Artist: George Harrison
George Harrison, MBE (25 February 1943 – 29 November 2001) born in Liverpool, UK, was an English rock musician, singer-songwriter and film producer who achieved international fame as lead guitarist in The Beatles, along with mainstream success as a solo artist. George contributed to the songwriting talents of his Beatles band mates, John Lennon and Paul McCartney, firstly by adding ideas and guitar parts, and later with his distinctive style of music inspired by Eastern spirituality.
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My Walk-On in the Life of George Gadfly, Mar 2002
"FIRST OF ALL," my friend Richard said, "he was a Beatle, how could he die?" They were immortal, weren't they? Gods, even if flawed. A Beatle can only die by assassination or self-destruction, and George hadn't exactly lived the doomed rock-star life.
Although we knew George had been sick for awhile, his death when it came was shocking and sudden. It wasn't all that unexpected, actually, he'd been sick for years. But since the attack by a crazed fan two years ago, George had become almost pathological in protecting his private life. What little information got through about his condition was unfailingly positive.
In the last few days, there have been many, many Georgian panegyrics and evaluations of his influence and there will be more to come so I thought I'd just tell a few stories about my walk-on in the Life of George.
In the late sixties I shared a house with Stanley Mouse and Richard Dilello in Ladbroke Grove in London. Richard worked at Apple, and somehow I ended up writing a book for the Beatles with Jonathan Cott. It was called Get Back, and was included in the Beatles last (UK) album, Let It Be. (My friend Richard eventually wrote the best book you'll ever read about Apple and the Beatles: The Longest Cocktail Party. Recently reprinted.)
In those days, George spent quite a bit of time at Apple. He was producing albums (one by his old Liverpuddlian mate, Jackie Lomax), and could often be found talking to the cosmic and roguish Beatles press agent, Derek Taylor. Of all the Beatles, George was the most accessible but this wasn't always such a good thing. Gods pretending to be human beings is one thing. Gods descending to your level well let's just say it's a bit scary. John and Paul were already world-class actors and very grand in their own very different ways. Ringo was impenetrable; he was a nice friendly bloke, but you were never going to find out who he really was. George was more like one of us.
He wasn't always St. George, however especially to people he didn't know, people who worked for him, people who wanted things from him. This is all pretty normal behavior for a rock god but he had his own demons and, like Ringo, felt that some gods were more equal than others. The first time I met him, he attacked me. He took one look at me and pounced. "Wot the fook we 'ave 'ere, then?" he said. "Hair down to your arse, beads and bracelets? Oh, you think you're so bloody hip don't you, you guys from the great Haight-Ashbury!"
I was stunned. George was my hero. I didn't have time to kneel and say I'm not worthy (or that I wasn't from San Francisco). George turned on his Spanish heel and was gone. What had I done? I was wearing pretty standard hippiewear some of the clothes were actually from the Apple boutique (and believe me, that wasn't where hip people shopped).
He could just as easily be arrogant in the grand Persian manner. One night George and Billy Preston were watching a TV show up at Apple. Billy was performing that night on a variety show called Talk of the Town. I was sitting on the floor blissfully happy to be among the gods and felt especially favored when George asked me to turn the sound up. After several more requests to "turn the fookin' thing up," I told him that that was as loud as it went. George looked at me ferociously and in high imperial mode demanded that I turn the bloody volume up. Yeah yeah, I know, just a regular bloke who happened to be a god, and was used to getting the impossible done for him. I imagined more diligent gofers than me heading out in the middle of the night in search of Phillips' head screw drivers, orthicon tubes, mini pre-amps or some crazier item still, ready to take the entire TV set apart piece by piece and not stop until the music was louder. Billy chilled us all out by saying, "David, he just messin' witcha, man. It's a piece of shit, anyway. Let's go out and get something to eat." So we went to an Indian restaurant where else? and George told stories about Ravi Shankar in a Peter Sellers Indian accent. "My goodness, what is this sort of thing you are playing there, George?" Shankar asked him about his sitar playing on 'Norwegian Wood'. "If you don't mind me saying so, it's the sort of frightful, twangy thing you hear on Radio Bombay advertising soap powders."
During the Let It Be sessions there was a tense moment. George was wailing on his Gretsch, happy as a clam, when Yoko suddenly began wailing along with him. For a while George just looked non-plussed. The madwoman of Tokyo screamed louder and louder, and George's head started to lower ominously. He raised up his guitar like a sacrificial victim and hurled it to the ground. Did I mention that George loved Gertsches? He played them in honor of his idol, Chet Atkins. George loved country music; Carl Perkins was his favorite. His songs always had a country lilt to them. Anyway, there's the Gretsch, writhing and seething on the ground like a thing alive, and there's George walking out the door. After he's gone, there's a pretty cold conversation between John and Paul about what to do if he doesn't come back. "I hear Eric isn't doing too much these days," says Lennon with chilling matter-of-factness.
Richard saw a lot more of George than I, so I asked him the other day, "George was basically a nice guy, right? I mean, everybody on the news says he had a dark side, but nobody talks about what it was, exactly."
"He was half and half. He could be very difficult and unpleasant and prickly, even at times a bastard. But then there was the other side to him, generous and, uh, kind...." Richard replies, choosing his words carefully.
"Didn't you stay at George's house for a while?" I ask.
"A month. I went down the first week George bought Friar's Point, his gothic mansion near Henley. He asked me to come over and take some photographs of the place. I spent a week methodically taking pictures of everything. 40 acres, 40 rooms. The day after I'd shot my last roll, Eric Clapton showed up with one of those monkey bikes tiny motor scooters and we were having a race around the grounds on them. I hit a low garden wall and got thrown over the handle bars. The moment I landed on my chest it really hurt, and I knew something was wrong. The pain got worse and worse, and finally I said to George, 'I'm a bit embarrassed to tell you this but I think I broke something.' He put me in the Ferrari and drove me to the local hospital at Henley-on-Thames. He waited while they x-rayed me and bandaged me up they couldn't locate the bandages so they used tea towels.
"'I seem to have broken my collar bone,' I told George apologetically back in the waiting room."
"'I think you'd better stay with us then,' he said."
"What was it like at George's gothic pile?"
"Well, he was pretty grouchy most the time. An unhappy guy. Maybe he'd always been that way, misanthropic and bitter, but fame certainly didn't help. George always regarded fame as a total curse."
Reminiscing with Richard I remembered a couple of Harristories typical of the misunderstandings that arose from the mingling of gods, angels, and mortals.
One day Richard called me from Apple and said, "How'd you like to have a Hell's Angel, his Mama and his hog stay with us a few days?" Well, sure! It'd be an honor. And just how had this come about? Well, the previous summer George had gone to visit Haight-Ashbury (ah, maybe that's where his animus against H-A hippies came from). He was curious, George. He was the first Beatle to come to America (pre-Beatlemania), the first to get into Eastern religion (is this a good thing?), the first rock star to raise money for charity (the Concert for Bangladesh) and the first and only Beatle to go and check out the Haightgeist.
As he was sauntering down Haight Street he'd casually invited a couple of Hell's Angels in a very Brit sort of way to come and stay with him if they ever came to London, never thinking they'd take him up on it. But, George, you don't know those California boys. "Man, Christmas with the Beatles!" they said to themselves, taking George at his word. Crazy Pete and Tumbleweed Bill and Ken Kesey and a bunch of other California crazies egad! Barbarians at the gates! When the Angels actually did show up at Apple... George hid. No room in the 40-room mansion, apparently. And that's how we happened to end up with two Hell's Angels sleeping on our bedroom floor. Thanks, George, you don't know what you missed, man.
A few days later George had another little job for us. He wanted us to get him a pound of hash for his Yule celebrations. A pound of hash! Nobody outside of yer actual criminal element had ever seen such a thing. Nevertheless, in the way you talked to royalty, we assured him it was no problem. Easy as pie! We'll be back tomorrow morning with your hash, man.
Now, what were we going to do? The only people we knew who had that kind of quantity were some truly scary Jamaicans down the Portobello Road. We entered this den of thieves and cut throats, ganja smoke so thick you could hardly see across the room. "Show us the money, mon, and we talk." We pulled out the big fat five-pound notes. "Er, man, can we see the hash?" we asked hesitantly. "There ya go, mon," said he, and handed us a long piece of hash wrapped in linen. But was it a pound? Richard and I looked at each other. We were dubious. "Is there a problem with it, mon?" They laughed darkly. We slid out of the room. Back at the house we weighed it. Omigod, it was barely 13 ounces. Yikes! Now what were we gonna do? Oh well, at least rock stars don't actually kill you when you fuck up they probably just make you leave (a fate far worse than death). We'd never be made men now.
Next morning up at Apple, George ushers us into a side room. We nervously unwrap the slab of hash. Tense moments tick by we're about to trot out our lame excuses when George beams. He's ecstatic. He's like a child on Christmas morning. He calls in Derek and Ringo. "Come in here, you gotta see this, man!" Everyone is duly impressed. George goes into the kitchen, gets a carving knife, cuts off a huge chunk and hands it to us. "Merry Christmas, guys!"
George Harrison et al: The Concert For Bangla Desh NME, Jul 1972
THE CONCERT for Bangla Desh, an Apple/Twentieth Century-Fox release, produced by George Harrison and Allen Klein and directed by Saul Swimmer, opens at the Rialto, Coverntry Street, W.I, on July 27.
Just two short sequences precede the start of the concert: the first shows Harrison and Shankar at an explanatory press conference, the second scans the vast, empty Garden during rehearsals to the sound of Harrison's voice stating how he organised things 'with a little help from my friends'. From here on the film is, in effect, the Bangla Desh Concert album with visuals; yet the addition of sight to sound creates a different musical experience.
Take the recital of Indian music which opens the concert. How many people play the first side of the album as a prelude to the rest? 'Bangla Dhun' is beautiful, but without obvious audible links with the rock music that follows. It's not that it doesn't get played, only that it gets played at a different time. When you want to listen to a rock concert you play sides 2-6, when you feel like Eastern mu siic you put on side 1. The film changes that.
As Shankar takes the stage with Ali Akbar Khan (sarod), Alla Rakah (tabla), and Kamala Chakravarty (tamboura), he urges the audience restlessly awaiting Harrison and friends ("I know you're very impatient to hear your favourite stars who will be in the second part") to be patient, but by the end of his set the audience was on its feet shouting for more. You can see why. 'Bangla Dhun', a duet for sitar (played by Shankar) and sarod, is a masterpiece of dextrous technique and rapport, in which Shankar and Khan trade lightning riffs while Rakah's face, as pudgy as kneaded dough, folds regularly into a grin as he picks up the vibrations. Shot mainly in close-up, the sequence is only briefly marred by that seemingly inevitable, yet irrelvant, cliche of rock films split screen.
In less time than it takes to change the record the film cuts through shots of the audience and rock stars strolling from their dressing room to the second part of the concert. The band goes straight into 'Wah-Wah' as the lights go up to reveal a roadie's nightmare of instruments, mikes, amps and speakers, and some two dozen musicians and singers. 'My Sweet Lord' and 'Awaiting On You All' (like 'Wah-Wah' from Harrison's previously unperformed album, All Things Must Pass) are followed by Billy Preston's 'That's The Way God Planned It', one of the most enjoyable numbers in the show, which ends with Preston strutting from his organ to a front stage mike like a bear impersonating a chicken.
When he, in turn, is followed by Ringo and, after two more numbers from Harrison, Leon Russell the whole affair takes on the atmosphere of a gigantic family evening where each member is called upon to do a turn. And the best turn is still to come.
After a fine acoustic version of 'Here Comes The Sun' (with Badfinger's Pete Ham and the choir), Harrison, alone on the stage, is joined by Leon Russell toting a bass guitar and Ringo with a tambourine: "I'd like to bring on a friend of us all, Mr. Bob Dylan." But the cameras miss the shock of disbelief in the audience as he appears, kitted up as years ago with guitar, denim jacket, and mouth harp harness. With the backing trio mentioned he resurrects some old numbers in good voice. They match an occasion already mellow with nostalgia. After an amazing version of 'Just Like A Woman', with country-style harmonies from Harrison and Russell, he leaves as suddenly as he came.
The band re-forms for 'Something' and as an encore 'Bangla Desh'. The first verse of the song intercut with shots of suffering refugees is the first reminder of the concert's raison d'etre since Ravi Shankar's opening words about 'this historical programme, which is just not a programme as usual, but which has a message; and this is just to make you aware of a very serious situation that is happening.'
The 'message' is toned down in the film, the brief references soon dismissed.
The quality of the picture is adequate; a coarse texture prevails and the cameras have occasional problems of focus. However, the straightforward, untricksy photography permits undistracted appreciation of the music. The film tries to be no more than a visual album, an aim which it pursues even as far as separating the 'tracks' with darkness, and in which it undisputably succeeds.
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George Harrison performing "Bangladesh" during the concert for Bangladesh at 1971, Madison Square Garden. MAGIC! My friend came to me, with sadness in his ey...
The last (?) televised interview with George Harrison. Interesting and engaging discussion of his philosophy of life. George plays 3 songs (on pt. 4).
NOTE: Anyone using the comment section to advertise websites or to proselytize about gods will be blocked and their messages deleted Broadcast the day George...