In the mid-to-late '60s, I remember listening to Beatles records (and Monkees--my non-discerning kid mind didn't know or care that The Monkees were a put-together Beatles knock-off) courtesy of a hip aunt. Of course, I watched the Beatles cartoon (bad American actors doing phony Liverpool accents) but I didn't own the albums then. As a little kid, buying singles was the deal. Along with "Venus" by The Shocking Blue and true crap like Edison Lighthouse, I bought the Apple single of "Something" (with "Come Together" on the flip side). It was the first time I really thought about George Harrison, seeing his name listed as the songwriter on that single.
Liverpool might as well have been Mars. Nevertheless, even in our frozen corner of Northern Minnesota, The Beatles were as big as anything you could think of--the Vietnam War, the Apollo Space program, the hippie problem and the chance that older kids could dose your pop with LSD at the hockey game because you couldn't trust druggies. When The Beatles were supposed to appear on Ed Sullivan in '67 but all we got were films of "Strawberry Fields" and "Penny Lane," I was still thrilled; it seemed like a door had been opened and I'd fallen down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. And no drugs were needed; I was probably eating Bugles or something.
George became The Beatle I worried about: John and Paul hogged the spotlight, only begrudgingly letting him put a song or two on their albums. At least he had the coolest friends: Eric Clapton got him to play the solo on "Badge," and he even took the high road when "God" stole his wife, Patti. I worried that that beaming hairball, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, was brainwashing him into turning over his Beatle billions. (Learning how to play sitar was a cool perk, though.) Later, I was positive he hadn't knowingly lifted the chorus to "He's So Fine" for "My Sweet Lord." I felt proud when he resurfaced with The Traveling Wilburys in the '80s, at a time when Paul was a big fat square (Give My Regards to Broad Street), John was gone and Ringo was hawking wine coolers and such. George wore the ex-Beatle mantle with the most grace--the most humility. He went out quietly and with dignity, the way he tried to live his life.
Zach Hanner (music critic, actor, comedian):
For George Harrison, being in The Beatles must have been like being the greatest footballer in town and suddenly finding yourself on the same team with the two best players of all time. Overshadowed by the perennially adored duo of Lennon and McCartney, Harrison still managed to produce timeless songs. One of my earliest memories of music is hearing "Crackerbox Palace" on the stereo of my mother's Oldsmobile. Its bluesy slide riffs were indelibly scrawled on my subconcious and when I eventually picked up a guitar myself, it was that sort of music that I wanted to make. I was upset when John Lennon was killed but when I heard the news of Harrison's death, I didn't despair. I knew that he had lived his life on his own terms and that the afterworld would be just as he had envisioned it. Part of one of the greatest bands ever, producer of several top-notch films (including Monty Python's Life of Brian and Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits), and the man who introduced the entire world to the sitar, Harrison's legacy may not be as broad and lauded as those of his bandmates, but it will endure equally as long.
Bob Geary (Indy staff writer):
I confess, at first I deeply resented The Beatles. When they landed in New York in '64, I was 14 and attempting to make myself appealing to girls (Ann Roy, in particular, or failing that, Karen Leftwich). My main strategy was to practice football, basketball, whatever was in season--sports were the surest route to success (and properly so, in my view). Then all of a sudden I'm looking at four guys who obviously are not good at sports and the girls are crazy for them, and it's not clear to me at all what they have going for them ... except that whatever it is, I don't have it. Anyway, I felt our whole culture was in jeopardy (which, of course, it was) and that the admirable traits a good man sought were about to be thrown overboard.
Shortly, and no doubt out of a sense of self-preservation, I signed up as a "George" fan, not for any reason having to do with music, but because it was clear that hating all of them wasn't an option and because the real problem--depending on which girl you listened to--was either John or Paul (Ringo just seemed like a goofball). George was said to be the sensitive one, but shy. Not unlike myself, I thought.
Like a sports fan who sticks with his team through thick and thin, I retained my rooting interest in George and was rewarded when, after The Beatles broke up, he organized the concerts for Bangladesh and marked himself as The Fab Four's top do-gooder. I bought The White Album recently and listened to it for the first time in years. It's stunningly good, as were The Beatles. And the key player? The guy who was the glue that held them together? From my bleacher seat, I pick George.
Todd Fjelsted (arts and music writer):
It was a George Harrison song, and The Beatles as a whole, that caused me to really question my religious upbringing. When I was about 8, our family had moved from Columbus, Ohio, where my younger sister and I had been in the daily care of our teenaged aunt Paula, who had introduced us to The Beatles by obsessively singing along with the lyrics. As far as I could tell at the time, the songs were all about love and more love, and that was just fine by me. Then in North Carolina a few years later, when our parents found God and we started going to this Southern Baptist church, I heard the minister tell the congregation that it was people like John Lennon--who taught "secular thinking" to kids--and George Harrison--who had popularized "pagan rituals" with "My Sweet Lord"--that showed the subtle side of Satan and his plan for the "ruination of youth today." I remember being really pissed off and confused by this--The Beatles weren't about ruination!--and decided at the time that Christianity was pretty fucked up and if this guy ever heard any Black Sabbath, he'd probably have an aneurysm. I left my seat quietly while the roomful of ex-hippies said things like "Amen!" and "not my kids!"
When I heard about George Harrison's passing, I remembered that weird Sunday sermon and I realized, with irony, that I'd learned more about peace and love from him and his bandmates' lyrics than I'd ever learned in church.
L.D. Russell (journalist and "seeker"):
Whenever I answered the question "Who's your favorite Beatle?" by saying "George," people always looked at me like I had a third eye in the middle of my forehead. Maybe I do: the eye of enlightenment. George Harrison was known as the spiritual Beatle because he played the sitar and introduced the other three Fabs to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but to me his spirituality ran deeper than that. While John and Paul acted out their sibling rivalry and Ringo, the luckiest sod who ever lived, stood around looking goofy, silent George walked his own way. After the band's inevitable demise, he avoided the public eye as much as it was possible for a Beatle to do. Paul retired to his sheep farm, John took on the political establishment, Ringo started on the first of his trophy wives, but George pursued a deeper quest. The Eastern vision of the transitoriness of all things and the oneness of all living beings, which he first glimpsed in India, was not just a passing fad for him. It became a lifelong calling, one he followed to the end. His many acts of benevolence, attempts to share the wealth brought to him by fickle fame, bespeak a depth of soul and breadth of insight that will always inspire me to dig deeper and reach higher.
Paul Savery (British expatriate):
I have worshipped The Beatles since the beginning. As befits an acolyte, I am vigilant in scanning the international media for morsels of news about The Beatles. I have been reading the reports on George's declining health for over a year so it came as no surprise to hear of his death.
What is sickening about George's death at 58 years old is that it was not only premature but that it was preventable. I doubt if anyone wants to become a poster boy for lung cancer but George was quite plain spoken about the link between his illness and smoking. The media has been less forthcoming since George's death about the deadly role of tobacco. What has appalled me about most of the obituaries is the media's conspiracy of silence around this issue. I am reminded of the obituaries in the media of people who died from AIDS that until relatively recently never mentioned AIDS. It is ironic that the one drug this rock 'n' roller should die from was not one of the more classic drugs of choice for many in the rock world, like heroin, but tobacco, the drug that takes the deadliest toll. While we mourn George Harrison's death he is only the latest victim; according to the World Health Organization tobacco will kill over 4 million less- famous smokers around the world this year alone.
Gabriel M. Rich (music critic):
I dug The Beatles. I dug their music and the message they sang. It's not like their music was played in my house, but I still dug them and their vibe. They were like the pied pipers of rock in a way. I can remember watching The Beatles on television as a small child. This was around 1970 and they were still everywhere at that time. The thing that stood out about George Harrison was that of all The Beatles, he was the serious one.
As the years went by, I still dug The Beatles--as individuals--but to me, two of them stood out from the pack. Paul McCartney stood out for obvious reasons. His music was great. But that quiet guy also stood out. George Harrison's music was different, to say the least. But it also had depth and introspection. I dug his solo work in the '80s and I really liked what he did when he formed The Traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. It seems to me that although he never achieved the success that McCartney did, he still held his own as a solo artist. His legend is etched in stone, and although he's gone, he'll always be here through his music.
Rick Cornell (music critic):
When I heard the news, my initial thoughts were more about me than George Harrison. Actually, they were so scattered, they were barely about anything: I bet he's going to be called "the quiet one" in every piece broadcast today. Has it really been over 20 years since John Lennon was killed? (The mother of one of my college roomies called to talk with him the night of the shooting. I remember thinking how I couldn't imagine discussing it with my mom. "John who?") Keep your Blind Faith, Little Village and Golden Smog: The Traveling Wilburys--now that was a high-powered supergroup. It's so cool that he made an appearance in All You Need Is Cash, the Rutles movie. Sure, it may not be "Something" or "Here Comes the Sun" or "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," but I've always really liked that "Got My Mind Set on You" song. I don't think he wrote that one though. I'm sure he did write "Crackerbox Palace." I realized that I don't even own All Things Must Pass.
When my head finally slowed down, I realized I was sad, the kind of sad you experience whenever a likable, decent, soulful person passes on.