To George on his 15th Jahrzeit (and why he’s now my favorite Beatle)

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“Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.” (George’s last words, which I often think of.)

Fifteen years ago, 29 November 2001, George Harrison dropped his physical body and left the material world. The news didn’t get out until 30 November (my first anniversary with The Who’s Odds and Sods), which was a Friday. One of the ladies in my estrogen Who lists had had a dream about George dying on the 30th, and, sure enough, that was the day the news broke.

Everyone knew he was dying. It was only a matter of time. For that reason, I didn’t immediately cry. This wasn’t some out of the blue death, like John Entwistle’s seven months later. George had been very sick for awhile, and was only getting sicker.

It was raining as I walked to my 10 AM Russian class. I think I might’ve come a bit late. Late that afternoon, I bought my ticket for the Hillel Semi-Formal. My friend “Ella” had convinced me to go, saying we’d all have a really great time and that it would be nothing like the high school dances I’d always avoided. No one needed a date to go.

That night at services, I said Kaddish for George. I’ve always said Kaddish for people I love and admire, no matter what their religion was. This prayer is all about praising God, and never once mentions Death or anything explicitly theological. Most rabbis do draw the line at saying the memorial prayer El Malei Rachamim for a Gentile who wasn’t related to the mourner, but we can say Kaddish and Yizkor for whomever we want.

I wasn’t yet Shomeret Shabbat, so that night I watched some VH1 on the communal TV in the upstairs lounge. They were doing a tribute to George, and airing some interview he’d done fairly recently. He’d also played some songs during the interview, including at least one new song. VH1 was still about music in those days.

It took a really long time for my mind to admit what my heart already knew, but now I proudly own George as my favorite overall Beatle, not just my favorite solo Beatle. I was too emotionally attached to having John as my favorite, coupled with how he’d been my favorite through some of the darkest nights of my soul. He’d been far more than just my favorite Beatle, and I didn’t want to betray that.

It was kind of like when I realized, in late 2000, that The Who had replaced The Beatles as my favorite band. That was honestly one of the saddest days of my life. To the end of my days, I’ll believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that I might have taken my own life in eighth grade if not for The Beatles. They’re still the musical love of my life.

I was just gravitating more and more towards George’s songs, both as a Beatle and in his solo career, as well as everything about him. I truly consider him one of my spiritual mentors. He had such a beautiful relationship with the Divine. I’ve never understood the accusation that certain of his songs are “preachy.” They seem pretty non-sectarian and non-judgmental to me.

Now I realize each of the three I’ve held as my favorite over the last 23 years needed to be my favorite at each of those respective times in my life. They just fit who I was. At the very start, I liked Paul most because I thought he was the cutest (such mature reasoning!). Then John was my favorite from age fourteen onwards, though only when I was seventeen did I admit he was my only favorite and that I hadn’t really had two favorites. As Jerry Springer often says in his Final Thought, “When you claim to love both, you truly love neither.”

It’s hard to put into words everything George means to me, what a truly special, beautiful, incredible person he was. But at the heart of it, he just most deeply speaks to the type of person I’ve developed into. He would never have felt right as my favorite Beatle in my teens or twenties.

And maybe I really am slowly turning into my mother as I get older, since George was her favorite too!

My sweet George, may your beautiful light shine forever. It was such an honor to share the Earth with you for 21 years and 11 months.

My lace anniversary with ATMP

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I’d planned to review and discuss Who’s Next (which turns 45 this year) for Friday’s post, but then I remembered 1 July is my anniversary with the one and only All Things Must Pass. I need no excuse to talk about such a special, special, special album or how much George’s music means to me!

When I was younger, my parents played ATMP on tapes in the car on a fairly regular basis, but I can’t recall if I ever heard it all the way through until 1 July 2003. I do remember my mother saying she particularly loved “If Not for You.”

This album is so, so special, beautiful, moving, and amazing. This is one of those quintessentially perfect albums like Plastic Ono Band, Colour by Numbers, Rio, Empty Glass, and Who’s Next, against which all of an artist or band’s other albums are measured forevermore. It’s that good and perfect, this yardstick which is impossible to top.

From the very first note, I’m unfailingly drawn in. The lyrics and music perfectly set the note for the personal, spiritual journey which is about to follow. “Let me in here/I know I’ve been here/Let me into your heart….”

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I honestly consider George one of my spiritual mentors. He had such a beautiful, powerful, deep, sincere belief in the Divine and the power of humanity to positively transform ourselves and the world. He understood there are many different names and faces for the Divine, and that none of them are wrong, so long as the person has a sincere heart and belief. I don’t get the allegation that certain of his songs are “preachy.” To me, they’re just expressing his own beliefs, not telling everyone we have to believe exactly the same way or that we’re going to Hell if we don’t fall in line.

His message of love and spirituality stayed with him his entire life, even until his beautiful final words, “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.” I often think of this final message he left to humanity.

After I bought the 2000 reissue on MP3 for my second trip to Israel in February 2008, I made a playlist of just the first 18 original tracks. I left off the bonus tracks and jam sessions. To me, the album properly ends at “Hear Me Lord,” and doesn’t contain any bonus tracks interrupting the journey, nor is it ruined by extraneous material coming after the assumed end.

George Harrison through the years.

Now that I think of it, it’s kind of like one of my favourite Rap Critic reviews, “Every Girl,” by Young Money. After he roasted this terrible song and seemingly ended the review, there came an unexpected fourth verse. He didn’t know if it were an outro or another verse, since they’d already had three verses and could end the song.

George had a wealth of excellent material, after years of having to fight to be thrown a bone or two every album. I know this is a rather infelicitous metaphor, but he compared it to having diarrhea for years and being unable to get to the toilet, and then he finally was able to let it all out.

This album is so, so perfect, and has more than earned its place as my #2 album, ranking only after Quadrophenia. It really helped to set the stage for George becoming my favourite solo Beatle. Words can’t express just how very, very, very much George and his music mean to me.

Track listing:

“I’d Have You Anytime”
“My Sweet Lord”
“Wah-Wah”
“Isn’t It a Pity”
“What Is Life”
“If Not for You”
“Behind That Locked Door”
“Let It Down”
“Run of the Mill”
“Beware of Darkness”
“Apple Scruffs” (a throwaway, in my opinion)
“Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll)”
“Awaiting on You All”
“All Things Must Pass”
“I Dig Love” (also approaches throwaway territory for me)
“Art of Dying”
“Isn’t It a Pity” (Version Two)
“Hear Me Lord”

There are also five tracks on what was originally the third LP, four endless, pointless, meandering jam sessions and a brief nonsense song, which I never listen to anymore:

“Out of the Blue”
“It’s Johnny’s Birthday” (the song)
“Plug Me In”
“I Remember Jeep”
“Thanks for the Pepperoni”

The 2000 remaster has one new song, “I Live for You,” plus alternate versions of “My Sweet Lord,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Let It Down,” and “What Is Life.”

WeWriWa—In memory of George

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. In loving memory of George Harrison on his 14th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), this week’s snippet comes from my contemporary historical Bildungsroman, Little Ragdoll, Chapter 27, “Letters to and from Lucine and Emeline.”

It’s the fall of 1964, and 12-year-old Ernestine, 10-year-old Adicia, and 5-year-old Justine have written letters to two of their older sisters, 18-year-old Lucine and 16-year-old Emeline, who both ran away from home to avoid their black-hearted mother’s schemes to forcibly marry them off underage. Lucine is now a first-year student at Hunter College, and Emeline is a high school junior at the same Yorkville boarding school Lucine attended, a school for disadvantaged young women. The Episcopal priest and his wife running the school are now the adoptive parents of oldest sister Gemma’s birth son Giovanni, the unwanted product of her own forced marriage.

Super big brother Allen knows their address, and has let his little sisters write from his address so their evil mother won’t discover what really happened to her vanished daughters. Though Ernestine left home underage and now lives with some friends, Adicia and Justine are still at home. Emeline, near the end of her letter back, explains why George is her favorite Beatle.

George Harrison through the years.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images. My little brother has a kind of creepy resemblance to a young George Harrison.

To answer Ernestine’s question, yes, I do like The Beatles (and I can’t believe she’s old enough now to have celebrity crushes!).  Maybe I’m a little too old for them, but it’s not like I’m one of those screaming young girls who’s only thinking about how cute they are and can’t even hear them singing or playing their instruments.  Liking somebody’s music has nothing to do with how cute they are, though it does help if someone is good-looking in addition to talented.  My favorite is George.  I guess it’s because he’s the baby of the group, and it makes me think of my own dear little sisters and how the baby of a family needs special mothering, love, and protection.  Is it a good or a bad thing I feel such a strong mothering instinct at only sixteen?  Besides, I know how it feels to be pegged ‘the quiet one.’  That label sticks, and people sometimes don’t expect much of you since they think you’re not talkative.  But boy, will I prove to anyone who thinks I’m just another quiet, bookish girl that still waters can run deep when I go into the world and make something of myself!

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Not only does George’s music mean more to me than I can put into words, but he’s also one of my spiritual mentors. He was such a good person, with such a sincere, beautiful heart and soul, doing so much for the world, with such a strong belief in the power of humanity to change the world and improve ourselves. I often think of his profound last words, “Everything else can wait, but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.”

Somewhere in England review

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(This review of George Harrison’s 1981 solo album is edited from the review which originally appeared on my old Angelfire site, somewhere around 2007.)

4 stars

I went back and forth between whether this album deserved 4 stars or 3.5 stars, but I finally decided that, while it’s not really some great classic, it’s not too shabby either. One should judge an album for what it is, not what it isn’t. Yes, it was severely compromised by Warner Brother Records, what with having a different track listing, different cover art, the rewriting of several songs, and the dropping of four songs (“Flying Hour,” “Lay His Head,” “Sat Singing,” and “Tears of the World”), but as it stands, this is the album that was the end product.

“Blood from a Clone” is a really fun, punchy rocker, and it becomes even more awesome knowing it’s so giving the finger to the record company. It’s amazing they actually approved such a song, with so many obvious digs at the music business and its pressure on artists to conform to whatever was hip at the moment. Oh well, maybe they were too obtuse to get the joke.

The next track, “Unconsciousness Rules,” is pure filler and pretty unmemorable. On the original track listing, though, it came a bit later on the album; perhaps it sounds better when it’s not the second track.

Next up is “Life Itself,” a truly beautiful song. It starts out feeling like a love song to Olivia, but then it becomes obvious it’s really a love song to the Divine. I love the universal line, “They call you Christ, Vishnu, Buddha, Jehovah, Our Lord, you are Govindam, Bismillah, Creator of all.”

Next up on the docket is the hit single “All Those Years Ago,” which of course is a tribute to John. It was actually written before he was murdered, but after the tragic event, it was rewritten somewhat to reflect the tragedy. As an added bonus, the other two surviving Beatles also played on the song. It’s fun, upbeat, catchy, and hook-laden, although the lyrics don’t quite match the music, and it’s kind of a juxtaposition for such a sad event to be covered in such an upbeat song.

Side one concludes with a Hoagy Carmichael song, “Baltimore Oriole,” which is rather dark, both lyrically and musically. Never having heard the original, I can’t say if this version does it any justice, though a lot of people hold it as one of the standouts.

Side two opens with “Teardrops,” which, like numerous other songs on here, is very synth-heavy. It’s very catchy and fun, although, like “All Those Years Ago,” it seems a bit off for a rather melancholy subject to be covered in such an upbeat song. And while I’m not one of those people who likes to pigeonhole artists and then complain when they evolve or try something new, it just doesn’t sound like the type of song George is known for. As someone on Amazon mentioned, it sounds like an unholy collaboration between Paul and Elton John!

“That Which I Have Lost” and “Writing’s on the Wall” are more familiar territory, touching on sociopolitical and spiritual matters, although strangely have exactly the opposite message. The message of the former is “You need someone to show you/Illumine your consciousness/Remove the dark from you/And give you that which you have lost,” while the latter’s message is “The writing’s on the wall, brothers/Your life is in your hands/It’s up to you to see the writing’s on the wall.”

After these two songs is another Hoagy Carmichael cover, “Hong Kong Blues,” which is pretty catchy and upbeat, though again, it’s just not the type of song George is known for singing. Originally, it was to have been the lead-off track.

The album finishes off with “Save the World,” a surprisingly upbeat track for being about such a serious subject, with lines about whales being killed, bombs in outer space, rainforests being destroyed, and people being sold plutonium. However, it’s not without touches of dark, quirky humour, what with lines like “We’ve got to save the world./Someone else may wanna use it” and “We’re at the mercy of so few/With evil hearts determined to/Reduce this planet into hell/Then find a buyer make quick sale.”

Given the circumstances behind this album’s long creation and birth process, and just the era in general, it holds up pretty well. If only more artists’ less-than-perfect albums could be so solid and enjoyable. This album has enough good material to elevate it above mediocrity.

Brainwashed Review

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(This review of George Harrison’s posthumous swan song is edited from a review I originally wrote for my old Angelfire site, probably around 2007.)

3.5 stars

This album was kind of a disappointing experience. Brainwashed just doesn’t, on the whole, really speak to me. There are a couple of nice lines here and there in the non-standout songs, but it’s just not something that moves me. The songs also by and large lack hooks and catchy lyrics.

Judging a posthumous album is always tricky, and Jeff Lynne really ruined the production. It was supposed to have a more raw sound, but ended up sounding rather overproduced. In addition to generally uninspiring, unoriginal lyrics, George doesn’t sound so hot on some of the songs. Although at least it’s not as bad as on Dark Horse, and he obviously was very sick.

The opening track, “Any Road,” is nothing short of excellent. It’s quite easily the best song, and can be read both literally and in a deeper sense, that no matter what type of faith you choose on your journey on life’s road, it will all ultimately lead up to the same Divine.

The next track, “Last Saturday Night,” is pretty boring and unmemorable. I don’t really like this song; like many of the others, nothing much happens. It seems like it’s trying to be in a blues style, but it just falls totally flat.

Next up is “Pisces Fish,” which has some nice lyrics and a somewhat catchy chorus, but just seems flat and uninspiring. Mid-tempo wasn’t a good style for him. It’s honestly hard to distinguish most of these songs from one another, much like the songs on Extra Texture. And yet it also seems that if they came up on the radio or a playlist individually, they wouldn’t seem so dreary, uninspiring, and dull. It’s a shame, since this has some deep lyrics about life’s condition and what it feels like to know you’re dying.

The fourth track, “Looking for My Life,” is one of the standouts. It’s catchier and with more hooks than most of the others, and also deals with matters of the spiritual and making peace with the fact of your impending passing-over. “Rising Sun” also has some nice lyrics, but continues in the pattern of generally uninspiring mid-tempo songs. If Jeff Lynne hadn’t marred the production so much, or if these songs had been reworked into more polished versions, I’d probably like the majority of them more.

“Marwa Blues,” an instrumental, is a really good number. It’s very atmospheric and evocative. He should’ve done more instrumentals besides just this one and “Hari’s on Tour (Express).” And by virtue of having no lyrics, it’s one of the standouts; no boring mid-tempo pace here!

“Stuck Inside a Cloud” has a pretty sound, but seems to go on forever and just doesn’t have very interesting or inspiring lyrics. Like most of the other songs, it’s just boring. “Run So Far” continues on in the same well-established pattern. Honestly, a lot of these songs seem like they belong on an album from another artist, since they’re so out of his usual style. A couple of slower mid-tempo numbers might’ve been okay, but not an entire album full of them.

“Never Get Over You” is kind of better than most of the others, but it’s not up to the standard of the kick-ass opening track, nor does it seem very memorable or classic overall. The cover track, “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” is a pretty fun number, reflecting the love he had for Hawaiian music and ukeleles. And at least it’s not boringly mid-tempo. “Rocking Chair in Hawaii” isn’t at the same dirge-like tempo as most of the other songs, but it’s still pretty slow-paced. And yet again, if only one or two songs had been slow and lacking hooks, overall the album wouldn’t seem so bad and uneven.

The title track comes last, and is one of the best tracks. For once, here’s a faster-paced song with interesting, inspired lyrics and good hooks. I also naturally really like it because it deals with spiritual matters, all about humanity’s search for the Divine and how everyone and everything in society conspires against us from day one, brainwashing us so badly we have a hard time finding our way to the truth and the Divine.

The booklet of liner notes includes a picture illustrating the song, with some of the lyrics, and it’s so embarrassing how at the bottom it says “A voice cry’s in the wilderness.” That’s almost as embarrassing as the blatant grammatical error on the paper sleeve of Dark Horse, “The ‘Lord’ lives in you’re hearts”!

It ends with some very moving Hindu chanting. Finally, a song that goes somewhere instead of sounding as dull as dishwater.

I wanted to like this album, since I’d heard a number of rave reviews. Unfortunately, it turned out that most reviewers, as always, were afraid to be more honest about its shortcomings. In addition to being disappointed by the majority of the songs (a number of them leftovers from years ago), I was also disappointed at the liner notes. They’re mostly just lyrics and a couple of pictures.

Granted, it’s at least a whole other level above Extra Texture, and I do appreciate the difficulties of putting together a posthumous album. At least the songs generally seem heartfelt and genuine, in spite of the deceptive mid-tempo pacing and unappealing overall treatment. Jeff Lynne should stick to what he knows and stop trying to be a record producer.

I don’t hate or dislike this album, but I don’t really like it either.