Gary James' Interview With the author of
The Beatles in Rishikesh
On December 4th, 1967, twenty-three year old Paul Saltzman boarded a plane for his first trip abroad. He destination was the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in Rishikest, India. When Paul Saltzman arrived at the ashram, surprise! The Beatles were already there.
The Beatles In Rishikesh is Paul Saltzman's account in text and image of meeting The Beatles at the Maharishi's ashram. As no professional photographers were permitted at the ashram, very few good images of the band at the time exist. The Beatles had no problem with Paul Saltzman freely snapping pictures. The result is seventy-five previously unpublished photos documenting this unique time.
Q - Paul, I'm surprised your book is not filled with even more unpublished photos of The Beatles. Are you planning a follow-up to this book? How many pictures did you take?
A - I didn't take many. Would there have been more? There might not have been more because that's the kind of size photo book they (the publisher) usually do. The short answer is there will be a follow-up, but it won't be much different because I only took seventy slides the entire time I was in Rishikesh, of which The Beatles or other famous people so to speak, are in fifty-four of them. There are only a few pictures I didn't publish that are really good ones. I only took that number of photos 'cause it was like hanging out with a group of friends, which was the beauty of the experience. I possibly could've taken two hundred, fifty-four because they were completely cool with me and I was just part of their family for a week. But, I just didn't do it. I didn't do it 'cause I thought I want to take more, but I shouldn't. It wasn't like that. It was like literally hanging out. Sometimes you take out your cameras and sometimes you don't.
Q - And you filmed The Beatles?
A - I shot some film for Ringo on his camera, some of which sure looks to me like it's in their Anthology series. It goes by pretty quick in the Anthology series. I shot 300 to 400 feet of film for Ringo on his camera.
Q - And you filmed The Beatles on your own camera, took it home with you, put it away and now you can't find it?
A - Yeah. Ringo came up to me shortly before I was going to leave and basically said "thanks for shooting the film for us. I really appreciate it." His camera took 100 foot rolls of film. He said "here's a 100 foot roll for you. Why don't you shoot it?" And then he made a joke..."you never know, it might be worth something someday!" It was a joke and I joked back with him and he said "oh, I can't imagine why." We both laughed. I did shoot 100 feet of film and brought it home. I processed it, looked at it and showed it to a few friends. I put it away and I can't find it. I thought it would be with the slides when I found them, but it was not. I've had a film company since the early '70s. There's been hundreds and hundreds of cans of films of TV series we've done. Did somebody check it out when they shouldn't have? Or did I leave it somewhere? Or did I lend it to a friend who never returned it? I can't remember. Whatever it is, I may find it one day. For the moment, it ain't around.
Q - I hope you find it.
A - I do too. It would be fun.
Q - Have any of The Beatles commented on your book?
A - No. I asked each of them for an interview before I did the book, because I really wanted to ask them what meditation and that special time in India; what impact that had on their lives as they see it today. Ringo said through his lawyer - "not interested in talking about it." John was gone, but I wanted to ask Yoko what she knew. She didn't respond, although I know she got the invitation. I know Paul got the request and didn't respond. George had actually just been stabbed and I didn't ask him 'cause I thought there's no way in the next eight to twelve weeks that he's gonna give me an interview. When I finished the book, I sent it to each of them. I didn't expect to hear back because first of all, does it get through to them? I know Ringo got his through his lawyer. I know Paul got his through his company, but I don't know that he got it into his hands. I never did hear back from any of them and I didn't expect to. It was like a perfect moment in time for me and whatever it was for them. So, I never did try to keep in touch.
Q - You actually saw The Beatles in concert at the Maple Leaf Gardens in September, 1964.
A - Yeah.
Q - How good of a seat did you have?
A - I was in the middling seats. There were seats on the floor, which was not necessarily the best way to see them 'cause if somebody jumps up in front of you, you can't see. I was in the bleachers, which being a hockey arena, it was all around. I had a seat that was maybe one hundred, fifty feet from The Beatles. It was good enough to see them clearly. It was a fabulous seat, a fabulous concert.
Q - How long of a concert was it?
A - I think they played for thirty-five minutes. I don't recall what came before them. Of course, it didn't matter. (laughs)
Q - When you met The Beatles, did you ever bring up that concert?
A - I don't think I ever did.
Q - You walked up to The Beatles and their girlfriends and said "May I join you?"
A - Right.
Q - At the time, The Beatles were probably the most fascinating guys on the planet. How do you suppose you were able to suppress that in your mind so you could approach them as if they were like anyone else?
A - Well, it happened easier than that in the sense that I really didn't think about it that way. I had just come out of the meditation that had been like a miracle in terms of the heart break I had been feeling, which you've read about in the book. I was out walking in the ashram after finishing the meditation. I was kind of in a different space, you know. It was like being lightly stoned. It was like being blissful. I saw them and I walked over and I don't remember thinking anything except that I noticed as I was walking over that my heart was beating a little faster, 'cause I was nervous. But, I didn't think about going over. It's just that I saw them and I was out walking and I headed in their direction. I think I wrote in the book that I sat down, looked around and all that happened was I absorbed that this was The Beatles and then heard that voice in my head scream "eeck, it's The Beatles!" and it shocked me to hear my own internal voice say that. And it was a scream. It was the fan inside me. (laughs) As soon as that voice finished, I heard that other deep, calm voice inside me say "Hey, they're just ordinary people like you are, Paul." The actual thought was; everyone farts and is afraid of the night. For whatever reason, at that exact moment, all the fan stuff went away and it never came back. From that moment on, it was just like hanging out with a group of people. They accepted me into their group.
Q - The Beatles' road manager, Mal Evans, was also there. Did you spend time with him? What kind of guy was he?
A - I spent a lot of time with Mal. He was just a sweet heart. I didn't really know anything about Mal until I met him. He was gentle hearted and warm. Like a big Teddy Bear. We hung out quite a bit and talked quite a bit.
Q - It's strange what happened to him, isn't it? (Mal Evans was killed in a shoot-out with L.A. Police)
A - Yeah. Personally, who knows if the L.A. Police are telling the truth? They may be, but I kind of doubt it.
Q - You heard John and Paul sing and play acoustic guitars. That must've been a real treat. Sort of like John and Paul "Unplugged" before the term came into being. How did they sound?
A - It was terrific. Looking back from here, it was amazing. But at the moment it wasn't amazing. It was just happening.