Friday, December 7, 2001

‘Quiet Beatle’s’ impact loud, clear 

Times Leader - December 7, 2001


Times Leader Staff Writer
December 7, 2001

It seemed somewhat appropriate that I was sitting right at this desk and right in this newsroom last Friday morning when I first heard that George Harrison had passed away. After all, a large poster of Harrison and his old band has been hanging over my desk for years, and, if it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't even have this job.

Think about it: Without the impact of The Beatles - clearly the greatest rock band of all-time - pop music may have never become the accepted art form that it is today, and jobs like this - where I spend a good portion of my time writing about it - probably wouldn't even exist. There's no question that without The Beatles, pop culture as we know it would be drastically different, and, thus, so would many of our lives.

Those sentiments were not lost upon me last Friday morning, and I spent most of my day interviewing area musicians, Beatles' fans and people at radio stations, asking for their thoughts on Harrison's contributions to the Fab Four and to rock history. All lauded the musicianship of the “quiet Beatle,” cited his use of the sitar as being particularly innovative, and praised the songs he contributed to the band as well as his post-Beatles work. Yes, they said, he often seemed to work in the shadow of John Lennon and Paul McCartney - perhaps the most talented songwriting team of the 20th Century - but everyone also concluded that Harrison was a huge part of The Beatles success, and a strong creative force in his own right.

Later that night, with my story filed, I did what I imagine a lot of other Beatles fans did. Back at my apartment, I popped in “Abbey Road,” downed a cold beer or two and had myself a little toast to George Harrison. And - beyond the aforementioned professional impact he had on my life - I thought of how much his music has meant to me over the years. Glancing around the room, I looked at the framed Beatles poster hanging over my bookshelf, and of the many Fab Four texts and videos displayed on those shelves. I played a little of “The White Album,” and a little “Magical Mystery Tour,” and - as I've done so many, many times - totally immersed myself in the group's music.

“Oh, how I've always loved that solo,” I thought, as George fired off a few zingy riffs during  “Back in The U.S.S.R.”  And when “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” came along, I simply couldn't get past it. I must have hit the 'ol repeat button 10 times.

I also noticed, perhaps for the first time, that of all the songs on “Abbey Road”' – which is considered The Beatles' swan song - Harrison may have had the best two numbers:  “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun.” The latter is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful songs ever written.

With my mind drifting, I also thought back to my high school days, when I first discovered the “Red”' and “Blue”' albums, which chronicled the band's career from 1962-1970. Even at age 15 I knew that those songs, many of which were recorded before I was born, were among the best songs I'd ever heard. I also recalled my time in college, when I played bass in an original band. Our “big plan,” I remembered, was to record an album of our own songs, but also add one cover as the last song on the record. And despite our various musical tastes, we all easily agreed that this would be The Beatles'  “I Saw Her Standing There.”

There was no other band.
There was no other choice.

Just as we did in our own small way 14 years ago, television was also showing Harrison and the Fab Four the proper respect this past weekend. VH1 ran continuous coverage of his death most of Friday night, and NBC's  “Saturday Night Live” showed a great clip from 1976 of Harrison and Paul Simon performing a marvelous rendition of  “Here Comes The Sun.” On Sunday night's  “My VH1 Awards,” Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora opened the show with a performance of the same Harrison classic.

“We'll miss you George,”' said Jon at the song’s end.

It was during Friday night's VH1 coverage that I realized how much more Harrison had impacted my life than I had even realized. For example, his 1971 “Concert For Bangla Desh” is usually credited as being the first all-star benefit show in history and paved the way for other such musical endeavors as “Live Aid” and “Amnesty International.” And it is clearly those type shows - albeit on a much smaller scale - that those of us involved with the annual “Concert For Karen”' have used as a model. The idea of uniting musicians for a good cause - which we do every April to honor our friend's memory and fight leukemia - can be actually be attributed to Harrison.

I also got a little laugh on Friday, courtesy of Harrison, as I recalled how I've sometimes quoted his 1987 hit “Got My Mind Set On You” as it has occasionally fit into my own personal life. It seems the Lord has given me with a few gifts in life - I always got good grades on term papers and I could always sting a baseball pretty good - but I have clearly not been blessed with the gift of patience. When I want to do something, I usually want to do it right now. And it has been during those times - when “now” might not be possible - that I have always quoted Harrison with a smile, and tried to heed his words:
“It's gonna take time, a whole lotta precious time - it's gonna take patience and time to do it right.”

I'm still working on that one.
Perhaps the best part VH1's coverage was a repeat of Harrison's last interview with the network, which occurred in 1997. Harrison, who was still in good health at the time, displayed a calm and genuinely happy demeanor throughout the conversation. And although he had obviously also explored many other interests, his love for music remained, and his spiritual journey -which defined him as a person throughout most of his life - was ongoing. Here was a man, I thought, who was totally at peace with himself and with life.

I'm sure he is in that same place today.
Thank you, George Harrison.

Thanks for the lessons of life, thanks for nice desk and the fun job, and thanks - more than anything - for the wonderful music.

We will miss you. 

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