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Here I Am... There You Are: George Harrison

by Terry Scott Taylor

HM Magazine July/August 2002

Contributing Editor Terry Scott Taylor is a veteran musician and songwriter, renowned for his gigs with Daniel Amos, Swirling Eddies, and the Lost Dogs, as well as for Production and solo work. More info at www.TerryScottTaylor.com

George Harrison was known as the "quiet" Beatle. Overshadowed by the powerhouse talents of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, George had to fight to be heard, and was mostly confined by George Martin (producer of the Beatle canon) to one, sometimes two tracks per album. Along the way, George's brilliance began to emerge, with songs like "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Something," pointing the way to the masterful post Beatle solo work of All Things Must Pass.

Rolling Stone Magazine did a stellar job in their George Harrison tribute issue, saluting not only George's song writing talents, but his often overlooked guitar playing genius as well. Obviously George was central to the Beatles' "sound," but even this "Beatle freak" was struck by just how essential and extensive his contribution was. This is especially awe-inspiring when one learns that in the early days Harrison was called upon to basically improvise his guitar parts on the spot, and to play them without error, since the tracking possibilities were fairly limited. Later, George had more time to flesh out his parts, and the results are often stunning. It was during this time that he developed his signature slide guitar method, whose fluidity and distinction have rarely been matched.

Though frustrated by his comrades "block out," George wrote a number of classics, including the masterpiece, "Something," which has been recorded by admiring artists more often than any other Beatles song, with the exception of "Yesterday." Sinatra called "Something" the greatest pop song of the twentieth century. George learned to play sitar after discovering the Hindu faith, and his first halting efforts can be heard on John Lennon's "Norwegian Wood." George was the first to attempt marrying eastern musical to American rock n' roll, marking a time of cultural and spiritual upheaval, and inspiring young people, or "Hippies," as they came to be known, to seek out religious truth, and to undertake a quest for spiritual transcendence. George seemed to embody this quest, and though on some level this was perhaps a way of defining himself as a man and musician by stepping of the shadows of Lennon and McCartney, George seemed sincere and committed in his beliefs. Over the years, they never waned.

It is certain that he struggled with the drawbacks of his own celebrity and wealth. This came home especially for all the Beatles, whose break up was hostile and ugly, and anyone following the history of their demise would be hard pressed to conclude that fortune and fame equals wisdom, fulfillment, tranquility, etc. Harrison stayed consistent in his beliefs about what constitutes true happiness, and he chose to stay as far away from the limelight as he possibly could. He knew life's priorities, and set about to quietly enjoy his wife, family and friends. He only occasionally emerged for a brief appearance, a recording session, or a few film projects on which he would serve as producer.

Tragedy marked the last years of George's life, beginning with an incident in which he was attacked in his home by a knife-weilding stalker. He miraculously came through, only to be cut down at a relatively young age with cancer. George's reported last words to his fans were: "Love one another," echoing the words of Christ who called this one of the greatest commandments.

Not long ago, I was privy to a conversation taking place in a Christian chat room concerning George Harrison's eternal destiny. "He's in hell," some stated flatly, while others seemed to think that by virtue of his greatness, his religious fervor, or even his "Beatlehood," George couldn't possibly be lost eternally. It was a heated and emotional debate -- the "he's in hell" crowd seeming having the upper hand. Still, the brazen, almost cocky and cold way in which they argued their pragmatic theological postition was somewhat disturbing. "Hey, we're talking about a human being here," I though, "not a statistic. We're not talking about Adolf Hitler for heaven's sake. Where are the tears?" Still, it is a position which is toigh to object to if your only argument is some vague form of emotional universalism.

A pastor once told me flatly that the Beatles were responsible for leading thousands of young people to hell. The irony is that the cultural upheavel and religious search of the 60's, led in part by Harrison and his bandmates, was a major factor in leading long haired barefooted "hippies" to this very pastor's church! Now, don't get me wrong. Of course, it is God who calls us, but if one can say that the Beatles led millions to hell, can it equally be said that they led millions to heaven? The Beatles may not have intended it, but God did, and so the paradox presents itself. Fact is that God, through the spiritual search undertaken by many people like myself in the 60s, brought people to Christ as a result of a search that the Beatles, however inadvertently, inspired in the first place.... Or perhaps better said -- God inspired through them. "What was intended for evil, worked to your good."

Let's not forget that God is a perfect Judge. Whatever the answer is to the question: "Is Harrison in hell?" I'd love to think that "Here Comes The Sun" and "My Sweet Lord" (with slightly amended lyrics) is being sung by George right now in honor of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but it may only be a whimsical and idealistic thought. If it is only this, then I can still find comfort in knowing that what is to be, is exactly as it ought to be. A righteous and just Judge will render the final verdict, and no one will find our Lord to be unreasonable. In fact, we will praise Him eternally for his righteous judgments. Still, why is it that I can't help feeling that some of us would be more than a little annyed at God if we found, despite our theological certanties to the contrary, that George Harrison was among the multitudes of heaven, praising the One who said "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father accept by Me.".