In this post, I will refer to Harrison on a first name basis, simply because he feels like my friend or my surrogate grandfather from another life.
Today is February 25th – the late George Harrison’s birthday.
It’s the only day in February I actively try to remember but always fail to, falling right in the one month I’d rather not think about because its short existence makes me question time itself.
Which, fitting enough, is what I feel George Harrison was all about. Not feeling any dominance over this world, over our illusion of time, and over whatever it is we think we know about either.
As George the “Beatle”, he stood out from his fellow critters as a moody enigma clouded by an air of mystique that was evident even through grainy footage on a screen.
His voice too, carried a fogginess and exhaustion that made every word he sang feel like his pained, final breath.
Take the lethargic moans on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” or the haunting chorus of “Who Can See It” from Living in the Material World where he strains as he reaches for his higher register.
He was never the Fab Four’s de facto creative leader (John), their enterprising and meticulous maestro (Paul), or their happy-go-lucky jokester (Ringo).
He started as the grumpy baby boy of the group, voiceless and underestimated, and slowly blossomed into something more meaningful than the group itself.
But he was always sincere, observant and very, very funny.
After being in the machine for a while, both his dry wit and his pen got sharper (check “Think for Yourself” off Rubber Soul.) His confidence also got a much-needed boost from knowing he was in his own lane as a songwriter, not having to think in terms of either Lennon’s existential bravado or McCartney’s lofty orchestral ambitions.
Instead, his songwriting was intimate and beautifully modest, not trying to overstay its welcome with flashy displays or angry outbursts. He was always somehow resigned to his music, like it was an act of service. And as he, Lennon and McCartney further branched out into their own unique kind of songwriter, it made the band’s dynamic more interesting and their music compelling.
Abbey Road, The White Album, and the fellow great later-Beatle records were profound works of art not just for their growing musicality – which is objectively up for debate – but for their authentic, candidly beautiful portrait of contrasting and odd pairings of moods that none other than the Fab Four could unintentionally create, all while also being charming and innovative.
I can’t think of a better way to sandwich a ballad as earnest and softly sophisticated as “Something” – often considered George’s most refined moment as a songwriter – than in between the rugged minimalism of Lennon’s groovy “Come Together” and the silly nursery rhyme that is McCartney’s “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”
These strong personalities are why The Beatles are a delight to fall in love with (which I try do it all over again at least once a year).
But George on his own is the only one of the four who I feel truly let you into his entire soul with his music. Lennon was too preoccupied with his pain, McCartney with his genius, and Ringo with his millions, for any to resonate with people beyond their craft.
Without going out of my door I can know all things of earth Without looking out of my window I could know the ways of heaven The farther one travels The less one knows The less one really knows - "The Inner Light"
George was over the rock n’ roll machine far into the Beatles – and it made him the true act to watch out for as he wowed in the post-Beatle wave of solo records with his perfect debut album, All Things Must Pass, which packed in all the genius he had fermented from years of bottling up his pitches that were turned down by Lennon and McCartney.
I had a dream once when I was sixteen or seventeen where I was walking around, weighed down by worrying about something that doesn’t matter anymore – and then an older George appeared from a garden, hugged me, and told me everything was gonna be okay. I never saw him in my dreams again but needless to say, it deeply moved me.
At the time, I was facing much uncertainty and was beginning to have recurring panic attacks both at school and while commuting on the bus. I was withdrawn and in my own little world (or iPod classic) and uncomfortable with my peers and the world around me, unsure of how I could fit into it.
All that got me through the day was listening to my favorite comfort albums, including All Things Must Pass, which always reassured me that all would clear up and peace would come sooner or later.
This image of George, the old man gardener, came from watching the Martin Scorcese documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World many times. The film is a beautiful portrait of his life, from his childhood in Liverpool to his final days as he battled cancer. It also shows his home life and has some of his closest friends talking about how much they loved him.
I could not recommend it enough.
George’s modesty, and loves for gardening and music were instantly endearing and inspiring to me as a teenager and he is still number one in my heart. But it was his devotion to his spirituality that truly helped me redefine what “God” meant to me and gave my life so much more emotional substance.
I feel this is exactly what George wanted to achieve with his music. I always say I feel nourished when I listen to him because it always feels like more than just a song.
His signature album, the precious celebration of life that is All Things Must Pass, is filled with beautiful moments when George sings about various faiths interchangeably, boiling their core messages of love and humility for all, regardless of background – implying they are one and the same.
Take “Awaiting on You All,” where he chants that traveling, reading horoscopes, and even clinging onto holiness can be acts of fear – that we must surrender and open our hearts to love, God and the unknown, and not create false illusions of control for ourselves on our chaotic, but ever meaningful journey in the material world.
You don't need no church house And you don't need no temple You don't need no rosary beads or them books to read To see that you have fallen If you open up your heart You will know what I mean We've been kept down so long Someone's thinking that we're all green - "Awaiting on You All"
In many ways, George taught me that tapping into God and religion is the same as tapping into our inner goodness in the face of temptation and less-than-honorable shortcuts.
I fell out of touch with religion for the same reasons most people do. But at its core, it is about helping us heal and embrace our inner strength and voice, which George tried his best to embody throughout his spiritual-musical journey.
George also sang about love as a spiritual cause, not a romantic one. He sang to God like he was the true object of his affection. He wasn’t afraid to surrender to him (“My Sweet Lord) nor to beg him (“Give Me Love”) for a better world.
Even as he faced illness and foresaw his death – themes which bled heavily into his posthumous album Brainwashed – he was at peace, open to whatever God wanted to put in his path.
Talking to myself Crying out loud Only I can hear me, I'm Stuck inside a cloud - "Stuck Inside a Cloud"
George taught us that “Love Comes to Everyone” who is patient enough for it, that betrayal is an inevitable, painful part of life we all partake in whether we want to or not, that we must open ourselves up to love and embrace our fragility, and that the true beauty of the world can only be unlocked from within.
Everyone has choice When to or not to raise their voices It's you that decides which way you will turn While feeling that our love is your concern It's you that decides No one around you Will carry the blame for you No one around you Will love you today and throw it all away - "Run of the Mill"
And though all things most certainly pass, all we are left with is all we’ll really need today and forevermore: pure love and devotion to our world and our spirits.
We’re so lucky we get to hear his sweet, sweet voice radiating from all our tiny devices.
Don’t let it get lost in the noise.
Sunrise doesn’t last all morning A cloudburst doesn’t last all day Seems my love is up and it's left you. with no warning it's not always gonna be this grew ... All things must pass None of life's strings can last So, I must be on my way And face another day - "All Things Must Pass"
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