I read the news today. I wake up one gray wintry morning , and as usual, turn on CNN. Some bright-eyed and chirpy newsreader is going on about something that barely penetrates the fog in my brain that's as heavy as the one outside the window. My wife Vidya reads out the line near the bottom of the screen , knowing fully well that I'm seeing without looking -- George Harrison Dead.
That's when I'm shaken out of sleep. What? What! Paul is on suddenly, holding back his emotion, making the obligatory statements to the media, ending with a plea to be considerate to George's wife and son. I find myself choking up.
George. The quiet Beatle, reluctant Beatle, baby Beatle. The usual epithets for someone who was all of those, yet none of those, who did good despite coming from working-class Liverpool, and growing up believing I'm a Loser. Whatever else he may or may not have been, he was a BEATLE. And I wonder what it has to do with the music any more. A phenomenon, an era, a revolution, and many other things, apart from the music that is the sixties, yet timeless, almost always melodious and memorable. As John said to Paul once, when the latter was concerned that they might forget musical ideas if they didn't find a way to put it down on paper, " If we can't remember it, how do you expect others to ?"
All Things Must Pass. George, like his other, more talented fellow Beatles, did produce memorable tunes (Check out Guitar George, He Knows all the Chords). A top ten list of favorite Beatles songs will include at least a couple of George songs, and that's a good enough strike rate for someone who composed a relatively minor part of the Beatles anthology. But everyone knows this. Does anyone here remember the first time he or she heard the Beatles?
Unlike so many who seem to remember with precision the day and time they heard the Beatles for the first time, I can't. Sometime in my teens, they were In My Life, and have been there ever since. I do remember the day John died. Time magazine called it The Day Music Died, from a line in Don McLean's American Pie, which in turn referred to Buddy Holly's death in a plane crash in'59. I don't know why they did that, I don't think the music died then, nor today.
Is there Something I want to remember George for? The music, of course, and giving us the Beatles experience. For sensitively introducing the western world to the sitar (he informs the Madison Square Garden crowd that Indian music is "more serious than our own" and tells them to listen patiently to Ravi Shankar performing Bangla Dhun in Concert for Bangladesh). For raising money for Bangla Desh and setting a precedent for charity mega-events like Live Aid and Band Aid in the eighties. For a sincere interest in Indian spiritualism (although I wish he'd picked someone other than Mahesh Yogi ) that was to be his Inner Light, about figuring out what's Within You, Without You, in an I ,Me, Mine environment. As a man who lived much of the later part of his life saying, Don't Bother Me.
There's now two Beatles who won't turn sixty-four. This Bird has Flown, he's
got a Ticket to Ride.