The year 1968 witnessed the hub of a student rebellion at the LSE, the likes of which Britain has never seen before and has not witnessed since. In an article published in the Express magazine dated June 7 1968, Anjali Mody, while referring to the events that took place at the London School of Economics mentions, “Here the summer of love, complete with its libertarian and anarchist impetus, married Marxian utopianism”. Tariq Ali who graduated from Oxford University is recognised as the undisputed icon of this, rebellion. In his book 1968: Marching In The Streets published by Bloomsbury, he writes, “Nineteen Sixty Eight was an attempt to create a new world….”. It was a time when idealism prevailed side by side with hopes and dreams. There was LSD, the Beatles, Hare Krishna and also student protests.
The world could not afford to be indifferent to the Beatles. The admiration they elicited among the people of my generation and those before is known as Beatlemania.
Memories of adolescence, I am inclined to believe, follow us throughout our life. In my late thirties, in San Francisco, I could not help buying a book on the Beatles titled The Love You Make. It is an insider’s story of the group written by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines. The ‘Fab Four’ as the Beatles were known took the musical world by storm. The journey of Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr started when they came within the notice of a man named Brian Epstein at the Cavern Club, Liverpool where flows the Mersey.
November 29th 2011 is remembered by all those who appreciated and liked the Beatles with a tinge sadness for on that date and month George Harrison breathed his last at the age of fifty eight. That moment marked the loss of his long fight with throat and lung cancer at close friend Gavin de Becker’s home in Los Angeles where he was undergoing treatment leaving Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, in the words of Alan Claysory who is the author of his biography, “as the only remaining members of the biggest band in history”. According to Gavin de Becker, the musician “who developed a brain tumour in the later days of the disease, died with just one thought in his mind, ‘Love another day’”.
The end inevitably leads to the beginning. The fourth and last child of Louise and bus driver Harold Harrison was born on 25 February 1943 and his upbringing in a Liverpool suburb was undramatic and free from major traumas. Towards the end of his life, George Harrison remembered, ‘I had a happy childhood. I was always waking up in the night, coming out of the bedroom, looking down the stairs and seeing lots of people having a party and listening to all the records my parents had”.
His parents instilled in him a tremendous sense of purpose. As he reveals in the Beatles Anthology book published in 2010, “I have always felt that life was to go through and make opportunities, make things happen. I never felt that because I was from Liverpool I shouldn’t live in a big mansion house myself one day”.
George Harrison joined the Liverpool Institute for Boys in 1954. It was during one of those journeys to the Institute that he met Paul McCartney. What drew them together was guitars. By 1957 George-though no natural musician- had learned to play the instrument. McCartney was stunned by his new friend’s expertise and, for some time, thought of forming a duo in line with the Everly Brothers style.
The prospects, however, looked better with The Quarry Men, a band through whose ranks McCartney had risen to second-in-command. George had already become aware of the band’s leader, John Lennon. The latter’s acceptance of George as a full-time Quarry Man owed something to the availability of the Harrison living room for rehearsals. Also, George’s training as an electrician after leaving school would guarantee that the bands cheap amplification equipment was less likely to malfunction.  From the Quarry Men they became the Silver Beatles and then just plain Beatles. They got a contract to play in Germany when George was only 17. Matters changed for the better with Love Me Do in 1962. Ringo Starr joined the group as drummer in the same year. The rest, as it is often said, is history. 1963 ended up for the Beatles with seven discs in the Top 50, and the first two positions in the album charts.
During the most prolific phase of the Fab Four career, George strove to ensure that his one or two lead vocals per album would be songs written by himself. It was about this time that Pattie Boyd entered his life. When her flat was burgled, listed on the police inventory list was George’s A Hard Day’s Night gold disc. They married in Epsom on January 21, 1996.
A time came when a mischievous dentist with whom John and George spent an evening slipped a ‘Mickey Finn’ of LSD into his guests’ coffee. For George, the paranormal sensations provoked by the drug were similar to an extreme religious reverie. “It just blew everything away”, he said later. I had such an overwhelming feeling of well-being, that there was a God and I could see Him in every blade of grass. It was like gaining hundreds of years of insight in twelve hours.”
He embarked on an inner quest and took challenging literature to occupy idle hours on the next Beatles trek around the world. However, even before LSD had worked its questionable magic, the thrill of performing had gone for George. It comes as no surprise then that he was the chief advocate of a plan to stop touring. This and the spiritual questioning that LSD had thrust upon him coincided with a decision to fly to India to study the sitar under the virtuoso Ravi Shankar which was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.
“He realises that the sitar itself is an evolvement from Indian culture”, commented Shankar. To George it was “just like another piece of a jigsaw puzzle that was coming together to reach a complete picture”. He is quoted to have said, “Going to India was a fantastic time. I would go out and look at the temples and go shopping, it was incredible. It was the first feeling I would ever have of being liberated from being a Beatle or a number”.
He returned to England bearded to the cheekbones with doctrines and perceptions of deeper maturity. These can be gauged via Within You, Without You(on the celebrated Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album), to which only George’s English lyrics gave any semblance of Western pop. In similar vein would be Blue Jay way (on The Magical Mystery Tour EP) most of the soundtrack for the Wonderwall movie and The Inner light, his final ‘Indian’ opus for the Beatles.
Then followed the meeting with Maharishi Mahesh yogi, founder of the International Meditation Society. George Harrison referred to him as one who had orchestrated “one of the greatest experiences I have ever had”. The all-star charity Concert for Bangladesh was staged in 1971. This concert was the George Harrison’s moment of glory. Although it was by no means downhill from then on, his popularity was eroded by the preachy overtones that were infiltrating both his records and private life.
On a trip to Sydney, George paid his respects at the Hare Krishna temple. Years earlier he had signed the lease for the Radha-Krishna centre in London. He provided the means to print Krishna publications, some of which contained his forewords. “All part of the service”, he reckoned, too, was his astounding feat of steering Hare Krishna mantra into the UK Top 20. At the Royal Albert Hall in 1992, George’s only full-scale concert as an ex-Beatle was to raise funds for the newly founded Natural Law Party. The party’s proposals, epitomised by transcendental meditation on the National Health, were traceable to not only the Maharishi, but also the Krishna consciousness movement. He was shattered by the news of John Lennon’s murder and retreated from the music business to resurface in 1985 with Cloud Nine, a comeback album containing two hit singles- George had been expanding his film work, too. Handmade Films had become one of Britain’s most successful independent production companies financing classics Withnail and I, MonaLisa and Brazil.
His quiet life of gentle, generous creativity was shattered on the night of December 29, 1999, which climaxed in George’s near-fatal stabbing by Michael Abram, a schizophrenic from Merseyside, foiled by his wife Olivia’s courageous defence of her husband.
After the trial and Abram’s return to psychiatric treatment, George hid himself as best as he could from an inquisitive world. Contradictory far-fetched rumours abounded as time went by. Those that his fans and well-wishers were most concerned with were linked with his failing health. Yet, through this most painful period, his life, George was again able to spark his creative energies and this goes to his credit. He started collaborating with his son Dhani and the end product was Like a Horse To Water.
With the passage of time it has occurred to me that it was worthwhile to have The Beatles in our life. I have changed. So have my interests and tastes. Nevertheless, at least some events of the sixties cannot be erased from the tablets of my memory. So great was their impact.
“Somehow we reached more people, more nationalities, more parts that other bands could not reach”, he said in The Beatles Anthology. He was part of so many people’s life that with his passing away I felt that a period of my life has been obliterated. I have become older, wiser and sadder with the realisation that someday all things must pass. Wherever George Harrison is at present, he is at peace with himself. As his biographer puts it, “he isn’t troubled. During his lifetime he became conscious that “life goes on within you and without you”. And the rest is silence.