When we learned of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s death yesterday, there was some talk around the office about how best to characterize his relationship with the Beatles. Were they “inspired” by him? Could we say that he had an influence on the “white” album, the first full-length recording they made after visiting him in 1967? Yes and no — it gets complicated. The one thing the four Beatles had in common when it came to the Maharishi was that by supposedly being “taught meditation” by him and, more importantly, being photographed with him, they collectively made him a household name in America. But beyond that, they were as divided on him, and TM, as they were on just about anything in the last three years of their career. The two poles were George Harrison, who adored the guru (at the time), and John Lennon, who couldn’t stand him. If you were to ask the average music fan which song on that white album was actually about the Maharishi, not many outside of the large cult of Beatlemania would be quick to answer “Sexy Sadie,” Lennon’s excoriating put-down piece.
And here’s a trivia point not even many Beatlemaniacs know: The original title for “Sexy Sadie” was… drum roll, please… “Maharishi.” I learned this when I spoke with George Harrison in 1987, and got another surprise about the origin of the song’s eventual title.
Q: “Did you have any qualms about having ‘Sexy Sadie,’ John’s diatribe against the Maharishi, on the White Album?”
Harrison: “Not at all. In fact, I titled it ‘Sexy Sadie.’ I don’t know what John would say about that, but he was sitting there and I was saying ‘Well, John, wouldn’t it be more subtle to call it, say, something like ‘Sexy Sadie’? It’s a bit obvious – ‘Maharishi.’” No, I didn’t mind, because I like that tune. The words, that was John’s concept of what happened to him…. But even John was wrong some of the time.”
So there you have it: Harrison as the devotee who could take — and even assist with — a joke. I wonder what Harrison, the enduring mystic and Monty Python co-conspirator, would have made of the scene in Walk Hard that spoofs the Beatles’ visit to the Maharishi. Chances are he would have thought of a great line they should’ve thrown in.