GEORGE HARRISON - The Art Of Dying
By Steve Ludwig
"Let death come at any time. I am ready. My only request is that you sing the glories of God and never stop singing..."
-George on his deathbed
The headline in the New York Daily News after George Harrison died said so much more in one word - George - than it could have in an entire paragraph. It didn't read George Harrison or Harrison or Musician or even Beatle. Nothing else was necessary because George said it all.
We were all on a first-name basis with each of the Beatles (we still are), because they were our friends; for most of the world, the friends we never met (although I personally was lucky enough to be in a group that was shushed by George. See my April 1, 2012 blog).
Brian Wilson wasn't a personal friend of George's, but he pretty much expressed all our feelings: "I am horribly saddened by the death of George Harrison. Just like everybody else in the world, I have always considered all the Beatles to be my friends."
Say John, Paul, George, and Ringo and nothing else is necessary. More than a few of my eighth-grade students of today know their names, and those that don't WILL know them by year's end, I promise.
It's really one word: JOHNPAULGEORGEANDRINGO. And on November 29, 2001, another syllable of that word was taken from us. We lost the first on December 8 in 1980.
And so many nice things were said by so many people after George's death. He must have been a great friend to have had.
Ringo said, "We will miss George for his sense of love, his sense of music, and his sense of laughter... George loved me and I loved him."
A short time later, Ringo expressed his feelings for his buddy the best way he knew how -- through his music. On his Ringo Rama album, Ringo recorded a song for George called "Never Without You." In it, he references George's songs:
Every part of you was in your song
Now we will carry on...Never without you
Within you, without you
Here comes the sun is about you.
[Search YouTube for"Never Without You Ringo Starr" to watch the video.]
But what really tugs at the heartstrings is this one minute snippet of an interview with Ringo about visiting George in Switzerland while George received cancer treatment:
[YouTube search: "Ringo Cries for George Harrison."]
"I'm devastated and very, very sad," was Paul's reaction. "We knew he'd been ill for a long time. He was a lovely guy and a very brave man and he had a wonderful sense of humor. He is really just my baby brother."
Here's a four-minute YouTube video of Paul outside his home talking to reporters about George's death:
[Search "Paul McCartney's Reaction to George Harrison's Death."]
Paul has also made George's "Something" a part of his concert set list. For the first part of the song, he accompanies himself on a ukulele that George had given to him. Here's a super YouTube video of Paul in concert singing "Something" in a concert in Liverpool, with Olivia Harrison and Yoko in attendance:
[Search: "Paul McCartney Something Live at Anfield, Liverpool"]
Speaking of Yoko (a person with whom George had a few differences of opinion), here's her kind tribute to George:
"George has given so much to us in his lifetime and continues to do so even after his passing, with his music, his wit, and his wisdom. Thank you, George, it was grand knowing you."
A universal opinion of those who knew George is that he had a tremendous sense of humor. He loved to laugh, his humor could be subtle, and at other times, George could be downright silly.
He was a big fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus, and he had so loved the controversial Monty Python and the Holy Grail, that when the Pythons were having trouble financing their follow-up movie, Life of Brian, George started a company called Handmade Films for the sole purpose of financing Life of Brian. He figured it was the only way for him to get to see the movie. Python's Eric Idle later said it was "the most expensive movie ticket in cinema history."
And what about that famous Harrison wit? Well, in doing some research for this blog, I came across a quote of George's that gives us a pretty good taste:
"I'm a tidy sort of bloke. I don't like chaos. I keep records in the record rack, tea in the tea caddy,and pot in the pot box."
George's first wife, Patti Boyd, and George's friend Eric Clapton had an unconventional relationship with George. Patti left George for Eric and later regretted it. (She and Clapton later divorced.) In 1976, two years after he and Patti had split, George sent Eric and Patti a note letting them know all was forgiven. George and Eric remained close friends, in spite of the circumstances, to the end.
Said Patti, "I burst into tears when I heard he had died. I couldn't bear the thought of a world without George."
Keith Richards has said in more than one interview that he always felt a special closeness to George because his role in the Rolling Stones was similar to that of George's in the Fabs. On his website, Keith said, "George was a great mate of mine. He was a gentle soul. Another one sorely missed. I guess the good die young."
Bob Dylan, a major influence of George's and a fellow Traveling Wilbury: "George was a giant, a great, great soul, with all of the humanity, all of the wit and humor, the wisdom, the spirituality, the common sense of a man, and compassion for people. The world is a profoundly emptier place without him."
The two other surviving Wilburys, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty (the late, great Roy Orbison passed away in 1988), had these thoughts after George's passing:
Jeff Lynne: "You always knew where you stood with George, he was totally honest. I feel blessed to have been so close to him. Some of the happiest days of my life were spent in the studio with George."
I was lucky enough to come across this three-minute YouTube video of Jeff and George playing banjos together. In the opening part, Jeff tells about the first time he met George; the real payoff is the George and Jeff banjo section.
[YouTube: "Jeff Lynne & George Harrison Play Banjos" (A must-see!)]
In 2005, four years after George's death, Tom Petty still grieved. "George devastated me. I didn't want George to die. It so ripped my heart out that I still can't think about it."
You must watch the Concert for George. It was staged one year to the day after George's passing.
Sharing the stage were Paul, Ringo, Eric, Jeff, Tom, Billy Preston, Dhani Harrison, Anoushka Shankar, and others.
Anoushka's father, Ravi Shaknar, was George's sitar mentor and very close friend. Last year, Ravi reminisced about his final times with George: "We always had a very cheerful time, in the sense that we generally didn't want to talk. He was very ill at that time. He used to come often, very privately - no one knew at the time - and stay for a week to ten days at my home."
As most music fans of a particular era know, Ravi asked for George's help in raising global awareness to the devastation in Bangla Desh. The Bangla Desh concerts took place in 1971.
Ravi: "Thanks to George it was such a wonderful event, first of its kind."
And the people of Bangla Desh revered George for the rest of his life.
Bangla Desh President Budruddoza Chowdhury spoke for his fellow countrymen after George died: "The people of Bangla Desh consider George Harrison their beloved man, who felt for them in 1971 during their days of agony and distress."
Added Bangla Desh Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, "George Harrison will be remembered forever by the people of Bangla Desh."
Years later, Bob Geldof organized the first Live Aid concerts. He asked George for advice. Geldof's remembrance of George: "George did it very well and with great grace and dignity. George never let anyone down. He was never disappointing. That's pretty amazing."
Prime Minister Tony Blair: "He wasn't just a great musician, an artist, but did a lot of work for charity as well. He'll be greatly missed around the world."
Beatles producer George Martin: "He cared deeply for those he loved. Now I believe, as he did, that he has entered a higher state. God give him peace."
As George Martin alluded to, George was a man of extreme faith. His album Living in the Material World explored the duplicity he often wrestled with in living a holy life within a material world.
His wife, Olivia, and son, Dhani, put it best when they released this statement about their beloved George:
"He gave his life to God a long time ago. He wasn't trying to hang on to anything. He was fine with it. He left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends. He often said, 'Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait...and love one another.'"
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