It's common knowledge I dig George Harrison.
Apart from Ringo Starr, he's really the only Beatle I can stand. But this isn't about what I can't stand about others who aren't George. This is about why I dig him. There's a lot of reasons to do so.
First and foremost, the man was no Saint. Nor did he pretend to be. As far as his philosophies and dogmas, they never truly bothered me. I mean in a way of saying, they never compelled me to rail against what he was presenting, nor feel he was preaching to me about what I should think or feel. I tend to believe his thoughts and feelings were earnest. For himself primarily, and for others should they feel the same. You didn't have to. You didn't even have to listen to the song(s). But never once did I feel his lyrical content was something that forced me to go to a church, or temple, or Pizza Hut to get salvation. I believe he was earnest. And genuine in his beliefs. He also had the balls to call Hallelujah and Hare Krishna one and the same. Which would have gotten him burned at the stake a few centuries earlier. As a very naughty person.
I think what I most dig about George Harrison is what most people seem to miss about the man. Or overlook. For one, he was not locked in a cocoon listening to only Messrs Lennon & McCartney for inspiration and instruction on how to compose a song. He had other influences which show up widely in his collective works. Lot of Motown and Smokey Robinson in George Harrison. There's a bit of Dylan and The Band in George Harrison. There's the early rock heroes in Chuck Berry, and Carl Perkins in George Harrison. There's Chet Atkins in George Harrison. And then there's something else which is heavily pervading in George Harrison's education in "How To Write A Song."
In the 1950's and 1960's, after the British Nationality Act of 1948, a lot of Commonwealth Citizens started arriving on the shores of England. Looking for opportunities. And these included people from India.
I don't know if you're familiar with the history of the Great British Empire and India, but it's a troubled one. Fairly troubled. I mean yes, in some ways both nations benefitted from the union. But in a lot of ways, the amount of bloodshed, heartache, and atrocity leaves a bitter taste for some. Maybe many. It's a troubled history. By 1968, Enoch Powell would make a very famous speech about the immigrants seeking homes in the Empire. (1)
The point is, any immigrant arriving in a country whose history with that immigrant's country is "troubled," may have to encounter more trouble before they're accepted as a member of the society. Or a proper member of the Empire. I'm not saying Enoch Powell gave them more trouble. I'm just saying people may not be all that welcoming to other people, because they know it's trouble coming. They may not want that trouble at all. They may not agree with their own country's policies and what it does to other people in other countries. But trouble is what it is.
George Harrison acted like an Ambassador for the Empire, welcoming its colonial citizens, and did so by doing something none of his peers or contemporaries, or anyone prior did.
Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!
It's Rudyard Kipling's "The Ballad of East and West."
George Harrison made that first line happen. He made East meet West, and he did so using a platform that would reach many people. And he did it for only 1.6% shares in the publishing, when he already owned his own publishing company with 80% royalties, and 100% copyright ownership. But that's for another prescription. (He didn't have to join Northern Songs in 1965 is what I'm saying.)
George Harrison reached out to India, and he came back with a Sitar in his hand.
You have to understand something. When composers like Ravel, or Stravinsky, or anyone that went "exotic" with their compositions did so, they did so remaining on their western instruments. "Excuse me, what is that ghastly noise you are making with your primitive toys. That's not music. Music has 12 notes in it, and that is all! Now go put your toys away, and get me some tea."
Ravel and Stravinsky may not have had those attitudes towards the East and its exotic music. But you can bet your butter many of their audiences did towards something some considered "savage." "Barbaric." "Primitive." Those attitudes did exist. And I believe they carried on right up until 1965. Because many of George Harrison's peers, or other musicians in other genres, stayed on their Western instrument when going raga. John Coltrane ventured into the East, but he did so remaining firmly attached to his saxophone. Dave Davies of The Kinks ventured into the East, but he did so with his amp plugged in. It's not that Coltrane or Davies thought them savages. It's just that things have a legacy. We may not ascribe or agree with the attitudes from the past, but they leave their mark, and sometimes make our decisions for us. The legacy lives on.
George Harrison did what any traveller should do when visiting another country. The respectful thing to do.
Learn the language.
Now, he was no Sitar master. He would have told you that straight out the gate. He would say, you have to listen to Ravi Shankar. He speaks the language. Ravi was The East's Ambassador to the West. And George was The West's Ambassador to the East. It was a diplomatic and earnest relationship, trying to understand the language of the other. To put behind the troubles of Empire and Raj. Of caste systems and mass genocide. Of just general bad blood. Except for the rich who profited of course from such ventures. It's mostly the huddled masses that receive the worst of such ventures away from home.
You just have to accept that modern Pop music, already has dug up the past multiple times. It borrows heavily from classical music, so already it's speaking in Russian, French, German, Italian, and English. Amongst many other languages. And the Rock 'n' Roll that so inspired a young George Harrison and countless others, has its roots in far away Africa. It got translated by others into sort of a United States of down South banjo hybrid version of Africa, but nonetheless Tutti Frutti, whether said by Little Richard or Pat Boone, became part of the lexicon.
And what George Harrison did, was actually speak the language he was injecting into the Pop Culture. Which frightened some, thrilled some, offended some, bored some, but nonetheless had massive effect on how Pop music sounded. It changed Pop music forever. The language of India had never before been spoken on Billboard in quite such a way. Never in its native tongue. But "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" said George Harrison was learning to speak in foreign tongue. He was not doing a version of Pigeon Indian. He was trying to speak their language, and share it with those who did not. Those who had heard it through a translator. Or someone who really didn't care what it said, they just liked the way it sounded. Even if it had more than 12 notes. And those who were offended by there being more than 12 notes in a scale, well. They just had to deal with it. Because there are. There's lots of notes. The language of Indian music is very complex.
This is a huge step culturally. It makes George Harrison not only a Beatle. It makes him one of the most important composers of the 20th century. By a mile. He did something few, if any had tried. And was in a position to have it be heard by countless teenyboppers, and their parents, on a mass scale. So the language was heard by many. George Harrison stopped writing "pop" tunes in 1966. By 1967, his lets get as many songs on this album so my 1.6% has something to show for it, turned into singular statements about his travels, and what he wanted to bring back with him. It wasn't just about making things all groovy, man. It was about bringing some of the philosophies with him. Not just the music in which it speaks through, but what the music is for in the first place. All glories to the Śrī Kṛṣṇa saṅkīrtana, which cleanses the heart of all the dust accumulated for years and extinguishes the fire of conditional life, of repeated birth and death. This saṅkīrtana movement is the prime benediction for humanity at large because it spreads the rays of the benediction moon. It is the life of all transcendental knowledge. It increases the ocean of transcendental bliss, and it enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious. You know, things like that that one finds on their travels outside of Fish & Chips, and whether The Beatles are taller than Jesus Christ, and does it mean Christmas can come earlier this year.
It's a major reason I Dig George. For me, he eclipses his bandmates importance as songwriters. But this is not about what they didn't do and he did. This is about getting the respect he deserves for doing such a thing. Because he was on his own in this. And their producer seemed none too supportive of those travels. Contributing nicely to them in the end, but none too supportive. But that's another prescription, on another day.
I know, that at 9 or 10 years old, when I first heard "Within You Without You" on Sgt.Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, I had never heard anything like it. I didn't know what it was, let alone what it was trying to say to me. I just knew I had never heard anything like it. Granted, my musical tastes at the time were limited. Well, to my ears now. I was still listening to the "Bare Necessities" like that was a chart topper.
It takes place in India, but it doesn't sound very Indian do it.
The point is, a whole new world opened up before my eyes and ears. And in my town, we didn't really get Indian restaurants until the 1990's. So I had a good twenty year head start in my introduction to India. And that was through George Harrison, Ambassador of the West for the East. It's a very important thing he did introducing one culture to another. I think it should be noted not just on a musical scale, but on a cultural scale. Especially during a time of speeches about blood and what rivers have it in them. His work in aiding those suffering in Bangladesh is an entirely OTHER subject. Where he took philanthropy and widened its avenues for reaching out, to as many branches of media as he could hit. Concert. Album. Film. He created a project that would continually earn money on various platforms for decades to come. I think he ran into a tax problem not only because of his manager, but also because he fingerpointed at who was somewhat responsible for the refugee crisis. And it wasn't at God, or Buddha, or Krishna that finger aimed at for bringing flooding. That came AFTER. He knew where some of the blame lay before any floods came for anyone.
I Dig George a lot. He was a pioneer. He would have been in those early members of the Avant Garde had he been born 100 years earlier. When being Avant Garde meant something. Not just running backwards loops and wearing afghan.
I hope you take this prescription once a day, for a month. And come back to me, letting me know if it worked.