Sexy Sadie

”Sexy Sadie” and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi


Posted to January 4, 1996; revised March 28, 2004


> I know that ''Sexy Sadie'' is about the Maharishi but what happened

> with him? It wasn't covered in Anthology and I've never seen ''The

> Compleat Beatles''

Sometime in early- or mid-1967 Patti Harrison, George’s then-wife, became involved with the Spiritual Regeneration Movement in London - which was (then as now) being led and taught by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. (You may have heard of it by another name: it’s often called the Transcendental Meditation movement.)

Patti had attended several lecture/workshops with the Maharishi in London, where she had felt happily buoyed by his message of spiritual enlightenment and inner peace. She had also begun learning the techniques of transcendental meditation, and found the practice to be profound and soothing. As for the Maharishi himself, Patti was impressed. Here was a man who - at the height of the era of “swinging London,” with its limousines, drug culture, wild music and all-night parties - preached a refreshing message of simplicity, and appeared to be doing it not for gain but merely to better people’s lives. Patti was smitten. Soon enough she shared her discovery with George. He too became intrigued. In due course, all four Beatles knew, and all four wanted to know more.

And so, one evening in late August, 1967 they all descended en masse on one of the Maharishi’s lectures.

They were completely taken by what they saw and heard, and on the spot they announced to the press (who had, of course, followed along that night) that they were committing themselves to the Maharishi’s movement. The very next day they made good on their word by taking the train from London to Bangor University in Wales for a weekend retreat to continue their studies and to learn how to meditate. Unfortunately they had only been there a day when news reached them that Brian Epstein had died - probably of an overdose - the previous evening. The Beatles were deeply shocked by this news, and returned to London right away. Before they left Bangor, however, they tentatively accepted an invitation from the Maharishi to visit him at his retreat in Rishikesh, India at some unspecified time in the not-too-distant future.

The attractions of Transcendental Meditation can perhaps be best understood when you consider what the Beatles’ lives were like at this point in time. In late 1967 the fab four were the richest, most-pampered, most-sought-after young men in the world. Since 1964 life had been an increasingly rapid round of riches, drugs, sex, music, toys, and all manner of artistic and social amusements. Ringo: "The four of us have led the most hectic lives you can imagine." So far the manic pace had mostly seemed to fuel the group’s creativity. In 1967 they had unveiled the majestic Sgt. Pepper album (on June 1) and then, scarcely two weeks later, appeared on the first worldwide satellite TV hook-up in history - “Our World” - with a brand-new song written especially for the occasion, “All You Need Is Love,” which became an immediate hit and a virtual anthem for what would come to be called the Summer of Love. The Beatles were, many observers agreed, at the very apogee of their creative life, with nowhere to go but up.

Lately, however, the group had been showing signs of fatigue. Upon the completion of Pepper the band had continued to show up at EMI for recording sessions - as if reluctant to let go of the Pepper magic - but these were generally wandering and aimless, producing little in the way of memorable music. On the home front things weren’t going much better. John was growing estranged from his wife Cynthia, Ringo was feeling the same way with Maureen, and Paul was growing frustrated with his longtime girlfriend, Jane Asher. All four were bored with the trappings of the rock star life. Suddenly, in the Maharishi, the Beatles felt they had found what might be the answer to their problems - a way of life that promised to banish malaise and give them a sense of purpose again, not by using drugs and hyper-stimulation, but through spiritual quest. The effect of the guru’s message was electric from the start, and this is why the Beatles announced so quickly that they were going to follow him.

Fate intervened, however. After coping with the passing of Brian Epstein, the Beatles found themselves facing several pressing concerns. It turned out to be a lousy time to leave London: NEMS, Brian Epstein’s management company, was in turmoil. The Beatles also had to finish recording their songs for the animated film Yellow Submarine, and at the same time they decided to undertake a new project, Magical Mystery Tour, to be broadcast on the BBC at Christmas. With all this and the recording of a new single for release while they were away (“Lady Madonna”/”The Inner Light”), they didn’t end up leaving for India until January of 1968.

A complete account of the Beatles’ experiences in Rishikesh would run to thousands of words, and since there are already many excellent accounts to be found in various Beatle biographies I won’t bother going into details here. Suffice it to say that, in the main, the entourage found India to be both more and less than expected. Rishikesh was a place of exotic customs and beautiful scenery. It was also a place of spicy food and itchy bedding. A holiday atmosphere prevailed for the most part. Ringo said it was a bit like Butlin’s.

In fact, Ringo was the first casualty of the trip. He and Maureen ended up staying just a few weeks. Privately they didn't really feel they fit in with the experience; publicly Ringo said he couldn't stomach the food.

The rest hung in for almost three months.

While in India the group spent a lot of time meditating, attending lectures, and being in-all-ways spiritual. They also composed at a fantastic rate - probably half of the White Album was written in this period.

The whole thing came to an end, however, on a bad note.

The Beatles had not gone alone to Rishikesh. By the time of their departure the excursion had grown to include many members of their show-business circle, including Prudence and Mia Farrow, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, and Donovan Leitch. Prudence was by all accounts a pretty and sensitive young woman, less worldly than Mia. The others liked her very much. One day, however, Prudence was nowhere to be seen. It turned out that she was sequestered in her bungalow in a state of emotional collapse. (John's song "Dear Prudence" is based on this episode.) The rumors started going around that during a private session together with the Maharishi a suddenly less-than-holy side had emerged: the teacher had tried to seduce his student. This had upset Prudence so thoroughly that she was now on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Infuriated, the rest got together and rapidly declared the Maharishi a scam artist and cad. That’s it, they said. The trip is over. We’ll pack our bags and leave. Tomorrow.

When it came to telling the Maharishi, John, of course, was elected group spokesman. The next day they confronted their ex-teacher in a brief, curt meeting. "We're leaving," said John. "Why?" said the Maharishi. "If you're so holy,” said John, “you'll know why."

The Beatles took the next plane back to London and shortly thereafter went public with their renunciation of the Maharishi's movement (and, in the same press conference, announced their formation of Apple Corps). They made it clear at this time (and after) that they felt duped and betrayed; they had initially felt the Maharishi to be “more than human,” and were now resigned to the fact that he was just another all-too-human charlatan.

(I say 'charlatan' advisedly because there had also been incidents in India where the Maharishi tried to cut some shrewd business deals with the Beatles ... something everyone, given the supposedly religious setting, found inappropriate and off-putting.)

John debuted the song “Sexy Sadie” during the White Album sessions a few months later. As one can hear, the original words to "Sexy Sadie" were about the Maharishi. Later John had second thoughts and changed them to be more obscure.

In a high-spirits session at EMI on July 19, 1968 - the first "Sexy Sadie" session - John can be heard on the tape singing:


    You little twat

    Who the fuck do you think you are?

    Who the fuck do you think you are?

    Oh, you cunt.

Later in Rolling Stone magazine John said: "That's about the Maharishi, yes. I copped out and I wouldn't write 'Maharishi, what have you done/you've made a fool of everyone.' But now it can be told, fab listeners."