The Quiet Wilbury
IT HAPPENED JUST A FEW YEARS AGO. THOUGH THE MOMENT ALREADY. FEELS APOCRYPHAL. FRANK SINATRA WAS PERFORMING ON A TV SPECIAL. PAYING TRIBUTE TO THE BEST POP SONGWRITERS OF OUR TIME, IN HIS ESTIMATION. NOW FRANK HAS NEVER BEEN A BIG FAN OF ROCK ’N' ROLL, WHICH HE ONCE DESCRIBED AS "THE MOST BRUTAL, UGLY, DEGENERATE, VICIOUS FORM OF EXPRESSION IT HAS BEEN MY DISPLEASURE TO HEAR*; SO IT WAS QUITE AN EAR-OPENER ON THIS NIGHT TO HEAR HIM LAVISHING PRAISE ON THE SONGWRITING TEAM OF JOHN LENNON AND PAUL MCCARTNEY. SINATRA SAID HE WOULD LIKE TO SALUTE THEM BY SINGING ONE OF THE MANY FINE SONGS FROM THEIR CATALOG. THE ORCHESTRA STRUCK UP THE MELODY AND FRANK BEGAN TO CROON: "SOMETHING IN THE WAY SHE MOVES..."
THE LESSON WAS TWO-FOLD. ON THE ONE HAND, SINATRA'S BENEDICTION WAS FINAL, IRREVOCABLE PROOF THAT THE MUSIC OF THE BEATLES HAD JOINED GERSHWIN AND COLE PORTER IN THE PANTHEON OF POP CLASSICS, AS FOR GEORGE HARRISON, WHO HAD ACTUALLY COMPOSED "SOMETHlNG, SINATRA’S GLITCH PRETTY MUCH, UH, WELL...
“SUMMED ME UP? HARRISON LAUGHS GOOD-NATUREDLY. "YEAH. I REMEMBER I MET MICHAEL JACKSON YEARS AGO. AT THE BBC IN LONDON. THE DISC JOCKEY MENTIONED ’SOMETHING,’ AND HE TURNED AROUND: 'DID YOU WRITE THAT? NOW HE’S PROBABLY LOOKING THROUGH THE CATALOG GOING, “WHERE IS THAT SONG—I THOUGHT I BOUGHT IT!" GEORGE LAUGHS AGAIN LIGHTLY AT THE THOUGHT.
The Wilburys was like the Rutles: The first album took 20 minutes, the second album took even longer.”
“Well,” he says, “I was the quiet one.”
IT WAS 20 YEARS ago today, more or less, that George and a couple of cohorts named Paul and Ringo (John wasn’t around) laid down the tracks to “1 Me Mine,” the last recording by the Beatles. As a band and phenomenon the Fab Four did just about everything right, including quitting while the quitting was good. All that was left for the four individuals who once comprised the group was to live the rest of their lives in the public eye and figure out a way to make it seem like more than a postscript.
And you know it don’t come easy. Having spent most of the 70s acting out his therapies in public, John finally found a measure of serenity and was promptly martyred. Paul, the melodic genius, put out a ton of hits and more junk than Journey. The happy-go-lucky Ringo ended up in detox. Only George, the least at ease with his stardom—“I’ve never felt that comfortable with people looking at me, the kind of stuff that goes with it”—has carried on with real dignity, which says as much for his character as his talent
Of course you can’t tell him that; part of Harrison’s charm is his self-deprecating humor and lack of pretense. Sitting on a couch in one of the more nondescript offices of Warner Bros. Records, he’s wearing a T-shirt, jeans and a light jacket The familiar mop top is in he’s clean-shaven, which makes him look younger than a guy with 30 years in the biz, though as Harrison genially points out, “I’ve been trying to retire for 20.”
He’s only half kidding. A graph charting his career since 1970 would look like a suspension bridge with two peaks: one right after the Beatles broke up, with All Things Must Pass and the benefit concerts for Bangladesh, and the second right now, with Cloud Nine and his role putting together the Traveling Wilburys. In between there have been some good tunes and some records best forgotten, as indeed they have been. Sensing creative burnout, George sensibly took a five-year hiatus from making records during the ’80s, in which time Handmade Films, his movie production partnership with Denis O’Brien, turned out such gems as Mona Lisa and Withnail and l (and yes, Shanghai Surprise).
Through it all he’s maintained a moderately jaundiced view of his place in the music biz. A new song, “Cockamamie Business,” underscores the point, recounting Harrison’s ups and downs with the Beatles with a kind of rueful good cheer. “Didn’t want to be a star,” he sings at one point, “wanted just to play guitar.”
“Actually I should have made it ‘sitar,’” George cracks.
“I know I’m supposed to be a guitar player,” he goes on more seriously, “but 1 don’t really feel like one. I’m not someone like, say, Eric Clapton. We can talk about him ’cause he’s my friend and I know about him, he’ll just plug in his guitar, listen to the tune and blow on it and be of a certain standard immediately. I have to figure out what I’m gonna do and maybe even learn a part I’m just not that fluent with it.” *
That opinion is open to debate. Co-Wilbury Jeff Lynne calls George, “a great guitar player. When he strikes up on the slide there’s nobody better; his precision, his vibrato is perfect. But he always plays it down.”
With buddy Eric Clapton: He’s good enough to play on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”— but not the Wilburys.
Photograph: Mike Wehrman/Star File
“I’m not playing it down,” George counters. “I’m just not playing it up! I think Keith [Richards] is one of the best rock ’n’ roll rhythm guitar players. I don’t think he’s very good at lead. But this is what I feel about myself too: What we do is make records, and the records have some good guitar parts on them. I like Keith enormously, I think he’s great, but he’s not Albert or B.B. King. Anyway, the main thing about him is that he has the confidence,” George smiles. “So even if it’s not perfect he doesn’t care.”
But isn’t there a virtue in concise, structured solos? Isn’t that what was sacrificed when guitar heroes came into vogue?
“Well, I’m certainly not a guitar hero,” George avers.
Maybe not, but Eric Clapton’s solos on Cloud Nine owe more to the style of Beatles’65 than Cream.
“Oh, exactly. But I’ve never been one to force myself on everything,
I like to have input from other people. If I have a song that calls for a kind of Eric Clapton guitar part, I daresay I could practice for our or so and do a part decent enough for the record. But all I’m doing is denying myself the opportunity of having Eric around and hanging out with him for a bit
“I’m not trying to be the best guitar player. I don’t really care about it To me, you can get the greatest guitar player in the world and in my eyes he’s still nothing compared to the musicians I really admire, the Ravi Shankars of the world. I’ve got a record in my bag now of a 12- year-old Indian guy playing electric mandolin who will blow away those guys in the heavy-metal bands, no question about it. It doesn’t impress me to hear some guy play this noisy fast shit I’d rather hear Robert Johnson or Ry Cooder or Segovia. Those are the guitar players I like. But you know I like everything basically—except noisy headbanging shit.” He laughs. “And drum computers and DX7s and reverb!
“So I’m not impressed by all these guitar players. I could have become an adequate player. I could learn how to play like B.B. King; he plays the same lick all his life! He plays it very well. But it’s not my goal to play this lick that everybody else can play anyway. You can’t be everything in life. I’m just thankful that I’m here. And whatever I do, why, that’s it.”
In his unobtrusive way, Harrison does quite a lot “He has so many ideas,” says Jeff Lynne, who co-produced Cloud Nine. “Maybe in a half an hour late at night he’ll have a hundred and you’ll have to write them all down. Partly the thing you’re working on but then other projects as well.”
It was one such light bulb that launched the Traveling Wilburys. During the making of Cloud Nine he and Lynne had imagined putting together a band of their favorite musicians. After the record was finished, Harrison discovered that radio markets in England and Germany wouldn’t accept a single unless it was accompanied by an extended mix of the track or a non-album B-side. He nixed the idea of an extended mix (“I did that once before and it was like a pig’s nose”), but he didn’t have any extra tracks in the can either.
“So I thought, ‘I’ll just write a song tomorrow.’ I was having dinner with Roy Orbison and Jeff [who was producing tracks for Orbison’s album], and Roy said, ‘Can I come?’ We couldn’t find a studio at the time so we went over to Dylan’s house to do it and he happened to be in.” Tom Petty, who was also working on a record with Lynne, was invited over to complete the quintet and within a day Harrison had his song: “Handle with Care.”
“Then the record company said, ‘Oh, we can’t put that out, it’s too good!”’ Harrison recalls. “So I thought, Well, we’ll just have to do another nine songs and make an album. ’We got everyone to agree and did the other nine the same way, writing them like we had to be done by tomorrow.”
The other songs came together as naturally as they sound: five guys sitting around in a circle with acoustic guitars. Someone would come up with a chord sequence, another would contribute lyrics or a bridge. “We usually went by group decision,” Tom Petty re- calls. ‘We were pretty honest with each other. In recording or writing, when somebody gets the right part, everybody knows. The lucky thing is that it was all real talented people around—and good people, you know, no negativity, nobody wanting to be more famous than anybody. It was fun.”
In nine days they’d written all the songs. “It was like the Rutles,” George says. “The first album took 20 minutes, the second album took even longer.”
TaIking about the Wilburys lights Harrison up; he’s as much a fan of the other members as their peer. Particularly Dylan, whose songs Harrison has covered (“If Not for You”), co-written (“I’d Have You Anytime”) or modeled his own after (“Long Long Long” has the same changes as “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands”).
“I’ve had the same list of favorites for years,” he says, “from Little Richard and Larry Williams to Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins. And then 1963—Bob Dylan. I think his voice is great, I love that sort of madness. And as a person he’s somebody who—well, as he said, Time will tell who has fell and who’s been left behind.’ Bob is still out there and whether you like him or not he’s Bob. I’ve always listened to his music. I’m thankful there’s people like that”
He looks up at a framed photo of the Wilburys hanging on the office wall, the same rumpled likeness that adorns the front of the record. “I love that picture,” he says. “I realized there was only going to be this one day the five of us would be together so I got a guy to take some pictures. It was really quick and they weren’t that good. But we blew it up, made it all dirty, threw it on the floor, stepped on it a bit and ripped it up,” George observes drily. “And it became much better.”
You might think the Wilburys myth satisfies some longing for the one experience George missed as a Beatle—a bunch of friends playing music for fun, unencumbered by the trappings of success.
With Hall of Flame mate Ringo Starr: His drumming was fine for the Fabs—but sorry, Richie. You're no Wilbury.
Photograph: Ebet Roberts
“In a way,” he concedes. “But more than that it was that thing that went on in the late ’60s and 70s, the big craze of supergroups and superjams and everything was super duper. Just getting some famous people together doesn’t guarantee success. More often than not it’s just a clash of personalities and a big ego detour.
“So I thought we should play it down. Rather than the record company’s natural choice: Look what we’ve got! It took a while to give them the idea of ‘Let’s lighten up a bit.’ And when we do another Wilbury album,” he declares, making his intentions clear, “it’s gonna be just as much fun—otherwise I’m not doing it.”
Is there any desire to add more Wilburys?
“Well, you go back to the Beatles, there were so many fifth Beatles, about 5001 think. What I saw as the Wilburys was an attitude, basically. I see loads of people out there who have what I call The Wilbury Attitude. Somebody wrote in a paper things like, ‘Little Richard is a Wilbury. Madonna wouldn’t be a Wilbury but Cyndi Lauper would be.’ It was quite funny. I could make a list now with 20 people who would be wonderful in the Wilburys but the thing is, the way it happened it happened on its own.
“You can’t replace Roy Orbison. Now Roy just happened to be there like we were there and it was right Brilliant It’s not every day you form a group with aft these legends. That’s not to say there aren’t other Wilburys floating around out there. But the four of us need to talk, really, and then keep an openness about it The more you try to conceive what it will be....
“But we could have the Wilbury B-team,” he says, brightening at the thought. “Like We Are the World—we could have We Are the Wilburys! I’d love to do that. Maybe it won’t even be the Wilburys, maybe it will be... the Trundling Wheelbarrows. Or the Smegmas: Betty, Doris, Gladys and Cyril Smegma. Volume 7.”
You mean several records are already out of print?
“I think so. And what about the bootlegs? The Silver Wilburys, have you heard of them?” George flashes a flinty look. “Some people have got a nerve.”
We could have a Wilbury B-team. Like 'We Are the World', it could be 'We Are the Wilburys'."
Though a second Wilburys disc can’t match the original’s surprise, “I think the songs can be just as spontaneous,” he decides. “We can make it with the same vibe and atmosphere. But there is gonna be an element where people are already primed for it. I mean, I remember the second Beatles single that ever came out. And New Musical Express wrote, ‘Below Par Beatles.’
“Now maybe they’ll say this one is better,” George shrugs. “But that’s not the point. It’s to keep on going and lighten up a bit. Everybody is so serious.”
There was a time when fans might have directed that last admonition at George himself. He was always the least scrutable Beatle, the only one whose personality seemed in some way constricted by the dynamics of the band. The first song he wrote was “Don’t Bother Me,” “and that pretty much summed up my state of mind at the time,” he admits.
“John and Paul were really getting into writing songs. I took a look at them and thought, ‘Well, I’ll get in on this game. I’m gonna try that.’ But having them as the other writers in the group, it was very difficult,” he notes with considerable understatement. “So I tended to just write on my own for years and years, because I didn’t know how to communicate like that with somebody else. And it was very difficult to write songs that would be good enough for the albums.”
As a consequence, Harrison’s relatively small output with the Beatles—about 20 songs—are mostly gems. In any other ’60s group, a guy who wrote “If I Needed Someone,” “Taxman,” “You Like Me Too Much,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Something”
Without You” would have been hailed as a pop savant; within the Beatles Harrison might as well have been playing Graham Greene’s The Third Man. And as the Lennon-McCartney copyright was more or less sacrosanct, Harrison’s contributions to their songs were never credited.
“I had my one or two songs occasionally, but really I was more involved than that,” he says. “I know now, writing with friends, that when you’re all sitting around and a song comes out, you have to think carefully about assigning how many percent each person gets. ’Cause there’s nothing worse than being involved in a situation where you think, ‘Wasn’t I there?’
“A lot of Lennon-McCartney songs had other people involved, whether it’s lyrics or structures or circumstance. A good example is ‘I Feel Fine.’ I’ll tell you exactly how that came about: We were crossing Scotland in the back of an Austin Princess, singing ‘Matchbox’ in three-part harmony. And it turned into ‘I Feel Fine.’ The guitar part was from Bobby Parker’s Watch Your Step,’ just a bastardized version.
I was there for the whole of its creation—hut it’s still a Lennon-McCartney.”
“Tell me about it!” Paul McCartney smiles when told of George’s comment “I wrote “Yesterday’ singlehanded and not only do I share it—now with Yoko—but the Lennon name comes before mine.” Paul concedes the point about “I Feel Fine” but suggests that “if you were to get picky about all that stuff there’s a million woes and a million reasons to sing the blues. In actual fact we just decided to split it down the middle. Me and John were the writers, unless George came up with something. Anybody who threw half a line in, it just really didn’t count”
The most exclusive men’s club in the world: The Traveling Wilburys’ co-op board rejects another nominee.
Photograph: Neal Preston
All you need is love, indeed. What finally seemed to catalyze Harrison’s emergence as a distinct voice in the band was the Beatles 1966 trip to India. For John it was another whistlestop on the endless road to self-discovery; for George it was sustenance. He studied Indian music and the sitar (“really sort of a wobbly guitar”), an obvious influence on what later became his signature sound on slide. More importantly, perhaps, the coupling of Indian music with Buddhist philosophy helped provide a framework for Harrison’s spiritual and social consciousness.
“I could see how risky it was to make a song like ‘My Sweet Lord,’” George observes. “People think you’re bying to be like Billy Graham. At the same time, though, everybody’s talking about love and peace and happiness, and where do you find that? You’ve got to find it by getting inside yourself and contacting...”
Your spiritual source?
“Yeah. I think the experiences we had in those years—plus certain substances people put in our coffee—sped up the growth process. If I hadn’t been in a band it might have taken much longer. But in the ’60s we’d all sit around smoking stuff and thinking great ideas. And after a fewyears I thought, “Wait a minute, nobody’s doing anything!’ ”
One thing Harrison did, of course, was organize the 1971 benefit concerts for Bangladesh, an unprecedented event that has since become the inspirational model for large-scale charity benefits by the rock music community.
Harrison was drawn into the project, he recalls, through his friendship with Ravi Shankar. “To me [the starvation] was something happening in the newspapers. Tb him, a Bengali, it was intolerable.
He was going to do the show, I was just going to introduce him. But then [I decided to] plug it into the Beatles concept, particularly John Lennon’s idea that you might as well make a film and a record and get some money going. Regardless of what people say, it did take a long time but it raised $11 million. Of course that doesn’t seem like much these days,” George notes.
There’s also been a strong political thread throughout Harrison’s music, from the recent “Cockamamie Business” back to the White Album’s “Piggies.” “That was social comment, and it’s still the same today. Especially now, with glasnost, and communism going away, they’ve got to have a good reason not to give that money to the poor, or redivert it into helping the planet become safe and unpolluted.” He mentions his involvement in a British environmental movement “similar to what Meryl Streep’s doing in America, Parents for Safe Food. The poison is everywhere, on your potatoes, tomatoes—not to mention the air we breathe. The basic problem is that the agrochemical industries have a stranglehold on the government. They’re all in cahoots.” George laughs sharply. “They’re probably all freemasons as well.
“What we need is an honest army that goes around busting those guys, because they’re the ones ruining this planet. But then what you find is that the people causing the most environmental damage are the industrialists. And the Dow Jones people. Buy buy buy! Sell sell sell! This madness that Reagan and Thatcher created, this idea that everyone is much better off now, everyone is more in debt, there’s more concrete, we’ve sacrificed the planet for the motor car... that’s why I can’t practice the guitar anymore,” George sighs. “I’m so crazed by what they’ve done to our planet”
Though he’s more comfortable with his privacy, Harrison isn’t shy about using his celebrity to promote progressive causes. “If you’ve got a platform to speak from, you should speak,” he says flatly. “But it’s always musicians and film people who are doing the work government is really supposed to be doing. They collect taxes to take care of everybody, and instead they’re off playing their little games with missiles. And the same people who call this the devil’s music are the ones complaining, “Who do these people think they are?’ It’s like you can’t win. But it also shows there are a lot of good people out there. And most of them are musicians!”
Of course musicians aren’t immune from internecine warfare either, as Harrison knows well. A few days earlier, he and his fellow Fabs finally resolved their 20-year lawsuit with Capitol, EMI and each other. The long and winding settlement constrains the principals involved from talking about the details of the suit to the press. “You know why we can’t,” Harrison deadpans. “The settlement was about 10 feet thick. I don’t think anybody but the lawyers has read it
“It’s a good feeling to be done with it,” he admits, visibly relaxing as he speaks. “It’s like your life is all these little knots you’re trying to undo before it’s too late. And this is another, incredibly big knot that has now just gone away. The funny thing is, most of the people who were involved with the reason that lawsuit came about aren’t even in the companies anymore. So the people at Capitol and EMI had to take on the karma of their predecessors, and I’m sure that now they’re relieved too.”
So this also ends the lawsuits among the Beatles themselves?
“Oh yeah, because everything was hinging on everything else. It gets rid of that too. But it doesn’t wash away the politics of it. Some of the original causes can’t go away in my mind. Because there’s certain things that never should have happened in the first place.”
“Meaning, if I stab you in the back and you happen to get to the hospital and don’t die, it may mean that you might still not like me. Or you may not want to see me, in case I did it again.”
With ally Ravi Shankar: The good news is, we’ll do a big concert for Bangladesh.
Bad news—you can’t be a Wilbury.
Photograph: J. Mayer/Star File
Oh. So what kind of a relationship do you and Paul have these days? “We don’t have a relationship.” Long pause. “I think of him as a good Mend really, but a friend I don’t have that much in common with anymore. You know, you meet people in your life, or you’re remarried and then you’re divorced. You wish the other person well, but life has taken you to other places. Tb friendlier climes.” Does that mean you won’t be going to his show? “You mean because I happen to be in L.A. while he’s playing here? No. I don’t want to go to his show because... I’ve heard all them tunes anyway. And secondly, I was not in town when Ringo did his show. I would have loved to have seen that, and I don’t want Ringo to think that I’m not supporting him and I’m supporting Paul. I do wish him well,” George sighs. “There’s always a place in my heart for Paul... and Linda... and Hamish Stuart, I like Hamish. But you know ...don’t look back.”
Ironically, while George is saying this, across town at the Forum Paul McCartney is holding a press conference during which he expresses the desire to write songs with George and reunite with George and Ringo. The next day the Warners office is inundated with inquiries about Harrison’s reaction to Paul’s proposal for what is inevitably dubbed a Beatles reunion. Harrison releases a one-sentence reply: “There will be no Beatles reunion so long as John Lennon remains dead.”
On a happier note, he confirms that the resolution of the lawsuit clears a path for official release of previously unissued Beatles rough tracks and demos. “We’ve got the real versions of the ones that have been bootlegged, and we’ve got plans to put all that out. And the BBC has a lot of tapes. I just realized that I’ve got a really good bootleg tape, demos we made at my house on an Ampex four-track during the White Album. Mainly there’s different versions of stuff, and stuff that people know of as bootlegs from our club days.
“Let’s face it,” he declares, “the Beatles catalog will go on forever with Capitol and EMI; now it’s easier for us to deal with that They still own the masters, but at least with our relationship with them, they’ll come out in a way where everyone is happy. We used to take such care about the running order and which tracks were on it and how many. But after our original contract expired there’d be all this weird stuff coming out. Occasionally they’d send you a copy and say here’s your new album.”
Mo Ostin, Warner Bros, president, enters the room to say hello.
I’m not impressed by all these guitar players.
George is clearly on better terms with his current label. “Mo is a real person,” Harrison says admiringly after Ostin departs. It turns out George has been bending Ostin’s ear about getting the company to cut down on wasteful packaging and use recycled paper. “It sounds like small stuff, but if I can get him at it, he can get other labels going. I daresay there’s already other companies thinking along these lines.”
Harrison has learned a lot about corporate machinations, having developed a second career running a film company. But he remains a reluctant mogul. “I once asked Brian Epstein how much money we were getting for a gig, and after that someone said, ‘Oh yeah, he’s the business Beatle.’ I hate business! I know a lot about it now, but I hate looking at bits of paper and reading all that stuff. It gets in the way of what I really want to do.”
For all that, Harrison’s drolly comic sensibility is evident in many of the pictures produced under his aegis (Time Bandits, Life of Brian, How to Get Ahead in Advertising), not to mention his advisory role in putting together the Ruffes movie, at once the ultimate Beatles parody and tribute “We started making films because they had to be done and no one else would do them, or it was a project that was very close to us personally,” he explains. “But after a point we were making movies because we had all these people working for us. So I wanted to deflate that and pull the plug on it a little bit, which we’ve done. I mean, this is the frightening thing about the film and the music industry. There’s too many people, too much product. And I hate the arrogance of big films, the way it’s all painting by numbers. It’s all a package now: ‘You’ve got this great film but I’m not letting my client be in it because he’s only gonna be in films that my other client directs. And anyway your little film company can’t afford six million for this asshole actor.’ Ah well,” George concludes, “it’s cockamamie business.”
In any event, winding down Handmade Films’ schedule dovetails with Harrison’s current plans which are basically to take things easier. In the last year, he’s written or produced tunes for Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne and Belinda Carlisle (of all people), and composed “Cheer Down” for the soundtrack of Lethal Weapon 2 (of all films). The latter appears on a recently released Harrison collection entitled The Best of Dark Horse, which fulfills his current contract with Warner Bros.
“I was really tired after the last two years, doing Cloud Nine and the promotion of it right into the making of the Wilburys. And that really wiped me out, ’cause in a way I was the Wilburys’ manager. In the recording studio 1 was doing everything, all the art work and coordinating publishing deals so everyone was happy, trying to get the record deal... I was so stressed out at the end of that period I thought, ‘Well, next year I’ll just compile the album I owe the record company and do a few tunes for it.’
“Because I’m really waiting for Tom to get off the road and for Bob to finish his never-ending tour and for Jeff to finish his album. I don’t want to do another solo album at the moment. I want to be in a band.”
Though it’s too bad Roy won’t be part of it.
“Yeah.” It gets quiet for a minute. “But you know,” George says gently, “it’s all a dream anyway, this life. From birth to death, it’s only just the coin’s flipped over to the other side for a bit. I’m not afraid of death. I’d like to die nicely, peacefully somewhere; I don’t want to be impaled in a Boeing 707 or something. At the same time, death is the only guarantee you have in life.”
Still, it must have been hard to come to grips with the way John died.
In the ’60s George sat for a long time.
Then he got up and started writing songs, producing films and suing Capitol.
Photograph: David Redfern/Retna
‘Well, that was because it was such a waste, some stupid person. If John had been killed by Elvis, it would have at least had meaning! But it was pointless and pathetic, and in such a violent and sneaky way. At times I flash on it when people call your name from behind: ‘Mr. Lennon, will you sign this?’... That guy Chapman cast a very7 dark cloud over any fan who happens to be standing on the pavement when you come by. You don’t know who’s crackers and who isn’t.
“The idea of John not being here doesn’t bother me so much because—he is here, to me. That’s what the whole life of Christ was, to show people, “You dug him then— re-dig him now. ‘To realize that it’s the spirit, not the body. And I’ve learned that over the years. In a way, you don’t need a living guru in front of you, because he’s in front of your spiritual eye, every time you close your eyes and go inside. They’re all there, all our friends and loved ones, all our relatives. Everybody is there. So the way he died was tragic. But...” George starts to sing: “If your memory serves you well, we’re gonna meet again...”
In “All Those Years Ago,” the song Harrison wrote not long after John Lennon’s death, he sang, “Living with good and bad/I always looked up to you.” It struck a nice balance, affectionate without mythologizing who Lennon really was.
“That’s the problem that’s happened since,” George observes. “Okay, John was special. But there’s other special people too. .All these people like Janis and Jimi Hendrix, once they died they became these super, incredible people. But I think it’s harder to live, in a way. It’s much easier to die. And in fact living and dying are the same thing, the moment you’re born you’ve started the road to death. I don’t mean that in some ugly pathetic way. It’s reality.
“John, he was a good lad. There’s a part of him that was saintly, that aspired to the truth and to great things. And there’s a part of him that was just, you know, a loony! Like the rest of us. But he was honest; if he was a bastard one day, he’d say, ‘I’m sorry, I was wrong.’ And just deflate any negative feeling you had about him.
“We’d been close and distant. The fact that he was living in New York meant I never saw him for a long time. The autumn of 781 went up to the Dakota, I think that was the last time. But he’d send postcards—like the Rutles,” George chuckles. “So when I’m in England, I can still think of John in New York. I never saw him anyway, he could still be there for all I know. You know what I mean? They can kill the man, but they can’t kill the spirit. They can’t kill what he meant to you.”