The night before I went to Detroit, I shoved all of George Harrison’s Dark Horse period records onto my iPod, except Gone Troppo, because that really is a fucking awful record.
That night, I also watched the DVD that came with the Dark Horse Years set. On it was a litle doc about Dark Horse and some music videos. I watched them. Then I watched them again. Then, I watched them continuously until 3am when I was finished packing and thought it might be to my advantage to get at least three hours sleep before scuffing off across the Atlantic.
Those of you even faintly acquainted with me know that music is to me a way of life and also sometimes obsessive. I have those times when I’m unable to listen to anything but whoever it is I’m obsessed with- there was a point where I couldn’t be away from Led Zeppelin for more than a half hour, and my iPod still shows the signs of the Thin Lizzy daze I’m coming out of now: 20 of the ‘top 25 most played’ are by them. it’s the same pattern as it was once with the Beatles, with the Doors, Dean Martin and then the Zep and Lizzy. These are the people I love, without whom I would hollow, empty and lifeless. These are the people who get me up in the morning. They all had that time when they were all I could think of. Then it evens out to something approaching sanity.
I found each of them differently, the obsession may have developed differently and at different speeds and times, but the effect was the same. What has never happened before is to go through it a second time. Not the obsessive level of attention. I imagine that it may well happen with Lizzy again, for they’re like no other band in some ways.
With George Harrison, you could argue that I’m going through my third obsessive period, if you count the Beatles. The second was just before he died, and that killed the obsession too because it was just too painful to sustain then. Besides, it’s hard to maintain an obsession when only two or three records are even available- the Dark Horse recordings weren’t re-released until after he died, when I bought them but couldn’t bear to listen to them properly.
So it’s third time lucky, I suppose. I remember well how the Beatle-obsessive period went- my dad bought me a book about them (The Beatles: A Celebration by the horrendous Geoffrey Giuliano) at an outlet mall in Doncaster on our way back from a holiday in Yorkshire. I’d seen the last episode of the Anthology that New Years’ Eve and had nicked the one cassette of the Beatles that my dad possessed (he’d taped the Red and Blue greatest hits comps off a pal’s records back in the 70s)… but the book, reading about them and seeing them properly, if not the hook, was the line and the sinker. I remember sitting there in the back of that car all the way from bloody Doncaster… I remember staring, staring at a picture of George c. 1968, thinking that if not for the moustache he’d made a pretty girl! I was a Lennon fan for a very long time, and his obsession by me came side by side with the Beatles one (took some doing, I can tell you. No I didn’t have a life, why do you ask?)… but I can tell you the moment the switch flicked in my brain to decide that yes, George was my most favourite Beatle. It wasn’t the reason why, but it was the moment it happened. I was in Camden with my mum and friend Louise and I was shopping for a hat like the one John wore a lot around 1964/5. I ended up getting one that was a little too Gay Biker for my tastes so it didn’t last long… but we were at the old Stables, which is now a market for 20th Century antiques. This one place had tons of copies of The Beatles Book magazine. This was a mag from the original time that stopped when the boys did but resumed 20 years later- and I have all my copies of that stashed away- it ended maybe five six years ago. I always got frustrated that it seemed only to put John or Paul on the cover alone…. and I saw in this stall a copy of an old one with a picture of George on the cover: “GORGEOUS GEORGE!” and I thought “Yeah, he is.”
It wasn’t about him being gorgeous. I mean, I think he was, but I get if you don’t. Errol Flynn he weren’t, right? But the point was that for the first time I saw that other people thought George was great, that he was as worthy of praise as anyone else. That was the moment the switch flicked. It was helped of course by the Anthology videos in which Paul comes across as a twat (because he is), Ringo comes across as affably charming (because he is) and George came across as a sharp-tongued voice of sanity. At some point I read a pretty bad biography of him (possibly by the aforementioned shitmonger Giuliano) and remember being so disappointed to discover he spent the first years of the 80s in a coke haze that I wished it wasn’t true and decided I wouldn’t believe it until I read it from a second source (I have since. I also learned about George and the once Mrs Starkey. Still, he’s not even close to Clapton in the bastard stakes). I listened to his songs more closely than the others, and chalked it up in part to my special affection for guitarists and their music.
I think I bought the All Things Must Pass anniversary special edition in California, very early in the year. I say this not because it matters but because the timescale is important to me. I arrived in mid-Sept (10th, actually). By November, I had all the words to all the songs seared into my brain, so I must’ve had it awhile. I loved, still love, that record so much. I even like the jams that most people think are a bunch of self-indulgent nonsense to fill up the record.
When he died, I felt like I’d never be happy again. I bought All Things Must Pass on vinyl in England from far away in America… but when I got home for Crimbo, I couldn’t bear to listen to it all the way through, lest I weep like a baby again. I couldn’t bear to watch the Anthology either… nor read the books. I allowed the Doors to overwhelm me, for Jimmy was already dead, already a total cunt and nothing I could learn about him could ever shatter my illusions of him, because I never had any.
John Lennon was the one most like me, Jimmy was the one I adored, Philip the one I sought most desperately. George, on the other hand was the kind of person I almost aspired to be like. I still do. I mean, the guy was a mass of contradictions- an environmentalist with a love of Formula 1 racing, a devoutly religious guy who cheated on his first wife quite a lot, a curmudgeonly old git with a brilliant sense of humour, an open mind with, apparently, a worrying affection for Nazi memorabilia (ooh, Lemmy!), a guy who hated fame but was one of the most famous people on the planet, a guy who gave up material possessions but lived in a fucking big mansion and had nice cars and clothes and stuff… In other words, a fully rounded human being with greatness, weakness, faults and reality.
More than that, George had the dedication to his craft that I have never possessed- stories of playing guitar in the early days until his fingers bled… when I could never practice even weekly when I had lessons. He had talent and skill that I’ll never come close to. I even stole a riff of his once for music class- GCSE music in 97/98 and we’re doing a bit on ostinatos, right (an ostinato is if I recall, a musical theme that repeats over and over in the piece) and I couldn’t compose one for the life of me, couldn’t do it. Still couldn’t, probably. I stole the opening riff from ‘The Inner Light’ which I think was a B-Side to a Beatle hit of some sort. The rest of the class called it catchy, and I felt guilty, but glad they liked his music! If my teacher knew, he didn’t say.
But back to the present day. I had forgotten how funny he was. Forgotten how handsome he was. Forgotten the way that the smile of Harrison is at once charming and cheeky, knowing and arch. Forgotten the eyebrow quirk. Almost forgotten how good the music was. I mean don’t get me wrong, not all of George’s solo output is great- I don’t have Gone Troppo on my iPod for a reason, and the stuff between All Things Must Pass and the launch of Dark Horse isn’t exactly world beating… but on a good day, that man could write songs that will last forever, stuff that not only equals McCartney’s silly love songs but surpasses them, not only equals Lennon’s rage but outdoes it.
George’s solo career, when taken as a whole, has this amazing thread of consistency running through it- no matter when it was made, it’s so obviously by the same person and yet at the same time entirely of its own time- Somewhere in England was clearly made in the very early 80s, just as Cloud Nine is clearly from the late 80s. Yet they both sound as much George as Thirty Three and 1/3 or Brainwashed… George’s ability to avoid musical fashion while not actually ignoring the sounds of the time allowed him that privilege. George’s career, from that first Beatle Harrisong, ‘Don’t Bother Me’, to the very end of Brainwashed is so obviously his music. These are not records that could’ve been made by anyone else, even if they could master all the diminished ninth chords.
Most of all I think I love how utterly he wasn’t taken in by everything given to him. Everything he ever said or did has an element somewhere of “You know you’re all fucking crazy, right?” to it, be it interviews or concerts or what the hell ever. This is someone who wanted to be successful, not famous, and knew the difference. George Harrison never asked or begged to be loved, unlike others who will remain nameless but popularised the Hofner violin-shaped bass, and so I loved him all the more for it.
John called us on our collective bullshit with a manner akin to a bullhorn and got called a genius for it… but George was no less cynical, no less contemptuous… I’m sure in the fullness of time we’ll discover that George was angrier and more cynical than even John… but went about voicing it in a different way. John was louder, that’s all.
No, I take it back: the thing I love most of all about George is this: He was a guitar legend who loved to play the ukulele. That’s all you need to know.
Amusing George videos I found:
This Song. Some people bitch and moan about being taken to court for plagiarism. Some get their SNL mates together and take the piss. I wish I could pull off hair like that
Crackerbox Palace Yes, that is Rutle Neil Innes as his nanny, and that is his house.
and lastly, a clip from a comedy tv show in Britain from the 70s called Rutland Weekend Television. It’s also a piss ripper of the plagiarism thing: The Pirate Song.
Good night to you all.