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George Harrison, The Quiet Beatle
George Harrison in 1974
Sargant Pepper Attire
Martin Scorsese and George Harrison
Very recently, (October 5 & 6 2011 to be exact) Martin Scorsese aired a four-hour two-part documentary on HBO, concerning the life and music of the late George Harrison. The film bore the name, “Livng In the Material World”. This was quite an honor for the Beatle guitarist, who passed away in 2001, especially since Scorsese does very few musical tributes. Before the Harrison piece, his last film was released in 2005. It was called 'The Long Way Home' and it was centered around the great troubadour, Bob Dylan, and his fascination with Woody Guthrie. Instrumental in creating a positive climate for this prime time presentation was George's surviving wife Olivia, who first contacted the filmmaker with the idea. Since it is unlikely that Martin will make any additional Beatle musical documentaries, this is indeed a big honor for the Liverpool native.
George Harrison attended the same schools and lived in the same neighborhood as John Lennon and Paul McCarthy. In fact the three, Liverpool residents began playing together publicly in a band called 'The Quarrymen' in 1956, which by 1960 eventually evolved into the Beatles. Though also from the same English city, Ringo Starr did not cross paths with these three musicians until they met in Hamburg, Germany in 1960. So in essence the heart of the Beatles goes back to the 50s Penny Lane neighborhood of Liverpool, where three of the band members became acquainted with one another, sometimes while waiting at the same bus stop.
Also of importance in the early development of the Beatles is the Skiffle folk movement that swept across Great Britain like a wild fire. All four Beatles were part of the 50s Skiffle scene.
Fortunately, Scorsese skips over all this historical background and goes straight to an appreciation and exploration into George's musical contribution to the 'Fab Four'. Though Harrison did write such Beatle classics as "Here Comes the Sun"and "Something", the youngest of the group has never been given much credit for his songwriting skills, for that went more to John and Paul. Instead, George is often seen as the most musically gifted of the group. This is most evident in his ability to learn how to skillfully play the Sitar, a skill he learned from the world renown, Ravi Shankar. It is this side of Harrison that is presented front and center in the made-for-TV documentary, 'Living In the Material World'.
Since George had trouble getting the group to record songs that he had written, he had no problem finding material for solo albums after the band's breakup in 1970. One of these solo efforts was called “Living In the Material World”. That title has been revisited by Scorsese, as he culled through the large amount material that was available for making the documentary. Perhaps one of the goals in making this film was to explore how the desire of the youngest Beatle to pursue his own recording path may have contributed to the breakup of one of the most successful rock groups ever. Even without this undertone, George Harrison left behind quite a large and impressive musical legacy.
Death of George Harrison
"He left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends," family statement at time of George's death.
When George Harrison passed away in November of 2001, there were only two of the Beatles left alive. Currently (2014), thirteen years after George's passing and thirty-four years since John Lennon's tragic death, the two survivors, Ringo Starr and Paul McCarthy, are still going strong and still doing tours around the world.
On the other hand, George's died quietly and without much fanfare after a long battle with throat cancer, lung cancer and a brain tumor. He was only 58 at the time of his death. Even today, the popular Beatle is remembered for his musical talent, his soft-spoken manners and his songwriting ability that didn't really surface until after the Beatles broke up.