Sunday, August 31, 2014

At home with the Lennons, 1967

Another picture of domesticity, but one that was to come to an end soon afterwards. It is the Spring of 1967 and John Lennon is putting his feet up at the family home he shared with first wife Cynthia and their son Julian in Weybridge, Surrey.  Surrounded by the traditional framed pictures and ornaments are the tell-tale signs of someone who has turned on to a new way of life, but has not quite let go of the old one. He's reading a copy of the counter-culture newspaper International Times and the cabinets are festooned with promotional stickers for Captain Beefheart's new album.
John's mind was clearly miles away from here. But while Paul McCartney was living in the heart of London, close to Abbey Road studios, John was cut off from all that and was going through what Cynthia described as his 'neurotic phase'. She said, "He didn't know where his life was going and he was fed up with being a Beatle. He'd spend a lot of his time in bed with a notepad. When he woke up he'd write a few words down and then maybe go over to the piano. He was basically dropping out. Everything he was doing outside the home was pretty high-powered."
As Derek Taylor attested, John also seemed to spend a lot of time taking acid, even once remarking one morning, as he was driving Taylor in his psychedelic Rolls Royce, that he had it for breakfast. 1967 marked a real turning point for The Beatles. Having unveiled their crowning achievement as a band, Sgt Pepper, in June, they had shed the final layers of their moptop image and were in full experimental mode musically. Though they were forced to keep the whole Beatle gravy train on the rails, they had become disillusioned with it all. They had stopped touring, so it was only in the studio where they were still in any sense a band. As it was, they "battled on against overwhelming oddities" through 1967 and 68 with Magical Mystery Tour and the White Album. John's pursuit of something to make sense of his life brought about his fateful meeting with Yoko, the encounter that would lead him to, as he said, "break up a happily married state of boredom". In the meantime, the Beatles sought spiritual enlightenment from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
with son Julian, 1967
As Philip Norman writes in his biography of Lennon: "All four Beatles, kaftaned and beaded, sat at the yogi's feet to listen to his Buddhist wisdom. This was mysticism in an easily digested, tabloid form, instantly appealing to young earthly gods for whom real self-denial was unthinkable. His route to spiritual regeneration involved no special training, no memorising of complex prayers or incantations, and next to no personal inconvenience. It was bliss without the effort. "John wanted to take Yoko, but since the pilgrimage included wives, he had no choice but to take Cynthia. They stayed in a village on the banks of the River Ganges (Rishikesh) looking towards the snow-flecked Himalayas, though their living conditions were far from spartan. Their bungalows had hot water and western plumbing, and a handful of two-rupee notes bought extra home comforts, from chocolate bars to booze and hash. For all the Beatles, it was an enforced slowdown from the lunatic pace that had not let up for seven years, since they left Liverpool for Hamburg and their careers suddenly took off. Day after day, there was nothing to do but sit and think.
"John seemed happy, strumming guitars with Paul and George in the balmy sunshine and even holding hands with Cynthia. She was convinced their difficult marriage was entering a new phase of companionship and mutual tolerance. What she didn't know was that John was all the time receiving postcards from Yoko, which his minders had strict orders to forward to him in plain brown envelopes so she would suspect nothing. Often they consisted of a single thought, in Yoko's tiny, arty script: 'Watch for me - I'm a cloud in the sky.'"

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