April 19, 2015

George Harrison and Me

I have seen Paul McCartney live in concert three times and Ringo Starr once. I was at a press conference with John Lennon (and Yoko). George Harrison is the only Beatle who I never was able to see in person. As the "quiet" Beatle he seemed to attract the least attention and made the fewest public appearances after the group officially disbanded in 1970.

I am just finishing a fascinating biography of George that has given me a new insight into the man and his life: his struggles, his demons, his genius and his humanity. It is one of those books that I do not want to end. "Behind The Locked Door" by Graeme Thomson has been tremendous. It has given me a completely new understanding of the Beatles era, what that experience did to George, and how he attempted to cope with being one of the most famous people in the world after the Beatle era had passed and until his death in 2001.

How does his story fit into a satisfying retirement?  I have found two parallels with my life that seem to be worth detailing because you might find they resonate with you, too. I don't think any readers of this blog are in the same famous category as that of a former Beatle. The lifestyle of those four men was beyond belief. The pressures, the inhuman schedules they had to maintain, the insanity of living in a bubble with the whole world watching would have caused long lasting changes to virtually anyone. Even so, as human beings they shared much with all of us.

Right after the Beatles broke up, George had two major successes: the album, All Things Must Pass was a huge hit, and the Concert for Bangladesh was the first worldwide concert with charity as the focus. But, then he started to slip, in both creativity and in public acceptance. 

By the mid 70's his music seemed to be out of step with where music was heading. He began to sound like a curmudgeon, complaining about the state of popular music. By 1980, he was almost completely irrelevant as an artist. As technology and pop music styles evolved, his music remained locked in a time warp. Eventually he would start to make commercially viable music again, but for many years he railed against the changes and continued to record music that had little popular appeal. 

After John Lennon's murder, George Harrison became almost invisible to the outside world for fear of a similar attempt on his life. All the security that surrounded him did not help. He nearly died in 1999 from a horrific attack by a knife-wielding lunatic who stabbed him over 40 times at his home in England. Even though he recovered from those wounds, brain cancer killed him less than two years later.

My tie to this story and his life? For the last 6-8 years of my radio consulting business I did not evolve. I stayed with the same message, the same ideas, and the same approach that had proved so successful for me through the 1980's into the mid 90's. Even though my industry had changed dramatically, I stopped learning and listening. I didn't change my message or my methods. As a result, my business slowly slipped away until, in the same year that George Harrison died, I found myself faced with retirement, several years before I would have felt financially more secure. I had been passed by. I had stopped changing and found my approach irrelevant.

The second part of George Harrison's life that I found relatable was his search for a spiritual answer to life's complexity and difficulties. Famously, George ended up captivated by Indian philosophy and religion. His support of Hare Krsihna, Eastern religions and love of the culture and music of that part of the world were well known and a dominating influence on his life. 

At the same time, his lifestyle was often at complete odds with his professed belief in simplicity, moral boundaries, and the importance of staying centered on God. His use of drugs, casual sex, alcohol, and living in a 122 room mansion indicated a man torn between two worlds: the material world and the spiritual one.

While I lived the lifestyle of a rock and roll DJ in the 1960's for awhile, it was never even remotely like the excesses of a former Beatle. Even so, I was lost spiritually for many years, trying to make my way in a world that kept score with money and possessions. Not until nine years ago (I was a late bloomer!) did I finally figure out what was really important and really deserving of my dedication. My spiritual life became vital to my sense of well-being. My faith became real. The material world became much less important.

If you have any interest in the Beatles, George Harrison, or the story of a man who made it to the absolute pinnacle of success only to find it lacking, I suggest you read this book. But, even if you don't find the details of his life worth following, I think he has left two important lessons:

1. Life never stands still. If you don't evolve you will be left behind and risk becoming bitter, unfulfilled and marginalized. But, there is always a way forward if you open yourself up to new experiences and ideas.

2. Material possessions never can buy happiness. We are part of a much bigger story that has to do with trust and faith in something bigger than ourselves. Living strictly in a material world is a dangerous place to be.



courtesy TM Blog


19 comments:

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    1. Thanks, Curt. I thoroughly enjoyed this book about a Beatle and a man I didn't know much about.

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  2. Life never stands still.
    Material possessions never can buy happiness.
    Amen!
    People not possessions.
    That was difficult to get past at times- but when I did - the worry just melted away.

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    1. George's life was an elusive search for real purpose and direction in a life that had been hijacked by a bout of fame and wealth that would test even the most grounded among us.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this important message.

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  4. As a fan of the Beatles, it was interesting to read about George Harrison's life, particularly the events of his final years. He was so talented...makes one wonder what he might have been able to do had he evolved and found the balance he sought after.

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    1. I thought I knew the Beatles story until I read this book. The life they were forced to live during the height of Beatlemania was almost surreal. George never really found a way to make peace with his past until the last decade of his life. Dying at 58 was much too young. He seemed to be finally putting things together and might have evolved into a happy and fulfilled man had he lived longer.

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  5. Maybe this will go through...fingers crossed!
    I have always paid attention to trends, even if I didn't follow them. Fashions change, life stays in constant motion. I've watched friends end up 'in the weeds' so to speak because they refused to change with the times. That kind of thinking makes you old before your time.
    I will check out the book.
    b

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    1. It is a good read...and your comment came through!

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  6. The mid-70's were my high school years and the first music I purchased with my own hard-earned cash was "The Beatles 1967-1970". I went on to collect a number of Beatles and ex-Beatles albums over the years. Unfortunately, a couple of those were George's lacklustre solo efforts.

    I agree that GH's music did not thrive in his post-Beatles career, particularly by the mid-70's. But, with some notable musical exceptions, all of the ex-Beatles suffered from varying degrees of the same dwindling creativity that plagues many musical geniuses. There seems to be a spark to many young musicians/songwriters (like The Beatles. Bob Dylan, Springsteen or U2) that causes them to soar in their early days and then spend the rest of their careers struggling to regain their early form. It seems that increased life experience does little to contribute to musical inspiration. Even the accolades doled out for John's final studio album were more about nostalgia and grieving than they were about a long-hoped-for return to form.

    Thankfully, in GH's case, he was able to enjoy a brief revival with The Travelling Wilburys circa 1990, which he seemed to derive a lot of pleasure from. George seemed to do better as part of a group than he did as the main event.

    The first of your 2 important lessons reminds me of George's contribution to Sgt. Pepper, where he sings "life flows on within you and without you". GH's 4-decade career certainly spanned all of that.

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    1. The Traveling Wilbury's produced some of my favorite early 90's music, esp. End of the Line. Written by GH, that song was fun and energetic and positive. Each of the "stars" shared the spotlight which was George's idea of how a band should be structured.

      After reading the book and revisiting several of his post-Beatle albums, I have a new found appreciation for his music and his struggles.

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  7. Sounds like a book I would enjoy. Thanks for the review.

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    1. It is a book I will reread in a few years.

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  8. Does this mean you intend to sell your mobile home and give the proceeds to the poor?

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  9. I was alive in the 1960s, so of course I was a Beatles fan. I never knew much about them, although I read Pattie Boyd's (George's wife; then Eric Clapton's wife) book Wonderful Tonight. I should read this one, for as you say, there was more to Harrison than just a good song.

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    1. There is a biography of Ringo Starr coming out later this year that I hope is as good as the Harrison book. Ringo's image of a "peace and love" guy is probably quite a bit more complicated. I know he suffered major problems with alcohol and learning to live with his wealth and fame.

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  10. I love this type of introspection...I think it makes us better people in the end. Thank you for sharing Bob.

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