Beyond the Muse with Jenny Boyd
A conversation about her new book “Jennifer Juniper,” George Harrison, her sister Pattie Boyd, going to India with The Beatles, being courted by Donovan with song, marriage to Mick Fleetwood, spirituality and more.
Most people who live a life like the one she’s led don’t write books. They’re too busy living. But Jenny Boyd never played by the rules. When she and her sister Pattie Boyd started modeling in London, she never took it seriously enough to even learn the slinky catwalk walk the models all walked. Instead, she would dance. And because her dance was joyous, and she was beautiful, that worked perfectly.
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That joyful spirit dances through the pages of Jennifer Juniper, a beautifully written account of an extraordinary life.
Because Pattie was dating George Harrison – and later married him – Jenny hung out with him a lot, and the other lads. When George invited her to join Pattie and the other Beatles on their India trip, Jenny was thrilled and said, “How can I ever thank you?”
George said only, “Be yourself.” And that, she explains, became her mantra, and started this journey.
Donovan’s beautiful song, “Jennifer Juniper” was written for her, as she relates in the book and our conversation. Yet she never married Donovan, or became a couple. She did marry another iconic musician, though, Mick Fleetwood, who she said was gentle, but with a flair for the dramatic in him that he inherited from his mother.
In a cover blurb, Mick called the book a “beautifully poignant story of a partner, mother, friend and truly inspirational woman.”
All of these figures, now historic and mythic in the context of today, dance through the pages of the book. Her perspective on them is uniquely loving and compassionate, and offers a different, and more real, slant on them that the countless volumes told from a distance.
She’s a gifted writer, and shares this extraordinary tale with warmth and grace. It’s not her first book; she also wrote Musicians In Tune, one of the best books ever about the spiritual aspects of music and songwriting.
We spoke to her over the phone about the new book, and about the real life journey of Jennifer Juniper.
AMERICAN SONGWRITER: I’m so happy to talk to you. I love your book.
JENNY BOYD: Thank you! It’s become different things throughout the years. I wasn’t sure whether it was better sort of faintly disguised as fiction, or as a psychological look on fathers and daughters? But then I thought, no, just do the straight memoir.
I’m glad you did, so we get the real story. One of the sweetest parts is how much affection there is between you and your sister Pattie. You wrote “If f I had a pot of glue, I would have stuck us together.” Were you two always close?
Yeah. It’s very funny because, somehow, it just so happened, and we didn’t plan it this way, that we both were modeling, and that both had our first boyfriends, and husbands, who were musicians. The fact is, mine was a drummer, hers was a guitarist. Our second marriages, mine was a drummer, hers was a guitarist.
So, we’ve been very close in that way, and had very similar lives to a certain extent. And then, as one grows older, then you start to sort of find your own path.
You both modeled, you wrote, but you didn’t follow the rules. Instead of doing the runway walk like everyone else, you would dance. And that worked!
Yes. Because I didn’t really think of myself, seriously, as a model. I didn’t kind of work it. I just happened to have a look, and that happened to take off. And I would just go to where I was told to.
A lot of models I knew, they went and paid to learn how to walk along the catwalk professionally; I didn’t do any of that. So, what I would do is, I would just dance, and that became my thing, and then it became
joyful because it was to music. And I think the two things that me and both my sisters loved, was music and dancing.
And it worked, because it was joyful?
Exactly. And I didn’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for it, either.
Your original idea for this book was to make it into a novel?
Yes. A sort of faintly disguised novel. So, obviously, I’ve made up bits, and then was using part of my story for other bits. But then things happened, and I got to have a sort of the beginnings of a relationship with my father, who I hadn’t seen for 40 or so years. And so then, I wanted it to be a more psychological book on fathers and daughters. And on the effect an absent father, emotionally, or physically, or both, has on the daughter and the men she chooses in her life; It was telling the from a psychological slant.
But then I went back to my original idea, which was a memoir. It had changed because things had happened in my life. That’s the thing – if you’re writing a memoir – because life is changing all the time, and you have to have the beginning, and you also have to have the end. And where do you choose to have the end? And so, that for me, it seemed an obvious thing to have the end when I’m actually realizing I’ve found my voice. I think that’s really what it’s about, the journey.
I like the structure of it, that you went back gave us the background of your family. And that your grandmother was raised in India.
Yes. Her first seven years we were in India. So India has had quite a profound effect on us, really.
You went to India with The Beatles. Is that one reason why you wanted to go there?
No. I wanted to go there because I’d had what I cal a sort of spiritual awakening, when I was 19. A kind of “aha” moment. And then found myself completely unaware that there would be any connection, in San Francisco, March 1967, at the beginning of the Flower Power time. And it was incredible, it was almost as if I’d found all my people. I was searching for people who had the experience of a similar thing.
The East figures quite prominently. And you know, a lot of the posters of Ganesha, the Hindu God, and gods and goddesses. There was lot of influence in India during that sort of hippie time. And so, it was somewhere I wanted to go, and I always wanted to go to the Himalayas especially. And they are awe-inspiring; they’re incredible.
Was India what you expected?
When we first arrived and we were in a cab, Pattie, George and me, to go to Rishikesh; it was an eight hour drive. What I didn’t expect and what I got, really pronounced, was an incredibly strong feeling that I’d been there before, and something was very familiar about it.
That trip to India is part of history now; it’s amazing you were part of that –
Yeah. Yeah. And the extraordinary thing, I suppose, and history is part of this, is that at the time you don’t think of it like that, that one day, this will be looked at as an extraordinary time. You’re just living your life and you’re trying something new, and you don’t think any more than that.
And then, it becomes something that, as you say, it’s mythic. And then you realize,
well, I was part of that. And then you realize, how fortunate, really.
But even at the time, they were The Beatles, the biggest band in the world. And here’s your sister with George. At the time, wasn’t there a sense of “Oh my god! We’re at the top of the world!”
No, it wasn’t like that. At the Ashram, everybody was there because they were wanting to meditate, they were wanting to further themselves, their spirituality, and get to know more about the transcendental meditation. So it was a place where they could actually feel they could be themselves.
And they wrote so many songs there, and great ones. Why do you think that was?
I think it was probably the environment, because they didn’t have all the hassles of everyday life. Because all the songs that they wrote on the White Album, were all to do with things that were happening at that time, in the Ashram. So, it’s not like their imagination went out into some other fantasy thing. It was amazing how they could write a song about something as simple as John saying he didn’t sleep well last night. And he wrote “I’m So Tired.” I mean, who’d think of writing of song about that? Or “Dear Prudence.” You know, it all came from what was going on at the time.
Yeah. That really shows you, they weren’t in another world, they were right there and
writing about what was happening. You wrote John wrote “I’m So Tired” because
he was hitting a spiritual iceberg.
Yes. What the iceberg represents is sort of old unfinished business. And it could be anything, like resentment, or jealousy, or things that happened and you can’t let go. You kind of think you’ve actually dealt with this, but then, when you do a deep meditation, it’s there, lurking. And the iceberg. The Maharishi was saying, always, “Just keep meditation and you’ll get beyond that.”
Did John get beyond the iceberg?
Yeah, I think he must have done. Because we were there for quite a long time. And then, meditation became a way of life. I was meditating one or two hours a day, and then it would be four hours, five hours. And then, I went onto a two day meditation; and that’s two days and nights. And that’s when I got my iceberg. When you’ve been in a long meditation, and come out, every leaf on every tree just sparkles; it’s an incredible feeling. In your everyday life, you don’t get a chance to have those long meditations and to lead up to them.
Now, we know, of course, that The Beatles broke up ultimately. So it’s so touching how you described them writing all these songs, and then sit there with acoustic guitars and play them for each other.
Yeah. Yeah. And imagine that, in the sunshine, and just sitting on the roof of the bungalow. You know, it was idyllic.
And you sensed no discord between them?
No, not at all. Not at all.
Donovan was also part of the India trip. He famously wrote “Jennifer Juniper” for you. Which
was not because you were a couple – as we’d always assumed – but because he was
trying to court you?
That’s right. It was kind of like old-fashioned, courtly love. Because it never turned into a full-blown love affair. We still stayed friends in a very sort of loving way. As I wrote in the book, my fear was that we were a little bit too similar, and loved all the same things, the sort of fairy kingdom and fairy stories. Both of us could almost hide away forever and just dream poets’ dreams. I always loved writing poetry, and loved fairies, and so did he.
But I thought he was lovely, though. I thought he was lovely. I loved hearing him sing. And all his songs are lovely.
For anyone to write a song like that for someone, is so romantic. But it was Donovan, and that song, which is so beautiful. How did you feel when he played it for you?
It was beautiful. It’s something that stayed with me all my life. It was not only the sweetness of the song, but also what it represented. And it was such an innocent time. I’ll always remember that. But we weren’t meant to be together. We were too similar. Sometimes that can be a good thing, and sometimes it’s just nice if you just want them as a friend.
Did you like the record of it?
It was lovely. But I think, for me, the best thing was hearing it for the first
time, and hearing it as he was playing it to me.
You were really young when you first met George Harrison, who was dating Pattie. And your first impression was that he seemed smaller than expected –
Yeah. Because when you see stars in photographs, they seem larger than life. And then you meet them and you get their personality and everything, all in one go.
But as I got to know him, I found who he was. Very gentle and thoughtful.
Do you remember how Pattie spoke about him when they started being together?
Pattie was completely blown away by him. Just so in love. But, you know, she was only 19 then; she just sort of blossomed, and this was budding love, with all the things that happen when you fall in love. So it wasn’t the fact that he was a Beatle, it just seemed to be this new man in her life.
He had a big impact on both your lives — You wrote that he showed you your first chords on guitar, you smoked your first joint ever with him. And he invited you to go to India.
That’s right. He did. And as you would have read, I asked him, “How can I ever thank you?” And he said, “Just be yourself.”
And over the years, that’s what I’ve done, and it’s gone deeper and deeper. And really
my book is about exactly that; about the journey, just finding yourself.
And he was also doing that himself then, wasn’t he? Establishing himself as an individual, and an artist, apart from The Beatles.
Yes. Because here they were a very successful band. You had John and Paul, and they’re the ones that are actually the song monitors, the ones who removed songs on the album. And I imagine it was quite a fight. Not a fight literally, but for George to actually feel confident enough to offer his song.
And I remember Ringo saying, “It’s very hard, bringing your own song to the table, when you see them rolling about on the floor, laughing!”
You wrote that the title of George’s song “Within You Without You” was one you found in the book Karma and Rebirth, by Christine Humphreys?
Yes. As we were all sort of on that sense of a spiritual search, those ideas were sort of spread across the zeitgeist of that time. We would share things. Anything that was an inspiring tidbit, and so it was a natural thing for me to do.
Were you surprised that he turned it into such a heavy song?
I don’t know if surprised is the right word. But I just remember loving the song, and being so impressed, in a way, that he’d done that; he’d used something that was inspiring and he’d made something of it. He made it his, really.
Speaking of mythic characters, you knew Magic Alex, too. Who, even among The Beatles and
everyone attached to them, seemed odd. It’s hard to get an idea of what he was
really like. Can you tell us?
Well, I do know why he was called Magic Alex, because he’d got this little box that flashed lights on and off. John, while he was on an acid trip, thought that is was absolutely magical. And so Alex got the nickname of Magic Alex. And I don’t think he knew very much electronics. He didn’t live up to his name.
I think Alex was also very possessive. He had a friendship with John, and he didn’t like it when John was going to India and had chosen Maharishi as someone to follow, rather than someone that he wanted to suggest.
I found him to be quite manipulative, when he actually came to India. My sense
is, he came to cause trouble, and found everybody ripe for the picking.
It’s amazing that John seemed to really trust the guy, even though some of his ideas
were kind of outlandish. Was he very charismatic?
No, he wasn’t charismatic. I think a lot of it, as I say, stemmed from when John was high on acid. You could think anybody was magical, if it just hits the right spot at the right time.
John wrote “Dear Prudence” for Prudence Farrow because she couldn’t come out of her room?
Yes. She definitely got freaked out. And I remember going into her room, at one point, with a flute I’d bought in San Francisco, and she literally was catatonic. She was just cross-legged on the bed, just staring ahead of her, and you couldn’t get her out of this trance.
So I remember John going in with his guitar and “Dear Prudence,” singing to her. Then, I went in, started playing some things on my flute, but nothing bought her out. Until such time, where she was seen, sort of, running down the path.
Word had it that she’d just meditated for too long. And so, after that, Maharishi said to everybody, “Don’t meditate for too long. Take a break. Do some yoga. Do something.” So, obviously, he hadn’t experienced that before.
You wrote that George wrote a song in India called “Beggars in a Gold Mine.”
Yes. He never recorded it. And it about the people who’d come to the Ashram to meditate, but then after a while wanted to go and see the Taj Mahal, or wanted to go to Dehradun, which is one of the towns nearby. And he couldn’t understand that. But I did. Donovan asked Maharishi if he could take me to the Taj Mahal. But I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave the camp. I was completely happy there, and I could have just stayed there for ever.
To us, just knowing the history from a distance, it’s was amazing when we learned Pattie left George. And then we found out it was to be with Eric Clapton. Were you surprised?
Well, no. I kind of sensed something was going on, so it was no surprise when she actually told me. And by then, Nick and I were living in L.A. with our kids. And then, she came over and stayed with us for a night or two, and then went off, on the road, to join Eric.
You had sensed it already?
Oh, absolutely. Because we often used to have dreams about each other, even when I was in San Francisco, and they were usually accurate, if something was going on. There e is a was this kind of connection that we had in the dream world. And I’d already dreamt about it, that it was going on. And I was right. The horse had bolted.
You married Mick Fleetwood, who has always seemed mysterious. When he plays drums, he looks kind of furious and like a monster in some ways. And such an amazing drummer. What is Mick like in real life?
I think, when we were younger, he was another very gentle person. But there’s a kind of sense of the dramatic about him, you know? And one of his sisters, she was an actor. And she was amazing. There was definitely this sense of the dramatics in their family. And so, whether it’s a weird contortion, such as his mouth, or face, or something, he doesn’t mind, because he knows he’s very tall and sort of different looking, so he kind of takes it a step further.
And it’s almost as if, the older he gets, his drumming is just more fantastic, really so powerful.
Yes. I remember asking Eric [Clapton] whether he’d ever had anything like an experience of when things start to kind of come through you, or you’re in this zone. And he was amazed because he didn’t think anybody else had experienced that. He thought it was only him. Because he’d never talked about it before.
It’s beautiful you did that, because musicians know it is spiritual. But generally journalists don’t want to go there, because that seems crazy to them.
Yeah. Because they’re frightened, you know. They’re frightened to ask anybody about that. You can call it the Muse, you call it what you want. But because it’s so fleeting I think people can be fearful that if they talked about it, that it might not visit again.
Yes. So many songwriters feel they could destroy their connection by talking about it. There’s also fear of completion. Writing your entire life-story, as you have, was that something you felt?
Well, it did take a long time to finish. I had an agent. But then I’d go back to the drawing board if the publishers passed on it. And I kind of wrestled with it a bit. So I did a lot of editing and a lot of changing things around,taking things out.
So I did play around with it for a long time. But I don’t think it was because I didn’t want to finish and I didn’t want to let it go. I think it was I wanted to have it right, so I felt it represented what I was trying to say.
Were there chapters that you wrote that you didn’t include?
Oh, there was tons of stuff I didn’t include! Otherwise the thing would be so thick, it would be like an encyclopedia! But I like it as it is. It feels complete.
That it does. Thank you for writing it. It’s great to get to talk to you.
Thank you! Lovely to talk to you.