tom; Pitel, Laura; Gray, Sadie (7 February 2008). "Maharishi Mahesh Yogi". The Times. London.
  41. ^ a b Greene 2006, p. 88.
  42. ^ Tillery 2011, pp. 63–64.
  43. ^ Sounes 2010, p. 189.
  44. ^ a b Miles 2001, p. 275.
  45. ^ Miles 2001, p. 276.
  46. ^ a b Sounes 2010, p. 185.
  47. ^ Frontani 2007, pp. 158–59.
  48. ^ Rodriguez 2012, pp. 58–60.
  49. ^ a b Gilmore, Mikal (25 August 2016). "Beatles' Acid Test: How LSD Opened the Door to 'Revolver'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  50. ^ Rodriguez 2012, pp. 54–56.
  51. ^ Gould 2007, pp. 388–89.
  52. ^ The Beatles 2000, p. 255.
  53. ^ Goldman 2001, p. 275.
  54. ^ Gould 2007, p. 449.
  55. ^ The Beatles 2000, p. 262.
  56. ^ a b Felton, Dave (20 September 1967). "Beatles' Yogi Allows Shoes at Conference". Los Angeles Times. p. A3.
  57. ^ Bockris 1992, p. 103.
  58. ^ Ingham 2006, pp. 43–44.
  59. ^ Clayson 2003, p. 225.
  60. ^ Lennon 2005, p. 201.
  61. ^ a b Miles 1997, p. 406.
  62. ^ a b c Goldberg 2010, p. 152.
  63. ^ a b Lennon 2005, p. 204.
  64. ^ Lennon 2005, p. 206.
  65. ^ Gould 2007, pp. 438, 461.
  66. ^ Miles 2001, p. 280.
  67. ^ Tillery 2011, p. 62.
  68. ^ a b Clayson 2003, p. 230.
  69. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 240.
  70. ^ a b Turner 2006, p. 142.
  71. ^ a b c Doggett 2007, p. 101.
  72. ^ Shouler & Anthony 2009, pp. 222–23.
  73. ^ a b Goldberg 2010, p. 151.
  74. ^ Goldberg 2010, pp. 18–19.
  75. ^ Frontani 2007, p. 252.
  76. ^ a b Norman 1996, p. 310.
  77. ^ Lefferts, Barney (17 December 1967). "Chief Guru of the Western World". The New York Times Magazine. p. 235.
  78. ^ Doggett 2007, pp. 101–02.
  79. ^ Goldberg 2010, pp. 149–50.
  80. ^ The Editors of Rolling Stone 2002, p. 36.
  81. ^ Leitch 2007, p. 185.
  82. ^ Clayson 2003, p. 231.
  83. ^ Miles 2001, p. 287.
  84. ^ a b Goldberg 2010, p. 157.
  85. ^ Bellman, Jonathan (Winter 1997). "Indian Resonances in the British Invasion, 1965–1968". The Journal of Musicology. 15 (1): 129.
  86. ^ Turner 2006, p. 144.
  87. ^ Gould 2007, pp. 461–62.
  88. ^ Turner 2006, pp. 146–47.

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