They were the greatest and most influential act of the rock era and introduced more innovations into popular music than any other rock band of the 20th century. Some said it couldn’t really be happening, that it was just publicity. The others said, they couldn’t last more than a month or two, that nobody could hang on to that kind of fame. The Beatles, of course, proved them wrong.
The “Fab Four” from Liverpool, England energized the lives of virtually all who heard them. Their arrival triggered the musical revolution of the Sixties, introducing a modern sound and viewpoint that parted ways with the world of the previous decade. They helped confer self-identity upon a youthful, music-based culture that flexed its muscle in myriad ways – not just as music consumers but also as a force for political expression, social commentary and contemporary lifestyles.They grabbed a hold of the international mass consciousness in 1964 and never let go for the next six years, always staying ahead of the pack in terms of creativity but never losing their ability to communicate their increasingly sophisticated ideas to a mass audience. They synthesized all that was good about early rock & roll, and changed it into something original and even more exciting. They established the prototype for the self-contained rock group that wrote and performed its own material.
Wherever they went, they brought Beatlemania with them. They couldn’t help it; it was a form of real love. George would say many years later that the world used them as an excuse to go mad and then blamed it on the Beatles, but there is a parallel theory, that it was time for the world to go that sort of mad.
Of the four members of the world’s most famous band, the Beatles guitarist, George Harrison made the least effort at being a public figure, but despite this fact, the quiet Beatle earned a reputation as one of the most talented and influential individuals born to rock & roll.
George showed his independent nature at an early age, defying his school’s age-old dress code by wearing jeans and growing long hair. George was 12 or 13, when he heard Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” playing from a nearby house and was hooked, from that point on, the former good student lost interest in school. He sat at the back of the class and tried drawing guitars in his schoolbooks. At age 13 his mother bought him his first guitar.
In 1956, 14 year old Harrison joined the Quarrymen – which included John Lennon and Paul McCartney. When they changed their name to the Beatles in 1960, he was only 17 – the youngest of the Fab Four.
Not old enough to join the group, George hung around with the boys, and came to idolize John, doing everything he could to emulate him. George stood in the back of the room at all their shows with his guitar. The other band members thought nothing more of him then a kid who was just tagging along. But his persistence paid of when the other Quarrymen let him play when they were short a guitarist. Although never formally accepted into the band, he was soon a full-fledged member. The youthful Harrison’s mastery of guitar impressed the skeptical Lennon.
Six years later, they were the four most famous and musical men on earth, the best dressed and the most captivating people anyone can remember. Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting genius, Harrison’s guitar-playing prowess, Starr’s artful simplicity as a drummer, and the solid group harmonies were a hallmark of their recordings. The narrative that began where Paul met John and clicked at a garden fete in leafy Liverpool.
As the songwriting of Lennon and McCartney became world-known, George started to concentrate more on writing songs as well, but many of the early songs written while with the Beatles went unrecorded. The first Beatles song written by George was “Don’t Bother Me”. Some of the best-loved late songs of the Beatles that Harrison wrote include “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “I Me Mine” and “Here Comes the Sun”, which was written in the back garden of Harrison’s close friend Eric Clapton.
As a songwriter, George’s talent was never fully realized until the end of the Beatles’ career. After the dissolution of The Beatles in 1970, Harrison embarked on his solo career in bold fashion. Harrison’s 11 solo albums (not counting best-of’s) include the masterful All Things Must Pass (1970) and a memorable late-career milestone, Cloud Nine (1987). The groundbreaking debut triple-album All Things Must Pass and its first single, “My Sweet Lord” went straight to number one, the former eventually selling over seven million copies. Harrison returned to pop stardom with 1987’s Cloud Nine, a platinum album co-produced with former ELO frontman Jeff Lynne featuring the hit “Got My Mind Set On You.” Their collaboration inspired Harrison to form the Traveling Wilburys with Lynne and their friends Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison. The Wilburys wrote and recorded two successful albums.
George was the first Beatle to tour the U.S. as a solo artist and also launched his own label (Dark Horse Records). He wrote and sang about spirituality and transcendence. He immersed himself in Indian music at Beatlemania’s height and became a lifelong devotee of Hindu religion, Krishna consciousness and Vedic philosophy.
In 1971 Harrison organized the Concert for Bangladesh, a benefit to provide humanitarian relief to a nation that had been ravaged by natural disaster and civil war. The concert, the first all-star benefit rock show, showcased Harrison as a frontman with contributions from his friends Shankar, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Bob Dylan and Ringo Starr.
In 1978, Harrison co-founded HandMade Films in order to finance Monty Python’s Life of Brian. HandMade went on to produce several landmark films, re-energizing the independent British film industry in the 1980s. In 2002, Harrison was recognized with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Independent Film awards.
After Lennon’s murder, George paid tribute to Lennon with his song “All Those Years Ago” which was released in 1981, six months after Lennon’s murder. In it, he admitted “I always look up to you”, thereby implicitly agreeing with Lennon’s appraisal of their relationship.
He was married twice, to model Pattie Boyd from 1966 to 1974, and to record company secretary Olivia Trinidad Arias, for 23 years, with whom he had one son, Dhani Harrison. He is the only Beatle to have published an autobiography with I Me Mine in 1980. The last ten years of Harrison’s life were largely lived out of the limelight. In I Me Mine, Harrison wrote, “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 and partying. I stay at home and watch the river flow.” Harrison died of lung cancer in 2001. “There’s high, and there’s high, and to get really high – I mean so high that you can walk on the water, that high – that’s where I’m going.”
Many sides of George Harrison — the artist and the archivist, the mystic and the mystery — are all on display in a new documentary, “George Harrison: Living in the Material World,” directed by Martin Scorsese. Using rare and never before seen footage from George Harrison’s childhood, throughout his years as a Beatle, through the ups and downs of his solo career, and through the joys and pain of his private life, Academy-Award winning director Martin Scorsese traces the arc of George’s journey from his birth in 1943 to his passing in 2001.
Despite its epic reach, the film is deeply personal. Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Olivia and Dhani Harrison, among many others, talk openly about George’s many gifts and contradictions and reveal the lives they shared together.
In the US, “George Harrison: Living In The Material World” debuted in two parts on October 5 and October 6, 2011, exclusively on HBO. In the UK, the film was released as DVD, Blu-Ray and Deluxe packages on October 10, 2011 by Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK. Coinciding with the film, Abrams Books will publish Olivia Harrison’s George Harrison: Living In The Material World, a personal archive of photographs, letters, diaries and memorabilia from George’s life – available worldwide beginning late October.
Despite the brilliance of his songwriting, Harrison never escaped from his reputation as the quietest and most inscrutable of The Beatles. Scorsese’s documentary makes us warm to his personality and talent without quite pricing him out of the shadow that Lennon and McCartney still cast over him and his career after all these years.
“I remember thinking I just want more. This isn’t it. Fame is not the goal. Money is not the goal. To be able to know how to get peace of mind, how to be happy, is something you don’t just stumble across. You’ve got to search for it.” George Harrison.