Dear Prudence: John’s beautiful dreamer…

“Dear Prudence is me. Written in India. A song about Mia Farrow’s sister, who seemed to go slightly barmy, meditating too long, and couldn’t come out of the little hut that we were livin’ in….  That was the competition in Maharishi’s camp: who was going to get cosmic first. What I didn’t know was I was already cosmic.” – John Lennon

Prudence Farrow (far left, dark hair) with the Beatles and Maharishi in India (image courtesy Rolling Stone)

The Beatles famously went to India in February of 1968 to study transcendental meditation. While they didn’t necessarily reach nirvanic enlightenment (hence John’s bit of waggery in the above comment), they wrote many of the songs that appeared in November 1968 on the epic double album The Beatles known as “the White Album”). Among these is “Dear Prudence,” John’s tune about his, George’s, and Paul’s attempts to coax Prudence Farrow, Mia’s sister, from her hut where she had become “addicted to meditation.”

The song is notable for a couple of reasons. One is that John learned a finger picking style from Donovan who was also on the retreat and “Dear Prudence” is the first song where one hears John’s newly developed skill. The second reason is that the song represents an aspect of Beatle songwriting that emerged on the White Album: the album is filled with songs that offer carefully observed portraits of characters real and imagined along with relevant social commentary such as “Back in the USSR,” “Bungalow Bill,” “Martha, My Dear,” “Julia,” Piggies,” “Sexy Sadie,” “Honey Pie,” and “Cry, Baby, Cry,”

“Dear Prudence” is perhaps the loveliest and kindest of these portraits.

Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?Dear Prudence, open up your eyes
Dear Prudence, see the sunny skies
The wind is low, the birds will sing
That you are part of everything
Dear Prudence, won’t you open up your eyes?

Look around round
Look around round round
Look around

Dear Prudence, let me see you smile
Dear Prudence, like a little child
The clouds will be a daisy chain
So let me see you smile again
Dear Prudence, won’t you let me see you smile?

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day
The sun is up, the sky is blue
It’s beautiful and so are you
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?

Interestingly, Prudence Farrow, dedicated fanatically to her meditation, never heard the song in India when John, Paul, and George were jamming – and composing – nearly every day where any of the visitors at Rishikesh could listen in to much of the White Album being created:

Being on that course was more important to me than anything in the world. I was very focused on getting in as much meditation as possible, so that I could gain enough experience to teach it myself. I knew that i must have stuck out because I would always rush straight back to my room after lectures and meals so that I could meditate. John, George and Paul would all want to sit around jamming and having a good time and I’d be flying into my room. They were all serious about what they were doing but they just weren’t as fanatical as me…

At the end of the course, just as they were leaving, George mentioned that they had written a song about me but I didn’t hear it until it came out on the album. I was flattered. It was a beautiful thing to have done. – Prudence Farrow

A beautiful thing, indeed. Here it is from Spotify:

 

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About Jim Booth

Novelist, college professor, rock musician - are we getting the band back together? Maybe....
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