Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Beatles of 1968

The Beatles had always been a group made up of four gentlemen who was each in his own right a very strong individual, and I think that's one major element that made them so great.  There never before or since had been such a group as The Beatles.  Sometimes thought of as the "four-headed monster", it was the unity of those four that projected such strength, and as such, they were an example of what good can come from people working together, and that the greater the person as an individual, together it was only all that much better when that kind of energy could be shared in unison.

They were also always progressing.  My favorite quote from John Lennon concerning this was, "If The Beatles or the 60s had a message, it was 'Learn to swim.  And once you've learned - swim!'"

Progress they did, and in 1968 their individuality finally came to that point where they were beginning to notice that the "four-headed monster" was starting to get in the way of each member's own personal growth.  

Perhaps had Brian Epstein lived, he could have held them together as 'one' for a longer period of time.  Perhaps that would have been a misfortune.  There are so many variables to ponder that it kind of makes not a lot of difference and probably should take a back seat to what really happened. 

For as disjointed, perhaps, as their next musical project would be behind the scenes, what became of it still shines as what appears (in my mind anyway) as yet another progression with their double LP that would be released at the end of the year.  In fact, if I were forced to choose, I'd select "The Beatles" double 'white-album' as my favorite of all their releases.  I'd have to be forced, however, because just as I don't have a favorite Beatle, there's really nothing they ever did that I don't find a special favor in somehow.  I've loved it all!  Such is the Beatles fanatic that I really am.

So with all of the ups and downs of 1968, buckle up and enjoy another (nonetheless) "great year with the forever Fab Four" as they journey through the spacial universe of their unending consciousness "on their way back home" to the beginnings of something that would start to materialize into the rest of their lives.

15 February 1968 - John & Cynthia, George & Pattie and her sister Jenny began The Beatles' long-planned trip to Delhi, India to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram in Rishikesh.  Mal Evans had flown ahead of them on the 14th to arrange the necessary transport for the group for their arrival in the morning of the 16th.  

Upon their arrival, 'three battered, ancient Indian taxis' took them to their destination (as Cynthia described them.)  Also recalled by Cynthia Lennon:  "Our arrival at Delhi went very much unheralded.  It was wonderfully refreshing and stress free."  

Paul and Ringo would follow on the 19th.

Their arrival in India on February 20, 1968, wasn't as smooth as John, George and their wives' experience a few days earlier.  The press was now onto their trip and reporters were on hand when they landed.  Garlands of red and yellow flowers were placed around their necks.  Mal Evans and Maharishi's assistant Raghvendra were there to greet them, but according to The Beatles Bible, Ringo was suffering from the pre-trip inoculations with pains in his arm and they first went to have him checked out at a hospital.  

Eventually these very weary travelers made the long taxi drive to Rishikesh along bumpy dusty roads. 

Ringo:  "We had breakfast outside and monkeys used to come and steal the bread.  After breakfast, we'd usually have a morning of meditation in groups, on the roof.  Then after lunch we'd do the same."

John:  "We're all going to India for a couple of months to study Transcendental Meditation properly.  We want to learn properly so 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 that this is a good way to lead.

"The whole world will know what we mean, and all the people who are worried about youth and drugs and that scene--all these people with the short back and sides--they can all come along and dig it too.

"It's no gospel, Bible-thumping, singalong thing, and it needn't be religion if people don't want to connect it with religion.  It's all in the mind.  It strengthens understanding and makes people more relaxed.  It's not just a fad or a gimmick, but the way to calm down tensions."

Paul:  "An average day there was very much like a summer camp.  You would get up in the morning and go down to a communal breakfast.  Food was vegetarian (which is good for me now) and I think we probably had cornflakes for breakfast.

"After breakfast you would go back to your chalet, meditate for a little while, have a bit of lunch and then there might be a talk or a little musical event.  Basically it was just eating, sleeping, and meditating--with the occasional little lecture from Maharishi thrown in.

"There were probably about a hundred of us.  There would be a lot of flowers on the stage and then Maharishi would come in.  It was almost magical.  He would say, 'This is only a system of meditation.  I'm not asking you to believe in any great God or any great myth.  It's merely a system to help you to be calmer in your own life.'"

George:  "Each year, Maharishi had a course for Westerners who wanted to become Transcendental Meditation instructors.  Although I wasn't going to become an instructor, I wanted to go and have a heavy dose of meditation.

"Rishikesh is an incredible place, situated where the Ganges flows out of the Himalayas into the plains between the mountains and Delhi.  There is quite a hefty flow of water coming out of the Himalayas, and we had to cross the river by a big swing suspension bridge.  

"Maharishi's place was perched up on a hill overlooking the town and the river.  It was comprised of Maharishi's little bungalow and lots of little huts that he'd had built quickly for the Westerners coming there, in a compound of about eight or ten acres.  There was a kitchen with some outdoor seating and tables where we would all have our breakfast together.  Nearby there was a large covered area with a platform where he'd give the lectures.

"If you go to India you can't wear Western clothes.  That's one of the best bits about India--having these cool clothes; big baggy shirts and pajama trousers.  They also have tight trousers that look like drainpipes."  

Ringo:  "We had a big party for George's birthday.  It was crowed with people and we all got dressed up and had red and yellow paint on our foreheads."

John:  "Regardless of what I was supposed to be doing, I did write some of my best songs while I was there.  It was a nice scene.  Nice and secure and everyone was always smiling."

Ringo:  "We came home because we missed the children.  I wouldn't want anyone to think we didn't like it there.  I said it was like Butlins holiday camp, we had learnt by then that you could say anything and they'd print it.  It was a good experience--it just didn't last as long for me as it did for them."

Regardless that he would be the first to leave India at the beginning of March, Ringo would continue to praise the act of meditation:  "A lot of people are going to say that I left because I was disillusioned by it all but that just isn't so.  The Academy is a great place and I enjoyed it a lot.  I still meditate every day for half an hour in the morning and half an hour every evening and I think I'm a better person for it."

Paul:  "Once he (Maharishi) had to get into New Delhi, and a helicopter came to the camp and landed on the beach down by the river.  We all traipsed down in our kaftans and then it was, 'One of you can go up for a quick ride with Maharishi.  Who's it going to be?' and, of course, it was John.  I asked him later, 'Why were you so keen to get up with Maharishi?' - 'To tell you the truth,' he said, 'I thought he might slip me the Answer.'  That was very John!"

John:  "You can't be joyful unless you feel joyful, otherwise it's phoney.  If you feel good you feel good, if you feel bad you feel bad.  There's no way out.  You can take drugs or get drunk, do whatever, but you're just suppressing the feelings.  I haven't met anybody full of joy; neither the Marharishi nor any Swami or Hare Krishna singer.  There is no constant.  There's this dream of constant joy - it's bullshit as far as I'm concerned.  There's no status, there's no absolute.

"Pain is something like food in a way, or life; pain and joy.  They go into your body and unless you feel it or express it, it remains there like constipation.  You can't get away from the pain.  There's no escape from it, it's there, in your body somewhere.  It'll come out in your nerves or how many cigarettes you smoke or what you do, it'll make you go bald, or whatever.  It expresses itself in some form.  There's no getting rid of it.

"I think we all go through heaven and hell every day; just accept that.  To feel is to live.  Life is made up of feeling all sorts of things.  Every day's the same, there's some heaven and some hell.  There's no completely joyful day.  There's better days, worse days, and I think every day contains both.  It's like the Yin and Yang or whatever you want to call it.  It's both."

Paul:  "Mike Love was in Rishikesh.  Donovan was there.  I can remember people like that.  Mia Farrow was there, and her sister, Prudence.  John wrote the song 'Dear Prudence' for her because she had a panic attack and couldn't come out of her chalet." 

George:  "The idea of the course was that it lasted however many weeks in Rishikesh, and then at the end of that period they shifted the camp up to Kashmir.  This was something they did every year.  But I'd planned to go just for the Rishikesh trip and then go down to the South of India to do some filming with Ravi Shankar.   He was making a movie called 'Raga'.

"I kept telling Maharishi, 'No, I'm not going to Kashmir - I went there last year,' and he was saying, 'No, no, you coming to Kashmir.'  I told him I was going south, and that's when John and I left.  It was only really John and I who were there from the beginning up until the end of the segment at Rishikesh, and I think John wanted to get back because - you can see it historically now - he had just started his relationship with Yoko before we went out to India."

John:  "Yoko and me, we met around then.  I was going to take her.  I lost my nerve because I was going to take my ex-wife and Yoko, and I didn't know how to work it.  So I didn't quite do it."

Paul:  "Being fairly practical, I had set a period for staying in Rishikesh.  ...I thought, 'Wait a minute, I'll go for a month.  Even if it's incredible I'll still come back after a month.'  If it turned out to be something we really had to go back for, I would have gone back.  But at the end of my month I was quite happy to leave.  

"I thought, 'This will do me.  If I want to get into it heavily, I can do it anywhere.'  That's one of the nice things about meditation - you don't have to go to church to do it."

At the end of March, Paul, Jane & Neil Aspinall left Rishikesh for England.  

Paul:  "Yes, yes, I feel a lot better, except for the flight, you know.  That's quite long.  I'm a bit shattered, but the meditation is great!"


11 May 1968 - John and Paul arriving in America together for the first time since the Summer of 1966 to promote their new venture, Apple Corps.  They were accompanied by 'Magic' Alex Mardas, Mal Evans and I believe Derek Taylor.  According to the Beatles Bible they would stay at Nat Weiss's (their lawyer) apartment in New York City.

12 May 1968 - It was a Sunday, and strangely enough the only information I can come across concerning this day is that John and Paul were to attend an "Apple business meeting" which took place aboard a "Chinese Junk".  I understand the word "junk" can be used in broad terms for a variety of sailing vessels including a "pleasure boat". 

So John and Paul spent this day on a boat cruising the New York Harbor presumably discussing business!  (I was very fortunate to come across as many images as I did for this day.)

It's been said this "Apple meeting" was to be specifically with Ron Kass who would be the USA representative for The Beatles' new company Apple Corps.  I believe that is Mr. Kass across from John with Paul in the background.

L2R:  John, Derek Taylor, Neil Aspinall and Paul

John and Paul

 With Alex Mardas and Paul

 L2R: Alex Mardas, Neil Aspinall, Ron Kass and Paul.

 Alex Mardas, Neil Aspinall and Paul having some fun.

John, Mal Evans and Derek Taylor

John pondering away in 1968 around the same area he would, in the next few years, call his permanent residence.

Also on this day, John, Paul, Neil and Alex somehow managed to spend some time in Central Park walking around pretty much unnoticed.

13 May 1968 - As stated in Mark Lewisohn's "The Complete Beatles Chronicle" from 1992, John and Paul spent the day at the St. Regis Hotel that Monday, holding 'court' as it were, for interviews with the 'serious' press.  

Oddly enough, the only thing that seems to come to light from this day is the TV filmed encounter with old friend Larry Kane, which must have been relaxing for John and Paul as Larry was one of the few trusted media 'supporters' of theirs.  What is odd is as Mr. Lewisohn states, there is no transmission information for this interview so it may never have been 'officially' broadcast, yet it is all that seems to be available today. 

Mr. Lewisohn also stated that the day the interview took place might have been the 14th, but since John and Paul wear different attire on that day, and others have seemed to nail the date down as the 13th, I'll go with that.  

The following screen shots are from the Larry Kane interview.  The first and last photos from this day were lifted from that wonderful blog Meet The Beatles For Real which I have to thank again because otherwise I'd have nothing.

Old friend and trusted confidant, Larry Kane. 

Here is the Larry Kane interview with John and Paul from, we believe, May 13th, 1968 in the St. Regis Hotel, NYC

14 May 1968 - Today's first appearance was made at the Americana Hotel where John and Paul (along with Derek Taylor, Neil Aspinall and Alex Mardas) held what I believe was their biggest press conference of their American visit to promote Apple Corps. 

I managed to find something on YouTube from this conference, but unfortunately the sound is bad, the video is choppy, and much is missing.  I worked on the sound a bit and added some important quotes to fill in some of the 'dead' spots.   (I did find some bits elsewhere that were arguably better quality, but it was just fragments and not really worth the effort trying to edit into this piece.)

14 May 1968 - For me, the highlight of the entire trip, and what makes it all worthwhile, is the following interview with John and Paul taped by Mitchell Krause for TV Channel 13 - WNDT New York, an educational station, which broadcast on the show Newsfront the evening of May 15th.   

Although the video seems to be lost, the audio remains, and as mentioned in the article at the end of this link, it comes from reference tapes in the studio archives.  (Note:  The interview is close to 28 minutes in length.)  

What strikes me about this interview is that it's down-to-earth, serious, and quite a breath of fresh air from the usual dumb questions they were asked.  John and Paul were so easily swayed into responding emptily to those kinds of questions and were less likely to lead the way into something more substantial.  If the interviewer, however, treated them intelligently, they responded the same in return, and here we finally have that.  

The other thing I've noticed is that what John and Paul say in this interview is so timely.  50 years later, it's still relevant.  They truly were ahead of their time.  This could have been recorded yesterday.

Such was the viewing demand for this interview, it was repeated the following week, probably on May 24th, 1968. 

(The above set of photos are unrelated and come from the TV interviews that took place earlier that day at the Americana Hotel.  The Newsfront interview was most likely done at one of the Newsfront WNDT studios in NYC.)

14 May 1968 - Wrapping up the day, John and Paul wound up on The Tonight Show that was hosted that night by Joe Garagiola along with Tallulah Bankhead.  While maybe not ground-breaking, I've found the interview to be far from the disaster most people have made it out to be.  True that maybe this was an odd pairing (John, Paul, Joe & Tallulah) but given that, it doesn't sound to me that his questions were all that bad, nor did Ms. Bankhead come off to me as being 'upstaged' by John and Paul.  In fact, I thought she was being quite courteous.  

In any case, you can find out for yourself as although the video has been lost, once more, thankfully the audio survives and in pretty good condition, which you can listen to via this link: 

John and Paul, The Tonight Show, 14 May 1968

15 May 1968 - I've not found any documentation on what John and Paul might have done on this day but they did leave New York for London that evening, arriving in the early hours of the 16th.  They are shown here with Alex Mardas and Nat Weiss, their business attorney who had them as guests at his home during their stay.

...and such was the launch of Apple in America!

John and Cynthia Lennon's Kenwood home.

"Scan not a friend with a microscopic glass
You know his faults, now let the foibles pass
Life is one long enigma, my friend
So read on, read on, the answer's at the end."
-George Harrison lyrics

Here we come to that tough part of the story.  John had met Yoko Ono at her art gallery show about a year and a half earlier at the end of 1966.  He became a supporter of her work, and he became intrigued by her enough to finally consummate their relationship while both were still married to their spouses.  

History seems to be identifying the night they got together as May 19, 1968.  It was like a date, John recalled, first making a series of recordings in John's Kenwood home while Cynthia was away.  These recordings would become John & Yoko's first true collaboration together known as the "Two Virgins" LP released later that year.  Then making love at dawn, the sun arose on a new destiny for the two of them.

Cynthia Lennon recalls the incident occurring before John and Paul left for New York to promote Apple.  She, naturally, was blindsided, confused and bewildered because, according to her, at first John blew the entire thing off as being meaningless, then engaged in a seemingly honest evening of discussion with Cynthia ending with a passionate episode of love making with her after the fact. 

Things weren't all rosy, however.  When (as Cynthia recalls) John and Paul did go to New York she was shut out of the idea of going with him.  Not wanting to be left home alone, she convinced John to go along with the idea of her visiting Italy with her mother, her mother's sister and her husband, and Julian.  The hotel where she stayed, and was familiar with, was run by the Bassanini family, and Cynthia was treated quite nicely by the son, Roberto, who accompanied Cynthia and a waitress friend on a night out on the town. 

While there in Italy, Cynthia claims "Magic" Alex Mardas arrived with news from John that he was going to divorce her and take Julian into his full custody.  This would later include a pre-emptive strike by John declaring that Cynthia had committed adultery with Roberto Bassanini.  (The timing is suspect a bit here as we know Alex Mardas was with John and Paul in NYC during their Apple promotion.)

In any case, it comes down to the fact that this was not going to be a good time for all the parties concerned.  Looking back on it all I don't think any of it warrants a complete dissection from this point in time as one thing is clear, it was a huge turning point in the lives of at least two biological families, and certainly in the lives of the four brothers.  Emotions would burn hard for many years to come, but in the end everyone concerned has had their moments of trying to make something positive out of the entire episode.  

Regardless of the consequences, John and Yoko seemed to know what they wanted, and they both went for it.  This brings up equally difficult questions.  Do you go for what you want in life, even at the expense of others?  Do you refrain so as to not cause heartache, yet in the process deny yourself the happiness you are seeking?  How do you handle it moving forward?  There is a birth and yet a death occurring at the same time.   Is it possible to get away with it without the knowing and impending devastation it will cause, or do you simply drop the atom bomb and wipe out your past to pave way for the future you want?  

Who can say what the complete truth of the situation was, except that I'm sure all were suffering in their own way and as outsiders, we can only hope that everyone concerned eventually, somehow, lands on their feet and are able to some day move forward.  Love and support for all concerned is our best gift.  Trying to point out who was right and who was wrong does not help, especially from such a distance.   Let them all tell their stories as they see fit, and if you wish to contribute to their well being, simply be a good listener.

(Note:  The above photo of John was taken by fan Marilyn Demmen, some time in May, possibly very close to the time John and Yoko created "Two Virgins".  It was taken from this website link:  The Beatles in London)

22 May 1968 - This day saw the launch of a second Apple boutique called Apple Tailoring (Civil and Theatrical) with John and George attending at Club Dell'Aretusa in London.  In history it is perhaps more notable as the first public appearance of Yoko Ono with John.  Whether people like it or not, this is also the beginning of them both forever becoming known and linked as John&Yoko.

I can't help but feel that the four of them had decided the best way to keep the hysteria down and yet draw attention to what they were trying to accomplish was for no more than two Beatles at a time attend such launches.   George, of course, attending with his wife Pattie.  

John and George with John Crittle, the Australian designer who would run Apple Tailoring.   He was 25 years old and he best described the new boutique this way:  "We won't get teenyboppers here, because the price will be too high for them.  We're pushing velvet jackets and the regency look, although The Beatles put forward plenty of suggestions.  They have pretty far ahead ideas, actually.  We're catering mainly for pop groups, personalities, and turned-on swingers.  The teenagers seem too frightened to come in, even though they know this is The Beatles' place.  Maybe it's because the place is too elegant and too expensive."

According to The Beatles Bible the boutique was also shared with another clothing company, Dandy (or Dandie) Fashions which had been around since 1966 and was to be a part of Apple Tailoring.  In the basement there was a hairdressing salon run by Beatles' hair stylist, Leslie Cavendish.