George Harrison, if he'd have lived would be 75 years old as of February 25th... So in keeping with this celebration of his life and music, I am posting again my essay entitled Still The World Gently Weeps... jc
“George himself is no mystery. But the mystery inside George is immense. It’s watching him uncover it all, little by little that’s so damn interesting.” -John Lennon
When I learned of George Harrisons’ death on the 29th of November 2001, I felt a loss that begged me to search of myself, just what it was that inspired me about the “quiet Beatle”. Admit it or not, we’re influenced by people of notoriety. The downside is when one feels an affinity for power, wealth, and fame; a false sense of liberation from a life deemed as imperfect, burdensome, or ordinary. The true path of influence is more a mystical alignment, a personal identification with another life lived that reinforces, inspires or opens a door to a new way of thinking; of growing into one’s own skin. We may feel as a student to a teacher who opens up the possibilities of a single star on the horizon to masses of stars in the universe.
There is so much that intrigued me about George… not only his talent but also his deeper quest for meaning. He wrote and performed some of the most influential music of a generation and beyond. But fame and wealth do not ensure meaning. And his search was lived out on the world stage. Maybe that was the fascination, his successes and failures were always with us, in our face, but he kept on questioning and searching. We each grapple with issues of failure and confidence and to have a Beatle struggle along with you is comforting to say the lease.
Dig deeper into George’s musical identity and one finds that he took a side seat in any project. He was a part of the whole, by his own design, such as in life. He always used a pseudo name when performing as a guest on other recordings. His solo work was never in your face, not about the next hit record. Some even say his output was sparse. Maybe so but it was tasty and to the point. It was about the message and not the quantity. George just never felt pretentious either as a solo artist or part of a group effort; it was the music that mattered. His work with the Beatles and as a Travelin’ Wilbury is a testament to that. This is a hard point for many today to savor, as talent is pole-vaulted to the forefront, an in your face attitude, escaping the richness that subtlety can bring forth to art. To comprehend one’s part in context with the effort of the whole and to keep in context the notoriety of each part.
John Lennon had the perfect muse for the song “Nowhere Man”, which he wrote with his fellow bandmate in mind. George was the quintessential nowhere man; not anywhere in a world where everyone had somewhere to go. This intensified for George, trapped in the shadow of the infamous egos of John and Paul. The world was watching with bated breath to see what the quiet Beatle could do and when he would do it. He was ripe for the biggest influence of all to enter his life; India, Krishna, and All Things Must Pass.
On a trip to India, George discovered the ancient philosophy of Hinduism, which he assimilated with his Christian background. Suddenly the shy Beatle found himself with a point of view and the world at his command. And he would come to understand that being nowhere is being everywhere. If one’s opinions and attitudes are in a state of constant flux, if our philosophy’s grounded to nowhere then there is nothing concrete to hold on to, the ego is lost. To conceive of the idea that everything is of God’s nature is to see and marvel at the world for our own understanding, in each our own inflection but at the same time acceptance of the ‘other’. Be it Buddha consciousness, the ineffable Krishna or the Gnostic Christ, we come to know the true world and all its majesty and mystery by going to our own nowhere land which is everywhere. This is the nature of a spiritual law which states that everything is the center; the circumference is not.
In a small way, George made the religious acceptance we feel descending upon the world possible just by being a Beatle and searching for God. We find ourselves these days listening to eastern music, reading the sacred text and expanding our horizons. I first heard of Krishna, the Upanishads, and Brahman from reading of George. “Norwegian Wood” introduced the western world to the sounds of the sitar, as years later I would witness a moving performance of Indian music, not in New Delia but in Florida.
The eastern emphasis on compassion gave birth to the Concert for Bangladesh, the first benefit concert of its kind, where the music from one generation performed on such a large-scale could become an avenue to help relieve the suffering of others. George almost single-handedly organized this effort after receiving a phone call from his friend, Ravi Shankar asking for help for his country who’s people were starving.
Yes, the quiet Beatle was at the forefront of so many changes we take for granted today. Who had a hit song in which the quest for God was the main theme; years before Christian rock became fashionable? My Sweet Lord with its alternate chanting of Alleluia and Hara Krishna paved the way. Included on the album All Things Must Pass which plays like a spiritual guide with each song invoking the listener to meditate on different aspects of life in a spiritual context.
Such titles as”Here Comes the Sun” and “Something” has inspired more people than we can appreciate. With Something being the Beatles biggest selling single; yes written by George. Dare to go deeper into his catalog of work and you’ll find gems just as superior and as moving as any I’ve named… “What is Life, The Art of Dying, Give Me Love”, to name a few.
George lived the last thirty years or so of his life at Friar Park, his home outside of London. True to form, the house and its thirty acres have religious implications in the name and in the fact that it once belonged to a religious sect. But the most important aspect of his life at Friar Park was the fact that George discovered a deeper calling quite literally from the land surrounding his home… he became a gardener. In many ways, his attributes as a gardener go hand in hand with his spiritual quest. He was always pulling up weeds to find the perfections in his life. Gardening became a passionate hobby and a solace for a life lived within the public eye. Fame could not bring the peacefulness and harmony George found in his garden and he counted gardening as one of the most consequential purposes in his life.
It’s a testament to his faith that fame, materialism, and egotism didn’t destroy George, as they’ve defeated others. I’m sure at times he felt overwhelmed by his demons and a hell of a fight ensued, but he came out unscathed in his beliefs, even in the face of an assault in 1999. Sure he sought protection and shunned publicity; one need not be foolish about the ways of the world. However, George would be the first to tell you that these sorts of things may harm the body but it is the Self that will remain intact.
This and many other examples is what endeared George to many. He was rich, but gardening kept him humble. Talented, his name secured in history, but still searching for you and me; the quintessential hero within trying to find his true nature. Maybe it was all put into perspective by a comment George made, “everything can wait but the search for God”. Maybe by searching, all other things find their own way and levels into our lives.
To me, George was just a kind and compassionate person. If I could live up to that testimony in accordance with my life, then I would be complete. To leave such a legacy of beauty and love in a world that could just as soon devour you is a wonder and something for all to strive. I feel the loss in this temporal existence but I know in the ways of the uni/verse; George has been born into the next journey of eternity, which is present in this realm just hidden by the matrix of the material world.
Throughout his life, through his music and words, George taught that the winter of our understanding can be cold, dark, and lonely… but sooner than not, here comes the sun.