A collection of posts from my original weblog...or the inscrutable rantings of a madman...could be both...

Friday, November 30, 2001

A TRIBUTE TO GEORGE HARRISON (1943-2001)

Hello fellow music geeks--well I'm sure you've heard the news by now. Beatle George passed on the the next realm yesterday afternoon in Los Angeles from cancer. My other favorite member of the Beatles to split this rock...wow...it's hard to believe it's true. I knew the man was very ill the past few months but all the reports said "He is recovering", etc. I suppose that was the nature of Sir Harrison, reclusive and not wanting to let the spotlight's glare intrude on his private suffering. It's odd that both John Lennon and George died in, or near December--the start of the winter season, the season of death. I'm in New England and it was a cool gray day with plenty of drizzle--no sunshine for the man who wrote Here Comes The Sun, one of the best tunes on one of the best Beatles albums, Abbey Road.

I first heard The Beatles at the age of three or four, when my parents had the "Red" and "Blue" greatest hits records on 8-track tapes (!). They would play them over and over and though I never knew what song was what, or even if there were or weren't little people inside of the speakers singing, I liked the sounds coming from the speakers. I forgot about The Beatles for a while after that--my parents became more "serious" and stopped playing their 8-tracks almost completely. In middle school, a Catholic middle school no less, I met some like-minded freeks..namely M.A.D., Chris "Mad Dog" Haley and Mike Fusco (who, unfortuneately, has passed on also). They were into The Beatles, and re-introduced me to the Fabs through the Beatles Club they formed one year. I really hit my stride in high school, when I started listening to the local "classic rock" radio station and started hearing all those great Beatles tunes again and started to really understand what it was all about. After that, I was a devotee and lucked out, becuase right around that time--Capitol began to re-issue the Beatles records on compact disc. The 20th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was in June 1987 and I bought the CD right away--I remember being at my neighbor's house (he had a state-of-the-art stereo system at the time), putting the disc into the player, lying down between the speakers and letting the Fabs take me on their magic psychedelic carpet ride--it was glorious--and I wasn't even ON anything!

George and John were my favorites because they seemed so cool. John sang songs like Revolution and Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and with the jesuschrist hair and the English workingman's specs, to me was the essence of late 60s hippie cool. Actually, my favorite Lennon phase is the '67 Lennon--specs, Fu-Manchu 'stache and mid-length hair--for that six months (June '67 to Dec. '67), he was the coolest man on earth. George seemed reserved but very intelligent and also sang great tunes like Taxman and Within You Without You and then guided the spiritual aspirations of the band.

Early on in the band's history...Harrison brought his love of Carl Perkins and rockabilly into the mix (Ringo did too, but to a lesser extent) and for me, it was my first real exposure to country guitar licks. Ironic, really, considering I had to listen to an English band playing an American form of music to appreciate it. Songs like Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby and Honey Don't showcase George and Ringo's attempts to copy that sound. They don't quite pull it off, but hey, it was good enough for me. Of course, he dug the original rock and roll tunes as well and George sang lead on a passable cover of Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven. Then the Lennon/McCartney songwriting team started to steamroll the charts and album sales and George was pushed into the "Lead Guitar/One-Song-Per-Record" role--which he didn't fancy well but he soldiered on for the good of the group. He did contribute some greats, like Don't Bother Me and he has the best scene in "A Hard Day's Night", apart from John "sniffing" Coke from the Coke can and John talking to the woman in the hallway of the theatre. George's scene involves him getting lost in the TV studio and wandering in to a room where a smarmy TV producer tries to get him to wear shirts that George describes as "grotty" (...you know, grotesque..) and then George takes the piss out of the station's flagship "young people's show" with some "posh bird" named Susan. When he leaves, the producer checks his calendar and announces "He's just a trouble-maker, the change isn't due for three weeks.." I think the leggy secretary at the beginning of the scene is Patti Boyd (whom George later married) or her sister--I can't remember. George did contribute a slight ballad to the soundtrack, I'm Happy Just To Dance With You.

In 1965, The Beatles were fast out-growing their "lovable mop-top" image foisted on them by the press and their management and they wanted OUT. They started smoking cannabis (that's "pot" to you, Mister) and writing more introspective material, influenced by the weed and Bob Dylan and world events. They fulfilled two-thirds of their film contract with Help! and released the soundtrack as their next record. I don't even remember if George added a song to it or not. In November 1965, they released Rubber Soul, which for many, is the first true Beatles masterpiece..or, as Nicholas Schaffner puts it--"like that part in 'The Wizard Of Oz' when everything changes from black-and-white to color.." Harrison threw If I Needed Someone in there and it's got such a great melody and I love the line "...carve your number on my wall/and maybe you will get a call from me.." It also features the jangly Rickenbacker 12-string electric sound popularized by The Byrds, but first played by George on "A Hard Day's Night"--and a sound that would influence a lot of bands to come. George also had purchased a sitar during the making of "Help!" and was noodling around with it when he brought it by the studio one day while John was recording his new song, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). George improvised a sitar riff on the spot and they added it to the track...and, as they say...a biggidy-biggidy-boom. Some don't like the grafting of the sitar on the track, but I can't hear that song without it. To bring things full circle, in 1997, Cornershop recorded a cover version in which Tjinder Singh sings the vocal in Punjabi--making the tune a bit more Eastern than Western and it's one of the best Beatles covers I've heard.

George was soon obsessed with Indian culture and began taking sitar lessons with the master himself, Ravi Shankar and devoting a lot of his time to learning about the various ragas and trying to master the instrument. George also began experimenting with lysergic acid diethylemide 25 (or "acid", to you, Chief) along with John and Ringo (Paul had begged off at this point..finally tripping in early '67) and it became the focus of their next few records and also a whole wave of music in the U.K. and the U.S. and a counter-culture to append it. Revolver has been called the best U.K. psychedelic record ever and it's not tough to understand that--it's brilliant and probably the best Beatles album also. Harrison was actually allowed two tracks on it, the aforementioned "Taxman", with one of the all-time guitar riffs and one of the first anti-government screeds by a major pop group and Love You To, another sitar exercise and one of my personal faves, though the Indian tabla players easily tap out circles around novice George. I like the way the sitar lines sort-of chase George's vocal throughout the tune. Of course, "Sgt. Pepper's..." was next in '67 and the whole "Summer Of Love" (which George described in the 'Anthology' TV special as "a lot of that was bulls**t, that's what the press were saying but there was a vibe in the air..") and All You Need Is Love and his trip (literally) to the Haight-Ashbury hippie nieghborhood in San Francisco. He was high on acid and it gave him an up-close look at the disintegrating counter-culture. He said it "..was like the Bowery, like alcoholism..instead of people having all these spiritual awakenings...it's all these spotty dropout kids on drugs.." He returned to England and vowed to stop taking LSD, which is the moment he discovered Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and TM (that's "transcendental meditation" to you, Pardner).

After the death of longtime manager, Brian Epstein, in August '67, George convinced the others to attend a lecture by the Maharishi and they were soon interested in taking a course. The Magical Mystery Tour film bombed when shown on the BBC...though it does contain some excellent psychedelic Beatles tunes, especially John's I Am The Walrus and George's Blue Jay Way, with it's creepy phased vocals and ominous vibe, it evokes a bad trip and quite different from the sunny pysch sheen of the other tunes. The Beatles were off to Rishikesh, in India, to take a full TM course. This proved fruitful for song-writing and The Beatles had enough to make the White Album when they returned to England. John, Paul and Ringo had thought the Maharishi to be a cosmic rip-off artist but George stayed the longest and though he agreed with the others, stayed with his spiritual quest to the end. One of his best songs, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, appeared on the White Album..but I also love Piggies, with it's snide attack on the status quo and upper class and is at odds with George's peace/love demeanor. Savoy Truffle is a standard rocker with some guitar work by Eric Clapton, who's also on "While My..". Long, Long, Long is a pretty acoustic tune that ends with a strange cacophony of strummed guitars and something that sounds like a huge door opening. He also contributes excellent guitar work to the others songs..a jazzy solo to McCartney's Honey Pie and rocks out on Back In The U.S.S.R..

By 1969, the "dream was over", as they say. George went off to Woodstock, N.Y. to hang out and jam with Bob Dylan and The Band..that's where he and Dylan wrote If Not For You, one of my fave George solo tunes. He returned to England and took part in the Let It Be sessions, Paul McCartney's brain-storm to keep the group together and get them "back-to-basics". They were pulling in different directions and the end was clear to everyone except McCartney, who gets into a fight with George over the way to play a certain chord sequence (George said "...Paul and I were having a row, and they're filming the whole thing..."). Everyone left the experience feeling bitter and wanted to break up the group. They did pull together one last time on "Abbey Road"..and George finally got the spotlight with "Here Comes the Sun" and Something, which even Lennon and McCartney agreed were the best songs on the album. The Beatles finally split in late '69..with the "Let it Be" album appearing in May 1970. George went solo with All Things Must Pass, a triple record set (!) of material he had been writing since the mid-sixties. He enjoyed success but it was with a cost, when he was sued by the writers of The Chiffons 1964 hit, "He's So Fine", which had the same chord sequence and melody of George's 1970 single, My Sweet Lord. Let's face it, the melodies are extremely similar, but I doubt it was a direct plagarization. No matter, The Chiffons won and there was a hefty settlement involved. George continued on but his albums sold less and less as the 70s progressed and his 1974 tour turned out to be a financial disaster. He turned to the film business when Monty Python needed some backing for their 1979 flick, The Life Of Brian, a scathing satire of Christianity and Judaism--well, organized religion in general. He founded Handmade Films and had more success with The Long Good Friday, Withnail & I and Mona Lisa.
He stopped making records in 1982, after Gone Troppo sold two copies (I think my brother bought one of them)--though it did have A Dream Away, from "Time Bandits", on it and one of my fave obscure George songs. He also had a minor hit with All Those Years Ago, released after the assassination of John Lennon and a bit of a tribute to John. He re-surfaced in 1987 with Cloud Nine and had a massive hit with Got My Mind Set On You, a re-make of an obscure Rudy Clark tune He also had another minor hit with the follow-up single, When We Was Fab, a quasi-psychedelic tribute to The Beatles. After that, he was quiet again, popping up with The Traveling Wilburys, a "super-group" comprised of Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and himself. He did a mini-tour of Japan and released a double-disc live album in 1991. He joined in on the Anthology project in '94/'95..helping with the "new" Beatles singles, Free As A Bird and Real Love. He also appeared in the 10-hour documentary (reduced to 6 hours in the States) for "Anthology" and helped go through the vast amount of tape in the vaults.

He was nearly assassinated himself in 1999, when a crazed man broke into his house at Henley-On-Thames and attacked him, succeeding in stabbing him before being knocked unconcious by George's second wife, Olivia. I thought he was dead for sure, but he pulled through, only to be taken by cancer that's been plauging him for a while now. He re-released "All Things.." just this past year with a new (though un-necessary) version of "My Sweet Lord" and there are plans to re-issue the Concert For Bangladesh, the 1971 triple-record set of the concert George organized and one of the first rock/charity shows. We'll miss you, George...thanks for all of the music and thoughts...it's much appreciated--tell John the same when you see him...Peace!