'Round The Dial Remembers George Harrison, 02/25/43 - 11/29/01
Wednesday 18 February @ 11:56:30
by Tom Hallett
Lately, when I look back at my on-and-off (mostly on) love affair with the Beatles over the years, my thoughts always seem to return to lead guitarist George Harrison. Why, I'm not quite sure. Maybe it's because when I was a teenager, his solo music brought me back as a fan of the band and their respective careers. Maybe it was the fascinating way he combined spirituality, dignity, courage, and a delightfully black sense of humor through the darkest times of his life. Or maybe it's because, of all the big Beatles news in my life time, George's passing on November 29, 2001, came after I'd reached adulthood and could really understand what a precious gift the world had lost.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “For me caring about the planet probably began in a previous life. When I was a kid, I used to walk around on my own and I was very much in touch with nature and the sky and the trees and plants and the insects”
SONG OF THE WEEK: “Never Get Over You”
I mean, I can vaguely remember news of the Beatles' breakup—I was 6 years old, and had aunts and uncles who were rabid fans—but I was more into playing cowboys and Indians back then, and my favorite song was probably still Johnny Horton's "Battle Of The Bismark." I do recall finding a stack of Beatles 45s at some hippie baby sitter's house where I'd been left while the folks were out kickin' up their heels. I sat there playing "Nowhere Man" over and over again, and really, seriously understood it at 7 years old. I think I cried.
But by junior high, it'd become fashionable to hate the Beatles and the generation they stood for. Oh, we still wore jeans and T-shirts and had long hair, but that hippie-dippy love bullshit was all over as far as we were concerned. We'd grown up watching Vietnam on TV, Nixon ousted from the White House (to be replaced by the bumbling Gerry Ford), and the economy of the country dip to a record low, and it didn't seem to us that any of that protest jive had done any good whatsoever.
As for how low the Beatles' legacy had sunk, just check out the artist/actor roster for the movie version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, which was all the news when I was in seventh grade—it was, for the most part, a veritable who's who of mediocrity, man.
But it wasn't the Beatles who'd lost anything. No, their music only got more powerful as time went by, and their solo output continued to change people—and the world—around me. The ugly truth is, I was a nasty, snot-nosed, pot-smoking little shit who preferred the processed plastic of Aerosmith, Kiss, and Judas Priest to the heart-rending notes of Beatles (or Beatles solo) material.
In the monstrously selfish throes of puberty, oozing with zits, anger, and unrequited teen lust, I'd somehow forgotten the sadness of "Nowhere Man," bypassed the original urgency and righteous anger in "Revolution" and "Helter Skelter," and completely missed the otherworldly beauty of albums like Imagine and All Things Must Pass.
But all that began to change on a chilly, late March day in 1979. Aerosmith had begun to shred under the weight of their own egos and drug habits, Kiss was gearing up for their disco phase, and Judas Priest—well, I still loved Judas Priest, but that's neither here nor there—and I was ready for a new groove in my world. It could've just been that I'd finally started growing up, had taken in enough pain myself that I was able to actually HEAR pain and joy and love and hope in music and really, truly process it again. Just like I'd been able to do when I was a wee lad, before life and divorce and school and hormones had fucked everything all up.
But I digress. Point is, on that windy, gray afternoon, I was sitting smack in the middle of the woods in Northern Minnesota, scraping the scum off of the top of a boiling vat of maple syrup, listening to a tiny transistor radio. My old man had left me to this rather tedious task whilst he ran to town for supplies, and I figured it'd be the perfect time to crank up some tunes and sneak a ciggie or two. There never was much for radio entertainment in those parts, so I settled on Kasey Kasem's Top 40 program, set to a' scrapin', and fired up a butt.
I can vaguely recall Kasem's snappy rap as he introduced the song that would send me spinning—happily—back into Beatles orbit once and for all, but it was the sad, triumphant slide guitar notes and the first line of the tune itself that sealed the deal: "Day turned black/Sky ripped apart/It rained for years/'Til it dampened my heart/Cracks and leaks/The floorboards got rot/About to go down/I had almost forgot..." It was George's "Blow Away," and boy, did it ever blow me away.
I dropped my cigarette in the wet leaves, so taken aback was I by that SOUND ... those words ... my mind flew back to that day I'd sat listening to "Nowhere Man," and I realized that I'd loved the Beatles all along, and had just been denying my true musical tastes in order to "fit in." That dark intro suddenly morphed into a cheery, upbeat chorus, and the songs started flooding back to me: "Here Comes The Sun," "My Sweet Lord," scads of Beatles tunes, all with that same dichotomy. "All I got to do is to love you/All I've got to be is, be happy/All it's got to take is some warmth to make it/Blow away, blow away, blow away ..."
And though I went on, over the years, to develop fixations on each of the Beatles and their solo careers (yes, even Ringo, who seemed to be the central focus for more almost-reunions in the Beatles' life span than anyone else), it was always George who made the biggest impact on my soul. His solo output could almost have been the soundtrack for different points in my life: "Isn't It A Pity," "What Is Life," "If Not For You," "All Things Must Pass," "Give Me Love (Give Me Life)," and recent cuts like "Any Road" and "Never Get Over You."
Most people are quite familiar with George's life long devotion to Hare Krishna, eastern philosophy, and his ubiquitous charity work, but it was that simple, from-the-heart musical approach that led this hard-rockin' country boy back to the cornucopia of soulful material he and the Beatles had to offer. I didn't need to dance in the street with tiny tambourines to feel the honest love coming from "My Sweet Lord," or to comprehend the words of ancient wise men to suss the alternating sadness and hope flowing through songs like "Isn't It A Pity" or "All Things Must Pass."
I'm much more aware of the importance of spirituality—any good spirituality—now, though, and find that side of George both useful and inspiring in my everyday life. I actually find myself wanting to be a better person when I hear a George song. The vibes in the room change. People smile more. Touch more. Laugh more. Love more. Sound hokey? Guess what? Thanks to George, I don't care. It's all about the love, man. Nothing else on this decaying rock matters—and George died telling us so. "Love one another," he said, and went on to what I'm sure was a grand reward. So in remembrance of his birthday on February 25, I've collected a few interesting George factoids and asked a "Fab Four" from our own musical community to share their fave Harry-songs and memories ...
GEORGE HARRISON FACTOIDS:
1) George was always interested in film-making, and not only provided financial backing to the early Monty Python crew, but also produced such notable movies as “Mona Lisa,” “Time Bandits,” “Withnail And I,” and “Pow Wow Highway.” And although he appeared in over 40 flicks, he only played characters other than himself in three: “The Rutles,” where he was cast as an obnoxious television reporter questioning the band, “The Life Of Brian,” where he played Mr. Papadopolous; and the Madonna bomb “Shanghai Surprise,” in which he played the "Lounge Singer."
2) The George Harrison biography, “Dark Horse,” considered by many fans to be the ultimate read on the man, was written by a man named Geoffrey Giuliano, who once played Ronald McDonald for the famous burger chain. Giuliano has since changed his name to Jagannatha Dasa and heads an Ashram in New York. Whew! Talk about the subject influencing the interviewer ...
3) George Harrison's widow, Olivia, had to go to court immediately after his death to stop her former brother-in-law from selling some of the former Beatles' personal items. Apparently the deadbeat had been living in one of George's Hollywood homes, and after a devastating landslide a few years back, he purloined the memorabilia and stashed it. A judge issued a restraining order preventing the auction, and so far the case is unresolved.
4) The last song George recorded before his death, "Horse To The Water," can be found on former Squeeze keyboardist Jools Holland's album, Big Band Rhythm And Blues, which is in stores now. George's final album, Brainwashed, is available as well. All Things Must Pass was reissued in 2001, and contains updated liner notes by George; Concert For Bangladesh was reissued in 2002 on CD and DVD; and most of his solo back catalog has been reissued this year with bonus tracks.
5) There is a minor planet named after George. Number 4149, listed on Minor Planet Circular for April 10, 1990, has been dubbed "Harrison." The planet was discovered in 1984 and apparently named by an astronomer who dug "The Quiet Beatle."
And now, without further ado, RTD presents a local "Fab Four" with their comments on George and his legacy:
What's your fave George song, album, or live experience of all time, and why?
Joey Molland, lead guitarist for Badfinger and Shakespeare's Pipe, was signed to The Beatles' Apple Records and played on several albums with George: "Well, (chuckles) I'd have to say doing the All Things Must Pass sessions and the Concert For Bangladesh. Especially All Things Must Pass... but I feel that I was fortunate enough to play on both. As for why, because I was there, I guess. Yeah. It's hard to top that, eh? I s'pose my favorite song is something off of Abbey Road... ‘Something,’ or ‘Here Comes The Sun.’ George did so many great things on guitar, some of my favorite things weren't on albums, but they were live. Or on other records he played on...the slide on ‘Free As A Bird,’ that stuff really knocks me out, just how good that guy was, you know?"
Chuck Tomlinson, co-host of Radio K's Cosmic Slop: "The single ‘Blow Away.’ (It's) a childhood favorite, and his slide guitar work is so tasteful."
Dan Israel, local singer/songwriter: "I actually have to say ‘My Sweet Lord.’ In the last couple years, with all the turmoil in the world and sometimes in my own life, I've found ‘My Sweet Lord’ to be a deeply moving, comforting song—and you don't have to be at all religious to feel that way about it. It just expresses a basic fundamental yearning we all have to experience something more than just our ordinary everyday lives, a hope for someone or something to take away our pain, a longing for a better time and inner peace and it just, in many ways, encapsulates all that George Harrison was about as a musician, a songwriter, and a human being."
Charlie Dush, local musician/songwriter/producer: "Probably hearing ‘Love You To’ for the first time. Which was also the first time I heard Revolver—Christmas Day, 1981, and I was 14. I was just starting to get into the Beatles, but was only familiar with the early songs and innocent, mop-top image. That Christmas my parents could only afford to buy each kid one gift, so I asked for Revolver because it had songs on it I had never heard. Sitting in front of the stereo, ‘Love You To’ comes on. I immediately freaked out, got scared. I even turned the stereo down because I thought I was gonna get in trouble for listening to such ‘weird’ music. I had never heard sitar or Indian music before. I was sitting there drinking egg nog and having my world turned upside down. Been a Beatlemaniac and George Harrison fan ever since! I can't narrow it down to one definitive song, but right now the song that I'm really connecting with is ‘Stuck Inside A Cloud.’ The lyrics really pull at my heartstrings."
What do you think George's biggest legacy to music and the world in general is/will be?
Joey: "The way he tied the East and the West together musically. Especially now, when the two cultures are moving so far apart. And he won an award for that in this century, that's got to be his biggest legacy."
Chuck: "To music, it's the song ‘Something’; it's everlasting. To the world, I suppose the idea that your music, beliefs and goals can all be inextricably woven together. And don't forget he bank-rolled those Monty Python & Terry Gilliam films, too!"
Dan: "George was a rare bird. A genius songwriter who emerged from the greatest band of all time, overshadowed most of his life by Lennon and McCartney, yet, in his own way, sometimes he was even more interesting as a songwriter than those two ultra-greats. He had a real drive towards knowledge and wisdom, he was a real seeker, he was kind of a restless soul... despite the songs about inner peace, it was never an easy thing for George... it was something he was striving toward, and sometimes it sounded like he had found it but often it sounded like he was still searching. It's that searching that defines George's music to me, along with an achingly realistic optimism... George didn't sugarcoat things, but he also wasn't a cynic. He wanted a better world, strove for it, bemoaned the lack of peace and the hatred in the world (as in ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’), but always seemed to be looking ahead to something better. That's his legacy, to me anyway."
Charlie: "The most important legacy that George Harrison will have is his music. He influenced people in many ways but I think the music and lyrics are what it's all about. Honest and real."
In honor of what would've been George's 61st birthday on February 25, the Twin Cities will play host to several excellent Harrison tribute gigs. On Wed., Feb. 25, The Turf Club presents a George B-day bash with a whole host o' local faves, including Slim Dunlap, Shakespeare's Pipe (featuring Joey Molland), The Tyrds, Mark Knoll and Blue Matter, John Ewing, and more. 9 p.m., bands start early. $5.
All proceeds from this gig will benefit The Wonderful World Of Music, an organization that collects, repairs, and donates used musical instruments to schools and students who cannot afford them. Joey Molland and Shakespeare's Pipe will perform several George songs on the air Friday, Feb. 20, on KMSP Channel 9. Tune in at 8 a.m.
And on Sat., Feb. 28, The Cabooze will hold its Second Annual Tribute To George Harrison, headlined by Randy Casey's Dark Horse Review. The band includes Adam and Noah Levy and Pete Sands from The Honeydogs, Steve Price of Rex Daisy, John Eller, Joe Savage, George McKelvey, and the Matt Darling horn section. Openers include Jim Pellinger, Dan Israel & The Cultivators, and special guests. Doors are at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9. Cover day of show will be $8.
That's it for me, kids. Thanks to the local "Fab Four" for their help with this article, and big love out to George, wherever you are. Until next time—make yer own damn news.
If you have local music news/gigs/CDs you’d like reviewed, or you’d just like to complain that I didn’t give Pete Best enough credit in this column, send replies to: TMygunn777@aol.com