George Harrison has defied the critics once again. Rest in peace.
I'd completely given up on George long ago, and I wasn't surprised he was dying, because
it seemed like the only logical thing to do at this point, careerwise. But then an
interesting thing happened on the way to the morgue: a dawning, crushing sense of loss,
married to a sputtering sense of anger when you think how much of the world the old coot
actually held in his hands at one point and exactly how much he just up and tossed away
like old bread. "Creatively he's been dead since 1972," I wrote to a friend. Fuck the
tosser. But wait....
I used to root for him quite a bit to show some of the old spunk, especially back in the
early 80s, which was just a horrible, horrible epoch for dinosaur rock, what with the Who
doing their damndest to make everyone forget they were ever any good, Zeppelin broken up
and the Stones setting new milestones for forgettably bland Semi-Tilt Run-On Boogie. So
stuff that used to be great but was currently horrible was sort of my guilty pleasure
then, and I used to fantasize great comebacks for all the old heroes where everything
would be Just As Good As It Used To Be, And Then Some.
But then George went silent for a long time, and between the ungodly Travelling Wilbury
thing and the miserable sight of a Beatle needing to have his career resuscitated by
Jeff "Fucking" Lynne, all hope got lost in roughly the same place where Pete Townshend
put his Telecaster into mothballs in lieu of making "gentle acoustic music that doesn't
make people's ears go all wobbly and such."
I will not deny that a half dozen or so George Harrison compositions give me roughly as
much pleasure as anything else ever recorded by humans. Even the oddball stuff.
Especially the oddball stuff. "Badge," with Eric Clapton, pretending to be a Cream
record but there's no disguising that melody; I can listen to that song on my worst day
as a human and feel at least a smidgen of contented relief, if nothing else. Heck, I'd
even put the cameo guitar bit on Cheech and Chong's "Basketball Jones" up there with
anything that, say, Ringo's ever done on his own or as a guest.
George was also funny as hell in the Beatles movies. Watch him sometime in "Help!"
or "Hard Day's Night." John and Ringo always got all the credit for the yuck-making in
various Beatles joints, but there's a very stoic surrealism going on with George that he
never got nearly enough respect for, because he wasn't off-the-wall as much as he was
part of the wall. I'd call his comic intuition zenlike, but that just reminds me
how unfunny someone like Richard Gere is.
He also never got enough credit as a guitarist, and he was a damned good one. Roughly
8/10ths of all the great Beatle songs are built entirely and solidly around his guitar
riff, and this was an excellent decision by the group. He was precise without being
flashy, and he could set a mood better than anyone else in the business back then, bar
none, not even Clapton, certainly not Hendrix. You have to flash forward to Neil Young
ca. 1974 or so before you get to someone who could tell so much with so little, just by
playing a guitar. He wasn't a virtuoso, but he didn't need to be, and if he had been, he
would have completely fucked up the Beatles. There's a lesson in there for the
Frippertronics crowd, I think, but I'm not about to go sorting it out right now, let
alone trying to defend it.
Yeah, I'll miss him. I think if everyone just said that, we could go about our business
without having to rename freeways and libraries and the world would be a much better
place than it's probably going to be in a week or two, after listening to 257 straight
hours of Beatle tunes on every goddamned radio station in the world.