I've written about the Beatles – as a group and individuals, about their influence and inspiration - several times on this Blog . The last time was a rediscovery and reassessment about Paul McCartney, his work ethic and prodigious creative output.
And just had the same experience with his sidemate, George Harrison.
Poking through the library – my favorite institution – I decided to check out what Beatle/group and individual CDs they might have.
They had one I hadn't encountered – George Harrison Early Takes Volume I – unreleased demos and early takes. All were fascinating, but it was "Run Of The Mill," a song that wound up on the All Things Must Pass album, that struck me, and thus was played over and over. I'd always loved the eventual, almost orchestral version on that album, but this new acoustic demo killed me – haunting, thoughtful but hopeful melody, coupled with George's typical elliptical lyrics.
Went back to the library and picked up All Things Must Pass – such a rich album, with numerous anthemic Harrison classics, including the joyous "My Sweet Lord," as well as a Dylan song, and one co-wrote by Dylan and Harrison.
Also grabbed Live In Japan, a kind of Greatest Hits package performed in Tokyo and Osaka in 1991. (I saw Harrison live in St. Louis in 1974 – the ill-fated Dark Horse Tour. He made a few misjudgments planning that tour – opening the tour with about an hour of Ravi Shankar as restless crowds hollered for George and Beatle music – and playing arenas, vast buildings where his thin voice could just not hold up. By the time he got to the St. Louis Arena, he had cut back the Shankar time, but word of the disappointing evening had even reached here, and the Arena was only half full. Also, his voice was hurting, and he fought to finish out his planned songs. Disappointing, yes, but still a Beatle right in front of you.)
One of the best things about the Japan album are George's liner notes. He addresses each song – where he wrote it, why, what it meant to him. Keen comments and insights on the impact – to him and his listeners of each song.
I think what has captured me most about George Harrison at this time – a flash which has caused me to play him almost exclusively for a period of time – is his moral clarity. He was always designated as the most spiritual Beatle, and his studies, practices and brave, quiet death were all examples of a life very well lived. Perhaps, during this time of deep divide and trouble in our society, his words and message strikes one as more timely, more important than ever.
One story about Harrison sums up, to me, his life and persona. It was told by Ringo, so I'm sure it's true. George died, in late 2001, at a friend's home in Beverly Hills, CA. Ringo came to visit. But Ringo said he'd have to leave shortly. His daughter was having brain surgery in Boston (eventual successful surgery for a nonmalignant tumor.) When George heard this, he started to struggle up from his deathbed, and said "Oh, no. Do you want me to come with you?"
This story has always been a stunning illustration of the eternal bond of the Beatles, and the eternal faith of George Harrison.