George Harrison, R.I.P.

When John Lennon died, my emotions surprised me.

I was in college, but I had always considered myself a rather levelheaded person. I loved The Beatles’ music, but frankly, by the time of Lennon’s death, I didn’t think much of him as a person. After all, he had dumped his attractive wife, taken in with some ugly and wacky Japanese dominatrix, which subsequently sowed the seeds of The Beatles’ breakup, and which also seemed to sow the seeds of a nonsensical philosophy.

I’d rather liked his older philosophy, like the jaundiced tone found in "Revolution":

You say you’ll change the constitution Well, you know We all want to change your head You tell me it’s the institution Well, you know You’d better free your mind instead But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow

In a few short years, the message found in "Imagine" seemed altogether nihilistic:

Imagine there’s no heaven It’s easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky …

Imagine there’s no countries It isn’t hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too …

Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man …

In one fell swoop, he managed to disdain God, all religion, and capitalism.

Nevertheless, when he died, I heard "Hey, you’ve got to hide your love away," and wept. Why, I wondered? I attended a candlelight vigil at Zilker Park in Austin. My best friend just wanted to stay alone in his dorm room.

No, I actually don’t even feel silly about it now, and today I realize, with a little perspective, I was only feeling nostalgia. I was leaving something behind that I knew I could never retrieve.

I think that was the last time I felt nostalgic. I think younger folk tend to be more nostalgic than older — maybe after a while we learn it’s a waste of time. Better to look forward. So, no sappy Lennonesque retrospective here.

But we can still learn something from these working class blokes from Liverpool.

All in all, they did pretty well keeping themselves centered, despite their dabbling in backward Eastern religions; and they did, after all, eventually find themselves contemptuous of the Maharishi.

Yes, and they weren’t foolish enough not to appreciate the money that talent, work, and fortune brought them. But when they reached their first success, such naïve working-class chaps as these were astonished at the 95% tax rate with which they were being assailed.

In one of my earliest musical memories (I was seven), the best friends of my brother and I brought home a new album, Revolver. The first track on this album, titled "Taxman," was written by Harrison; and even though at the time perhaps all I appreciated was McCartney’s wicked bass line, it is the best anti-tax song ever written:

Let me tell you how it will be. There’s one for you nineteen for me.

u2018Cause I’m the taxman. Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Should five percent appear too small. Be thankful I don’t take it all.

u2018Cause I’m the taxman. Yeah, I’m the taxman.

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street. If you drive too sexy, I’ll tax your seat. If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat. If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

u2018Cause I’m the taxman. Yeah, I’m the taxman.

Don’t ask me what I want it for. (Ha-ha, Mr. Wilson) If you don’t want to pay some more. (Ha-ha, Mr. Heath)

u2018Cause I’m the taxman. Yeah, I’m the taxman.

And my advice for those who die. Declare the pennies on your eyes.

u2018Cause I’m the taxman. Yeah, I’m the taxman. And you’re working for no one but me.

But despite their early tax problems, they all did well for themselves; and for example, both John Lennon and Paul McCartney were fortunate enough to have father-in-laws who were ultra-wealthy businessmen, and taught them how to manage their money.

This financial success and artistic success certainly inspired those close to them. Though all four contributed to The Beatles’ artistic success, George Harrison, seeing the song-writing brilliance of Lennon and McCartney, said, "I can do that!" By the last Beatles album, Abbey Road, two of the most popular songs on the album, "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun," were composed by Harrison. I’m fairly certain I remember Perry Como, or Frank Sinatra, or both, singing "Something" at one time or another.

Perhaps one thing the British government could have handled much worse was how they handled The Beatles’ blatant illegal drug-taking. They could have harassed The Beatles much more than they did, but I guess there’s some benefit to being a national treasure. (It’s too bad our government didn’t treat our poor toking national treasure, Willie Nelson, with as much deference.)

Besides, I think, left to their own good sense, they left behind the more dangerous abuse of drugs that destroyed many with similar status. I found this interview with George Harrison that appeared in The Beatles Anthology revealing:

You know, I went to Haight-Ashbury, expecting it to be this brilliant place, and it was just full of horrible, spotty, dropout kids on drugs. It certainly showed me what was really happening in the drug culture. It wasn’t what was I thought of all these groovy people having spiritual awakenings and being artistic. It was like the Bowery, it was like alcoholism, it was like any addiction. So, at that point, I stopped taking it, actually, the dreaded Lysergic. I had some in a little bottle, it was liquid, and I put it under a microscope, and I looked at it, and it looked like rope, just like old rope, and I thought I’m not going to put that in my brain any more.

Not many years after this interview, at the advent of music videos, I remember Harrison criticizing them. What television is to literature, music videos are to music. He felt this new medium disallowed the mind’s imagery, conceived from the musical form, and he hated it. He almost sounded like an old fuddy-duddy. I loved it.

The bottom line is that George Harrison, and the other Beatles, despite all the rebellion of the sixties, appreciated what the West could give them — wealth, luxury, peace, and the ability to raise and enjoy families unhindered by the fear and dread seen so often in Eastern nightmares.