“Dear Prudence” is the instantly recognizable melody found on The Beatles‘ recording known as “The White Album.”
As the story goes, John Lennon wrote the tune for Prudence Farrow, sister of Mia Farrow.
Here’s the story behind Lennon’s inspiration, as well as what Prudence herself has said of the famous tribute to her.
The Beatles traveled to India in 1968
In February 1968, The Beatles traveled to India to meet with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi “to cleanse their minds, bodies, and souls, contemplating the meaning of life at the feet of the Maharishi,” as Ringo Starr biographer Michael Seth Starr (no relation to the Beatle) wrote in Ringo: With a Little Help.
It was George Harrison’s commitment to the Maharishi’s teachings that had inspired in the band a desire for spiritual enlightenment. Thanks to The Beatles, perspectives in the West were changing towards Indian spirituality.
“The Maharishi, who was now billing himself as ‘The Beatles’ Guru,’ would enlighten them in the ways of Transcendental Meditation at his International Center for Meditation, a 14-acre compound surrounded by lush jungle and located in the mountains across the River Ganges near Rishikesh,” Starr wrote.
The band members and their wives were joined in their three-month spiritual pilgrimage by several companions. Among them were Welsh pop star Donovan, Mike Love from The Beach Boys, Beatles roadie Mal Evans, their road manager Neil Aspinall, as well as actor Mia Farrow – and her sister, Prudence.
Lennon wrote ‘Dear Prudence’
While in India, 19-year-old Prudence Farrow had sequestered herself away in her hut, intent on meditating as long as it took to achieve spiritual awareness.
Philip Norman in his book John Lennon: The Life, described how Lennon and George Harrison finally got Farrow to emerge from her self-appointed marathon of meditation.
“Mia Farrow’s young sister, Prudence became so obsessed with meditating that she refused to emerge from her bungalow at all for several days. It was John who eventually coaxed her forth by writing her a song, “Dear Prudence,” the most charming of entreaties to come out and play, which he and Paul then sang together under her window.”
Lennon’s account of his inspiration for writing the song varied slightly from Norman’s when he spoke to Playboy in 1980 in what would be his final interview before his death that year in December.
“Mia Farrow’s sister, who seemed to go slightly balmy, meditating too long, wouldn’t come out of the little hut we were living in,” he recalled. “They selected me and George to try and bring her out because she would trust us. She went completely mental. If she’d been in the West they would have put her away. We got her out of the house. She’d been locked in for three weeks and wouldn’t come out, trying to reach God quicker than anybody else.”
Farrow in a 2019 interview with Parade, described feeling slightly put off about having her reasons for staying in her hut misunderstood.
“People over the years would have these reasons why I was Dear Prudence that were completely off the wall and almost disturbing, like I was a heroin addict or I lost my mind or all these crazy reasons why John wrote the song,” she said. “Nobody believed that I didn’t have an affair with him. But it all came about because I stayed in my room by myself for five days straight. I hadn’t gone to the bathroom or slept…didn’t eat. I was trying to see where [meditation] would take me.”
Today Farrow, born in 1948 in Los Angeles, is a yoga and meditation instructor. In 2015, she wrote a memoir titled Dear Prudence: The Story Behind the Song.
“I’m ‘Dear Prudence,’ one of the many that went through the ‘60s,” Farrow said. “We brought yoga in and the whole perspective of green and organic and all that came in to our culture.”
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