"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?"
Fifty years ago last month, on the 16th February 1968, four young men from Liverpool went to Rishikesh in India to study transcendental meditation under the spiritual guidance of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. They wanted to devote themselves to his instruction but unfortunately John, Paul, George and Ringo did not find the certainty that they were hoping for.
Younger readers might be interested to know that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were better known as the Beatles, a popular rhythm combo from Liverpool, whose music and fame were recognised around the world, particularly in Europe and America.
The previous year, 1967, had been one of mixed blessings for the Beatles. In February they had released a brilliant double sided single “Strawberry Hills Forever” and “Penny Lane” but it failed to reach the coveted No. 1 slot, the first of their records to do so since “Please Please Me” in 1963. In July 1967 the revolutionary “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was released to universal praise. On the 25th June they appeared before 400 million people from 24 countries singing “All You Need is Love” on a worldwide TV link up. On the 24th August some of the Beatles attended a lecture on transcendental meditation given by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the Hilton Hotel in London. Impressed by his teaching the following day the Beatles with wives and girlfriends travelled by train from Euston to Bangor in Wales to attend a weekend meditation seminar given by the Maharishi. Because of the frantic rush at Euston to avoid the press and fans John Lennon’s wife Cynthia missed the train. John’s disappearance down the platform without her seemed symbolic of the future of their unsteady marriage. During the meditation weekend in Bangor the Beatles manager, Brian Epstein died from an accidental drug overdose. It had a traumatic and damaging effect on the Beatles who hurried back to London. “If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian”, said Paul McCartney while John Lennon thought that Brian’s death marked the beginning of the end of the group. “I knew that we were in trouble then. We’ve f-king had it”. The Maharishi offered some comfort. “You have to grieve for him,” he advised, “… and love him, and now you send him on his way”.
In the vacuum following Brian’s death a number of power brokers began assembling to wrest control of his music empire - Vic Lewis, Robert Stigwood and Peter Brown amongst others. Faced with the pressure of the in-fighting and the depressing realisation that their first self-produced movie, “Magical Mystery Tour” was deemed a critical disaster and a public failure the Beatles began looking for a way out. “We were inquiring into all sorts of various things, “ said Paul, “… and after we thought about it all, we went out to Rishikesh.”
On the 16th February 1968 the Beatles, along with 3 wives and 1 girlfriend, went to India, away from the craziness of their lives, the drugs, the fame and the inexorable grind of demands upon their creativity. Soon they were joined by other celebrities like Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys and actress Mia Farrow and a besieging army of press who were not allowed into the ashram. Hoping that the mastery of transcendental meditation would give them the wisdom to run their own business affairs the Beatles and particularly John and George applied themselves to the discipline and long hours of mediation. For a few weeks all seemed well but then the Beatles sensed that Maharishi, their spiritual mentor, was not the holy man that he claimed to be, that he using their presence to promote his ashram. Worse than that the guru was also accused of having sex with a young American nurse and making sexual advances to Mia Farrow. Even George, the Maharishi’s most loyal supporter, began to doubt the guru’s spirituality. On 12th April 1968, following Ringo and Paul who had left earlier, John and George walked out of the ashram. The Maharishi was shocked by their departure. Why are you leaving”? he asked. “If you’re so cosmically conscious, as you claim” John snapped back, “then you should know why we are leaving.”
On the long drive back to Delhi John began writing a vitriolic song about the guru that he wanted to call “Maharishi”. When George heard the opening line “Maharishi, what have you done?” he said, “You can’t say that, it’s ridiculous,” and suggested the name Sexy Sadie instead. John later said that he was just using the situation to write a song, rather calculatingly but also to express what he felt. “I was leaving the Maharishi with a bad taste. You know, it seems that my partings are always not as nice as I’d like them to be.”
John recorded a cleaned-up demo of ‘Sexy Sadie’ with some obscene lyrics removed at George Harrison’s Esher bungalow in May 1968. On June 15, 1968, in London, the Beatles formally renounced their association with the Maharishi as a “public mistake”
In later years the Beatles suggested that the rumours about the Maharishi were probably fabricated by Alex Mardas an electronics engineer, in an attempt to undermine the Maharishi’s influence on the Beatles. Mia Farrow never mentioned any sexual impropriety by the Maharishi in her autobiography. Harrison and McCartney later offered their apologies to the Maharishi. Asked if he forgave the Beatles, the Maharishi replied, “I could never be upset with angels.” In 2010, Mardas issued a statement denying that he had spread rumours.
A link to John Lennon’s demo of ‘Sexy Sadie’
– from Martyn Day