“Well, first of all, I don’t like your tie”
George Harrison, 1943-2001
Despite the mega-sales that Beatles 1 generated, it’s distressing to note that for today’s youth, the Beatles are a matter of ancient history. Relegated to background music and VH-1 specials, or the recent media blitz of Paul, the band doesn’t measure up well against either the overproduced teen pop or the angry young men of rap/rock. Their hair was too short, pants too loose or the drums aren’t loud enough, or something.
But for most any listener over the age of 30, and certainly anyone who creates and performs music, the death of George Harrison from cancer in Los Angeles is a huge loss. To these listeners, The Beatles wrote the soundtrack for our lives. For musicians, The Beatles are so significant that they are hardly even mentioned as influences — it’s just taken for granted. Their synthesis of Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, and folk music changed forever the way music was written, and “Beatlemania” set the benchmark for artist success — a level that has never be reached since, and most assuredly never will be again.
While John and Paul rightfully garner the lion’s share of kudos for the magic of the Beatles — John’s blustery indignation countering the more heartfelt Paul — it was George who walked on a higher path. His contributions were fewer in number, perhaps, but no less vital than his more prolific friends. From the snarling protest of “Taxman” to the somber “Here Comes the Sun,” Harrison’s moments shine in their simplicity. His songs — performed by artists ranging from Frank Sinatra (“Something”) to Nina Simone (“Here Comes the Sun”) — are timeless and beautiful. His guitar work, such as the chiming 12-string Rickenbacker of “A Hard Days Night” that echoes in the work of The Byrds, or his trademark slide guitar sound — “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — are heard on nearly every pop or alt-country release of the last two decades.
Afterwards, he kept the lowest profile of a Beatle, quietly recording classic moments such as “Give Me Love” or “Crackerbox Palace.” He founded Handmade Films, which unleashed various Monty Python bits and other films, including Life Of Brian and Track 29. Of the four, Harrison was seemingly the most at ease with his “Beatledom” — remember his appearance in The Rutles’ All You Need is Cash, or the song “When We Was Fab”? He was there, he lived through it, and instead of having to run to primal scream therapy (John) or cocaine (Ringo) to overcome the experience, he quietly cashed the checks and laughed. He persisted in spiritual ways all his life, long after the other Beatles (and most of Western society) had dismissed Indian religions and sitars and moved onto other diversions. Other than surviving a knife assault and cancer, he was a peaceful man, a retiring sort. His passing thankfully ends any greedy hope of a Beatles reunion, and leaves the world with a legacy of music, social interaction and peace that none have equaled, heights that few have even attempted to reach. While summing up the message of his life with the simple “Give me love/ Give me peace on earth” (“Give Me Love”) seems somehow overly trite, is there really any more vital statement of hope needed — especially in today’s war-torn world?
When first meeting future producer (and architect of The Beatles sound as much as the four themselves) George Martin, the middle-aged, business-suited label employee asked the foursome if there was anything they didn’t like. George’s response — “Well, first of all, I don’t like your tie” — broke the ice, and summed up his take on what would become the unique phenomenon of the Fab Four. Cheeky bastard. He will be missed — by our ears, our hearts, and our children. Even if they don’t know who he was.