“I have suffered for this book; now it’s your turn.” – George Harrison
George Harrison was in some ways the most interesting Beatle. Highly logical, he spent the majority of his life imbuing himself in the spiritual life. A member of the most famous band of the 20th century, he eschewed the life of a celebrity preferring to work in his garden. A spiritual seeker, he adored Formula One racing and owned dozens of expensive sports cars in his life. According to some sources, while he publicly espoused a disciplined, even seemingly ascetic lifestyle, he was a notorious womanizer who even had an affair with close friend Ringo’s first wife Maureen.
So who was the real George Harrison?
If one goes to the source, Harrison himself, as revealed in his decidedly non-autobiographical autobiography, I Me Mine for answers, one will be disappointed. Chatty, direct, charming, humorously self-disparaging, Harrison provides the reader with a sense of who he was – in conversation.
Beyond that, one shouldn’t expect too much.
Harrison, in conversation with Beatles’ press officer and close friend Derek Taylor, opens up about favorite topics: life in the Beatles, his spiritual quest, songwriting, and gardening.
On life in the Beatles:
Your own space, man, it’s so important. That’s why we were doomed because we didn’t have any. It is like monkeys in a zoo. They die. You know, everything needs to be left alone.
On the quest for spiritual enlightenment:
Most people’s reality is an illusion, a great big illusion. You automatically have to succumb to the illusion that ‘I am this body’. I am not George. I am not really George. I am this living thing that goes on, always has been, always will be, but at
this time I happen to be in ‘this’ body. The body has changed; was a baby, was a young man, will
soon be an old man, and I’ll be dead. The
physical body will pass but this bit in the middle,
that’s the only reality. All the rest is the illusion,
so to say that somebody thinks we are, the ex-
Beatles are removed from reality in their personal concept. It does not have any truth to it just because somebody thinks it. They are the concepts which become layer upon layer of illusion. Why live in the darkness all your life? Why, if you are unhappy, if you are having a miserable time, why not just look at it. Why are you in the darkness? Look for the light. The light is within. That is the big message….
So it’s the unwinding of your nervous system. The corresponding experience to what winds you up comes out in your dreams. To write a song then, even one like Don’t Bother Me, helps to get rid of some subconscious burden. Writing a song is like going to confession.
And finally, on his love of gardening:
I’m really quite simple. I don’t want to be in the business full time, because I’m a gardener. I plant flowers and watch them grow. I don’t go out to clubs. I don’t party. I stay at home and watch the river flow.
Only about 80 pages of I Me Mine are given over to George’s conversations with Derek Taylor. The rest of the book (some 300 pages!) is devoted to Harrison’s songs. For the serious Beatle or Harrison fan, these pages are a treasure trove. George offers brief explanations of the genesis of each work, and there are facsimiles of his handwritten lyrics for almost every song. Harrison’s explanations offer considerable insight into both his writing and his psyche. What surprises is that Harrison often writes least about songs that many treasure most. Here he is recounting the genesis of one of his most beloved songs, “All Things Must Pass”:
When I wrote ‘All Things Must Pass’ was trying to do a Robbie Robertson-Band sort of tune and that is what it turned into. I think the whole idea of ‘All Things Must Pass’ has been written up by all kinds of mystics and ex-mystics including Timothy Leary in his psychedelic poems.
That’s it. George is nothing if not economical, to be sure, but it is surprising to find that he wrote more about obscure album cuts such as “Dark Sweet Lady” and “Far East Man” than about one of his most memorable songs. He’d not be one to puff up his creative process.
That’s George, one realizes somewhere in the reading of I Me Mine. He can be terse, he can be contradictory, he can be dismissive, especially about George Harrison and his work. He was doing his best to be a real person in spite of having led an unreal life. Perhaps this silly bit of Georgiana explains him as well as anything in I Me Mine:
All the world is birthday cake, so take a piece but not too much.