Yesterday, November 29th, marked 16 years since George Harrison died.
It’s hard to come up with something original to say about him or John, Paul, or Ringo for that matter, but I’ve never really written in depth about what he means to me and this seems as fitting a time as any.
First, let’s get it out of the way, I totally cheated with the title of this. If Not For You is in fact a Bob Dylan song, I know. BUT…I like George’s version better and it fits. 😉
The Quiet One
The early days of Beatlemania brought those kitschy nicknames we all know: John the smart one, Paul the cute one, Ringo the funny one, and of course George the quiet one…and in a way he was…but in a way, he certainly was not.
There was a rigid economy that marked his words and music. Like a successful athlete, there was no wasted motion. Everything he said or played meant something. I’ve always admired that, particularly given my struggle with saying too much, often at the worst possible time.
Don’t Bother Me
George always stood apart from the rest. He had a demeanor, evident even from those early press conferences and performances, that displayed a certain seriousness, the pensive stare of someone surveying the crowd, not quite interested in being there but not wanting to leave either.
He resisted giving all of himself to all of us in a way that may not have been true of his brothers-in-arms but when he did allow us in, it was glorious.
He seemed to simultaneously loathe and relish the attention, the wealth, his craft, and, at times, even himself. As someone often complimented for being “charismatic” or “funny” or whatever else but also one who receives just as much derision for my apparent bitterness and anti-social tendencies, I always found George’s music and personality to be familiar… comforting even. I’m not the only one who struggles with balancing my seemingly diametrically opposed needs for isolation and attention, my cynicism and empathy…all of which always seems to be an anathema for so many around me. There are many here among us who understand what I mean.
A little dark and out key
From the beginning, George’s songs and even their titles stuck out. Take a glance at the tracking listing for With the Beatles. “All I’ve Got to Do” leads into “All My Loving” and then to “Don’t Bother Me” and then to “Little Child”. Have a guess at which George wrote. Go on…have a guess.
While the boys were writing some of the great pop love songs of all time, George chipped in with “If I Needed Someone.” IF?!
“Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” are rightly among the most cherished songs in the Beatles canon but “If I Needed Someone” has always been more significant to me…perhaps because I’ve been on the other side of the conversation depicted in the lyrics:
Had you come some other day
Then it might not have been like this
But you see now I’m too much in love
Carve your number on my wall
And maybe you will get a call from me
If I needed someone
I suppose too, I’ve been on both sides.
The wry and even biting wit found in “Taxman” or “Piggies” was written by the same man who created “Savoy Truffle”. Inspired by his friend Eric Clapton, it is both a clever ode and a sinister warning about Clapton’s lust for candy.
The lilting sparsity found in “Long Long Long” is a sibling to both the epic “All Too Much” and the massive and lush “Photograph” penned for Ringo’s 1973 album, Ringo.
Without the band his music further expanded and explored the seemingly endless battle between his biting disdain and the sublime meditations which defined so much of his life.
“Beware of Darkness”, “Let it Down”, “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long”, “Beautiful Girl”, “All Things Must Pass” and so many others explore the spaces between love and love lost, hope and surrender, angst and joy, isolation and wanting.
So too was his playing. Go back and listen to “Long Tall Sally” again. His two solos shatter through the speakers, explode off the acetate. This is George Unleashed.
George’s later work, marked by the fuzz box and slightly off-kilter rhythms and melodies found throughout Revolver, helped define an era and has inspired every guitarist from Jimi Hendrix to Matthew Sweet. It is THE Fuzz Tone. All others bend their knee in reverence.
A favorite moment of mine, and one that further displays just how much rage George could conjure is found on John’s 1971 song “Gimme Some Truth.” By then George had embraced what would be one of his many musical signatures: the guitar slide.
From a scream to a moan, to a fading tender tear, to a joyous prayer, his slide and his finger-picked legato phrasing have inspired and confounded me my entire life. Two of my favorites may surprise you given the depth of his work but I love the solos he contributed to the Anthology songs “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love”. As vibrant and soulful as any he played, for me at least, they “make” the songs.
Anyway, I can go on for days about this. About 18 years ago I wrote in a journal that I didn’t want to live in a world without George Harrison. Unfortunately he died shortly after…but he hasn’t really gone away has he? Not really.
Dhani, George’s son, an incredible musician in his own right, has done a masterful job of protecting and expanding George’s legacy and for that I am certainly grateful. He has worked tirelessly on remastering and preserving his father’s music and instruments, and organized George Fest back in 2014. The concert is available for purchase and clips abound on YouTube.
My want is that you all take a moment to dig through his songs a bit more than perhaps you have in the past. There’s so much more to his contributions than “Something” and “Here Comes the Son” or “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”….and those are monumental testaments. They are truly among the greatest songs ever written.
But do yourself a favor. Go a little deeper even than “All Things Must Pass” (a personal favorite) and look at tunes like “Never Get Over You” from his 2002 posthumous album, Brainwashed. Check out the oft-overlooked “Apple Scruffs” from his incredible All Things Must Pass. (And check out my friend David’s fantastic Beatles band by the same name)
My true want is that we forever and profoundly carry George Harrison in our hearts. I think doing so makes us better.
Until Next Time,
Be Well and Kind,