Ten years ago today, George Harrison died of cancer. He was fifty-eight.
I’m not sure that I can improve upon what I wrote in an e-mail to a friend at the time:
My favorite Beatle depends as much upon what day of the week it is as it does upon my mood for that day. Some days my Beatles-sense revolves wholly around John, other days Paul, sometimes George, sometimes Ringo. I have a favorite Beatle to the same extent that I have a favorite Doctor; I like and appreciate each on their own terms. John could no more write “Something” as George could write “Yesterday.” Different songs, different styles, different states of mind.
I don’t know that I can write much on George Harrison. The words just don’t seem to be there. Even knowing that he was ill doesn’t make the loss any easier. The local Classic Hits radio station [Philadelphia’s 102.9 — ed.] did a “Beatles A-Z” day today; I’ve had George’s first and last solo albums in the CD player.
The Beatles now number two. I’m tempted to watch A Hard Day’s Night, just to remember them all as they once were.
And then there’s the sense of humor – also not usually associated with orthodoxy – but deeply connected to the religious experience of life, its absurdities and its occasional, unsought-for graces and serendipities. Yes, Harrison was able to send up his own faith, as above.
And I think that gets to what I like about Harrison’s work. Not the religion, which George explored for most of his life, but the absurdist humor. George Harrison is the Beatle who financed Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. George Harrison is the Beatle who appeared in Eric Idle’s send-up of the Beatles, The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash. John may have been the witty Beatle (see In His Own Write or A Spaniard in the Works), but George was the absurdist Beatle. When that shines through in his music, George’s music can be downright fun in a way that the other Beatles’ music (both in the group and solo) is not. To me, Cloud Nine, Traveling Wilburys Volume 1, and Brainwashed are just fun albums. There are moments of seriousness, true, but by and large these albums put a smile on the face and make me feel happy inside. And, really, which other Beatle would send up one of his biggest hits by rewriting the lyrics into a sea-shanty about being a pirate? 🙂
That’s not to say that George can’t be serious and morose. I tend to think of George as the bipolar Beatle.
In memory of George Harrison, this is one of my favorite covers of a Harrison song, done by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James (as Yim Yames) as he worked through his own catharsis in the wake of Harrison’s death, producing something that is both lovely and painful in equal measure.
The world’s a little quieter without George Harrison.