Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Beatles and India

   Indian music, has no doubt been one of the most influential, evolved species of music in the world, especially on its classical front. I was watching this German movie, 'Run Lola Run', and it came as a pleasant surprise to me when the background score at the climax, rose to a typical 'Aalaap' in a common Hindustani raga. It was no coincidence that the iconic act The Beatles, were often compelled to add that Indian zing to their songs. 
   George Harrison started, as early as 1965, by writing three songs that featured in their albums." We were waiting to shoot the scene in the restaurant when the guy gets thrown in the soup and there were a few Indian musicians playing in the background. I remember picking up the sitar and trying to hold it and thinking, 'This is a funny sound.' It was an incidental thing, but somewhere down the line I began to hear Ravi Shankar's name." George Harrison, 1992, about the making of the 1965 movie, 'Help'. Well, we know what happened next, he developed a strong affinity to the sitar. Later that year, he recorded 'Norweigian Wood' for 'Rubber Soul'. However, Norwegian Wood wasn't the first Beatles release to feature a sitar. The North American version of the Help! album featured an instrumental, called Another Hard Day's Night; a medley of A Hard Day's NightCan't Buy Me Love and I Should Have Known Better performed on a sitar, tablas, flute and finger cymbals. Influenced by Hindustani classical music, Harrison wrote 'Love you to' for 'Revolver' and of course, 'Within you without you' for Sgt. Pepper's. Though the former was hailed as a 'filler' track, it has a unique beauty. Listen for the sitar strains following 'You don't get time to hang a sign on me-e-ee'    Then there was the Maharshi Mahesh Yogi episode. After a brief interaction with him during a lecture in Wales, in 1968, The Beatles traveled to Rishikesh, India, to attend the Transcendental Meditation course, headed by Maharshi Mahesh Yogi. "John and George were going to Rishikesh with the idea that this might be some huge spiritual lift-off and they might never come back if Maharishi told them some really amazing thing. Well, being a little bit pragmatic, I thought in my own mind, I'll give it a month, then if I really really like it, I'll come back and organise to go out there for good, but I won't go on this 'I may never come back' thing."- McCartney. The course consisted of lectures where the students would describe their spiritual experiences with the Maharshi answering their questions. John and George were especially dedicated, they spent long hours in intense meditation.
 During this period there resulted some remarkable songs. Most of the White Album was written. John wrote 'Dear Prudence' for a fellow student Prudence, while 'The continuing story of Bungalow Bill' was written about a certain 'Jungle Jim' who used to take breaks to shoot tigers, combined with Buffalo Bill.
In  'I'm so tired', John wrote about his frustration from being unable to sleep( from absence of drugs)
"I'm So Tired was me, in India again. I couldn't sleep, I'm meditating all day and couldn't sleep at night. The story is that. One of my favorite tracks. I just like the sound of it, and I sing it well."-Lennon. Scottish singer Donovan, who was also at the ashram, taught John and George a style of fingerpicking his guitar, which they implemented in 'Dear Prudence' and 'Julia'
  Paul wrote 'Back in the ussr', 'Honey Pie' and 'Rocky Racoon', based on his Indian experiences(though they had little to do with the Yogi's teachings).
 For Ringo, the stay in India was short and spicy( he didnt really fancy the food), and within a fortnight he was back home. But he did write his first song 'Dont pass me by' in India. 
Paul left a month later, relatively unimpressed bu the Maharshi's prowess. John and George stayed on for another, till there emerged rumors of the Maharshi's proclaimed celibacy being mumbo-jumbo. They left abruptly, and on the way back John began writing 'Sexy Sadie'.
"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.' 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(to see Ravi Shankar) and spent another few weeks there."-Harrison. In the years to come, they would regret their hasty action and apologize to the Maharshi, while George would give the benefits of a concert to Maharshi's cause, while Ringo would say "I  feel so blessed I met the Maharishi – he gave me a mantra that no one can take away, and I still use it".
Of course The Beatles later went on to record 'Across the universe', with the chorus 'Jai Guru Deva', which is most likely a reference to the Maharshi's spiritual master. 
George Harrison, most importantly, stayed in close connection to India, following Indian music and philosophy throughout his life.
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