On the 6th of April 1966 The Beatles entered the EMI studios at Abbey Road to begin work on a new song John Lennon had written, entitled ‘The Void’. The song was to be the first track to begin recording for The Beatles new album that would become Revolver. This new song by John had been inspired by his explorations with a new drug d-lysergic acid diethylamide 25, or LSD. The drug had been synthesised in 1938 by a Swiss chemist called Albert Hoffman, while looking for a cure for the migraine, and by the mid-sixties had become the hip new thing to explore, particularly among the young hippie counter-culture, who elevated it to a religious-like status. LSD had the effect on the user of altering their consciousness and allowing them to experience different levels of awareness, sometimes producing visions and intense awareness of the senses, such as through music.
Timothy Leary, an ex-Harvard psychologist professor, who, through experiments with the drug, had begun to preach to the masses its benefits, announced to the world to “turn on, tune in, drop out”. During his time at Harvard, Leary, with his fellow psychologist Ralph Metzner and Richard Alpert, wrote a book called The Psychedelic Experience, that was intended as a guide and a manual for the LSD user on their journey of chemical expansion. The book was largely based on the Buddhist text the Bardo Thodol, or The Tibetan Book Of The Dead. This text is a guide intended to help the person at death and after, to support their consciousness during the interval between death and the next rebirth. This interval is known in Tibetan as the bardo. John Lennon took the words “Lay down all thoughts, and surrender to the void” from Leary’s book which itself had been taken or inspired by The Tibetan Book Of The Dead.
These words were to become lyrics in his new song which had now been changed to the title of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ The title came from one of Ringo’s malapropisms, which he had uttered one day. What is interesting about the words “Lay down all thoughts, and surrender to the void” is that it offers a transcendental insight into the nature of our minds; a pointing-out instruction as the Tibetans Buddhist would call it. It is simply stating that we can allow all manifestations of our minds to self-liberate in the space that surrounds them, which means allowing thoughts to arise in our minds like clouds passing in the expansive, blue sky without holding on to them. Laying down our thoughts is an invitation to see if we can just let life live through us, trying not to hold on to the content of our experience too tightly and relax into the empty, open space that everything arises from.
What makes ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ such a groundbreaking song is not only its brilliance on a sonic, musical level, but also this was perhaps one of the first times in the history of western popular music that we were given an invitation to glimpse the nature of our minds.