Monday, November 23, 2009

George Harrison

Here's where it gets personal. Of all the natural and pharmaceutical remedies for anxiety and depression this world has to offer, nothing soothes my soul or placates my demons quite so well as the opening bars of George Harrison's "Blow Away." The gentle chords drop down like soft rain into welcoming soil; the unadorned guitar acknowledges in its mournful slide the inherent suffering of existence; and then there's the voice: so open and fragile, so defiant in its vulnerability.

I'm not sure why, but my eyes often fill with tears when I hear this passage; some of it is undoubtedly due to the huge void left by George's passing eight years ago. He would almost certainly have had much to say in these turbulent times, and we would have benefited from his calming influence.

But then, George would be the first to point out the futility of wishing for that which can never be. As it stands, his existing body of work has taught me how to let go of my worries and simply submit to love. I find myself in an interesting position at the age of 35; when I first got into the Beatles in my teens, I scoffed at the simplicity of statements such as "All you need is love." But now, supposedly older and wiser, I think that the Fab Four had it about right. And while "All You Need is Love" was a John and Paul song, it was George who articulated that message most consistently over the course of his career.

Much of George's work and life, as we know, was informed by his abiding interest in Eastern spirituality and Indian classical music. But what initially led this working-class Liverpool lad down such an esoteric (and, at times, rigorous) path remains a mystery. The book Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison (perhaps the most illuminating biography of this private man out there) doesn't even hazard a guess. But I think George himself gave a clue in a comment he made during the Beatles Anthology interviews: Regarding the band's fishbowl-like existence in the midst of worldwide Beatlemania, he said, "We gave our nervous systems." Yoga and meditation probably provided a quiet refuge from the mass hysteria that threatened to consume him. We know that he stopped using LSD in 1967--at the very time that his contemporaries were going out of their minds on it--in part because the Bhaghavad Gita completed the sentence that his psychedelic explorations had begun. To paraphrase Alan Watts, he had received the message (that hallucinogenic drugs had to offer) and it was now time to hang up the phone. Casual listeners can be forgiven for interpreting George's Beatles track "The Inner Light" as a paean to acid-tripping, but it is in fact about meditation. "Without going out of my door, I can know all things in Heaven (...) / The farther one travels, the less one knows." Indeed. All four Beatles believed in "Love," but George believed in God as well, and he spent the rest of his life attempting to commune with the divine.

George Harrison was not without his faults. Like many rock stars of his era, he was continually bombarded by an unimaginable array of worldly temptations, and more often as not he succumbed. But he kept returning to his spiritual practice, at one point musing that he needed meditation like an alcoholic needs AA.

Perhaps I need the music of George Harrison in the same way. I find myself continually returning to the albums All Things Must Pass, Living in the Material World, and George Harrison in times of difficulty. Meanwhile, 33&1/3 and Cloud Nine are good pick-me-up, get-on-with-the-day affairs. I almost don't need anything else. On the flip side, the angry noise of Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails can at first seem bracing and cathartic, but I find that if I listen to that style of music for too long I become agitated. This, too, George addressed when he sang: "Beware of darkness / It can hit you / It can hurt you / Make you sore and what is more / It is not what you are here for." I didn't understand that line when I first heard it at the age of fourteen. I understand it now.

1 comment:

Earcandy Archive said...

great posting, Robert. I miss George a lot as well. That line in Anthology: "We gave out nervous systems" hit me as the most powerful coment in the doc. He indeed found solace in his beliefs and practices. A life well lived.


Steve Lippicott

P.S. still working on getting my ezine ready (hopefully by end of next month). New look: