Magic Alex Was Maybe The Strangest Beatles Associate Ever

I always love to talk about the “perfect storm” of collaborators who helped propel The Beatles to the very top of the Rock pyramid, the amazing cast of characters who brought just the right skills at just the right time to the Fab Four.

Well Magic Alex, who sadly passed away earlier this month at age 74, was not one of those collaborators. If anything, his involvement probably even hastened the breakup of the band. Still, his story is a useful one for Beatle fans to remember because it shows how that intuitive golden touch the Beatles had – their uncanny ability to turn bold experimentation into massive success – was maybe beginning to elude them as the Sixties were coming to an end.

The charismatic and artistic Alexis ‘Magic Alex’ Mardas first arrived in London from Athens on a student visa in 1965. He got work as a TV repairman and became roommates with John Dunbar, Marianne Faithfull’s first husband, who introduced him to the Rolling Stones. He built a psychedelic light box for the Stones’ stage shows, and soon after that Brian Jones introduced him to John Lennon.

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The two hit it off right away. Mardas built Lennon “the nothing box”, a machine filled with Christmas tree lights which emitted random flashes of light. Lennon became enthralled with the contraption during his LSD trips, and he began calling him “Magic Alex” and introducing him to others as his “scientific guru”. Lennon was best man at his wedding and invited him to Rishikesh to meet the Maharishi.

As an aside, Magic Alex was the one who proved to John that the Maharishi was hitting on young women at the Ashram, as immortalized in the song “Sexy Sadie”. He also collaborated with Lennon on the avant-garde track “What’s The New, Mary Jane?”, which was I think rightly deemed by all not to be good enough to make the cut for the White Album.

Magic Alex became the head of the electronic division of the Beatles’ Apple empire, and he would regale the Beatles with proposals for technological innovations ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Depending on who you talk to, some of his proposals included: voice recognition and phone caller ID; wallpaper loudspeakers; a force field that would surround a building and stop intruders; and a flying saucer made with the V-12 engines from Lennon’s Rolls and Harrison’s Ferrari.

Paul McCartney recently recalled being interested in his ideas: “I’m only a little embarrassed to say that it all seemed like a great idea at the time… It was always, ‘well, if you could do that, we’d like one’”. Alex convinced everyone he could build a 72-track studio that used sonic beams instead of baffles to prevent the sound from one mic bleeding into another.

He got the go-ahead for the new studio, and proceeded to spend an estimated $600,000 ($6 million in 2016 dollars) on a studio that turned out to be completely unusable for the Get Back project in 1969. One engineer described it as “bits of wood and an old oscilloscope”, and George Harrison called it “the biggest disaster of all time”. When Allen Klein came in to take over the Apple business, he immediately fired Magic Alex and closed the electronic division.

And that was it for his involvement with The Beatles. He felt embittered, like he was abandoned by Lennon as well as the others, and he went on to a career in, of all things, the security industry. He worked on bullet-proof vehicles, bugging devices and security hardware, and spent many years suing publications that called him a scam artist.

In 2010 he issued a statement, apparently in an effort to set the record straight for all time, saying that he “invented a large number of electronic devices, none of which had anything to do with music or the business of the Beatles”. You have got to read this statement, it is one of the most bizarre and unintentionally hilarious legal documents in the history of Rock & Roll, the list of wacky ideas that he denies ever having is pure comedy gold. What a character, may he rest in peace in his flying saucer somewhere way out there in the galaxy.

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3 comments to “Magic Alex Was Maybe The Strangest Beatles Associate Ever”
  1. Optimism or naivete? If people had been a little more worldly-wise back then, maybe the Peace and Love thing wouldn’t have been so thoroughly discredited in the ’70s.

  2. Pingback: A Beatles Marketing Stunt That Went Very Wrong | Rocknuts

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