The following interview appeared in the February 1977 issue of Crawdaddy magazine. This interview was conducted by Mitchell Glazer.
This car is too quiet. Solid Germanic silence is built into the plush leather. Mercedes dream machine; another reality Castaneda missed. The perfect L.A. car, it cradles Angelenos like cultured pearls; in seclusion, in frightened privacy. The Hollywood Hills float by, the precision engine downshifting with a chilled whine and I notice, despite teh velvety carpet, that George Harrison is wearing blue suede shoes. As sure as the designs in goat entrails or the pattern of birds is flight, this is an omen.
Late-afternoon traffic clogs Laurel Canyon Road as Harrison snakes the chocolate sedan slowly to Sunset. He is animated, our dialog flipping from mid-air collisions-he mistrusts flying-to old Monty Python routines-he knows them by heart. Harrison looks younger than in recent years. The vaguely Rasputin beard and serious furrows have disappeared; the snaggled Liverpudlian smile is capped and crowned. It's jolting; the pained ascetic has dissolved and what remains, smiling and energetic, is something closer to "George Harrison of the Fabulous Beatles." Maybe his wiser, older brother. Yet this transformation has come in the face of a staggering torrent of difficulties: the well-intentioned yet financially convulsed "Concert for Bangladesh"; marital conflicts/separation; two lawsuits (one dropped, one lost); a couple of somber, noncommercial albums and a label change. Harrison was gagging in the material world, slipping deep into the darkness he had warned about.
But he has returned triumphant, turning one lawsuit loss into a hit single, creating his most positive/productive album since All Things Must Pass over a half-decade ago.
Harrison has had a busy day and, as they say, he's just starting. Burly, bearded Dark Horse Records President Dennis Morgan has set up a series of telephone radio interviews for stations from Miami to Missoula. A five-city media bar mitzvah for George, arranged by proud Warner Bros. boss Mo Ostin, begins in 48 hours and a full night's filming must be distilled into three minutes of "This Song" footage for George's repidly approaching NBC Saturday Night appearance.
Incredibly, he's still happy to be active. As he drives and talks, Harrison occasionally pushes the hair from his face; it curls thickly at his army jacket's collar. A ring flashes on his pinky. This is no Vegas special; jewels of every type are fitted into a Hindu checkerboard: a diamond, a baby pearl, ruby, garnet, emerald and most importantly, he assures me, a sapphire. George's astrologer had warned that to wear sapphire, "a very strong, powerful stone," before August '75 could be dangerous. Harrison tells me this, unembarrassed....For him it is true.
He also wears a necklace and belt buckle both engraved with the seven-headed dark horse-the horse that carried Krishna and his frightened friend/soldier Arjuna into battle; a battle won easily. The necklace, a gleaming gold oval, is tucked inside his shirt, much like his resolved belief in Krishna himself. The days of open proselytizing, wearing his spirituality like a Dark Horse T-shirt, are gone. Still the archor of his life, his beliefs are more intergrated. They now constitute his personality. Once Swahmi Prabhupada, the founder of this Krishna Consciousness Movement, called George "my archangel." This time our he's just a solo artist.
George spins the radio dial searching for his album. He hits on an ELO song and says quietly, "sounds like a Beatles tune. I guess it's a compliment, really." The Beatles are safely distant-a known quanity, at any rate. That's when past and present, when worlds collide. "Be here now," he teases what I lock into the past-his past and my own. George Harrisons scatter around in my head in more incarnations than Krishna: pointy boots with chunky heels; sharing John's mike; in satin Sgt. Pepper gear. It's disorienting. The Mercedes glides down the strip, suddenly cramped. From behind a building looms a four-story billboard of Ringo Starr. A very debonair Ringo, jaunty monocle in place, smiles knowingly above us. George still diddles the radio. As we head to the editing room, safe in our solid-bodied time capsule, Ringo's house-size eyes follow us. "It's all in the mind, y'know."
I grew up in Miami and saw you live on the Ed Sullivan Show with Mitzi Gaynor [both break into laughter] doing this whole dance number in a really low-cut dress and some guy sitting on top of a flagpole, and everybody just wanted to see the band. Ed kept teasing, putting another act in; then, when you finally played, we couldn't hear, anyhow, which was the saddest thing about it.
It was so long ago; it was '64, about 12 years. Seems a long time.
Were you nervous before the show?
The Sullivan show was funny because I didn't attend the rehearsal, I was sick somehow on the flight over on the first trip to the States. The band did a lot of rehearsal for the sound people, they kept going into the control room and checking out the sound. And finally when they got a balance between the instruments and the vocals, they marked on the boards by the control and then everybody broke for lunch. Then we came back to tape the show and the cleaners had been 'round and polished all the marks off the board. It was sort of a bit tacky in those days, with the sound. People would put amplifiers off the side of the stage so it didn't spoil the shot, you know.
I just always wondered if you felt the pressure. I was nervous watching it.
Oh, yeah, we did, but we knew we'd had sufficient success in Europe and Britain to have a bit of confidence. And we really needed a helluva lot of confidence for the States because it was just such an important place. I mean, nobody'd ever made it, you know, no British acts-apart from the odd singer like Lonnie Donnegan.
But Ed Sullivan was, you know, everybody had told us how he was really big. But again, we were pretty naive to contain things so that helped at the time. I remember them asking us, did we know who Walter Cronkite was. And I said, "I dunno, isn't he somebody on the television?" You know, things like that were good because they all had fun-the people asking questions and the press; us being naive and not seeming to care about that sort of thing.
Was there ever a tendency to still act naive after you wised up?
I dunno, but by that time, you know, we'd got into that whole sort of routine that we used to have, you know, at press conferences. A lot of it was just nervous energy. You know, just for jokes and stuff which everybody seemed to like. That was one of the big helps for the Beatles at the time: If anybody dried up in the press conferences there was always somebody else there with a smart answer. There was always a good balance, so nobody could every really quite nail us.
The Sullivan show was just the climax to the Beatles' whole America thing. In retrospect it probably wouldn't have mattered what we'd have done on the Sullivan show, it was like already established by the previous press that had gone before. But that was a long time ago. We'll get over the question "Are the Beatles getting together again?"
I won't even ask you.
Because the answer is just like going back to school again, really. The four of us are so tied up with our own lives, and it's been eight years since we split-and time goes so fast. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility, but we'd have to want to do it for the music's sake first. We wouldn't stick together because somebody had put an ad in the paper putting us on the spot.
Somebody in New York is saying the Beatles are getting back together to wrestle a Great White Shark in Australia.
That was the other guy, Sargent. He was gonna try and do the Beatles show and then try and do the other one with somebody fighting a shark. I thought, "If he fights the shark, the winner of the competition can be the promoter."
It seemed that all four of you were locked into something larger than its parts.
It was. But none of us really thought about leaving until '67 or '68, which was after we stopped touring. I know the first time for me which was the most despressing was during "The White Album." It was a problem making a double album because it takes such a long time.
Why did you make a double?
I think it was because there were so many songs. but it was the period that had started a bit negative. It was a bit difficult and we got through it and it was fine. We finally got through the album and everybody was pleased because the tracks were good. Then I worked on an album with Jackie Lomax on an Apple record, and I spent a long time in the States and I had such a good time working with all these different musicians and different people. Then I hung out at Woodstock for Thanksgiving and, you know, I felt really good at the time. I got back to England for Christmas and then on January the first we were to start on the thing which turned into Let It Be. And straightaway again, it was just weird vibes. You know, I found I was starting to be able to enjoy being a musician, but the moment I got back to the Beatles, it was just too difficult. There were too many limitations based upon out being together for so long. Everybody was sort of pigeonholed. It was frustrating.
The problem was that John and Paul had written songs for so long it was difficult. First of all because they had such a lot of tunes and they automatically thought that theirs should be the priority, so for me I'd always have to wait through ten of their songs before they'd even listen to one of mine. That was why All Things Must Pass had so many songs, because it was like you know, I'd been constipated. I had a little encouragement from time to time, but it was a very little. It was like they were doing me a favor. I didn't have much confidence in writing songs because of that. Because they never said, "Yeah, that's a good song." When we got into things like "Guitar Gently Weeps," we recorded it one night and there was such a lack of enthusiasm. So I went home really disappointed because I knew the song was good.
The next day I brought Eric Clapton with me. He was really nervious. I was saying: "Just come and play on the session, then I can sing and play accoustic guitar." Because what happened when Eric was there [Harrison is stressing his words, relating this anecdote confidentially] on that day and later on when Billy Preston-I pulled in Billy Preston on Let It Be-it helped because the others would have to control themselves a bit more. John and Paul mainly, because they had to, you know, act more handsomely. Eric was very nervous saying, "No, what will they say?" And I was saying "Fuck 'em, that's my song." You know, he was the first [non-Beatle] person who'd ever played on anything.
It must have been terrifying....
...and it was a good date. Paul would always help along when you'd done his ten songs-then when he got 'round to doing one of my songs, he would help. It was silly. It was very selfish, actually. Sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs. I mean, my God, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" was so fruity. After a while we did a good job on it, but when Paul got an idea or an arrangement in his head....But Paul's really writing for a 14-year-old audience now anyhow. I missed his last tour, unfortunately.
"Guitar Gently Weeps" was such a personal song, I'd always wondered why Eric was there.
Well, I'd been through this sitar thing-I'd played sitar for three years. And I'd just listened to classical Indian music and practiced sitar-except for when we played dates, studio dates, and then I'd get the guitar our and just play, you know, learn a part and play for the record. But I'd really lost of lot of interest in the guitar. I remember I came from California and I shot this piece of film for the film on Ravi's [Shankar] life called Raga and I was carrying a sitar. And we stopped in New York and checked in a hotel and Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton were both at the same hotel and that was the last time I really played the sitar like that. We used to hang out such a lot at that period, and Eric gave me a fantastic Les Paul guitar, which is the one he plays on that date. So it worked out well. I like the idea of other musicians contributing.
I helped Eric write "Badge," you know. Each of them had to come up with a song for that Goodbye Cream album and Eric didn't have his written. We were working across from each other and I was writing the lyrics down and we came to the middle part so I wrote "bridge." Eric read it upside down and cracked up laughing. "What's 'badge'?" he said. After that Ringo walked in drunk and gave us that line about the swans living in the park.
I always thought that, although it went unstated, your contributions guided the band's direction: Beatles '65, the country influence or the Indian influence.
Well, Ringo, as well, you know. We all gave as much as we could. The thing was, Paul and John wrote all the songs in the beginning. And they did write great songs, which made it more difficult to break in or get some action on the songwriting thing. But, you know, we all did contribute such a lot to the Beatles. There was a period of time when people thought, "Ringo doesn't play the drums"-I don't know what they thought of me-but they tended to think it was John and Paul for a period of time.
I helped out such a lot in all the arrangements. There were a lot of tracks, though, where I played bass. Paul played lead guitar on "Taxman" and he played guitar-a good part-on "Drive My Car."
You played bass?
No. I didn't play. We laid the track because what Paul would do-if he'd written a song, he'd learn all the parts for Paul and then come to the studio and say (sometimes he was very difficult): "Do this." He'd never give you the opportunity to come out with something. But on "Drive My Car" I just played the line, which is really like a lick off "Respect," you know, the Otis Redding version-duum-da-da-da-da-da-da-dum-and I played that line on the guitar and Paul laid that with me on bass. We laid the track down like that. We played the lead part later on top of it. There were a lot of things: Like on a couple of dates Paul wasn't on it at all. Probably only about five tunes altogether, where one of us might not have been on.
Which of the Beatles albums do you still listen to?
I liked when we got into Rubber Soul, Revolver-each album had something good about it and progressed. There were albums which weren't any good as far as I was concerned, like Yellow Submarine. We put all the songs together into an album form-I'm talking about the English albums now, because the States we found later that for every two albums we had, they'd made three because we put fourteen tracks on an album, and we'd also have singles that weren't included on albums in those days. They'd put the singles-take off a bunch of tracks, change all the runnin' order and then they'd make new packages like Yesterday and Today, just aweful packages.
That entire era was so productive; did it seem that way to you?
Yeah, it was good, it was enjoyable. We'd get into doing harmonies and this and that. Because in the early days we were only working on four-track tapes. So what we'd do would be work out most of the basic track on one track, get all the balance and everything set, all the instruments. They we'd do the vocals or say, overdub. If there was guitar, lines would come in on the second verse and piano on the middle eight with shakers and tambourines. We'd line up and get all the sounds right and do it in a take and then do all the vocal harmonies over.
Those old records weren't really stereo. They were mono records and they were rechanneled. Some of the stereo is terrible because you've got the backing on one side. In fact, when we did the first two albums-at least the first album-which was Please Please Me, we did straight onto a two-track machine. So there wasn't any stereo as such, it was just the voices on one track and the backing on the other. Sgt. Pepper was only a four-track.
It's hard to believe.
Yup. Well, we had an orchestra on a separate four-track machine in "Day in the LIfe." We tried to sync them up, I remember; they kept going out of sync in playback so we had to remix it.
Was the rest of the band difficult when you started getting into Indian music?
No really. They weren't really as interested. When I'd first met Ravi, he played a private concert just at my house and he came with Alla Rakha, and John and Ringo came to that. I know Ringo just didn't want to know about the tabla because it just seemed so far out to him...
...he couldn't relate to it...?
...well, he could relate to it as a percussion instrument, as drums, but how Rikha actually played it he couldn't figure that out at all. But they liked it; they knew there was something great about it, but they weren't into it as I was. Then they all went to India and had those experiences in India, too, which you know, for anybody who goes to India, I think straightaway you can relate much more to Indian music, because it makes so much more sense having been there.
They always laugh at his python
Still light and already Southern California is frosting. George's film is being edited in Michael Wadleigh's North Hollywood home, on the very same KEM machine on which he edited Woodstock. ("I've never seen it [the movie]," George admits, "but I've heard my friend Alvin Lee is quite good.") The property rubs up against Beverly Hills. Originally, the neighborhood was constructed to house the Hills' domestic "help"; now it's L.A. funk.
Buildings ramble endlessly, stuffed with arches and spare rooms and overgrown bits of jungle. Wadleigh's driveway is cluttered with a for-sale van, pink Fiat convertible, and Bugatti motorcycle. The back is lush, insane garden. Palm trees and vines choke each other for breathing room. Pots and pans hang from clotheslines and two picnic tables sit dejectedly in the shade. Harrison strides eagerly to the detached editing room, bits of plaid sock peeking from under his fatigues.
Co-director/editor/producer Michael Collins already looks tired. All the footage, shot in one all-night session in a borrowed L.A. courtroom, is spliced together for George's viewing. Buttons light, spools whir and a mugging, comfortable Harrison bops across the screen. Take after take, "This Song" jumps out and Jim Keltner's gavel land just a little offbeat, Ronnie Wood's lady junor moves out of sync. Harrison gazes at his screen-self, firing suggestions about rhythm, pacing, good angles. His technical knowledge is stunning.
At a break, George casually mentions a Beatles film no one has ever seen. It's hidden is some estate somewhere. Shots of "the boys" rushing offstage into a waiting limo are spliced to the band leaving the same limo to receive the MBE and to limo scenes from Help. The most incredible footage captures them leaving the same black Rolls to respond to press questions about Brian Epstein's death. Blinded in photographers' flashes, mouths more mechanically, George's dramatization is disturbing. He shrugs, "We didn't know what to do. We were lost."
Olivia Aria on the sliding glass doors, changing the moment. A slight, dark woman with a sculptured, almost Aztec face, she smiles often. The couple met while Olivia worked at Dark Horse. After more than two years, they are an informal familiar pair. Olivia reaches into her shopping bag, pulling out boxes of new shoes for George's media tour. The first contains a pair of Italianesque loafers. Harrison tries them, a little shy, a little shaken by their sleekness. "They'll look great with your new suit," Olivia says. She quickly offers another pair; brown suede with white stitching. Mimicking a clerk, she grab George by the ankle: "They're really you, sir." Harrison calls for a shoehorn. He tries them on and oohs and ahhhs. "I'll take a dozen, squire," he bellows.
On screen, a boxer in red satin shorts beats a meek young girl senseless. Every time she climbs to her feet he decks her. George Harrison is practically prostrate with laughter. He nudge-nudges Derek Taylor, who cheers on the bully. They've both seen this Monty Python bit before, several times. Wadleigh gets up to tune his latest toy-an Advent video. In front of him, a narrator describes waking the champion each morning with a hammer and chisel.
Harrison and Taylor trade off Python routines, George reciting the "Rutles" segment that good friend Eric Idle brought to Saturday Night. The Rutles, he explains, are imitation Beatles right down to the "T" on their drum. "They do all these really dumb Dick Lester bits." The voice, one realizes jarringly, is straight out of Hard Day's Night. "Y'know, falling down is a big field." He loves it.
Taylor had been involved with the Beatles for over a decade. He operated well in the madness that was Apple Records. General manager of Warners in Europe, he is one reason Harrison jumped to the label. "It's nice to see George so happy," Taylor intones smoothly, "he's a good man." Harrison, meanwhile, leans over to chat with Derek's date and evey rock star's wet-dream, Stevie Nicks. Barefoot, curled up on the rug, more a shagged high school girl than celeb, she giggles at a particular Python.
Talk turns more serious; the two begin comparing lawsuits. Stevie mentions a surprisingly hostile press reception in England. Her baby-doll face darkens. "All they wanted to know was 'Where is Peter Green?' They only asked about the old Fleetwood Mac. So I got on a plane and flew home." George looks over to me and smiles. "Reporters. All they care about is dead history."
No. There are nine months between me and Paul; nine months between Paul and John. In the early days, when I was still at school, I was really small-I sort of grew in height when we were away in Hamburg. A few years before that, when I was still at school, we did a few parties at night-just silly things-John, Paul and I, and there were a couple of other people who kept coming and going. John was in school, the College of Art, which was adjoining our school. Paul and I would sneak out of our school and go into his place, which was a bit more free, you know-ours was still in school uniforms-and we could smoke in his place and do all that. I think he did feel a bit embarrassed about that because I was so tiny-I only looked about ten years old, but in Hamburg...We were living right in the middle of St. Pauli, which is right in the middle of the Reeperbaln district in Hamburg, all the clubowners were like gangsters and ... everyboyd in the nightclubs, all the waiters had tear-gas guns, truncheons, knuckle-dusters-they were a heavy crew. Everybody around that district were homosexauls, transvestites, pimps and hookers [breaks into a laugh], you know, being in the middle of that when I was 17!
It was good fun, you know, but when we moved into the second club we were becoming so popular with the crowd of regulars, that we never got in any problems with all these gangster sort of people. They never tried to beat us up, because they knew, you know, the Beatles. And you know, they'd say die pedels, die pedels, whatever little kids' terminology would be for it-that's German for prick. They'd say die pedels.
The whole image of the Beatles got cleaned up and smoothed over which is always attributed to Brian [Epstein].
In the Hamburg days we had to play so long really rock it up and leap about and foam at the mouth and do whatever. We missed the whole period; in England Cliff Richards and the Shawdows became the big thing. They all had matching ties and handkerchiefs and gray suits. But we were still doing Gene Vincent, Bo Didley, you know, Ray Charles things. So when we got back to England that was the big thing. They didn't know us in Liverpool and there was a gig at the townhall, or something, at a dance. There was an advertisement in the newspaper saying "Direct From Hamburg" and so many people really dug the band and they were comeing up to us and saying, "Oh, you speak good English!"
But a year or so after that, when Brian Epstein came on the scene, he said, "You should smarten up because nobody want to know you"-TV producers or record producers or whatever. We just looked too scruffy. In Germany they had a lot of leather stuff, like black leather trousers and jackets and cowboy boots.
Do yo miss that Hamburg in you music?
I just had such a good time just playing, you know. That's what I miss. Even when we sold records and started doing a lot of tours, it was a bit of a drag because we'd go on the road and we'd play the same tunes to different people and then we'd drop a few and add news ones all the time, but basically it was the same old tunes. It got stale. I felt stale, you know because you play the same riffs da-da-da-ding-dow, you know, "Twist and Shout" and things. By the time you came off the road, been touring the world, I'd just want to not particulary...
...look at an instrument...
...yeah, for a while, and so we did get very stale and that's a period when-I way saying about being into the sitar-I got really friendly with Eric, and all the kids were playing guitars. I'd felt as though I'd missed so many years out.
You mean like Hendrix and Cream and that whole era?
Yeah, and all the young kids coming up were all playing go good and I hadn't been involved with it for so long, both being in the Beatles, just playing the same old tunes, and playing Indian music. So I felt a long way behind, that was one reason why I had all the instruments. I suddenly realized "I don't like these guitars" and Eric gave me this Les Paul which really got me back into it because it sounded so funky. That was one of the reasons I started playing slide, you know, because I felt so far behind in playing hot licks. With slide I didn't have any instruction, I just got one and started playing.
Did you feel self-conscious about your guitar playing?
I just had to force myself back. A lot of it was just confidence.
That was the fault of being in a band...
...that was stagnating....
John said that the best Beatles music happened before you ever cut a record.
....mmmh, well, yes, I think some of the best stuff we did was when we stopped touring and spent a lot of time in the studio. You know, we lived in a studio, really. A lot of the things which were intnovations as far as recording went-I think that was some of the best music. But as far as playing live, a agree with what John says about the old days. We were really rocking. We had fun, you know, we really had fun.
Since you've gone solo your signature, musically, is different from that now. Like when you did "Wah-Wah"...
...That was the song-when I left during the Let It Be movie, there's a scene where Paul and I are having an argument...
...and we're trying to cover it up. Then the next scene I'm not there and Yoko's just screaming, doing her screeching number. Well, that's where I'd left, and I went home and wrote "Wah-Wah." It'd given me a wah-wah, like I had such a headache with that whole argument, it was such a headache....
When did you actually meet Eric for the first time?
We were in Hammersmith, Odeon, and the Yardbirds were sort of supporting a group on the bill, and I just met him then but really didn't get to know him. Met him again when the Spoonful were at the Marquee and John and I went down and were just sort of hanging about backstage with them. We were going down to their hotel, I can remember just seeing Eric: "I know him, I'm sure I know this guy and he seems like, you know, really lonely." I remember we went out and got in the car and went off to Sebastian's hotel and I remember thinking, "We should've invited that guy 'cause I'm sure we know him from somewhere and he just seemed, like, lonely."
And then a couple of years, maybe a year or so later, the BeeGees, the Cream, were involved with Brian Epstein originally, so I started meeting Eric and hanging out with him then at Brian Epstein's house. We sort of went out quite a bit with Brian for dinner and stuff, and then the whole Cream thing started happening. Through that period he played "Guitar Gently Weeps" and after that he just escaped out of London because some cop was after him, and he bought a house just a bit further out in the country from where I was and we used to hang out.
"Savoy Truffle," on the White Album, was written for Eric. He's got this real sweet-tooth and he'd just had his mouth worked on. His dentist said he was through with candy. So as a tribute I wrote "You'll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle." The truffle was some kind of sweet, just like all the rest: cream tangerine, ginger sling-just candy, to tease Eric.
I remember him saying he was dedicating "Layla" to seom mysterious woman. Did you know what was happening?
Well, yeah, sort of. I mean, you know, the thing with...is with Eric, over the years, and, you know, we both [George and Patti Harrison] loved Eric-still do-and there were a few funny things. I pulled his chick once. That's happened, and now you'd think he was trying to get his own back on me [laughing]. But much later, when all that thing was going on, when I split from Patti, you know,...Patti and he got together after we'd really split and actually, we'd been splitting up for years. That was a funny thing, you know, I thought that was the best thing to do, for us to split, and we should've just done it much sooner. But I didn't have any problem about it; Eric had the problem. Every time I'd go and see him and stuff, he'd be really hung up about it, and I was saying: "Fuck it, man, don't be apologizing" and he didn't believe me. I was saying "I don't care."
You said All Things Must was like an explosion for you.
Yuh. I had a lot from during the Beatles time and I was writing all the time, and I wrote a few while I was making the album as well.
Which was your favorite-"My Sweet Lord"?
No, not particularly. I like different song for different reasons. I like the first song that was on the album, "I'd Have You Any Time," and particularly the recording of it. Because Derek and the Dominoes played on most of those tracks and it was a really nice experience making that album, because I was really a bit paranoid, musically. Having this whole thing with the Beatles had left me really paranoid. I remember having those people in the studio and thinking, "God these songs are so fruity! I can't think of which song to do." Slowly I realized, "We can do this one" and I'd play it to them and they'd say, "Wow, yeah! Great song!" And I'd say: "Really? Do you really like it?" I realized that it was okay, that they were sick of playing all that other stuff. It's great to have a tune, and I liked that song, "I'd Have You Any Time" because of Bob [Dylan].
I was with Bob and he'd gone through his broken neck period and was being very quiet, and he'd didn't have much confidence, anyhow-that's the feeling I got with him in Woodstock. He hardly said a word for a couple of days. Anyway, we finally got the guitars out and it loosened things up a bit. It was really a nice time with all his kids around and we were just playing. It was near Thanksgiving. He sang me that song and he was, like, very nervous and shy, and he said, "What do you think about this song?" And I'd felt very strongly about Bob when I'd been in India years before-the only record I took with me along with all my Indian records was Blonde on Blonde. I felt somehow very close to him, or something, you know, because he was so great, so heavy and so observant about everything. And yet to find him later very nervous and with no confidence....
But the thing that he said on Blonde on Blonde about what price you have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice-"Oh, mama, can this really be the end" .... So, I was thinking, "There is a way out of it all, really, in the end." He sang at Woodstock that song, "Love is all you need [singing]/makes the world go round/Love and only love can't be denied/No matter what you think about it/You're just not going to be able to live without it/Take a tip from one who's tried." And I thought, "Isn't it great, because I know people are going to think, 'Shit, what's Dylan doing?'" But as far as I was concerned, it was great for him to realize his own peace; and it meant something. You know, he'd always been so hard...and I thought "a lot of people are not going to like this" but I think it's fantastic because Bob has obviously had the experience. I was saying to him, "You write incredible lyrics" and he was saying, "How do you write those tunes?" So I was just showing him chords like crazy. Chords. Because he tended just to play a lot of basic chords and move a capo up and down. And I was saying, "Come on, write me some words," and he was scribbling words down. And it just killed me because he'd been doing all these sensational lyrics and he wrote: "All you have is yours/all you see is mine/and I'm glad to hold you in my arms/I'd have you any time." The idea of Dylan writing something like...so vey simple.
Did you get any feedback from John or Ringo or anybody, saying "Congratulations"?
I remember John was really negative at teh time, but I was away and he came 'round to my house and there was a friend of mine living there who was a friend of John's. John just saw the album cover and said, "He must be fucking bad, putting three records out. And look at the picture on the front, he looks like an asthmatic Leon Russell." There was a lot of negativity going down. You know ... Ringo played on almost the whole album. I don't care about that. Fuck it-we've been through the thing. I felt that whatever happened, whether it was a flop or a success, I was gonna go on my own just to have a bit of peace of mind.
So you weren't apprehensive about how it would go over?
No. Not at all. I felt it was good music, whether people bought it or not. I was concerned that the musicians who played on it were concerned. It was good.
By the time it was finished, you were confident that it was good?
Even before I started I knew I was gonna make a good album because I had so many songs and I had so much energy. For me to do my own album after all that-it was joyous. Dream of dreams.
Play mystic for me
Micci True, the disco lady, purses her Dorothy Provine lips. "Nobody here wants to party," she pouts. Her red-Revlonded nails snake together in despair. "There's sooo many discos in Boston...what a waste." Brightening suddenly-"Do ya think he wants to party?"-she points to the man in white at the center table. He is smiling hugely; brighter than on Ed Sullivan, wider than at Shea. George Harrison lights another Gitane and as Thirty-Three and 1/3 resounds happily across the banquet room, the Boston press kneels at his side.
Mo Ostin reads his "Welcome George" speech again-it's been L.A. and Chicago, with Washington, D.C., and New York to go. He give Harrison the Indian elephant again; everyone eats roast beef au jus one more time. In Los Angeles a girl had leapt to her feet and made George dance with her. Boston, predictably, is a little more reserved. Yet, as George jives into a "tappin' and a-rappin" Lord Buckley tribute, the audience cheers. "This Song" has arrived from L.A. and it bounces along cleverly
Outside, people wait for GEORGE HARRISON. Fresh, pink, hopeful faces press towards the closed door. Glossies, autograph books, an old Beatles sweatshirt-the dream isn't over; it can't be. As we exit, I pull up the rear of a protective phalanx. Girls scream, flash cubes flare; another hard day's night. An octopus of desperate arms reaches for GEORGE. "Whenya comin' back George?" a teen voice demands. A squealing girl hands Harrison a Ravi Shankar album to sign. "Nice taste," he acknowledges, "I never listened to it!" But we're already backing into the inevitable elevator...
A bless vacuum. Nobody speaks; anything would be awkward. So this is what it's like. "That went quite well, didn't it?" Harrison sighs to himself. He is bearing up nicely. The elevator slips slowly past each floor as a frantic kid charges up the stairs; you can see him through the window. Skipping steps, pulling hard at the handrail, he chases the car. His eyes are wild, wired. At the third floor, as our doors open, the boy lurches to the landing. Dennie Morgan and a publicist hurry to shield George physically from this particular insanity. Are the guy's eyes really rolling? Harrison is ushered towards his room.
"Let me talk here a sec," George insists. The kid is rigid with energy-electric. "I...uh...I...George...I play the guitah." The words spurt and stumble, exploding violently from him. His hair hangs in a modified Beatle cut; there is no collar on his jacket. "I play guitah in a band!"
George is serene, diffusing in his calm. The kid has met a Beatle. "Keep playin', man," George says. "Stay with it." You can see the boy drain before your eyes. He turns to go, and Harrison is whisked into his room.
Inside, George lights a stick of incense and places it in a lamp. A scented steam of smoke arcs above as he sits down to take off his tight new shoes. Harrison orders room service tea and pads around the suite to hang up his white jacket. This media swing is dealt with like a shot of scotch; it gets him off but he throws it back and finishes real fast. After Washington and New York, George, Olivia and their musician pal Gary Wright kiss this material world good night. They will be in Southern India in four days, on a pilgrimage to a huge festival at a sacred Hindu shrine. (Olivia hopes she doesn't get lost when the men and women are separated.) While in India, Harrison will celebrate the wedding of Kumar Shankar, his engineer (Ravis nephew).
Talk turns to touring, then to planes. George's faith in Krishna, it turns out, was consummated while circling over Kennedy Airport. He was fogged in, running out of gas and chanting on a commercial jet as loud as his voice would go. It worked.
Little strands of smoke curl towards the ceiling above him. Harrison smiles. He leans over and presses his hand to my heart. "I'm not frightened anymore," George says calmly. "He's inside us all, anyhow."
Let's move ahead. On the new album I've never been able to figure out whether you're talking about Krishna or a woman.
That's good-I like that. I think individual love is just a little of universal love. The ultimate love, the universal love or the love of God, is a basic goal; each one of us must manifest our individual love, manifest the divinity which is in us. All individual love between one person loving another or loving this, that or the other, is all small parts or small examples of that one universal love. It's all God; I mean if you can handle the word-God.
Ultimately teh love can become so big that we can love the whole of creation instead of "I love this but I don't like that." Singing to the Lord or an individual is, in a way, the same. I've done that consciously in some songs.
I always thought Hindu mythology was fascinating like Greek mythology...
The mythology part was one thing I could never figure out, and it took me a long time to be able to realize-just like when they talk about Jesus Christ, I think of him as an historical thing. The same thing with Krishna. Krishna actually was in a body as a person, and the whole thing with the mythology which makes it complicated was, if he's God, what's he doing fighting on a battlefield? It took me ages to try and figure that out and, again, it was Yogananda's spirital interpretation of Bhagavad Gita that made me realize what it was. Our idea of Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield in the chariot. So this was the point-that we're in these bodies, which is like a kind of carnation, this life, which is kind of a battlefield. The senses of the body, the five senses, are the horses pulling the chariot, and we have to get control over the chariot by getting control over the reins.
And Arjuna in the end says, "Please Krishna, you drive the chariot" because unless we bring Christ or Krishna or Buddha or whichever of our spiritual guides or guru, what's called a sat-guru...we can go so far on our own, but without divine guidance or without being established in some sort of god consciousness, then we're going to crash our chariot and we're going to turn over and we're going to get killed in the battlefield. That's why say "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna," asking Krishna to come and take over the chariot. It's beautiful you know, because it works. In a way, Christ will help drive your chariot, or whoever the guru would be.
These people with shaved heads and saffron robes and bowing down to Krishna-in the West is may appear strange to people because of their ignorance of what it's about. On that count I think Prabhupada has done amazingly well, because in spite of people's ignorance and the barriers of ridicule that have been put up against them, they've set up so many temples and saved so many people from being drug addicts and what-have-you, just from the clutches of the battlefield. It's a fantastic thing and it should be encouraged, and it's only people's ignorance that puts it down.
You see Prabhupada as a friend?
He is a friend, he is my master who I have great respect for. It's just like if you want to learn how to ski, you go to somebody who'll teach you how to ski. You have to accept that instructor's word to be final if you want to get anywhere, otherwise you don't have it. I accept Prabhupada as qualified to teach people about Krishna. I felt in a way, it's something that is in you consciousness or in your heart. I don't have to dress in saffron robes and shave my head to be in a spiritually involved way of thinking. I've had a lot of interest in different ways and one of the things I never liked was the whole bit in the late '60s when everyone started getting into it. One thing I really disliked was this "My guru's better than your guru"-it's like kids on the street: "My dad's better than your dad." The point is that there is only one God, he's got millions of names, but there's only one God. All Maharishi ever gave me was good advice and he gave me the technique of meditation, which is really wonderful.
...They say he was a...
Well, you know, John went through a negative thing more so than I did with Maharishi. I can see now much clearer what happened, and there was still just a lot of ignorance that went down. Maharishi was fantastic and I admire him like Prabhupada for being able, in spite of all the ridicule, to just keep on going. And there's more people now-especially in the United States-who are all doing it, and in the 60s, they were laughing at us saying it was stupid. All of these people have influenced me and I've tried to get the best out of all of them without getting spiritual indigestion.
I've always wondered about the individual practice of various sects. Krishna Consciousness devotees get up at 4:00 a.m. so they won't have wet dreams.
[laughing] Well, that's not the point. The point is they get up at four in the morning because, first of all, sleep they call the "little death." It would be great if we only needed four or five hours' sleep a night. The thing is that when you realize that every soul is potentially divine-the goal is to manifest the divinity. People may frown on that, may think it's ridiculous, but every one of us should become-is-a potential Christ and should become Christ-conscious. To become fully realized-like masters. And the moment that you realize we're potentially divine, there's no time to lose. Prabhupada probably sleeps an hour or two a day. These yogis don't need sleep at all, they don't need food; they're living on the Divine Energy-we call it the Cosmic Energy, prana.
What about you albums like Living in the Material World, the whole concept of maya, it's so ironic that you got that you got caught up in it.
Oh, yeah. I'm living in it. But people interpret it to mean, money, cars, that sort of thing-although those are part of the material world. The material world is like the physical world, as opposed to the spiritual. For me, living in the material world just meant being in this physical body with all the things that go along with it.
The litigation involved in the concept for Bangladesh, didn't that depress you?
Yeah, that is sure enough to make you go crazy and commit suicide. The whole thing of being Beatles-it was very heavy on us four, it was like some people wrote saying, in those days, "Well, the problem with the Beatles is that when we were all growing up they were just tooling 'round the world in limousines." Actually, it was the reverse. We were forced to grow up must faster. And what they call growing up was actually just being stuck in a rut while we were transcending layer upon layer. So the heaviness of just the things we've been through and are still going though, we either use it or rise above it or it pulls you down. For me, it's like it make me have to call upon the inner me for the strength in order to rise above it because that is part of the maya. Whereas if you just cop out, it doesn't do anybody any good.
Have you ever seen that as an altimate possibility?
Yeah, I can see that, quite easily disappear in another five or six years. But, I dunno, when it gets to that point we'll have to see-it's something which is growing all the time. The demand for my own realization. It is priority to go 'round being a rock 'n roll star? That's what I'm saying, there's no time to lose, really, and there's gonna have to be a point where I've got to drag myself away and try and fulfill whatever I can.
You get to a point where being a rock star is almost a deviation.
It is, in many ways. Since I got involved with it in the '60s, I've been heavily into it and then at times come right back out of it. There are a lot of people in the business that I love, friends, you know, who are really great but who don't have any desire for knowledge or realization. It's good to boogie once in a while, but when you boogie all your life away it's just a waste of a life and of what we've been given. I have to pull myself back out of that maya. Unfortunately, I don't have much to relate to the friends who just boogie all the time. It's very difficult. I can get high like the rest of them, but it's actually low. The more dope you take the lower you get, really. Having done that, I can say that from experience. Whatever it is you just need more, and the more you take the worse you get.
In the temples I've been to...
...women look after the kids, they cook and serve all the food...
...and ever more so, there's no sex unless there's marriage and even then it's only for procreative purposes, right?
Abstinence is a part of almost every major religion when you get right down to it.
When you get really into it, yeah.
Is it something you can live with?
Well, it's something-we have to do what we can do. The main thing is we can make an effort, you know. I think that's what really counts. What you feel in you heart and what effort you can put into it counts. I think if you do something and you don't really like doing it, then you're a hypocrite about it. In a way, we all have desires; we must learn either to fulfill the desires or terminate the desires. If you can do it by being celibate and it's easy to handle, it's okay. You can either lose certain desires you had when you were younger or the thing that you have to watch, particulary the sex and things like drugs, too, the problem is, you can go, "Oh, well I've just have a bit and then I'll be fulfilled." But it doesn't work that way. First you have a bit and then you want more and you want more and more.
It is impossible to balance that when you're in a relationship to please the woman you're with and your own spiritual inclination?
Yes, I think it can. If I'm reading what you're saying, you've been reading those interviews with Eric Clapton saying about my ex-wife, Patti, that we hadn't-I brought it up, I don't mind being personal-because I was always meditating. The point is to have a balance between inner life and the external. Again, with relationships with people, it never works if one person is into it and the other isn't; it's difficult on both sides. Usually if a fellow's on smack his girlfriend either has to leave him or get in on it; it's like that.
Did the pressures of being on the road bring you to Krishna?
You either go crackers and commit suicide or you try and use every incident in order to realize something and attach yourself more strongly to an inner strength.
Is that what you were looking for in '66 and '67?
For me, it was like a flash. The first time I had acid it just opened up something in my head that was inside of me and I realized a lot of things. I didn't learn them, because I already knew them, but that happened to be the key that opened the door to reveal them. From the moment I had that, I wanted to have it all the time-these thoughts about the yogis and the Himalayas, and Ravi's music.
Were you religious when you were growing up?
I wasn't really, although, when I got into meditation, I'd been having sort of experiences like when I was a kid. I used to always see things. [He chuckles.] At night I'd be half in between awake and asleep and I'd have like what used to be called nightmares.
I used to have an experience when I was a kid which used to frighten me. I realized in meditation that I had the same experience and it's something to do with always feeling tiny. There was always this thing which I later related to the mantra, and this feeling would just go with it. I'd feel really tiny and at the same time I'd feel I was a whole thing as well. It was feeling like two different things at the same time. And this little thing, with this feeling that would vibrate righ through me, would start off rolling around and it would start getting bigger and bigger and faster and faster and faster [his voice races] until it it was going like so far and getting so fast that is was mind-boggling and I'd come out of it really scared.
I used to get that experience a lot when we were doing Abbey Road, recording. I'd go into this big empty studio and get into a soundbox inside of it and do my meditation inside of there and I had a couple of indications of that same experience, which I realized was what I had when I was a kid.
Saturday night special
Cameras swoop through and dive like gulls. George slips into "That's All Right, Mama"-throwing a little Elivs back at us. Just a taste, a bit of raunch from Johnny and the Moondogs' lead guitarist. Bodies sway around the set. He smiles; it still works. TV is ready, and puckish producer Lorne Michaels snaps Paul Simon and George Harrison back in motion for the third time.
The audience is still in love-that mica-flake "something special" dazzles the room. Harrison squints at the "Homeward Bound" idiot cards and really hits his verse this time. Hits it harder than Simon, sneering for real about factory towns. A collective intake of breath; Think of the possibilities. The song ends and George pulls at an imaginary twanger on his acoustic guitar, like a little Carl Perkins. Give that boy a hollow-body Gretsch.
As the camera pause to realign shots, the audience calls out requests. A row of girls squeals intermittently at his every gesture. Simon sings "50 Ways." George listens. Paul sings "The Boxer." George tunes. Someone screams, "Sing 'Yesterday'!" George laughs, then croons a Dean Martin-greasy caricature of the McCartney ballad.
A girl shouts to Simon's left and he asks Harrison what she said. "She said, 'I know what it's like to be dead.'"
George breaks into "Rock Island Line" and Simon falls right behind. It's a superstar hootenanny and where did he pick that one up? The lights dim just as George begins "Dark Horse." The audience had wanted "Something." The quiet one, the youngest Beatle, keeps singing: "I am a dark horse/Running on a dark race course."
"Anyone got any downs?" Chevy Chase screams up the aisles. "Hey, how come the cameras are always on George?" he stage-whispers to Lorne Michaels. "Paul's a big star too, y'know." True, but the special chill, the group shudder, is for George. He owns New York, always has.
Simon begins "Bye Bye Love." What a strange Everly Brothers they make, yet the spirit is there. Each verse closes in on a rockabilly groove; only the acoustic guitars keep it folk shaded. During the break, George digs into the pocket of his Gitane. He looks comfortable under the lights.
That's it. What's missing is the clap-track, the echoed syncopation-youth, early '60s, frozen forever. Obvious as a skiffle, as those lights flashing in some minimalist Ed Sullivan set. This Saturday Night show is too hip. Eveyone's so casually loose and mellow. The attitude's off. Where are the Indians sitting on flagpoles in the middle of Florida, Mitzi Gaynor on the Navy Steel Band-where's the goddam electricity? Any more golden and these two would melt.
Which is where the clap-track fits in. No party should be without one. Crisp and around the beat, it was freshness, clean energy, and always the promise of more. Sitting easy in the spotlights is a long way from being the punk who spat "Don't Bother Me." George didn't want you hand, he didn't want you at all. Didn't have the time. All he wanted was an excuse to hang a tremelo guitar lick.
But there's no bottling teen rebellion, or footage of the Kennedy inauguration, or clap-tracks. They don't keep well. George is a wrenching lesson in evolution. He's slugged it bloody with record companies and managers and stayed in the business. Spent twelve years playing out the blossoming ideas of two rock geniuses and still composes. Struggled with his religion and remained faithful.
The taping ends. George's entouage floods to the exit, swirling press in its wake. "George," I ask, "Is it true the Rutles are getting back together?" His face bursts into a beatific smile. "It's true," he laughs, "It's true."