On 25th November 2021, a documentary comprising 8hrs of previously unseen footage of the Beatles in their final year was released. I watched it and posted my review on this blog. George Harrison had always been in the background for me, this was the first time I felt I had seen him as a gifted artist in his own right. At the end of Dave Grohl’s autobiography The Storyteller, he recounts his attendance at George Harrison’s memorial concert in the Royal Albert Hall in 2002. For Christmas, Helen got me James Patterson’s The Last Days of John Lennon. It actually recounts Lennon’s entire life, so I found myself reading about George Harrison once again.
Next, I listened to Eric Idle’s ‘sortabiography’ Always Look on the Bright Side of Life in which I learned of his great friendship with George. I really got a sense of his kindness and generosity and also the love many people felt for him. The feeling of coincidence was overwhelming now; Here was someone I had overlooked, who was clearly an exceptional person, beloved of so many. I was determined to learn more about him.
I knew some of his songs that appeared on Beatles albums. ‘Here Comes the Sun’, ‘Something’ and ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. An Eastern influence was already apparent in Sitar-based songs like ‘The inner Light’ and Within You Without You’. Another fundamental influence on George was his experiences with LSD. He talks about it altering his perception of reality and himself which comes through in his Beatles songs like ‘All Too Much’. Both of these influences entwine and develop throughout the rest of his life into a deep spirituality.
Personal Ramble: I also tried LSD a couple of times when I was younger, and remember the feeling of euphoria and being amused by sounds and colours mixing and swirling, but there were no life-changing revelations about reality or consciousness!
I, Me, Mine, is a collection of autobiographical writings, photographs and original song lyrics with brief recollections for each, that claims to be the closest thing there is to an autobiography. This book was first released in 1980, in a limited-edition of 2000 hand-bound and signed copies. After his death, it was extended and re-published in 2002 and 2017. At 570 pages and featuring nearly 200 songs, it is a big book, but I hoped it held the answers I was looking for.
George’s recollection of his early years have a raw, simplistic and underdeveloped feel to them, quite matter-of-fact. Often, he will introduce theme or an idea, explain it, then close it down by simply saying “that’s how it was”. George is quick to set out early on that he does not see any value in talking about his life and does not give his time as a Beatle any special emphasis. Similarly, any of the fascinating stories; His path to spirituality, lifelong legal battles and quest for privacy, how he fought a guitar dual with Eric Clapton or mortgaged his home to finance the Monty Python film Life of Brian are left untold. Despite frequent and skilled contextualising by close friend Derek Taylor, I, Me, Mine is clearly not going to follow the traditional narrative of an autobiography.
Don’t lose hope. It is in his handwritten lyrics and a short paragraph he provided for many of his songs that you really begin to get a sense of him, but he doesn’t make it easy. His comments on each song are brief, often deflecting difficult emotions with humour and wit.
Personal Ramble: I was very impressed many lacked extensive corrections. When I write, I only end up keeping about 10% of what I have originally written. I get the ideas down first, then have to develop them, a lot. We just don’t know if these notes are first drafts, but as they are reproduced on the stationary of wherever he was at the time, we can assume they are early drafts. In a later note, George talks about his more structured song-writing style.
It is with the first album of his solo career, the triple disk All Things Must Pass, that George begins to truly express himself, stepping out of the shadow of the Beatles. An amazing album, every song on it will stay with me for the rest of my life, especially ‘All Things Must Pass’, ‘Beware of Darkness’, ‘Isn’t it a Pity’ and ‘Run of the Mill’. George poses on the cover of this album in gardening hat, wellington boots and is surrounded by several stone garden gnomes. It is taken in the grounds of Friar Park, the gothic mansion built by Victorian eccentric Sir Francis Crisp in 1889, George’s home from 1970 and source of inspiration for many songs. With its watery grottos, pond and even a scale model of the Matterhorn, he spent a lot his of time indulging another passion of his in the 32-acre grounds, gardening. I, Me, Mine is dedicated to “gardeners everywhere.”
Although George’s best work is commonly accepted to be found at either end of his solo career, there were so many excellent songs in the years between as he perfected his soaring, expressive guitar sound, bringing songs to life by combining this with clever lyrics, ukeleles and constant changes in time-signature. I put together a playlist on iTunes as I worked through the book. I only mention a handful of those great songs here.
‘That is All’ is a powerful, soulful ballad and ‘Dark Horse‘ is a pacy and evocative song, putting the listener alongside a galloping thoroughbred. ‘Tears of the World‘ still shows us the damage pointless politicians do to the world. Another passion was motor racing and fast cars. ‘Faster’ was written for his favourite Formula One racing drivers, the clever lyrics can be applied to any high achiever who attracts attention and the feeling of isolation which comes from it. He wrote the saddest song ever, ‘Grey Cloudy Lies’, which touches on suicide. In a brief note for this song, he refers to this period when his faith wavered and his first marriage broke down simply as his ‘naughty time’.
Just four days after John Lennon’s murder, George rewrote ‘All Those Years Ago’ and dedicated it to his friend. “I always looked up to you” and “you were the one who imagined it all, all those years ago.” Now Lennon was part of a bigger consciousness, it was important to recognise his contribution to it. For me, that sums up how George was.
Cloud 9  marked George’s final studio album shows someone at ease with their life. ‘This is Love’ is a very accomplished song. Co-written with Jeff Lynne, it has all the elements of a classic. George was at his best when working with others. When asked by his label for a B-side for this song, he enlisted the help of Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. They produced ‘Handle with Care’. Quickly realising it was too good to be a B-side, the group became The Travelling Wilburys and released it as a single in their name. Two albums followed.
The nineties saw George’s withdrawal from public life. His Son, Dhani, helped finish his father’s last album Brainwashed . It opens with ‘Any Road’, a wonderful song that again shows his accomplishment as a musician. It always makes me smile when George introduce the song by saying: “Gimme plenty of that guitar!” ‘Never Get Over You’ is a deeply moving love song and ‘Marwah Blues’ is an exquisite instrumental song which takes you straight to a tropical sunset, another favourite theme.
Fortunately, I was able to listen to each song in the book as B-sides and demos have been released after his death. Many of his songs have also been covered by great artists such as James Brown, Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone, Sheryl Crow and Sonic Youth. Most emotional was hearing the songs played by his friends at the concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 2002. This is the concert that Dave Grohl and Eric Idle recount so lovingly.
I think that the point of I, Me, Mine. Far from a sense of modesty or lack of ability to express his feelings George was content to leave those stories for others to tell, he just happened to be there. He was aware of his ego was part of a larger consciousness, and he didn’t see any point in inflating it. A hint is in the title of the book, ‘I Me Mine’ is a song about the ego and its part of a greater consciousness. After all, “the lord doesn’t manifest through ego”[i] George tells us.
God is very important to George, but don’t let that put you off. His God is more a concept of enlightenment found through meditation and beliefs in karma and reincarnation than the judgemental, vengeful and controlling one of western tradition. George wrote beautiful songs about peace, spoke out about inequality and touched so many people and was completely surrounded by love.
Although much harder work than I thought it would be, I, Me, Mine connected me with a lot of great music and showed me that everyone has a unique purpose, we need to live our lives in the present, without always putting ourselves at the centre of them. It was a such a delight for me to get to know both George and his music. Perhaps it was Karma!
Richard Brown MBE
[i] I, Me, Mine. George Harrison  p.272