It’s starting already!! The buzz is getting louder and the date is getting closer. The 50th anniversary of our trip to India is gaining momentum. February 15th 1968 is now set in stone, the day the Beatles arrived at Maharishi’s Ashram in Rishikesh.
For this momentous occasion, ‘The Beatles Story’ in Liverpool, home to the worlds largest exhibition of, what used to be called, The Mop Tops, are hosting a two-year exhibit called, ‘The Beatles in India.’ This exhibition will be launched on the 15th February 2018 to co-inside with this significant anniversary.
My sister, Pattie, and I were recently interviewed for a video that will be showing throughout the exhibition, and have been asked to attend the launch along with photographer Paul Saltzman. Both Pattie and Paul will have their photographs of that time exhibited as part of the memorabilia, which, amongst other things, will include a sitar belonging to George Harrison’s mentor, Ravi Shankar.
There is still so much interest in The Beatles, so many people of different ages from all over the world will travel year after year to Liverpool to get a glimpse of anything to do with their Beatle heroes.
I don’t know of any other band that had such an impact and continues to do so from generation to generation. Did it have anything to do with that particular time they came on the scene? It was not so long after the war and us teenagers were in need of something new and vibrant, something that spoke to us, and that we could call our own. The Beatles looked friendly and loveable, the boy-next-door sort of image, and when they sang their harmonies together made us all want to sing along, shake our heads at the high-pitched “oooh’s” and play our air guitars.
The ‘Rolling Stones,’ who appeared on the scene about the same time were quite different, they looked like naughty boys, not the sort any mother would want their daughter to go near, their music was raw, more Blues influenced.
What was it about The Beatles that made such an impact on everyone, that kept on going throughout the years, even after they had disbanded? From the eyes of a rather shy 18 – 20-year-old, being in the presence of The Beatles, even though they were funny, quick-witted and friendly, was at times quite intimidating. They were so tight, so connected, as if an invisible membrane was wrapped around them, their own world within a world.
I was invited to talk to a room full of people last Wednesday evening at the Gibson Guitar Headquarters in London. Author and leading music journalist, Lesley-Ann Jones, interviewed me about my time at the Ashram and what was it like being there with the Beatles.
It was such a joy for me and so inspiring to sit on the roof of our bungalow at the Ashram, to feel the morning sun on our faces or have henna painted on our hands as my sister, Cynthia Lennon and I listened to the sound of John, George and Paul playing their guitars. With my eyes closed, as if in a trance, the birds singing and the sun getting warmer I remember listening to them talking to each other as they tried out new songs.
Being in India for those two months was extraordinary, and I feel very grateful to have had that experience. I had no idea at the time, because one doesn’t, that the innocent and gentle time we spent there would one day go down in history, and would become such a significant occasion that fifty years later it would still be celebrated.
Thinking about creativity has been a major preoccupation all my life. It was not that I thought of myself as being exceedingly creative; in fact quite the opposite, my concern for years was that I was not creative at all. I felt too locked inside. Even though I discovered my love of writing at an early age I didn’t think of it as creative. Being a deeply introverted child, it was the most natural means I had of expressing myself, trying to make sense of buried thoughts and feelings. I wrote poems about vivid dreams, about life, or spiritual beliefs, complicated thoughts and existential questions that demanded the light of day. My inner writing world felt like the real me.
I was a photographic model during the “Swinging Sixties.” The photographers were usually young and hip and the atmosphere in the studio, with the latest records playing in the background, was always fun and upbeat. I was only asked once to do a traditional catwalk, that’s all it took to realize it wasn’t for me. It didn’t match my youthful spirit, and so instead I bucked the system and modeled the latest fashion, not walking but dancing, along the catwalks or train platforms to all the latest Motown music or to live bands. Dancing gave me joy and allowed me to create my own means of self-expression. There are times when something as simple as finding what brings you joy can be turned into creativity, the ability to share a part of who you are with others.
As years went on and I found myself surrounded by famous musicians and songwriters the doubts I had harbored about my own ability to be creative were confirmed. Even though I continued to write a few poems, the drive to create was pretty much put to sleep. Later I found out that comparing ones own sense of self-expression to that of anyone else is a sure fire way to block any kind of inspiration. In its most basic form creativity is a universal innate quality that we all possess in some measure. All it needs is a sense of curiosity and wonder.
My drive to write is to connect to a deeper part of myself and to share that with others. There is a wonderful line in ‘It’s Not Only Rock’n’Roll,’ when jazz drummer, Tony Williams, points out the difference between creativity and talent and that other thing that’s beyond creativity – the spirit that touches people. That is what I aspire to. That introverted child who was content to stand in the shadows while secretly wanting to be seen, is still around but over the years writing has given me the courage to break through my wall of shyness, to stand up and be seen and no longer the need to say, ‘if you read my poems then you’ll see who is the real me.’