George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters was a hefty book of 573 pages, compiling interviews conducted with Harrison between 1962 and 2001, the year of his death. In the spring of 1980 when I fell in love with the music of the Beatles my first favourite member was John. As I listened to more of the Beatles’ oeuvre I changed my obligatory favourite Beatle to George. I recall when I bought the Revolver album in the summer of 1980 that A&A Records had a promotion where customers could pick a button of one of the individual Beatles with every purchase. Although I had decided before Revolver that Harrison was my new favourite, the decision on which button to choose cemented the deal.
And what an aural treat that decision would yield: there were three ( ! ) George songs on Revolver, all of them winners: “Taxman”, “Love You To” and “I Want to Tell You”. When it came to the Beatles’ solo albums, the first ones I received were as Christmas presents in 1980: Paul’s latest (McCartney II) and John and Yoko’s (Double Fantasy) however the first solo album I ever bought was The Best of George Harrison.
In George Harrison on George Harrison, the very first interviews were light and unrevealing, showing more the frenzy the Beatles were caught up in and Harrison’s bewilderment by it all. I have read plenty of his interviews already–and I was happy that the editor, Ashley Kahn, included so many that were new to me–yet I could never get into Harrison’s religious philosophy and his often lengthy answers about Krishna, meditation, reincarnation, the Bhagavad-gītā and so on. I found these religious segments tiring and, as is often the case with oral transcriptions, difficult to follow when every single sentence false start and mid-sentence change of subject is included. These interviews would have been easier to follow if listened to, or watched, versus by being read.
Harrison offered some witty replies that made me laugh out loud. Dick Cavett, who had just had John and Yoko on his show, informed George:
“Yoko sat in that very chair.”
to which George replied:
“Ah! [Gets out of chair in mock fear; audience laughs.]”
And in a curious pairing of two reclusive types who are both averse to giving interviews, George and Michael Jackson took part in a rate-a-record show for the BBC in early 1979. Jackson informed George:
Jackson: “I never…you wrote ‘Something’?”
Harrison: “Oh yeah.”
Jackson: “Oh, I didn’t know that. I was surprised. That’s another one of my favorite ones. I thought Lennon and McCartney did that.”
Harrison: “Everybody thinks that.”
In a conversation with Mick Brown of Rolling Stone in spring 1979, they had the following exchange:
Brown: Another sub-industry that’s grown up in the Beatles’ wake is all that personal reminiscence about the band. There seems to be an extraordinary number of people who were either your manager, your road manager, delivered the milk….
Harrison: [Laughing] Yeah, and the fifth Beatle…there’re about 10 million fifth Beatles. No, really, that’s sickening. All those Beatlefests and things are a terrible rip-off. These people–“the man who gave away the Beatles“–none of them know what they’re talking about. It’s like Britain has always been hung up talking about the Second World War–even now you turn on the TV and they love to talk about the war. It’s like that. The Beatles were in and out of these people’s lives in a flash, and yet they’re still there fifteen years later talking about the ten minutes we were in their lives, and robbing the money of innocent kids while doing it. It’s pathetic. It’s immoral; it shouldn’t be allowed.
Towards the end of the eighties, while Harrison was promoting his Cloud Nine album and talking about being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he was more at ease during interviews, talking less about spirituality and religion and not shying away from sensitive questions. He did not shirk questions about John Lennon’s murder, and shared how he first heard the news and how he felt afterward.
Harrison answered the same questions over the years and often gave the same replies, down to the last word. He obviously had stock answers that rolled off his tongue as soon as he heard the interviewer’s first words. The most amusing exchange was his Q&A session with Yahoo! in early 2001. He would die in November of that year, but some of his on-line answers had me laughing out loud, reminiscent of the early Beatles press conferences.