Remembering George on his 20th death anniversary, and what he means to me

30 November 2001 is one of those days I shall remember in exact detail from start to finish forever, indelible ink written upon my heart and soul. That was the day the world found out George Harrison had dropped the body and left the material world. Though he passed on the 29th, the news didn’t break until the morning of the 30th.

Everyone had known for awhile that George was dying of brain cancer, so it wasn’t a huge shock, as it was when people like John Entwistle, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork had passed on. One of the ladies on my estrogen Who lists (as we called the all-female Yahoogroups devoted to The Who, almost all of us in our twenties and teens) even had a dream that he was going to die on the 30th.

I just knew it. Friday, 30 November 2001, I went right to the communal TV in one of the little upstairs lounges of the Hillel House, where I lived my senior year of UMass. And sure enough, the morning news was announcing George’s death.

Very appropriately, it was raining that day. I walked to my first class of the day, second-year Russian. I arrived a bit late, but not unreasonably, inexcusably late. All the while, everything felt so surreal, the kind of feeling that can’t be recreated. It’s just something you intensely sense while it’s happening, a particular feeling that only comes this way once and then never again.

All day I thought about George, but I was unable to cry or even get misty-eyed. His death wasn’t a bolt from out of the blue. Everyone expected it, and knew it would be sooner rather than later. Only when I was in the computer lab in the library in the very late afternoon and reading the lyrics of “I Need You” did I finally begin to tear up a little. But even then, I still was unable to properly cry for George for many years.

Before going home, I went to the Campus Center to buy tickets for the upcoming Hillel Semi-Formal. On a wall near the ticket booth, someone had put up a picture of George, with his years lived, one of his quotes, and a thank-you. Everything still felt so surreal.

That night at services, I said Kaddish for George. Though the traditional custom is to only say Kaddish for immediate relatives, I’ve always said it for special people whom I feel a deep and abiding love for. I also say Yizkor for them, and have never understood the Orthodox custom of only saying Yizkor for parents. There are many people we grieve.

That night, I watched VH1 on the communal TV. They were doing a tribute to George, playing clips from a recent appearance he’d made on one of their shows, playing a new song, “Any Road.” That song became the opening track on his posthumous final album, Brainwashed, and one of his signature songs. As the chorus says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

Afterwards, I went to my room and wrote in my journal Rael. It was my first anniversary with my fourth Who album, Odds and Sods, and in those days, I always did a special journal entry for my album anniversaries. My thoughts about George came first, and the first few lines of that entry were in all caps. Everything still felt so surreal.

When George passed, John was my favorite Beatle. Paul was originally my favorite, for very superficial reasons, but my attachment to John began manifesting in December ’93, and by the spring of ’94, it was obvious he’d become my favorite. For the next few years, I tried to pretend I had two favorites, but in my heart I knew John was my only favorite. It felt so good when I finally admitted that to my journal Rita in the summer of ’97.

I never, ever expected to change favorites again. For quite some time, I’d considered George my favorite solo Beatle, but still saw John as my favorite overall. John was more than just my favorite Beatle, but my hero, the person I admired most, someone whom I talked to during some of the darkest nights of my soul, almost like praying. To this day, I believe down to the very core of my soul that I might have taken my own life in eighth grade if not for my love of The Beatles.

So it was one of the saddest days of my life when I realized John was no longer my favorite Beatle, and that George had replaced him quite a few years ago. I listened much more to George’s solo work than John’s, and I felt George to be more of a kindred spirit because of our similar beliefs and interests. And let’s be honest, I’ve always been a quiet one myself. People tend to gravitate to others like themselves.

Sometimes your heart also knows something before your mind is ready to admit it.

I truly consider George one of my spiritual mentors. His personal relationship with the Divine was so beautiful and inspiring. Because of him, many times when I made personal prayers after the Amidah (the long, central prayer of Jewish services), I addressed God as “My Sweet Lord.”

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!

I love George so much because:

He was such a deeply spiritual person, but not sectarian or preachy (contrary to what certain people think). His 1981 song “Life Itself” starts out seeming like a love song to his wife Olivia, and then it becomes apparent it’s truly a love song to the Divine, with the beautiful line: “They call you Christ, Vishnu, Buddha, Jehovah, Our Lord, you are Govindam, Bismillah, Creator of all.”

He did all he could to help the starving people of Bangladesh.

He did a lot of good work for UNICEF.

He proved that still waters run very, very deep.

He had such a beautiful personal relationship with the Divine.

All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World are some of the most beautiful, spiritual albums ever.

He remained interested in Indian music, philosophy, and religion long after it was no longer a trend. His interest was serious and genuine, not based on popular fads.

He had such a beautiful soul and a kind heart.

He didn’t crave the limelight, and was content to live away from the media.

His 1979 eponymous album is so full of joy, happiness, and inner-peace.

He had so much faith in humanity to do the right thing and positively change the world, and ourselves.

He had such a positive, upbeat attitude.

He did not fear Death at all, and was totally surrendered to and peaceful about his approaching end. George once said, “The only difference between the dead and the living is that the dead no longer breathe.” The soul continues on, just in another form.

May you rest in eternal peace with Our Sweet Lord, dear Georgiekins, and may your beautiful memory be for an eternal blessing. The world is a better place because you were in it for 58 years, and I feel so blessed we shared Planet Earth for 21 years and 11 months.

Happy 50th birthday, Imagine!

Imagine (John Lennon album) - Wikipedia

Image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with fair use doctrine

John Lennon described his proper sophomore solo album as Plastic Ono Band with chocolate frosting. That is, the songs had a similar mood of anger, bitterness, and vulnerability, but there was more of a touch of softness. Imagine is also more commercially-friendly and sugarcoated. It’s long been my next-fave of his solo albums. (To date, I’ve never heard the rather self-indulgent, experimental albums he did with Yoko, but most people consider his solo career to have properly started with POB.)

The album was recorded from 11–12 February and 24 May–5 July 1971, and released 9 September 1971 in the U.S. and 8 October in the U.K. Some of the recording sessions are featured in the 1972 TV film also titled Imagine. At the time, critics lambasted the film as “the most expensive home movie of all time,” but I really enjoyed it.

Imagine was very positively received by music critics, though some felt POB was superior. Just as John described it in annoyance, many critics too noticed it was much more commercial than POB. Predictably, eight of John’s albums were reissued as a boxed set after his murder, and Imagine and its title track both became huge hits all over the world.

Originally, the album reached #1 in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, The Netherlands, Japan, and Norway, #2 in Canada, and #10 in West Germany. In 1981, it was #3 in Norway, #5 in the U.K., #34 in Sweden, and #63 in the U.S.

John had a star-studded sessions band including such luminaries as George Harrison, Klaus Voormann, Nicky Hopkins, King Curtis, Alan White, Jim Keltner, and Mike Pinder.

Track listing:

“Imagine” (co-written with Yoko) (#1 in the U.S., Australia, Canada, and South Africa; #5 in Switzerland and The Netherlands; #6 in Norway; #12 in Belgium; #14 in Japan; #18 in Germany upon original release; #1 in Ireland, #6 in the U.K., and #19 in Sweden upon 1975 reissue; #1 in the U.K. and Ireland, #2 in Switzerland, #3 in Norway, #4 in Austria, #5 in The Netherlands, #6 in Belgium, #7 in Germany, #23 in New Zealand, and #43 in Australia upon 1981 reissue)
“Crippled Inside”
“Jealous Guy” (later covered by Roxy Music, who had a huge hit with it)
“It’s So Hard”
“I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama”
“Gimme Some Truth”
“Oh My Love” (co-written with Yoko)
“How Do You Sleep?”
“Oh Yoko!”

The 40th anniversary LP reissue also came with a bonus EP with the following songs (most of them alternative versions from the recording sessions):

“Baby Please Don’t Go” (written by Walter Ward)
“How Do You Sleep?”
“Jealous Guy”
“Oh My Love”
“I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier Mama”

My fave songs are “How Do You Sleep?” (which so gives the finger to Paul!), “Gimme Some Truth,” “I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier,” “Crippled Inside,” and “Jealous Guy.” I got my vinyl copy from the $2 wall at Mystery Train Records in October 2002, during my first Alumni Weekend. It was marked as-is, and that turned out to mean there’s a skip on “Jealous Guy.” I’m so used to hearing it that way, I mentally expect the skip when I hear the song on the radio or Spotify.

Sadly, all my records are 900 miles away and haven’t been shipped to me yet, since my little brother has made it clear he cares more about woke ideology and his ridiculous, unhealthy ménage à trois than his own family, so I’ll have to get some friends still in that area to take over from him.

John said it best: “One thing you can’t hide/Is when you’re crippled inside.”

Happy Duran Duran Appreciation Day!—Celebrating my fave music videos

Since I spotlighted my fave songs the last two years (for a total of twenty), I thought I’d continue the theme by featuring music videos this year. To make it clear, these are only official music videos, not fan-made videos.

1. The long version of “Wild Boys.” Amazingly, I thought this video was too weird even for me the first few times I saw it! I’m glad I gave it another chance, since I grew to absolutely adore it. This video is so deliciously macabre, and I love most things weird, spooky, and macabre. I attribute this to the huge subconscious influence of Grimms’ Fairytales being the first book I ever read (though not all the way through), at the impressionable age of three. I had hyperlexia, which is advanced, full-blown reading at a young age, and that book was the first thing I gravitated towards!

2. “Out of My Mind,” another video after my own macabre heart. It takes the lyrics in such a deliciously dark direction and makes them even better.

3. The long version of “Falling Down.” I love how it tells an entire story instead of just sticking to the lyrics, and blends the story with the song so seamlessly. Some music videos which attempt this awkwardly bring the action to a halt when non-music bits are inserted, and add absolutely nothing to the performance.

Warning: NSFW or under 18!

4. “The Chauffeur,” a classic example of how a sexy, sensual video doesn’t need to feature nearly-naked women to convey its message. There’s a big difference between erotic and pornographic, celebrating sexuality and sensuality instead of looking like a vulgar, exploitative peepshow.

5. “Friends of Mine.” I love the dark mood set by the music and the gritty, snarly, acid-edged vocals. The uniforms are also awesome.

6. “All She Wants Is,” one of those songs I really disliked till I saw the music video. Having images to go along with the lyrics made all the difference. They complement one another perfectly, so much so the song feels kind of empty by itself. And of course I love all the weird visuals!

Warning: NSFW or under 18!

7. The long, uncensored version of “Girls on Film.” While many of the scenes are more explicit than those of “The Chauffeur,” and while I have returned to my original anti-porn stance (after uncharacteristically getting into it thanks to my ex’s toxic influence, but that’s a whole other story), I still wouldn’t classify this as anywhere near the league of modern-day music videos. It’s racy and sexy without being one long parade of nudity and suggestive antics. I also love how, while there’s no real full frontal, we can see the women have pubic hair. Not all that long ago, pubic hair was considered sexy and desirable instead of grotesque and unnatural.

8. “Is There Something I Should Know?” I love all the surrealistic imagery, like paintings come to life. It’s also sobering to think of how the baby is now an adult, only a few years younger than I am.

9. “Lonely in Your Nightmare.” It’s so beautiful, sensual, tender, and romantic.

10. “Come Undone,” the song and video that made me come undone on Valentine’s Day 2011. This was what flipped the switch after several months of increasing interest and made me realise I’d fallen in love. I cannot believe I marked my tenth Duraniversary this year! How did an entire decade fly by so fast?


Yesterdays in 2009; Image made by Katusya of WikiCommons, from photos taken by Péter Birta

Yesterdays, a symphonic prog-rock band from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, might seem the furthest thing in the world related to Dante, but they’ve contributed a song to each of the 4-CD boxed sets based on The Divine Comedy.

Their Inferno song, from November 2008, was done with Jonas Reingold of Swedish band The Flower Kings and drummer David Speight (who currently works with former Yes guitarist Peter Banks). Their song on the Purgatorio boxed set, released October 2009, is based on Canto XXX, where Dante breaks down upon realising Virgil is gone, and soon faces an upbraiding from his lost love Beatrice on account of his perceived sins. For the first and only time in the entire poem, Dante is addressed by name.

The Paradiso boxed set came out in October 2010, on which Yesterdays did a song based on Canto XXXIII and appropriately entitled “33.” In that canto, Dante has an intense, indescribable vision of Divine Light and perceives the nature of God and everything in the Universe. He realises Love is the mechanism behind all creation.

A total of 34 bands participated in each boxed set.

The current members of Yesterdays are Ákos Bogáti-Bokor (vocals, keyboard, guitar), Gábor Kecskeméti (flute), and Stephanie Semeniuc (lead singer). Dávid Kósa (percussion) is a former member, and keyboardist Zsolt Enyedi passed away of a stroke on 11 May 2020.

Yesterdays have released three studio albums (two of which have had multiple remastered editions), two EPs, and eight singles. They’ve also contributed songs to five other compilations besides the Divine Comedy boxed sets.

The band was founded in 2000, and won First Prize at the now-defunct Félsziget Festival’s talent competition in Târgu Mureş, Romania. Their first album was released in 2006. In response to their great sales, esteemed French record label Musea snapped them up the next year.

In February 2007, Yesterdays organised the first MiniProg festival in Budapest, with Dutch band Flamborough Head and British band Harmony in Diversity. The latter band is the project of former Yes guitarist Peter Banks.

As of 2021, their fourth album is being written and recorded.

A Symphony to Dante’s Divine Comedy

The great Franz Liszt began pulling ideas together for a symphony based on Inferno and Purgatorio in the early 1840s. During summer 1845, Liszt played an improvised version to French poet Joseph Autran on the empty Marseille Cathedral’s organ at midnight. Liszt later invited Autran to collaborate on an opera or oratorio inspired by Dante, but Autran didn’t follow up on the project.

In 1847, Liszt played a few fragments on the piano to his mistress Princess Karolina zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. Liszt wanted the music accompanied by a slideshow of Divine Comedy illustrations from Italian–German painter Giovanni Bonaventura Genelli. Liszt also wanted to use a wind machine to recreate the winds of Hell as the first movement concluded.

Though Karolina was more than willing to finance this lofty project, Liszt set it aside till 1855.

Franz Liszt, 1858

In June 1855, Liszt went back to work on his symphony with a vengeance, and finished most of it before the end of 1856. Simultaneously, he was working on his famous Faust Symphony. These are the only two known symphonies Liszt ever composed.

Liszt visited Richard Wagner in October 1856 in Zürich, where he played both symphonies on the piano. Wagner wasn’t wild about the conclusion, and told Liszt so in no uncertain language. Liszt agreed with this POV, and said he also had wanted to end it on a “fine soft shimmer,” but Karolina convinced him to end with a huge, dramatic flourish.

Liszt rewrote the ending music, but for the printed score, he gave conductors the option of following the pianissimo coda with the fortissimo one.

Richard Wagner, 1855

Though Liszt planned to add a third movement for Paradiso, and make it choral, Wagner convinced him it was impossible for any mortal composer to possibly come even close to accurately depicting Paradise. Liszt instead added a choral Magnificat at the conclusion of the second movement.

By not going all the way, some listeners and critics alike feel the symphony is unbalanced and ends on an unfinished note and unnecessary cliffhanger. Liszt scholar Humphrey Searle also argued that translating Paradise into music wouldn’t have automatically been a task too great for him.

Franz Liszt, 1856, by Wilhelm von Kaulbach

Liszt completed and polished the symphony in autumn 1857, and it premièred at Dresden’s Hoftheater (later destroyed by fire and rebuilt as the Semperoper) on 7 November 1857. Due to not enough rehearsing, it didn’t go very well, and Liszt, who conducted, was publicly humiliated. Despite this, he soldiered on and conducted it again in Prague on 11 March 1858, with two of his other works.

Karolina drew up a program for the audience, so they could more easily follow along with this unusually-structured symphony.

Interior of the old Hoftheater

Some people classify A Symphony to Dante’s Divine Comedy (better-known simply as The Dante Symphony) as more of two connected symphonic poems than a true symphony in the classical sense. As the genre’s name suggests, a symphonic poem musically evokes the mood of a poem, artwork, novel, landscape, short story, play, or other non-musical subject.

This symphony is one of the very first pieces of music using progressive tonality, wherein a composition doesn’t finish in the key it began, but rather progresses to something entirely different. It also contains many other musical innovations, like fluctuating tempi, wind effects, atonality experiments, and unusual time and key signatures.

Liszt scored it for one English horn, two oboes, two flutes, two clarinets, one bass clarinet, one piccolo (doubling as a third flute in the second movement), two bassoons, two tenor trombones, one bass trombone, two trumpets, four horns, one tuba, two harps, two sets of timpani, a tamtam, a bass drum, cymbals, a harmonium (pump organ), strings, and a women’s choir with sopranos and altos.