Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Within George, Without George

Such foolishness in man
I want no part of their plan

-George Harrison

I miss George Harrison.

The telephone
rang over two hours before sunrise, awakening me from a deep slumber in the early hours of 29 November 2001 - ten years ago today. It was my brother Pete on the other end. "George Harrison is dead", he told me.

I heard the
news today, oh boy.

Unlike the death of John Lennon twenty-one years earlier, this was no jarring shock. We knew that he was mortally ill and that the end was not far away. Within a half ho
ur, Pete called me back, telling me that he was at Strawberry Fields in Manhattan, the Central Park monument to Lennon's memory. The place was deserted - except for him and a small news crew from ABC. He told me that he was about to be interviewed and asked me to videotape it for him. For the first couple of hours on the morning that George Harrison died, brother Pete Degan was the spokesman for bereaved Beatles fans all across the planet earth.

Sunrise doesn't last all morning
A cloud burst doesn't last all day....
It's not always gonna be this way
All things must pa
ss
All things must pass away

Every time I reach a ten-year milestone, the decade that has just transpired seems shorter than the
last. It is almost inconceivable to me that George Harrison has been dead for this long.

He might have su
rvived his final illness. He might still be with us today. George was being treated for cancer in 1999 when on New Year's Eve of that year, he was attacked and stabbed several times by a deeply disturbed person who broke into his house in the middle of the night. He was only saved by the quick action of his wife Olivia who was able to subdue the attacker with a fire poker. Olivia and their son Dhani both believe his severely weakened condition as a result of that assault hastened his death less than two years later. I don't doubt it. Two of the Beatles are dead today because of mindless violence. The cruel irony is that these two men are most associated in the public mind with peace and love. Whenever I see a film or video of that band performing all those years ago, I am always somewhat haunted by the image. Gone forever is the pure, undisturbed joy of watching the Fab Four perform. When I watch those films today, always lurking at the fringe of my consciousness are the tragedies that awaited John Lennon and George Harrison.

I've got no time for you right now
Don't bother me

Almost fr
om the very beginning when they were introduced to the British public in the autumn of 1962, he was known as "the quiet Beatle". Those who knew him best would laugh at that description. According to close friend and Monty Python alumni Michael Palin, he was many things - "quiet" was not one of them. The fact is, George Harrison was never comfortable being a public figure and guarded his privacy very rigorously. I am what you might call a Beatles Scholar. I have spent many years researching and reading about them. But I know next-to-nothing about George's life outside the recording studio. I only recently discovered that for many years he battled alcoholism. I had no idea! In the almost forty years he was in the public eye, glimpses into his private world were rarer than a lunar eclipse. He was - and remains - enigmatic.

He seemed
to show so much promise when he, John, Paul and Ringo went their separate ways in 1970. His debut album, "All Things Must Pass", was by far the finest record of that year. But the sad truth of the matter is that George Harrison's career subsequent to the Beatles' breakup is disappointing in many ways. Although he would have more-than-a-few moments at the mountaintop, a number of his recordings as a solo artist are mediocre at best.

The absolute creative rock-bo
ttom of his career would be 1981's "Somewhere in England". I have played that record twice. The first time was when I purchased it; the second time was twenty years later on the evening he passed away. On that night, I decided that I would give the album a second chance. Maybe George Harrison was reaching a new plateau in his musical evolution that I just couldn't comprehend in 1981. I was correct in my initial assessment. Somewhere in England is beyond awful. In fact (and it hurts like hell to say this) it is unlistenable. Spell Check is informing me that "unlistenable" is not even a word. It is now. There is no other word to adequately describe that record. The followup LP, a forgotten relic from 1982 called "Gone Troppo", is almost as bad. He would not release another recording for five years.

He finally reemerged in 1987 with a minor masterpiece called "Cloud Nine". George Harrison was back and better than ever! His admirers all over the world waited in anticipation, wondering what he would come up with next. We waited....and waited....and waited. Nothing. Not until the very end of his life would George produce an album of new material. We shouldn't complain though, He owed us nothing. We owe
him a lot.

As nothing in this life that I've been trying
Could equal or surpass the art of dying
Do you believe me?

And then there were two....

I am old enough to
remember the Beatles' appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964 - a long time ago when they was fab. On that night, the eldest member of the band was twenty-three. Ringo Starr turned seventy-one last July. Paul McCartney turns seventy next June. Four years ago, on the fortieth anniversary of the release of the Sgt. Pepper LP, I wrote a piece on this site called, Why the Beatles Still Matter:

"In 1995, the night the video "Free As a Bird" premiered on national television (the first "new" Beatles song in over a quarter of a century) I watched it with a young woman who was born in 1970, the year they broke up. Hearing them sing together again - Paul and George sounding strong and clear; John, by that time long dead, his voice transferred from an old and faded cassette tape, sounding as if he were singing from far, far away - was a very moving experience. When she noticed my reaction, she laughed and said, "Oh, Tom! What's the big deal"? I told her that no one who didn't live through that turbulent era, could possibly understand what that band meant to their troubled generation."

Yeah, I'll fess up - I get awfully sentimental when it comes to the subject of the Beatles. On the night George died I remember pouring my heart out over the telephone to my friend Terri Sager. I admire her patience. She listened gently while I waxed inebriate on the news of his passing, and what a drag it was that two of the Beatles were now dead, and how this was possibly the end of the world, and blah blah blah....But it moves me to realize that today the two survivors are elderly men, and that eternity is now beckoning them. When I was a boy, John, Paul, George and Ringo were the undisputed princes of the planet earth. They seemed to be invincible. The passing of the decades reminds us that the Beatles were as frail in their mortality as any of us. They really were a bit like you and me.

When you've seen beyond yourself
Then you may find, peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come when you see we're all one
And life goes on within you and without you

I imagine I'll be spending a good part of this fine Autumn day listening to the Beatles in general and George's music in particular. I might even scoot up to the mall in Middletown and purch
ase the new Martin Scorsese documentary on George's life, Living in the Material World. Whatever the medium, this is a good day to reflect on his legacy.

I miss George Harrison.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
tomdegan@frontiernet.net

SUGGES
TED LISTENING:

All Things Must Pass (1970)
The Concer
t for Bangla Desh (1971)
Living it the Material World (1973)
Thirty-Three and a Third (1977)
George Harrison (1978)
Cloud Nine (1987)
Brainwashed (2001)

Here's a link to listen to George Harrison from 2001. It is one of the final recording sessions of his life; a great rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2IV9gxHhwM

When George left this world he was tappin' his toes!

Here are some other Beatles-related pieces I've written on "The Rant" through the years:

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com/2010/05/were-off-to-abbey-road.html

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com/2010/05/excellent-adventure-at-abbey-road.html

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com/2007/06/why-beatles-still-matter.html

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com/2009/09/hey-kids-meet-beatles.html

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com/2010/07/happy-birthday-ringo_07.html

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com/2010/10/its-johnnys-birthday.html

http://tomdegan.blogspot.com/2010/12/december-8-1980.html

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

32 Comments:

At 4:47 AM, Blogger Lydia said...

What a great title for this post, for this fine quote by this mystical man....this astonishingly beautiful man who I fell in love with again when I saw this image.

 
At 8:15 AM, Anonymous Just the Facts! said...

Tom,

Best damned effort you have EVER put on your blog.

I too watched the Ed Sullivan Show,
"Oh those years ago". I would suggest that if you don't have it already, you purchase the DVD "Concert for George" while your out today shopping. If you already have you know why I make the suggestion, if you don't and buy it, you will understand.

 
At 9:04 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

I do have Concert for George - on DVD and CD. Every moment of it is beautiful. The ending when Joe Brown sings "I'll See You In My Dreams" on the ukelele moved me to tears when I first watched it: Here is a link to a rendering of it, along with a beautiful tribute to George:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKz6Wvfdxhg

They will light my lonely way tonight. I'll see you in my dreams....

 
At 9:54 AM, Blogger Nance said...

Although it isn't high literature, I would recommend adding Patti Boyd's Wonderful Today: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me to you reading list.

I share your memories and had some sublime Beatle-enhanced experiences too, but I always had a little trouble getting past "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," the first song of theirs I heard. After years and years of Motown, I could tell I wasn't listening to good music. Later, "Norwegian Wood" and all of Rubber Soul changed my mind about the boys from Liverpool.

When George put out All Things, I'd just begun to learn Transcendental Meditation; I'd finally found My Beatle. I'll be stalking the internet for that Scorcese documentary.

 
At 9:59 AM, Anonymous Stephen Dufrechou said...

Fantastic post, Tom--brilliantly written. Your reflections on George and his significance reminded me of something the poet Reinaldo Arenas once said:

"everyone who is the bearer of light remains alone; I would say that anyone who takes part in certain acts of beauty is eventually destroyed. Humanity in general does not tolerate beauty, perhaps because we cannot live without it."

And I suppose that's applicable to John's life, too.

Again, though, phenomenal post!

 
At 11:13 AM, Blogger charles moore said...

Tom, thanks for a wonderful tribute to George. It is too bad that he was for so long overlooked and in the shadow of John and Paul.

 
At 11:26 AM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Thank you for a wonderful post and a host of memories! I also watched the Ed Sullivan show that night and began a love affair with the Beatles that would never end. I was 18 years old that day! When I hear their music and George's and John's and Paul's solo creations, I am transported back to the time when I was still a girl. Thank you. I miss them as a whole and individually for what they gave us.

 
At 4:46 PM, Anonymous Tony S. said...

I've always been curious about one thing. George Harrison got in trouble with copyright problems with 'My Sweet Lord', because it sounded so much like 'He's So Fine'. I know that Phil Spector was working with Harrison at the time. It just seems natural to me that Spector might have been responsible for copying 'He's So Fine', since that is really his type of music.

 
At 6:41 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

The He's So Fine/My Sweet Lord saga is a sad chapter that really dispirited George. The two songs had vague similarities - but he never should have been forced to give up a dime in royalties. It was a hideous injustice. He wrote a song about it - and did an absolutely hilarious video to accompany it - directed by none other than Eric Idle! Here's a link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsUkACDSIZY

This song - ain't nothing tricky about it.

 
At 7:28 PM, Blogger Michael Stivic said...

I just want to say Tom that it brings tears to my eyes to see you and JTF extending the olive branch and having a cease fire in memory of George!

 
At 11:26 PM, Anonymous Just the Facts! said...

Michael,

Somethings are above politics.
Conversation about music, not the politics of the musician is an example. As would be a discussion about the merits of fishing for smallmouth vs largemouth bass, and why baseball is a greater sport than football.

That ought to stir up things up bit, but in a non political way.

 
At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Just the Facts! said...

Michael,

Somethings are above politics.
Conversation about music, not the politics of the musician is an example. As would be a discussion about the merits of fishing for smallmouth vs largemouth bass, and why baseball is a greater sport than football.

That ought to stir up things up bit, but in a non political way.

 
At 8:45 AM, Anonymous angie said...

Very nice..I like George. The Beatles, every one of them, are precious within themselves.

Thanks for the H. Carmichael mention. I always loved his 'Stardust'. Thought it was the most romantic song years ago.
Then along came the Beatles
... and among the many, Something and Woman, and Georges "My Guitar'.
Angie

 
At 4:59 PM, Anonymous I Love It When Our President Is Angry said...

I've enjoyed the Beatles for a long time. I always thought they were all about Love and Peace, and they were.
Thank you for mentioning H Carmichael. I also thought 'Stardust' was the most romantic song and it is, next to 'Something', 'Woman' ...just lovely, and 'My Guitar' by George... Ther are many more, but these come to mind.

 
At 6:23 PM, Blogger DmRofAtoZ said...

Fine writing indeed.
I just wish you'd left out your "unbalanced" reviews of "Somewhere In England" & "Gone Troppo".
I won't debate them, or repeat your choices of words . . . but an otherwise fine essay was just a bit spoiled when I got all irked at your "dismissals".

 
At 6:31 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

DmRofAtoZ....

Remember, this is only my opinion. I'll tell you what - I will give Somewhere In England a third listen. If ever there was a time I was prepared to give it a sympathetic ear, it would have been the night that George Harrison died. I couldn't.

Do you have the LP in your collection? Give it a listen. The best song on the record was "All Those Years Ago". Hardly his best work. We can agree to disagree.

Please understand, I loved his music - most of it. But there were times when he lost his muse.

Sincerely,

Tom Degan

 
At 6:53 PM, Blogger DmRofAtoZ said...

I gotta write quick, and dash . . but yes, I have everything . . and on into Beatlegs.
I'm not sayin' it's his super-best ( every artist is allowed a spectrum of phases ) but any album with "Writing's On The Wall", "That Which I Have Lost", & "Save The World" is essential.
The other tracks ? . . . perhaps a bit forced during personal tough times.

 
At 6:36 PM, Blogger Dave Dubya said...

That’s a very nice tribute, Tom. Having recently seen Martin Scorsese’s biopic, George has been in my CD player recently.

I agree “All Things” and “Cloud Nine” are the essential albums, though nuggets can be found throughout his opus. If you find a copy of his Live in Japan set, grab it. His and Clapton’s guitars weep beautifully all over again.

And let’s not forget his “second best” group, the Traveling WIlburys. Wonderful songs.

Speaking of Eric Idle, he came to town for a show a few years back and spoke fondly and sweetly about George. They were good friends and George was a huge Rutles fan, of course. As you may know, we have George to thank for mortgaging his house to finance “Life Of Brian”. It wouldn’t have been filmed without his backing.

Eric concluded his talk about George with a little anecdote. As Eric was preparing to leave for a trip to India, George slipped him a note, saying, “Don’t read this until you’re about to land”. Eric wondered what mystical secret or spiritual master George’s note would reveal to him.

As the plane descended, Eric opened the slip of paper and it read, “While you’re in India, shag a bird for me”.

George loved the ladies, too.

 
At 6:44 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Yeah, Dave. I would include in the list of George Harrison essentials:

Living in the Material World

33 and 1/3,

George Harrison

Three excellent albums. All of his LPs had gems contained within - except Somewhere in England. The only half-way decent tune on that record was his tribute to John Lennon: All Those Years Ago. Hardly his best work. I am told that he was drinking very heavily during this period. Sadly, it shows.

 
At 6:48 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

I mentioned in my little essay the 1982 LP, "Gone Troppo", which I said was almost as bad as "Somewhere in England". But it had it's moments. Here is one of them; an absolutely delightful little rocker called "I Really Love You".

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xXY_vBLf_BQ

I love this little tune!

 
At 8:57 PM, Blogger DmRofAtoZ said...

Allow me to repeat what Tom said to me a few posts above --- his reviews of "Somewhere In England" are merely "his opinion".
I still can't imagine how, later on the same day that George ascended, one says "now where's that album I hate ?"
But I realize it was more like "where's that album I listened to once 20 years ago ? . . . maybe I didn't get it then, but will now".
But, as I said, any album containing "Writing's On The Wall", "That Which I Have Lost", & "Save The World" is essential.

Remember tho', there was a bit more then "drinking heavily" goin' on in that time-frame . . not only did Warner Brothers hand him back the tapes while saying "where's the hits Harrison ? . . Do Over !!" , but having lost John at the same time, he may have been reeling just a little, ya' know ?
Is it his strongest ?, . . . no
But "Extra Texture" also came from a somewhat "lost period" too, and I can rattle off 5 amazing songs from that as well !

Now go check FacePlace, and see if any new Friends might be having special days or anything . . heh-heh.

 
At 12:30 PM, Blogger Michael Stivic said...

JTF,

I've always thought you and I share a lot of views and bet you and I have the same favorite beatle's song:

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one

 
At 3:04 PM, Anonymous Just the Facts! said...

Hi Michael!

Sorry but the song you shared with us is not my favorite Beetle song. Your are correct Michael, we do agree on many political issues, and for that I am always glad to read your posts. But I'm not much into dreaming of utopia here on earth cause I'm pretty sure that:
a. No agrees on what is utopia.
b. No one can agree on price to be paid for utopia.
c. There will always be a need for bigger govt to enforce the rules of utopia. Govt is made up of humans.
d. Humans, by our very nature, will never be totally good, there is bad in each of us, that can and will prevail given the right situation.
Knowing this, I see no reason to "imagine a brotherhood of man".

My favorite lyrics from George is from his song "Beware of Darkness". The best cover of his song can be found on the DVD "Concert for George". If you haven't seen it do so asap.

Here are the lyrics, hope I'm not going to be thought of as a troll for posting them.

Watch out now, take care
Beware of falling swingers
Dropping all around you
The pain that often mingles
In your fingertips
Beware of darkness

Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night

Beware of sadness
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for

Watch out now, take care
Beware of soft shoe shufflers
Dancing down the sidewalks
As each unconscious sufferer
Wanders aimlessly


Watch out now, take care
Beware of greedy leaders
They take you where you should not go
While Weeping Atlas Cedars
They just want to grow, grow and grow
Beware of darkness (beware of darkness)


Thanks for sharing!

 
At 3:48 PM, Blogger Michael Stivic said...

JTF,

I got to admit that "Beware of greedy leaders" in that song struck a chord with me!

Obama talked about sharing the wealth during the 2008 campaign a lot but look what happened. Just look at how many lavish vacations the Obamas and their entourage have had. How about the time Michelle could not wait a few more hours and had to have her own jumbo jet to fly her to Camelot. A lot of starving children could have been fed with the cost of just that one trip.

 
At 6:30 PM, Anonymous Just the Facts said...

Then Michael, you really enjoy as I do, George's "The Taxman".

To quote Harrison, "Taxman was when I first realized that even though we had started earning money, we were actually giving most of it away in taxes."

 
At 6:58 PM, Anonymous Your Imagination said...

Beware, also, of schizophrenia.

It runs deep...very deep.

Now put the bottle down and go to sleep. You'll feel better in the morning.

 
At 12:25 AM, Blogger Kati said...

Hi Tom, I'm so glad I found your blog again. I had put a shortcut on my desktop but it got stuck on the blog about Cheney so I thought you had taken a very long blogging vacation...

Love your Harrison essay. My daughter Juliette Z. (former blues DJ) has been talking to me a lot about Harrison, also her favorite Beatle. I too always enjoy listening to them....

I still remember the first rock song I heard. It was "round the clock" by if I remember right, Healy???? My brother brought it home and we were so excited by it, we were jumping around in our back yard...

I've been so heartened by the Occupy mvt. There's hope yet...

(by the way, did you have an "occupie" for Thanksgiving, you know one made with mashed up one percenters? It tastes like those pickled herring pies the Brits tend to bake but camouflaged with lots of whipped cream on top -- if you push the whipped cream aside, there will be a herring head smirking at you --gasp!)

 
At 12:46 AM, Blogger Suzan said...

I miss him too. All of them. I also saw the Ed Sullivan Show (with my Dad!) and loved them immediately. Even my Dad did.

And I feel exactly the same way you do now.

Whenever I see a film or video of that band performing all those years ago, I am always somewhat haunted by the image. Gone forever is the pure, undisturbed joy of watching the Fab Four perform.

When John was murdered by the spawn of a CIA associate I watched TV constantly for a hint of what could have possibly been some type of reasonable rationale.

"A threat to the rising rightwing?" No one could believe any such links, but they were there. Dimly.

Several years later I had a fiance who teared up just like I did at the mention of John's name.

When George died, I heard the announcement on the radio on the morning before I was to teach a beginning business management class and I cried four times, each time reapplying makeup before I could face the class.

Children who had very little knowledge of George personally and only a little of his music came up to hug me.

I was grateful then and I felt in need of hugs at each anniversary.

George was a gifted writer/thinker/poet/philosopher. It was an astonishing pleasure to be allowed to share in his gifts.

Don't forget his performance at Concert for Bangladesh (my favorite) and The Traveling Wilburys!

With our love, we could save the world.

We were talking about the space between us all and the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion. Never glimpse the truth - then it's far too late when they pass away.

Give me love
Give me love
Give me peace on earth
Give me light
Give me life
Keep me free from birth
Give me hope
Help me cope, with this heavy load
Trying to, touch and reach you with,
heart and soul

George Harrison


You rock, Tom.

 
At 4:34 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Thank you for the kind words, folks.

So Kati, you were stuck on the Cheney piece all of that time? To the best of my recollection the last time I wrote about the hideous Dickster was about a year and a half ago. Welcome back!

Happy Christmas folks!

Tom

 
At 10:06 AM, Blogger Darlene said...

I remember the Ed Sullivan show when he introduced the Beatles to America.

This is a lovely tribute to the least recognized Beatle, George Harrison.

 
At 11:06 AM, Blogger Patricia said...

What a cool dude. What a cool post. Thanks for all the memories. Anyone who doesn't have the Beatles on their iPod is an idgit.(Lol Irish slang I'm sure you are familiar with) It is so sad that John and George are no longer w/us, but George Bush is. Talk about tragedy. However, we are all the better for your fine post. Thanks.

 
At 11:40 AM, Blogger howdidIgethere said...

Thank you for the wonderful tribute to my "first love". From the age of 14 and the Ed Sullivan show, George retained a special place in my heart. How odd to realize that, though he was born 7 years before I was (I used to dream that I was the "younger woman"), I am now 3 years older than he was when he died.

I was privileged to be in London for "Concert for George" where there wasn't a dry eye in the Royal Albert Hall when Joe Brown closed the show playing the ukelele and sang "I'll see you in my dreams". The next night the fence at Abbey Road was covered in tributes to George from those who, like me, will "never get over you".

 

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