In Love with Meher Baba, by Pete Townshend - Rolling Stone
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In Love with Meher Baba, by Pete Townshend

The Who guitarist confesses his faith in the Indian mystic

Meher Baba on the cover of Rolling Stone.Meher Baba on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Meher Baba on the cover of Rolling Stone.


I first heard about Meher Baba from Mike McInnerney in Autumn 1967. Mike later became very involved in the development of my own work on Tommy, and it was in the knowledge that he was a Baba lover, and able to grasp the needs of the evolving album, that I asked him to do the art work connected.

I was at his house with my lady (now my wife), and he and his partner were finishing the proofs for a shop window decoration for a Kings Road tea shop called The Dragon.

I was ranting and raving about, talking too much, and finding in Mike someone who talked just as much as I did (although he’ll never admit it. I had to make a tape to prove it). I was heavily into flying saucers, believing them to hold a key somehow to the future of humanity. At the time I sincerely believed I had seen several in the Florida area, today I don’t really care.

It seemed that between freaks at the discovery of my first John Fahey record and someone who could out-rap me, I was getting stabs of infuuriating condescension from Mike.

Every time I came up with a worldwise theory that had taken me years of thought to get clear he would say, “That’s such a coincidence man, this guy Meher Baba said something similar to that in this book, The God Man.” After I had heard my very last precious revelation hit the dust at the sound of Mike’s voice declaring that Baba had already said it I just had to look at the book. What I saw apart from a photo in the front cover of a strange and elderly man, was shattering.

Sure enough, each theory that I had expounded, many to do with reincarnation and its inevitability when considered in the light of law of averages, were summed up in one sentence. (I know it will irritate most people when I say that I’ve forgotten the sentence.)

What was so sneaky about the whole affair was the way Baba crept into my life. At first his words were encouraging, his state of consciousness and his claims to be the Christ exciting and daring, later they became scary. I began to read his words, read of his astoundingly simple relationship with his disciples (Mandali) and of his silence for 40 years. It became clear that the party was over. If I read any more lines like “What I want from my Lovers is real unadulterated love, and from my genuine workers I expect real work done,” I would have to decide once and for all whether the whole thing was really for me or not.

As is normal with coming to Baba, I didn’t have to make any decision. No Sooner had the thought entered my head than it left. It’s just not that cut and dried. Baba has to be adjusted to over a few months, or maybe some older Baba lovers would say a few lives, and it is never apparent at any given moment how real or genuine your own affections are. One thing can be taken for granted; no matter how hard you try, you will never love him as he should be loved.

Baba only asked people for their love, not their possessions or even their lives. Just their love. Maybe I should try to talk about how Baba affects my life and how his presence helps or changes things in my work. The thing I tell people that ask me this question is that nothing ostensibly changes when an individual hears about Baba and starts to devote time to thinking about him and his work. No all-prevading joy creeps into life, no formula for solving difficult problems. In some cases it seems to bring problems to a head. At least they are over with that way.

The facts are that any focused attempt to get more out of life, more results from events and emotional chapters, whether it be by following Baba or doing what comes naturally, will start to bring visible results in life. When you are getting things done, you can’t help but enjoy life more. When you begin to realize that your own suffering has a purpose, you can bear it with dignity and poise, admit defeat, or that you were wrong, without feeling that your life is worthless. Just as human suffering can be borne without too much trouble, so can human ecstasy. Both are fundamentals of illusion, of the world we live in. They are not part of reality. Balance, as always, is the key.

My Last Dope-Smoking Days

It is on this basis that I approach another of Baba’s most powerful and controversial statements:

“Drugs are harmful mentally, spiritually and physically.”

I repeat these words parrot fashion, not knowing honestly whether I would have said it myself had Baba not said it first. One thing I do know, the last acid trip I took (on a plane coming back from the Monterey Pop Festival) would have been my last whether I had heard the above from Baba or not. Acid had taken me apart but not put me back together again, and it is clutching another of Baba’s statements about drugs that I justify what I did to my brain:

“For a few sincere seekers, the use of hallucinogenic drugs may have instilled in them a state of longing that has brought them into my contact, but further injection would not only be harmful, but have no purpose.”

Somebody asked me if Baba ever took acid. That’s where I have to walk away. It’s clear that they can’t act on the unqualified words of a stranger in India when they don’t even accept that he is really the Avatar. If they accepted he was the Avatar they wouldn’t ask if he had tried acid. So they keep on keeping on, and I try to stay cool. Even writing a piece like this makes me feel like a miniature Billy Graham.

Pot was a little different. I never did make a personal decision that pot was screwing me up. For one thing I never used it to write on or play at the time I heard about Baba. I always got good buzzes from listening on it though, even if they got a bit cliched.

After about six months of Baba following, Baba was still alive then, I met a guy in San Francisco who had met Baba in India called Rick Chapman. Rick lives in Berkeley and runs Meher Baba Information from Box 1101 at the Post Office there. He is the man responsible for the glut of Don’t Worry, Be Happy cards that you must have seen if you live in San Francisco. As we sat in a shared hotel room in San Diego I rolled a joint, spouting some high flown guff about being a happy Baba lover. Rick took it very calmly considering that he spends a good part of his time lecturing on the spiritual side effects of “soft” drugs and what Baba had said about them. Anyway, that day was my last stoned day in the normal sense. It was easy to give it up. Like a lot of others, I was getting a little bored with pot highs which seemed limited to the strength of my imagination at any given moment. In other words I was looking for an excuse to say no to the joint as it came round to me.

Rick explained that pot was in fact hallucinogenic, but when smoked worked in a mild way. Nonetheless it was hallucinogenic. Baba specifically named it in his sweeping condemnation of hallucinogenic drugs. The penny began to drop—why DMT and other hash derived extracts had acted in such violent and freaky ways. Why pot did heavy things when you ate it instead of smoked it. Tetrahydrocannabinol. That’s why.

I once sat on wooden stool on the floor of a BBC television studio and openly admitted I used dope. That was in 1966. I had been introduced to it by one of my dearest friends, an American who also introduced me to the music that was turning on the Stones about that time. He had piles of Jimmy Reed, Howling Wolf, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Mose Allison, Bo Diddley, Booker T., Lonnie Mack, Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith cuts, and a few rather less obvious gems which none the less changed my head, the shape of my fingers, the way I walked and generally improved the appearance of the ladies I associated with. This was in the days when the Who were known as the Detours. We tended to sandwich Jimmy Reed tunes in between out latest carbon copies of Top 20 hits. I remember the buzz I would get as we launched into “Plum Nellie” and my arm would leave the guitar I was getting off so well.

I smoked too much those days, it tended to alienate me from the rest of the guys (Keith was not yet in the group in 1964), and as a pointer to today, it made me feel superior and extremely paranoiac about my role in the group in general. Roger was much tougher in those days. It had been his group, and it was a hard battle, despite the fact that he was very musically hip, to turn the musical policy of the group around.

I don’t mean that the group were against playing R&B, the exact opposite was true, but I felt that it was my music because I was stoned and they weren’t. As the group developed, and Keith came in, I eased off a lot of dope. I played straight, or three parts drunk, and everything went better.

On the surface then, it seemed I owed a lot to dope. It gave me confidence, it gave me beautiful girls, it gave me R&B. What it didn’t give me was the feeling that any of the above were really mine. They were all thanks to dope. That’s where the paranoia came in. If I hadn’t been stoned that solo would have been a bummer. If I hadn’t been stoned that chick would not have wanted to know. If I hadn’t been stoned the sun wouldn’t have come up. I do not lay awake worrying about that particular problem anymore. I have written some of my best songs straight. Played the I would best solos of my life straight, and despite the fact that I had to get thoroughly plastered to write the first love note to my wife, we have lived straight ever after. In fact, it was the biggest surprise of my life to find that I could get right into music straight. That I could still crash the car when “Green Onions” came on the tape player. What I am trying to put across is that I still love the idea of getting stoned, I remember the days of colorful highs with acute nostalgia, I would be a fool to myself if I didn’t allow myself the luxury of a past. The crux of it is, that I am now stoned all the time. It’s hard to take, I know, but it’s true. It’s not a dizzy, smashed high, it’s a fairly alert and natural one. Just about as natural as you can get. Everyone knows that there is such a thing as a natural high. Try thinking of it as the natural high.

Acid: A Dream Within A Dream

I remember laying on my back with earphones on, my head throbbing, listening to Jonathan Winters. In those days he was regarded as very very hip by our little community. So hip, he just had to be stoned. So stoned that when he announced, on the record that he grooved on life, and nothing else, we thought he was talking of dope. Talk about brainwashed.

Pot is a beautiful event. You feel it waft through a concert hall and you know someone is happy. If I had seen anybody other than my immediate friends smoking dope at a Rock concert in 1965 I would have thought society was liberated. It was a mind blower to even find someone who didn’t take three steps away from you when you mentioned it.

I read and was told, by what were apparently good authorities on the subject, that smoking pot would make me addicted. That I would asssault little girls and end up sticking needles in myself. When it didn’t happen that way, God knows I was hoping it wouldn’t. I naturally regarded those authorities as being misinformed. Maybe what they were saying about everything else was just as much bullshit. No, the truth itself is hard enough to take: Dope alters consciousness. The very symptoms that society sees as good reason to stop using it: Poor memory, difficulty forming words, uncoordinated actions, distorted vision, over-enhanced and exaggerated hearing etc., are exactly the symptoms that make the smoker feel stoned.

And he likes it. One could go on for 50 pages into why kids turn on. Is it society, overcrowding, too much middle class security, threat of atomic war, revolution? It’s getting high. That’s all. It’s what everybody wants. To get a little higher. I think that brings us back to Meher Baba.

Baba didn’t go on at any real length about dope. He didn’t feel there was any point, I suppose, as he had more or less come to the conclusion that by the time he became aware of its ever growing popularity in the West he was too old to travel again to the West, and he is too compassionate to be overly heavy.

But Baba did emphasize to a young devotee going to see Baba in about 1966, that the biggest single gesture a man could make for youth, would be to spend his life trying to show the dangers of dope. Remember, Baba was concerned with a set of people that felt the psychedelics held the key to religious experience, to Universal Consciousness. God in a pill.

When Baba heard this you can imagine his reaction. He sits for countless billions of years watching individuals desperately attempting to find themselves, struggling with one another, living through millions and millions of lives, even fighting wars in the name of one or other of his previous manifestations; the Christians fighting the Mohammedans, both convinced that they are right. Then someone discovers LSD and decides that there’s no need to bother with all that because acid takes you to the highest state of consciousness directly. Baba did not even concede that an acid high was even a miniscule part of the high that he himself enjoys as a Perfect being. He said it was a dream within a dream. What we call “straight” is an illusory “reality.” In fact getting high is getting low; going further into the illusion. Reality is beyond our imaginations, we insisting that we prefer experience to the blissful peace of Universality; wearing blue suede shoes rather than feeling the Infinite Power of Eternity, of Oneness.

I Tear Up My Flying Saucer Mags

Falling in love with Meher Baba doesn’t happen by choice. You go out looking, but not necessarily for someone like Baba. You go looking for something that will help you achieve a state that society has brainwashed into you as being sacred, freedom.

Baba sees you knocking at the door of his basement center in the once-sooty air of Victoria where the steam trains used to play, and pulls you in by your ears. When you first hear about Baba, and your heart warms to him, he shows you an aspect of himself that floors you, astounds you.

“I’ve found it!” I scream. I tear up the flying saucer magazines I’ve been taking to bed. “This is absolutely IT! Baba is the one.” It’s like being reunited with the use of your legs after living without them for years in a wheel chair. Or, as another example, is like getting your wheels out of a repair shop after a crash or breakdown months back, and being able to ride from here to there without having to hitch or suffer the bad vibes of public transport officialdom.

It makes you happy. You feel your troubles are over. People often have celebration parties when they find out about Baba: they didn’t realize how long they had been looking until they found what it was they were after. There are a lot of parties. It’s the ultimate excuse.

Your troubles are not over however, and the exhilaration you felt when Baba revealed his Infinite Majesty to you is deflated like a tire with a blowout, explosively, as Baba, beginning and initiating, takes you through your first real taste of loneliness. Longing, pleading, desperate and even more dependent on ego than before, you attempt to work out how it all came about. You didn’t meet Baba, didn’t even read much of his teachings. What you read was simple, not astounding. It seemed so right though. Who was it that said, Don’t Worry. Be Happy? Could I ever forget?

Just as he gives you the first real taste of love, unqualified by any commitment you may or may not make to him and his life, so you yourself take it away. Unprepared to receive such upfront and powerful love, the individual hides from it. Partly in shame, but mostly in pride. Once you’ve hidden, its hard to find the person from whom your’e hiding. The rub is that Baba seduces you.

Ha Ha. I can see the smiles of the skeptical as they compare Baba’s seduction with those of thousands of Gurus, Yoga methods, Training courses and bust development treatments. I tried them all, and they can’t compare.

Actually, the funny part is, I didn’t try them all. It seems men work on a first-Guru-come, first-served basis. At least that’s the way it seems. But when I first heard about the Sufi Masters, the Maharishi, Rama and Krishna, Buddha, Mohammed and all the rest, I sneezed and left them alone.

Jesus made my heart pump a little as I read of his crucifixion and his capacity to love without small print. I put it down mostly to religious education at school. More like religious uneducation. Today the thought of Jesus still makes my heart pump, but Baba broke my links with formalized Christian religion. He made me weep for four hours nonstop at the thought of Jesus on the cross in remorse and grief.

Baba washed the religious preconception from my heart with my own tears. I love Jesus far more now than I ever did at infants school as I sang, “Yes, Jesus loves me.” Now I know he really was the Christ. Remorse came naturally through Baba, so does love, it can’t be forced and it can’t be limited. I often wonder though, as I stare at the occasional “evil” character, how my wish to see him fall down a hole is an expression of love. The answer is that it isn’t.

Only one person on this earth is capable of an absolutely perfect love for all and everything, and that is, when earth is fortunate enough to be his illusory host, the Messiah. The Avatar. He just came and went. Meher Baba.

Baba’s life story is well known: He was born in a town in India called Poona in February, 1894. While in college, he built up an affection for an old woman named Hazrat Babajan, who was in reality a Perfect Master. One day she kissed him on the forehead, and front that moment he was changed. He neither ate nor slept for months, and spent the next seven years in study with the five Perfect Masters of the time. One of these Masters, Upasni Maharaj, threw a stone at Baba, hitting him at the spot where Babajan had kissed him, between his eyes. It was at this moment that Baba became aware of his role and destiny as a Perfect Master himself.

A Bout With The Flu

Meher Baba did not speak at all from July 10th, 1925 until he died in 1969. His silence was of great symbolical meaning. Baba said, “You have had enough of my words, now is the time to live by them.” He also said that the breaking of his silence would occur before he dropped his body, and that the impact of the word he would speak would bring an incredible surge of spirituality to mankind. In later life, Baba explained that the “word” he would speak would not be a word in the ordinary sense, but would be in his own Divine language. (I often wondered previous to hearing this how Baba would manage to utter even a single word after 40 years of silence without a terrible croak emerging, but at last I heard that Baba did in fact speak to himself, his vocal chords functioned.) The effect of this word on any given individual would depend on that individual’s readiness to receive it. The spiritually prepared would get it at full force, receiving a push towards Self-Realization that they couldn’t normally achieve even in many incarnations. The unprepared would feel nothing, but all mankind would receive an immense spiritual push.

I held that Baba’s word has been spoken, probably about the time of his death. I felt confused that I was suffering from a bout of flu when Baba was about to drop his earthly body. We were playing in Newcastle the day he died, and when I got home and the news was broken to me I felt as if I had betrayed myself. I felt as if I hadn’t had enough time to really make myself ready, to learn to love Baba and hang tightly to his apron strings as the whirlwind of spiritual events around the closing of his manifestation speeded up.

Today I understand a little better. I am not the spiritually advanced seeker I imagined myself to be. Reading too much Herman Hesse and Idries Shah can be a bad thing in that respect. One builds a sort of hero worship for the “Seeker” in the same way one would for a film star. It’s only recently that I’ve begun to see that Baba’s word is an eternal word. Its impact reaches well into the past and the future. The wave of spiritual fervor and obsession that sweeps youth today is a reflection of the force of that word, that expression of Almighty loneliness.

But the point where that impact is felt the greatest is now. The present. The texture of the present is changing, the cross-section broadening, words are meaning less and heartfelt more. Status is worth little and selflessness everything. Karma begins to make smaller demands on a man when that man acts with complete honesty and lack of hypocrisy. Even hypocrisy is part and parcel of an amazing plan. How the heck you would ever learn to be true to yourself and your real desires and needs unless you had the negative reference point of self-delusion? How do you become aware of these aims if all the time you are insisting that you’re doing what comes naturally anyway? I don’t know, I can’t pretend to know. All I know is that one of the only doors that opens to a path that leads away from hypocrisy is the ability to see it in yourself.

So I never met Baba. Never wrote him a letter or received one. How am I hanging on? I’m not hanging on, I’m stuck on. People could easily get the idea that I’m an unwilling Baba lover, or “Baba Tryer” as I prefer to call myself. No, it’s just that I was unwilling to let go of that incredible piece of happiness, that unqualified stab of love that I didn’t even ask for, didn’t expect, and it’s made my life, which I know to be as colorful as any, gray in comparison.

The key is that knowledge of his awesome power, awesome knowledge and bliss he enjoys; that flash, is the basis for the search for my true self.

It sounds light, even camp, but it’s not. It’s extremely heavy. I once said that about acid, this time I can feel the weight. Before any one man can get that one together, can ever find himself and know himself as Universal, he has to make his life work. Has to be right not wrong, fair not foul. He has to be up front.He is his own witness.

Baba helps. Meher Baba is there doing things for you and your life that you will never perceive. A mere twitch of his nose could split the planet, a twiddle of his finger could save your life. Luckily, his Infinite power is used in connection with an equally infinite knowledge and compassion. Baba rarely interferes. (I am only now repeating what Baba himself said.) Why alter events that occur in a system that is already self-perpetuating, self-correcting and self-destructive when it goes too far?

From the peace of the original note, the single unmultiplied breath of life, the eternal silent singing that pervaded all, came this. Us. What are we supposed to be doing? Here am I, in suburbanTwickenham, skinny, vain, and obsessed by the word “forward”; how am I equipped to begin to understand Infinite Love?

Life under Baba’s umbrella is more exciting than watching 2001. The music you hear in your head is more mind blowing than any cuts from any album. You hear and see what you need to hear and see. There’s nothing more exciting and entertaining than knowing that the past wasn’t wasted and the present isn’t being wasted, and thus neither will the future be. Even when things don’t go too well, you can somehow take it.

Treated As A ‘Baba Celebrity’

Big deal? I know a lot of lucky people are born with that poise and balance that seems to get them through even the most terrifying periods in their lives without scars. It’s no secret. That is the very best way to go through life. How can you expect to be of any use to yourself or your people if the sight of blood reduces you to a jibbering idiot? If the mere sound of music sends you off into a dream-like delirium? If you can’t evaluate life as life, without being constantly astounded.

I just wrote a song called, “If You’re Turned On By Praise, It’s Gonna Hurt When They Put You Down.” Long title, short message. The pendulum always swings back in the opposite direction. You hang on it and keep it from swinging for maybe a few years, or even a few lifetimes, but in the end, as it gets heavier and heavier, it’s going to tear you off your feet and drag you to your own private judgment day.

That’s a theatrical way of describing karma, but it’s effective. All of life’s higher forces are reflected in physical ones. The longer you have to put off what has to happen, the heavier it will be when you finally face it. Life is not as simple as, “You only have one life, live it to the full.” It’s as simple as this: there IS only one life, but in order to live it to the full you’ve got to find it first.

When the Who play in the States, I am constantly reminded of Baba by the many, many people that I meet there who are also Baba followers. Obviously it is fairly common knowledge among them that I am a Baba follower also, and despite the fact that I owe my fame ostensibly to physical and not spiritual efforts, I am treated as much of ‘Baba Celebrity,” like say, an Indian visitor who has been with Baba for many years.

The question that I get asked by these people, the majority of them young, and into rock, are usually the kind that are answered by what I’ve already written, like: When did you first hear of Baba; how is your life affected as a rock star? etc., but often they take pleasure in commandeering me (me willing) into long story-telling sessions. Many of the people I meet in the States have followed Baba far longer than I, many have met him and his intimate Mandali, and have hundreds of semihearsay stories to tell about Baba’s dealings with the local people in his area and with themselves when they visited, or tried to visit Baba in India. Some younger ones look to me as some kind of spiritually together super star advisor, to be hugged carefully and regarded with awe. In fact, and this should be very clear, worldly success and spiritual advancement are totally unconnected. They are also fairly independent. Baba would always maintain to his Western lovers that they should stick to their responsibilities, work hard, and realize that before society could ever be improved it needed the grace of a Messiah like Baba.

Melanie, who used to be very interested in what Baba had done and said, became thoroughly repulsed by overly gushing Baba lovers. Perhaps, and I didn’t go into it with her at length, it seemed to be too sore a point to labor, she saw hypocrisy in their eyes. Saw people that talk about love and the path, squabble among themselves and gather in centers like so many ministers of the church, forming a religion that would discolor and taint the words of The Master as sure as it had happened a hundred times before. She could be right, she’s a lovely lady, and seems poised and balanced in her world. But I like Baba lovers. Perhaps even a little more than I like any other kind of people. It is only with them that I can talk about my love for Baba with complete abandon.

As for the enchanting Melanie’s disenchantment with Baba lovers: it would be the greatest single achievement for any individual in history, if a Baba lover could really do Baba’s will. Really surrender his heart and soul to him and yet at the same time, remain a man in a decaying society doing his best, like most people are, to keep it together.

Thus, I look at them, and see me. I see me writing columns like this, then going and kicking Abbie Hoffman’s little ass in a proud rage. See me talk about Baba’s words and people’s inability to live by them and then feel myself doing the exact opposite of what I feel intuitively I should really do. I am my own worst enemy. I think perhaps this applies to all Baba lovers. And what makes them so vulnerable, so easy to accuse, is the fact that they too are aware of their shortcomings in their own eyes. They see the obvious sense and logic in Baba’s words, and yet can hardly ever put the realizations into action. It’s still better than blindness.

Darwin Shaw, a man who has followed Baba for many years, once said that finding Baba sparked off 20 years of spiritual struggle that he hadn’t known was possible, that felt like even then it had only just begun. It’s true. It’s no picnic. Baba’s discourses, now issued as a three volume paperback edition, are a complete and straightforward handbook for the seeker to live, cope with life and responsibility and simultaneously learn to find and love Baba, but the fundamental teaching that is put across is singular; love Baba and your troubles will be worthwhile, but they won’t be over.

Baba says over and over again that the shortest route to God realization is by surrendering one’s heart and love to The Master. Of his status he makes no bones. “In the world, there are countless Sadhus, Mahatmas, Mahapurushas, Saints, Yogis, and Walis, though the number of genuine ones is very, very limited. I am neither a Mahatma nor a Mahapurush, neither a Sadhu nor a Saint, neither a Yogi nor a Wali. I am the ancient One. The Highest of the High!”

It’s only in fairly big cities that I meet Baba lovers. In New York there are several groups of old and new devotees, in Detroit there are a few, in Chicago a few, in Philadelphia a few, in L.A. there are a lot and even in Florida I have met Baba’s suntanned silver surfers.

The biggest center is in Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. I’ve never seen it, but it was dearly loved by Baba himself, who said it was his main center in the West. Most people I know really dig it. Baba is not forced down anyone’s throat, the air is clean and full of Baba’s presence, the land is green and backs into the sea. It is about 400 acres.

Far and away the most intense area of Baba activity among the young goes on in San Francisco. I could be wrong, but that’s the impression I get. In S.F. itself is the “Sufism Re-oriented” Center. This was originally a Sufi center working to help people on the path, seekers, to understand the problems and nature of discipline and carefully guided efforts. When Baba was heard of, the Center instantly re-oriented its attention and began teaching courses about him.

Previous to this they had been working under the wing of the Indian Sufi saint, Inayat Khan. I personally love Khan’s writings. He wrote all kinds of stuff about music and vibrations and breath and so on. Before settling down to really helping others get it together he had been a famous virtuoso in India on the vina, an instrument a little like the sitar. He was dearly loved and respected both as a musician and as someone whose life reflected his spiritual conviction. Today the center is guided by a powerfully clear-minded woman of over 70 – she is known as the Murshida, and to those who initiate as Sufis, her word is final, backed up fully by Baba himself. She is also a lady of great vigor, adapting her center’s activities to accommodate all kinds of people. And they come all shapes and sizes in San Francisco. The best way to describe the other Baba groups in S.F., mainly centered in Berkeley, would be to talk about a day I spent there with Rick Chapman last July.

A Day With Baba’s People

After I got into San Francisco and had comfortably settled into the hotel, the first person I met to cheer me up was John Sebastian. With his lady, they sparkled through the coffee shop, Mr. and Mrs. Tie Dye. They came to both shows in Berkeley and tie dyed a boiler suit for me. Even without knowing about Baba they live and breathe his love, as does everyone I suppose, but in them it is a fairy tale of color and good vibes.

Terrible thing. The show at Berkeley that night, marred only by the disgustingly heavy presence of that fiend of inopportune comedy, Murray Roman, was the best we did in the States that tour. The sound was great, if a little loud for such a small place, and the crowd just super-aware and alive. I could smell a lot of dope, but I think a good many people are beginning to realize that it is a bit of a risk getting high to watch the Who. Keith Moon might do something terrible.

After the show, I met a lot of Babafriends. Including Rick and Allan Cohen who had stayed with me in England and Cindy Ceteras and her three small girls who is now living in England. There were quite a few others there. They were cool, and it goes without saying that they allowed me my pop star exhilaration that night as Keith and I and the gang destroyed what was left of our minds and bodies and hotel rooms that night.

In the morning I visited the Murshida. Her presence always astonishes me, it’s easy to tell just how much high level work Baba is doing through her. Her eyes are calm and tired, but her life frantic and ordered. We talked about her work and my desire to make a film, of the special Happy Birthday record/magazine we had made in London to celebrate Baba’s birthday. The Murshida had not taken to it with unqualified praise to say the least. I think she forgave me and my pals in the end for allowing our egos to breathe using Baba’s name as an umbrella. He is so much like a father, like a friend, that it’s easy to forget that he is also God Almighty. Being with Murshida reminded me of the fact, it always does.

Next day Rick called me and took me in his ’60 Continental into the 30-mile queue into Berkeley from S.F. There was a bus strike I think. First stop was a house called Meherstan which is the “light” center for young Berkeley Baba lovers. We arrived, and it seemed like there were quite a few kids. A couple of guys were in groups and asked me all kinds of things about the band and our equipment, another guy who got me to take off my shoes ran a macrobiotic foodstore, Robbie Basho, a guitarist who works very much like John Fahey and whose music I like a lot, was there with a tenth as much hair as he had had in a photograph I had seen, and as usual there were beautiful girls. I talked a bit about Tommy, how it had all come about, I compared their center to our own in London, and we talked pretty formally about life with Baba in general. I talked about dope and my trip, why and how I had stopped using it, and watched knowing smiles from young people flash as I spoke of the new high that I was getting from being with Baba.

When I left I was faced with the seemingly impossible task of saying goodbye, and hugging more than 30 people. It happened though only after I had recovered my shoes, which someone had put outside as though they were infected.

As I hugged people I had never met before in my life like they were all my aunties and uncles, I was reminded of something that happened to me in a Boston hotel lobby where I met and spoke to a Baba lover called Peter Potter. We sat on a couch rapping about Baba, and it was out of the corner of my eye and ear that I became aware of an old war dog cussing and swearing about our dress and haircuts, warning his wife that he would lick us both with his hands tied behind his head. Seeing as he was crippled, and needed sticks to walk I doubted it, but he believed it.

As we spoke, he cursed. We got round to the subject of how difficult it was to give a sincere and friendly Baba hug to someone, and what an ego loss it was. I suddenly realized and saw that Peter Potter had too, that we were going to have to get this thing together in front of this old man sitting there (who had got his wife to remove his jacket and was limbering up for battle). We sat for a while, but we knew we had to get it done or sit there all night. It really is difficult sometimes even without public disapproval. We got up, both went bright red and hugged like there was no tomorrow. We expected it and it came, “See, I told you so! Queers!”

After Meherstan we went to the home of Robert Dreyfuss, the guy Baba told to tell the West about dope, and I met several Baba lovers of the 20-year-oldish variety who seemed obsessed with chiropractry and small Indian cigarettes rolled out of a single tobacco leaf called Beedies, that smell just like dope. Memories? That day ended with a superb meal cooked by Cindy at her home in the hills, which doubles as Rick’s information center, a game of basketball in the dark and many bruises sustained by efforts to entertain Cindy’s three kids. I slept badly in her house that night. It’s funny, but I usually do after a day with Baba lovers, particularly when staying away from home.

After nightmares various, which Rick dismissed as my “catching up with some important karma,” I was glad to see daylight. It was with some relief that I got back to Who tour routine that day. Being with Baba lovers can be the most exhausting thing ever, it must have been even more wearing to have been with Baba. You feel like so much is happening to you even when ostensibly nothing is. With two final Baba hugs with Rick and Allan I split with the band for Dallas.

Baba Meetings in my Old Flat

In Britain there are fewer Baba lovers. There have been a number of centers in London over the years, but it is only recently that the number of young people becoming interested in Baba indicated a need for a permanent center. The first one that I was involved in was actually one of my old pads. Right in the heart of Soho, it was on the top floor of an office block. It was an incredible experience to walk into the sunstreaming up there through big half circle windows, and hear Don Stevens, our London father figure (he’s actually from S.F.), give a talk on one of Baba’s discourses. In the back of my mind were memories of the times I had spent there. Listening to records on a giant system at 200 watts. Making love in the bed built up near the ceiling, watching Alice in Wonderland on the telly, eating baked beans straight out of the tin. Speedy from Thunderclap Newman lives there now, and the atmosphere has probably returned to its original down-home state, the light warm buzz of Baba’s presence less evident and yet still there.

The second is still in use. This one was, believe it or not, my wife’s flat. We are a many-flatted couple. Though we do manage to live in one building only today. This one is in Victoria in a basement. It’s cool and fairly light for a basement, and it’s small. A hundred people have been known to squeeze in there. Only about 20 of them got served with tea. The center is run and financed by a committe which includes myself. The committee sees to it that it is open a couple of days a week, and keeps the bills paid and the library full. It also drinks a lot of tea. One of the dearest women alive is Baba’s constant reflection at the London center, Miss Delia De Leon. She is an actress who is now in her 70’s, who met Baba when he looked like the most exciting thing to hit Hollywood. “He was magnificent!” It was clearly love with a capital L at first sight for Delia. Baba of course loved everybody and reciprocated. She has the heart of a young girl, and Baba has said that she is very spiritually advanced. Her flippancy and impetuosity are more likenable to a mischievous child than an illusion-wise worker for the Avatar. All of the older Baba lovers are remarkable in their ways. They have something, and people outside of the group have remarked on this independently, that makes them different. That makes it a happier day when you have seen them. That something is Baba.

When a person decides to find out about Meher Baba he does probably very much what I did. Searches for literature in all the centers, or borrows it from people that he knows to be Baba followers. There are no secrets. There is no back door. There are very few who are so spiritually proud that they refuse to talk on groundworking terms about finding Baba.

In London, it is amazing that the older Baba lovers, some of them having followed Baba for more than 30 years, react to the young with complete open mindedness. They accept the fact that most new young Baba lovers have been doped up to the eyebrows for years before finding Baba, and they accept the hippie dress and free talking terminology that goes with it. Most interesting to me is that they never ever question an individual’s right to laugh at his fellow seekers. Or to laugh at himself or make fun of the older Baba people. In the States for example, despite the fact that people are obviously willing to be happy in Baba’s name, there is a much more serious and devotional approach, almost leaning towards Eastern moods. The spiritualy path under Baba is regarded as the most serious business that an individual can take on. I tend to agree.

But then I also take the Who seriously, yet I laugh at it and the people in it, I scoff at our mistakes and our successes. I have to laugh when people ask about “followups.” If the Who had waited for decent followups to “My Generation,” for example, they’d never have made any other records. I’m saying this essentially for the people who love to laugh, who don’t take life seriously but do regard it with respect. Who will be cracking jokes about the Mafia as Red Chinese fill them full of holes. They’re my kind of people. They’re the people I want to see shouting Jai Baba! They’re the people, who when someone challenges they’ll take it up, but they won’t pretend it means anything, until Baba challenges them. Baba loved all kinds of people, he could see God in each and everyone of them. The criminal, the prostitute, the beggar, the false saint, the vainly rich, the indulgent westerner, the poet, the drug addict and the pusher, the soldier, the Christian, the Mohammedan, the middle road rock star.

The Glorification

Baba did not come to teach. He came to awaken. He did not come to form a religion, nor organize any cult, creed, sect or movement in his name. He did not take steps to do so. His Mandali were treated as an intimate family, with the ultimate Authority at the end of the table. He loved them with a devotion unparalled in an ordinary family. Not one left his side by their own choice.

I feel that never will I be able to stand back from myself and pretend anymore that God is a myth. That Christ was just another man. That Baba was simply a hypnotic personality. The facts are coming home to me like sledge hammers, not through the words I read in books about Baba, not through even his own words. But through my ordinary daily existence. Meher Baba is the Avatar, God Incarnate on our planet. The Awakener.

As the river flows down outside my home, I look out and remember that eventually it will reach the sea. Each little stream that runs into the Thames feeding it and building it sustains the ocean. Retains the cycle of life that keeps our planet moist and airy. We too need sustaining, love is the only thing that can do it.

When next you gaze into the deep brown eyes of that girl with slightly easy smile, try to see the eons that lie behind them. The world weariness that only balance can end. The deep deep desire for peace, eternal peace. The peace that dying does not achieve. Try to see it, and then look for it in yourself, you might find, yes, you just might find – you get what you need.

I am the New Christ
You have waited and waited
for me for a long time.
I am the real Guide.
You will know me
You will see me.
My word is Power.
My thought is action.
I am the Truth.

Jai Baba!

This story is from the November 26th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.

In This Article: Meher Baba, Pete Townshend, The Who


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