(Copyright © 2001 The Blacklisted Journalist)


I never wrote about George Harrison”s album, All Things Must Pass, at the time it came out.  Probably I was too close to it.  I remember sitting through some of the overdub and mixing sessions in London’s Trident Studios, down an alley off one of t hose narrow, degenerate Soho streets, where geeky looking characters in zooty suits with neckties pulled open under their spread collars stood  outside the tiny clubs in the dim English night like lures to drag you into some ready-made trouble, like dealers in the sinister, as obvious  as if they were wearing sandwich boards. Somehow, George reminded me of a holy man going to his temple in the most sinful part of town.  What did it matter that he went in a Mercedes?

Outside the studio door, whether it rained or not, there was always a handful of Apple Scruffs, they called them---Beatles fans.  One was a girl all the way from Texas.  Sometimes George would record from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., and there they would be, waiting through the night, beggars for a sign of recognition on his way in and out.  In the morning they'd go off to their jobs and in the evening they'd be back outside the studio door again, Their grapevine was infallible.  I wasn't there a minute when they knew that “Big Al from New York” was inside.

I remember listening to the tracks for the first time while sitting in front of the two giant speakers in the studio control booth.  It was as if I was in the front row of some stage hung with curtains and curtains of sound.  I found myself stepping onto the stage and walking through the curtains, brushing each curtain aside until the curtains were so bunched together I could no longer find a path through them.

Even then, the melodies were too enormous for me to fit them into my head.  I would listen to the guitar player every now and then, George or Eric Clapton. Or to the bassist, Carl Radle or Klaus Voormann, or to the drummers, Ringo Starr and Jim Gordon, all taking turns at making their unmistakeable appearances.  But I couldn't carry the tunes away with me, not even after repeated listenings.  I could only remember the, feeling of each of the different songs.

There was a love song---for a lady, of course---but listen closely to the words and maybe it's for Paul McCartney.  There were the two versions of Isn't It A Pity, one to listen to when you miss that certain someone and the other to listen to when you were with her.  There was the Apple Scruffs song, George’s sweet tribute to those kids eternally on his doorstep (the least he could do for them). 

At the core of George's charm, perhaps, is that he always feels so inadequate to repay the world for what the world has given him.  Acts of kindness have become an art with George.

There was My Sweet Lord and The Art of Dying and Beware of Darkness and Wah, Wah," a gentle satire for all those guitar players who use their pedals too often.  For George, he may as well have had a headache as a wah-wah pedal. With Wah, Wah the curtains of sound coalesced into a solid wall.

There were too many tunes to hum when I first heard them.  I kept mumbling, "It'll be a smash, it'll be a smash,” thinking all the while how lame I must be sounding.

There was What Is Life" and Let It Down and the Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp, who built Friar Park, the estate that George now owns, with its underground caverns and miniature Matterhorn and artificial lakes and a hundred rooms full of surprises---including a carving of a monk that smiles at you when you look at it one way and frowns at you when you look at it another way.

It was at Friar Park that he first had sang me most of the songs, Friar Park, where you can now see him on the cover of his album sitting on a stool surrounded by four of the dwarfs who used to help Sir Frankle Crisp collect the thrupence from each visitor who wanted to inspect Sir Frankie's own early version of a Disneyland. Those dwarfs---could they also have signified the Beatles? 

Actually., George had first sang me two of the songs, All Things Must Pass and Behind That Locked Door, on the Isle of Wight the year before. It’s different, obviously, hearing George sing alone with an acoustical guitar rather than with his vocal cemented into that wall of sound in his finished product.  George has a voice which, like his spirit, can harmonize with anyone’s. With the Beatles, that's what it was mostly used for, to harmonize.  It's funny how notable the exceptions were. When George sang lead, always on the songs he himself had written, they turned out to be album cuts that forced themselves into a special category for Beatle fans.  They weren't easily overlooked.  

Something, for example, off the Abbey Road album, has just about outsold every other Beatles single and probably has been honored by as many cover versions as any Paul McCartney or John Lennon tune.  But not on Something nor on any of the cuts from his own album does George's true power as a singer explode before you as it does when you hear him singing alone with an acoustic.

On the one land, he lights you up with a purity you used to think only could be gotten from the folkies up at Cambridge. On the other hand, he dazzles you with a showmanship of vocal trade secrets that only box office heroes know.

"On a high stool with an acoustic guitar in his lap is the way I've always seen him," Derek Taylor used to say about George.  Probably I was just a bit disappointed when I heard his vocals buried in the tracks, but then that might be only a sign of his modesty.  As Ralph Gleason keeps saying, "It's a gorgeous album." Would it have sold more than two million copies if it had been done any other way?  What George's album demonstrates is just how much of the Beatles’ sound came from George.  As for what's left of the Beatle sound, All Things Must Pass proves that George has inherited it.  

What else has George inherited from the Beatles? Their magic, of course.  While John and Paul had gone out of their way to express disdain for this treasure, squandering it as if they were Beckett, giving up his wealth as a test of purity, George has remained its keeper, working hard to insure it remain intact.

He learned too much from being a Beatle to be left with disrespect for what he had experienced.  When John was asked about the success of All Things Must Pass, his answer was that after all those years of working together, some of it had to rub off on George. After all those years of being the “invisible Beatle,” George had suddenly become perhaps the most prominent Beatle.

I remember the fall, of 1970 when George's first solo album was released, it had been on the radio little more than a week when he came to my house in New Jersey for Thanksgiving dinner. It isn't that George's music is directed at teenyboppers but in the few steps it took him to get from his limousine to my front door, a girl fitting the description of a teenybopper caught a glimpse of George as she was walking her dog. She gasped and put her hand to her mouth. By the time dinner was served, the house was surrounded by kids from miles around, all trying to get a peek through the window. That's Beatles magic.

It's also the Beatle curse. Who on earth wants to live that kind of life which your privacy is under constant threat of attack?  But George has learned to live it with the same kind of taste he applies to his music.  The advantage of being a Beatle is, for George, not in having a bunch of screaming teenyboppers trailing at your heels, ready to prostrate

is the most agonizing
way to die

themselves at your whim.  The advantage, rather, is in having the power to do the good works that holy men, through the centuries, have found to be the last resort of their lives.

The advantage is in being able to hold a press conference as he did before his concert for Bangla Desh, not to advertise a concert or a record or his own ego, but to help make the world aware that children were starving to death among us---the most agonizing way to die that there is.

As George said at his press conference, "Music should be used to attain a spiritual realization.”  As the new keeper of the Beatle magic, George has placed it under a lock for which his key is humility.  As he also said at his press conference, "It's a pity I know so little about music."

The Beatles magic? George's announcement that he would play his two concerts in Madison Square Garden Sunday for the benefit of the diseased and starving refugees from the genocidal slaughter of Bengalis in East Pakistan suddenly helped make the catastrophic proportions of that disaster front page news.  Immediately, Bangla Desh was on the cover of Newsweek and Time.  The day after the press conference, they showed films of the horror on the television news while playing George’s new record, Bangla Desh, in the background.

As George also said at his press conference, more important than the money he’s going to raise is the awareness of the problem he's going to disseminate.  Before George first spoke out, you could hardly find a paragraph in the back pages of any newspaper about the six million who fled into India to escape the West Pakistani army. Now the news of this insult to mankind is suddenly finding its way onto everybody’s lips. That's what the Beatle magic, as administered by George, can do.  What we saw in the Garden turned out to be not only the major musical event of our times but an event with far more significance beyond music.

I remember when George's album finally came out and he was in New York with his wife, Pattie, trying to do a little vacationing.  Allen Klein took us all bowling one night up in Riverdale near his house.  We drove down to Broadway, beneath the El, looking for some alleys that weren't crowded and finally found one, a pure greaser joint, as ramrod straight as a cop's night stick.  They weren’t ready for us, George with his long hair and beard, me with mine and Allen with his sweater.  They weren't ready but they didn't crack.

We bowled unmolested for a while.  Then someone put My Sweet Lord on the juke box. A short time later, a girl came in and said there was a call for a "Mr. Harrison" on the wall telephone in the hall outside.  Allen took the call.  Actually, we’d bowled two games without really being bothered.  By the time we left, there were three or four greaser teenyboppers waiting on the sidewalk.

It kept building like that for the duration of George's visit.  It kept building as his records kept getting more and more air play.  One night we went to a press party at Ungano's for Badfinger, the most promising group on George's Apple label. The room was as packed as a can of asparagus tips, but it wasn‘t as if the crowd had come to see Badfinger, it was as if they had come to see George,

He had a center table in front of the stage with everyone else in the room breathing down the back of his neck.   After Badfinger's set, George went backstage to say hello. By the time he was ready to leave, passage through the waiting crowd was almost impossible. With promotion man Pete Bennett running interference, we finally made it through the mob into the waiting limo.

George leaned back in the seat.

“Why,” he said, laughing to himself with amazement, "it's Georgemania!”  ##  




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