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"George Harrison on George Harrison" illuminates the quiet Beatle

A new book presents 39 years of George Harrison's interviews.
George Harrison on George Harrison

By Bruce Sylvester

Compiled and edited by Ashley Kahn
Chicago Review Press, 573 pages, hardbound.
Publication date: August 4, 2020.

Early in mid-'60s Beatlemania, the Fab Four's youngest member, George Harrison (1943 -2001), was dubbed the quiet Beatle. Yet over 39 years of interviews in this weighty tome, he comes across as thoughtful, goodhearted, modest, spontaneously funny, and candid – at times a spiritual seeker, at others a practical businessman. As for the unexpected stardom bombarding The Beatles (The Spice Boys, he once quips here), “I think we could have been a really good band if we hadn't gotten famous.” “By having the money, we found out that money isn't the answer.” As for the reunion fans longed for and reporters repeatedly asked about, he replied in a 1974 press conference, “If we ever do that, the reason is that we're all broke.” The Eastern religion that gave his life focus gets way more enthusiasm here.

George Harrison on George Harrison is part of Chicago Review Press's ongoing series of similar interview books of Mick Fleetwood, Dolly Parton , and others. Editor Ashley Kahn opens each piece with an intelligent discussion of its background. Inevitably, interviews' quality varies. The book begins with a Liverpool radio transcript done a few weeks following the release of “Love Me Do,” the quartet's first British single. It ends with advice the dying George asked his wife Olivia and son Dhani to share with the world.

Along the way, conversations deal with his solo albums, the Concert for Bangladesh, the joy he found in Indian music, and his involvement with Ravi Shankar. Also, spur-of-the-moment supergroup The Traveling Wilburys (with droll comments on their debut disc's cover photos), his decades of admiration and friendship with Eric Clapton, his environmentalism, and love of gardening.

Yes, as a novice songwriter in a band with the John Lennon/Paul McCartney team, he had trouble getting his compositions onto albums. He relates writing gorgeous “Something” with Ray Charles's vocal style in mind, but then was disappointed with Brother Ray's cover of it. On a BBC Roundtable with Michael Jackson in 1979 , Jackson is surprised to learn that George, not Lennon and McCartney, penned it (as Frank Sinatra too had assumed). George accepts the situation, though over the decades he'll briefly allude to problems with Paul. As for years of legal wrangling with EMI/Capitol Records, interviewer Mark Rowland's quip “The Long and Winding Settlement” is among the plentiful word plays involving song titles.

As for George's behind-the-scenes film-making ventures, Elaine Dutka's article is singularly substantive and concise.

Lennon and Ringo Starr share in a few jocular broadcast interviews. When a British TV host asks, “What's the biggest waste of money you claim to have done?” Ringo looks at his rings and George simply replies, “Apple.”

There's little mention of his years of cancer that eventually felled him on November 29, 2001. Eastern religion and a belief in reincarnation resolved that issue for him. In 1989 he commented, “I'm not afraid of death. All things must pass.”

The quiet Beatle had a lot to share with the world. We can still learn from him.

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