George Harrison, Songwriter and Most Spiritual Beatle
George Harrison, Man of Eclectic Interests
When Beatlemania swept the United States, I was just a young girl. But when people I knew began playing guitar, they seemed surprised that the chords from Beatles tunes were rather complex to play. So I began to take a more serious look at the lads from Liverpool.
Paul was always the “cute” one. Ringo had those big, brown, puppy dog eyes. John was outspoken and enthusiastic about whatever he was evolving into at any particular time. But the soundtrack of my High School years was always All Things Must Pass, by George Harrison. I then began the series of spiritual searches and interests which would always be a part of my life, and George was the Spiritual Beatle. So George’s songs were the ones that I related to the most.
George was always considered the quiet Beatle, but research shows this is not so. He was very intense, and spoke knowledgably when interested in a subject. George made friends very easily, and moved with grace in social circles, be it a group of friends at his home, at the Formula One Racetrack where he loved racing so much, or chatting up people on the streets of India. He sometimes worked from dawn to dusk at home in his gardens, according to his wife Olivia Harrison and their son Dhani, in Olivia’s tribute book called Living In The Material World.
George Harrison's Early Years
George was born a Pisces, on February 25, 1943, and was the youngest of the Beatles. In his autobiography I, Me, Mine, George discusses a time when he and Olivia were sitting in front of the house where he was born, at 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree, Liverpool. He says, “I sat outside the house, in the car with Olivia, imagining 1943, nipping through from the spiritual world, the astral level, getting back into a body in that house. That really is strange when you consider the whole planet, and all the planets there may be on the physical level….how do I come to that family in that house at that time and who am I anyway?”
It was during World War II, and Liverpool was being bombed by the Germans, much of the neighborhood was destroyed. It was cold in the winter, and the family only had one fire, in the kitchen. They slept with hot water bottles in their beds, and the bathroom was outside. George’s Mom Louise was a midwife, and his Dad Harry drove a bus. George had two brothers, Harry and Peter, and a sister named Louise. They appear to have been a close family. George was also an avid photographer, and has a plethora of pictures from all his travels. It is apparent he took delight in sharing his photos with everyone.
Living In The Material World, the book and 2 DVD set, was released at the end of 2011, introduced on HBO. It is a treasure trove of information and anecdotes about George’s life. Olivia, a Grammy Award winning producer herself, traces the arc of his life through letters, diaries, and memorabilia. She starts with his youth as a guitar obsessed young man, his amazement at the Beatles years, his discovery of Indian music, culture and the Hindu religion. She goes on to describe his years as a solo artist, film producer (he once lent Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam four million dollars to make “The Life of Brian,” because he was such a fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus), and the country gentleman who rebuilt Friar Park, a dilapidated estate that he lovingly restored. George spent some of his happiest hours in those gardens. The Historical Society wanted to buy the restored estate back from George, but he would not, as it was his refuge. Martin Scorsese contributes to the forward of the book, and the book and DVD’s are a must have for any Harrison fan. The family was very generous with material, and the DVD’s show us much about the “real” George. If you haven’t seen them yet, do it ASAP!
George Harrison Becomes A Beatle
George and Paul McCartney went to the same school as teens, and bonded through their love of music. Paul already met John Lennon, and their common bond was their desire to form a band. They needed a lead guitar player. John was good, but George was really the best musician in the band. One day Paul got George to audition on the top level of a double decker bus, and George blew John away with a guitar solo of a blues number called “Raunchy.” The boys practiced, and before long began to get gigs in Britain at the Cavern Club. They drew large crowds, and Stuart Sutcliffe was playing with the band then, until they got to Germany, where they played the Jacarana Club, The Star Club and the Reeperbaum, in Hamburg. By now the Beatles were a foursome, and Ringo Starr became their drummer. They were actually playing in a red-light district, and the barkeeper freaked out when he realized George was only 17 and not even legally old enough to drink. He did continue to let them play though, because the crowds followed.
George’s relatives remarked that he left a boy, but returned to Britain all grown up. George was the first one to get the famous “mop top” haircut that shocked everyone so much. It’s funny that people thought the boys were so wildly dressed, old pictures show them in dress slacks, button down shirts, and sometimes ties. The real madness caught up with the group in 1963, when they began seriously touring in England. George diligently kept his family informed about his travels and wrote letters home about his experiences playing with the band in clubs (at least the ones that can be shared with parents)!
George Harrison's Songs While In The Beatles
The US was catching on that something big was happening with The Beatles, and signed them up for articles in Newsweek, Time, and Life magazine articles. When they played in the US for the first time on the Ed Sullivan show, the Beatles were so mobbed by teenage girls wherever they went, the lyrics of their songs could not even be heard. George missed privacy, and one of the earliest songs he wrote was, Don’t Bother Me. Although Lennon-McCartney were the most prolific songwriting team in history, many people are unaware of the large body of songs wrote and sung by George Harrison, included in the list below:
Don't Bother Me
The Inner Light
I Need You
It's All Too Much
You Like Me Too Much
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Think For Yourself
Long, Long, Long
If I Needed Someone
Love To You
Old Brown Shoe
I Want To Tell You
I Me Mine
Within You Without You
For You Blue
Only A Northern Song
Something (Yep, that's George)!
Blue Jay Way
Here Comes The Sun
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
George Harrison Discovers LSD, India, Meditation and Hinduism
The disputes that marred the Beatle’s relationships were beginning to show up. All of the guys were using drugs, especially LSD. This was a mind blowing experience to George, and during the later 1960’s the Beatles and current wives went to India together, to try to decompress. George began making friends with Ravi Shankar, who also became a mentor. George wanted to play the sitar, but it is complex and very difficult. Although he did tinker around with it, he never became an accomplished player. The Beatles all vacationed in India, and although they relaxed, India got a hold on George that never left him, and changed his direction. Of this pilgrimage, George said, “Each person has to find for himself a way for inner realization. I still believe that’s the only reason we are on this planet. It’s like going to school again: each soul is potentially divine and the goal is to manifest that divinity. Everything else is secondary.” (quoted from his autobiography I, Me, Mine)
George began a serious meditation practice, getting deeper and deeper into Indian religion. He said, “I have this kind of strange thing, and I put it down to being a Pisces. Pisces is the sign of the two fish. The way I see it is that one half is going where the other half has just been. I was in the West and into Rock and Roll, getting crazy, staying up all night, and doing all the wrong things. That’s in conflict with all the right things, which is what I learned in India, like getting up early, going to bed early, taking care of yourself and having some sort of spiritual quality to your life. I’ve always had this conflict.” George became completely enamored of this Indian lifestyle. From Olivia Harrison's Memoir Living In The Material World
When George wrote My Sweet Lord and then was sued because the original writer said the chords were the same as in the Motown song He’s So Fine, he didn’t even care, he claimed they could have had the song. He was used to lawsuits, because by then the Beatles were all suing each other. When they formed Apple records, Paul was buying up shares behind the other guy’s backs. Paul and John never wanted material from Ringo and George on their albums. When John met Yoko Ono and Paul began seeing Linda Eastman, the rifts between the guys got deeper and deeper. Many blamed Yoko for the breakup of the Beatles, but they were all burnt out before Yoko was even on the scene. Eric Clapton was George’s best friend, and helped out on As My Guitar Gently Weeps. This could never be publicly acknowledged back then if one was signed to another record company. So George felt good when All Things Must Pass was re-mastered in 2000, and he could acknowledge his good friend. George played the guitar parts himself when he performed the song live. Even Eric acknowledged the tense situation within the group on the few occasions he played guitar with them.
George Harrison Changed His Lifestyle
The spiritual lifestyle George now led did not agree with his wife, Patti Boyd, and as she cried on Eric Clapton’s shoulders, they began to fall in love, and George and Patti separated so Eric and Patti could be together. Eric and George remained lifelong friends in spite of this. Eric lived within walking distance to George’s Friar Park Estate, and one sunny day George came over with his guitar, and just wrote Here Comes The Sun on the spot.
George’s life revolved around mediation. He wrote My Sweet Lord, and put the whole Hare Krishna mantra at the end, which was often cut off radio songs in those days, radio stations didn’t like to play songs that were more than 3 minutes long. One of Ravi Shankar’s disciples went to a soccer game at the Isle of Wight with George, and My Sweet Lord played on the radio at halftime. Thousands of fans began singing the refrain; because of George the mantra had penetrated British society. The Indian friend said it was one of the most touching moments of his life. He never heard so many voices singing this mantra. All the crowd knew was they loved George Harrison, and if the song was his, it was theirs too.
Ravi Shankar thought so highly of George, and said, "George had every material thing a person could ever want or need by the time he was 25. But all the fame and wealth never mattered much to him. He was searching for something much deeper and higher. How can it be explained that a man of his Liverpool background would be so attracted to a life and philosophy so different? It was strange, unless the person believed in reincarnation."
Give Me Love
George Harrison's Solo Projects
George Harrison was generous, kind and thoughtful. He gave two benefit concerts at Ravi Shankar’s request when Pakistan and East Pakistan were at war. Within days George got together Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Levon Russell and others to participate in what would become the first benefit concert of our times and of great magnitude in world history. This had to be organized quickly, and George had the Star power to do it at Madison Square Garden, two sold out shows. Once the shows were over, Bangladesh was a familiar name and place to everyone. Much money was raised to help the refugees.
When George and Olivia’s son Dhani went to kindergarten, he came home and cried. He said to George, “All the kids said you were in a rock band called The Beatles and sang a song about a yellow submarine.” George’s reply was, “Oh, I guess I should have told you about that.”
This is what is so endearing about George. He tried so hard not to have an ego, a large part of the Hindu philosophy. But it seemed he felt that way even before his first trip to India. When he spoke of the Beatles, he referred to his participation as “six really crazy years of my life.” It was clear he was disenchanted with the crowds and lack of privacy before the band ever left Britain, when he wrote and sang Don’t Bother Me. He was not a moody person, but one who required time to himself. His charming widow Olivia sometimes sounds a bit exasperated by life with George. She would compliment him on his garden, and he would attribute it to the gods he loved so much. When he wrote I Me Mine, he really needed to get all that egotism out of his life, thus the tongue in cheek title. He loved being a musician, but fame did not agree with George
In later years, George got a group of friends together to just jam and cut an album for the fun of it, and so the Travelling Wilburys came into being. They consisted of George, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbinson, Tom Petty, and Jeff Lynne. They all seemed to be having a great time.
George Harrison's Philosophy and Generosity
Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame said this in Living in the Material World, “George’s spirituality is absolutely essential to him. But he was living in the material world. So he was caught in these two worlds, a spiritual and a material one. It’s about finding beauty in the real world to create, to make the real world as beautiful as it can be. That’s what George was trying to do at Friar Park (the large dilapidated mansion with the beautiful gardens George made for future generations to enjoy). He turned it into an exquisite place, and didn’t use servants, even though he could afford it. There were many sets of hands willing to help though. He had to do the work, and hand make this world by himself.”
George’s philosophy was that we do have control over our actions at any moment. He felt what we are now is a result of our past actions. Where we are going is a result of our present actions. There was no way he was not going to be in the Beatles, it was meant to be. He could have been a pop star forever, go on TV, give concerts, and be a celebrity. Or he could be a gardener. And so that’s what he did.
The Beatles changed pop culture forever. But the fame and lack of privacy was a difficult issue for all four of them. They agree it never could have continued too much longer, it was too insane a pace, and people had never witnessed this kind of pandemonium over a group of musicians. All they could do was try to keep up each other’s spirits, because they were mobbed by people everywhere, and you had to be a Beatle to understand what it was like.
George Harrison gave so much of himself to the world. Whenever I hear What is Life, All Things Must Pass, or Give Me Love, I am reminded that we have the power to be the best people we can be. This is George’s legacy to us. George did not fear death, he understood that it is only a transition. He did so much good and tried to help whenever and wherever he could, because he tried to live in the moment. He understood that it is all we have in this lifetime, as there is no past or future, time is not linear.
George lived life on his own terms, and he faced death on his own terms too. He had wonderful friends who thought the world of him, a lovely wife and son, and did whatever he could to try to make his little part of the world a better place. George made it OK to pray, “Give me hope, help me cope with this heavy load”, when the going got tough. And when life seemed filled with problems, he reminded us that “a cloudburst doesn’t last all day” and that “All things must pass".
It is my sincere hope that his soul continues to have the sublime experiences he looked forward to as he travels through the other planes of existence.