Long time ago when Harrison was Fab
Jan 24 2006
Writer Paul Collins pays tribute to the Quiet Beatle, George Harrison, whose achievements were often unfairly overshadowed by those of Lennon and McCartney
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IN THE minds of many, the mere mention of the name George Harrison evokes crystal images of Beatlemania, and of rock music's golden age.
His name is a key that unlocks a door to long-ago memories of other days that have now faded away.
To me, his name conjures up muted sounds of Here Comes the Sun, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and My Sweet Lord, and has them drifting softly through my mind in a dreamy cadence.
Was there ever a more lovely way in which to herald the coming of springtime than Here Comes the Sun?
Decades after Harrison wrote and recorded it, there remains a brilliant simplicity to this time-worn classic that still has the fresh feel of a summer rain shower as it gently pulls you along.
It's one of those songs that still has the power to capture our imagination when it comes on the car radio.
We might be driving along the road with the top down drinking-in the warmth, or just strolling through the garden on a spring morning and we find ourselves humming it over and over again.
It stays with us. Here Comes the Sun is timeless, and it is vintage George Harrison.
And every time I hear it I'm still struck by the thought that George left this world too soon. He died far too young.
For those people who came of age in the 1960s, The Beatles rode the back of the decade as if they had invented it.
The world's most celebrated and enduring musical quartet became the kings of all that they surveyed while earning fame and fortune on a scale that they had never dared dream of as young boys growing up in Liverpool.
Many of us carry around in the back pocket of our mind indelible images of The Beatles.
Freeze frames of four carefree madcap lads who, through their talent and by the sheer force of their personalities, defined the decade.
It was a magic time when the Beatles extended the creative envelope as far as it would stretch, and in the process, they also took the rest of the world along with them on the ride.
There can be no doubt that, for George Harrison, being a Beatle was often a daunting challenge indeed.
From his extraordinary and innovative riffs on the fabled Abbey Road album, to his trademark slide guitar, Harrison was recognized as one of the world's premier guitarists.
And yet, during his Beatle years he was consigned to the shadows as his songwriting was eclipsed by the talents of John and Paul, while his interest in mysticism, eastern religion and meditation was often looked at through a jaundiced eye, and met with sceptical indulgence.
Of course, all of that changed forever when he issued his classic All Things Must Pass album in 1970.
For this was his defining musical moment and high-water mark as a solo artist.
With the release of All Things Must Pass, Harrison had produced a vehicle that showcased all of his musical skills that were, for years, swamped in the wake of the Lennon/McCartney songwriting juggernaut.
With that album, George was finally able to vent his years of pent-up frustration at taking a back seat to John and Paul.
All Things Must Pass was a platform for Harrison to reach down deep into his well of creative talent and chronicle his inner feelings, and the highs and lows in his life through his music.
Be it speaking to his God in My Sweet Lord, lashing out at his frustrations of life as a Beatle in Wah Wah, or lamenting the shabby way in which people treat each other in Isn't It A Pity, his words spoke volumes.
His were lyrics that could stand alone without the aid of any musical backing to prop them up. He was so much more than a guitar player. So much more, indeed.
Across the years of his post-Beatles life, George became increasingly reclusive as he devoted himself to the pleasurable pursuit of gardening, and to a search for peace of mind and the true meaning of life that was often as elusive as a shadow in the night.
However, his comfortable drift into middle age did not necessarily prevent him from enjoying a healthy run at the top of the pop charts from time to time.
Solo efforts such as his Cloud Nine album, and his work with the Traveling Willbury's, were standouts that allowed him to reinvent and reintroduce himself to new generations of fans.
His consistently blasé attitude about what he saw as being the myth of The Beatles always served to put things in perspective for the rest of us who looked at the Fab Four from afar.
His thoughts always underscored to fans his feeling that The Beatles were never the larger-than-life figures the public always made them out to be.
Rather, they were simply four young men from Liverpool who had tremendous talent, and who happened to have had the good fortune to come along at the right time.
For many years, George Harrison lived in the long shadow that was cast by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
He was known to the world as the "quiet one", but there can be no doubt that his talent spoke volumes, and that he died far too young.
In the final analysis, George Harrison was one of four young men from Liverpool who came along at just the right time and who swept up the youth of the world.
Many of us, myself included, still miss George.
However, he has left behind a rich musical legacy that will live forever.
What may ultimately be of more importance is the fact that George also taught the generations of fans who loved and appreciated him how to face their own mortality and how to die with dignity.
For him, this life was merely a brief stop along the way, and his own words seem to serve as a lasting epitaph to his view of life: "All things must pass. All things must pass away."
And yet, we still miss him today.
Paul Collins is an American freelance writer and public relations consultant who lives in Massachusetts.