Who John Lennon Was Singing About on the Beatles’ ‘Sexy Sadie’

If you wondering about the subject of a particular Beatles song, you have to take things on a songwriter-by-songwriter basis. In the case of Paul McCartney, chances are the song is about a fictional person.

That’s definitely the case in “Lovely Rita,” the meter maid Paul invented for his upbeat Sgt. Pepper’s song. In The White Album’sBlackbird,” Paul said he was singing about black women facing oppression in the South during the Civil Rights Era (something few would have guessed).

But with John Lennon it was different. John often got material from his own life. Whether it’s “”She Said She Said” or “In My Life,” John was telling autobiographical stories by his mid-’60s work.

During the Beatles’ 1968 trip to India to study with the Maharishi, John wrote several songs based on real people. “Dear Prudence,” for example, was about Mia Farrow’s sister. And he addressed “Sexy Sadie” to the Maharishi himself.

John was delivering a message to the Maharishi in ‘Sexy Sadie.’

John Lennon plays guitar next to his future wife, Japanese-born artist and musician Yoko Ono, December 1968. | Susan Wood/Getty Images

When The Beatles made their highly publicized trip to India, they were hardly alone. The band members’ wives and friends also went to study meditation with the Maharishi, as did both Farrow sisters, Donovan, and Beach Boy Mike Love (among others).

While you’ll see photos of everyone laughing and seeming to enjoy themselves, things turned dark late in the extended stays of John and George. At some point, someone spread the rumor that the Maharishi had harassed (possibly raped) Mia Farrow or one of the other students.

Soon after, John confronted the Maharishi in his famously aggressive style. “I was the spokesman – whenever the dirty work came, I actually had to be the leader – and I said ‘We’re leaving,'” John told Rolling Stone. “‘Why?’ he asked, and all that s–t and I said, ‘Well, if you’re so cosmic, you’ll know why.'”

As for the song, John said he began writing it after packing his bags and waiting to leave India. “It was the last piece I wrote before I left,” he told Playboy in 1980. “I just called him ‘Sexy Sadie’ instead of (sings) ‘Ma-ha-rishi, what have you done, you made a fool…'”

George, the Beatle closest to the Maharishi, had John change the lyrics.

George Harrison’s wife Patti Boyd and John Lennon walk through the airport en route to India on February 15, 1968. | Keystone-France/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

John was never one to pull his punches when writing lyrics. Just ask Paul, who was on the receiving end of John’s famous takedown, “How Do You Sleep?” On “Sexy Sadie,” the Maharishi had to absorb a number of shots. However, since he’s not mentioned by name, listeners wouldn’t know it.

That’s because George — whose idea it was to go to India in the first place — pushed John to change the lyrics. “John had a song he had started to write which he was singing: ‘Maharishi, what have you done?‘” George recalled in Anthology. “And I said, ‘You can’t say that, it’s ridiculous.'”

George suggested “Sexy Sadie,” which John obviously accepted. As it turned out, there wasn’t much to the rumors after all. “Someone started the nasty rumor about Maharishi, which swept the media for years,” George said. “[But] this whole piece of bulls–t was invented. Just go ask Mia Farrow.”

Given everything that came out about the incident (or lack thereof), John was probably glad he didn’t call out the Maharishi by name after all. But then again, he wasn’t really one to regret things he’d said in the past.

Also see: Why John Lennon Never Regretted Saying Nasty Things About the Other Beatles