Any Road: The Magic Of George Harrison

It's hard to believe it's 20 years since the passing of George Harrison, and while thinking of the best way to commemorate this, it seemed like the best was to republish this piece I wrote a few years ago. 

I remember the moment George Harrison first caught my attention. It was during the run up and broadcast of The Beatles Anthology documentary series in 1995, when I was 13 and Free As A Bird was constantly on TV. George looked rather enigmatic, so somehow I got drawn in. He might also be responsible for killing my Robbie Williams crush by being rather easy on the eye, and witty in interviews. Such is the way of teenage hormones!

But it did go beyond the usual whims and ways of the teenage pop idol crush. The more I learned about him, listened his music and his philosophy on life, he grew into an important role model. As a kid, I was fairly nervous, low in confidence and a target for school bullies, amongst other things that were going on during my adolescence. 

But instead of being stuck in a pool where it seemed like there was no way out, I’d bung on George’s records and there was this guy singing positive songs about things might be shit, but it’s temporary. In fact, all this is temporary, and what does it all mean in the bigger sense (my take at least. Listen to George, read I Me Mine or interviews with him to maybe get some idea. I think I might be still working it out.)

One track that really made an impact in my earlier teens was Within You, Without You on The Beatles Sgt Pepper album. The lyrics are incredible:

“Try to realise it’s all within yourself,
No one else can make you change.
And to see we’re really only very small,
And life flows on within you and without you”

I was getting bullied at school at the time. My thought was heading towards maybe the bullies were right. Maybe they can show me how to be a better person. No. That is utter f**king bullshit, and totally unhealthy. So, yes, George taught me that one thing, the power we have within ourselves to grow, affect our own lives. And just being one part of a bigger picture, a small cog. And the attitude of those bullies wasn’t worth a shit. It was pretty seminal.

Later on, there were other songs that helped out from his solo career when I was about ready to kick a wall down, dealing with idiotic teachers in my last couple of years at school, and other non-school related bullshit that is a bit too private to write about here. In the school realm of things, I had a guidance teacher who told me I was thick. She also told a friend of mine she was too fat. And then there was the PE teacher who thought that the best way to encourage me, perhaps the least sporty of my entire year, to improve was to scream at me, in front of the whole class. So, to come home from school, and put on All Things Must Pass, or Blow Away from the eponymous George Harrison album was rather a comforting experience and taking my mind off the gloom.

That said, I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder when I was 19. I’d left school at 17, without bothering with sixth year (I’d had enough), and come back to Glasgow for college, studying journalism. The course finished when I was 19, and at that point I began having more and more severe panic attacks, to the point it became debilitating and one day I just couldn’t move. This was November 2001. I was decanted down to my mum’s in Dumfries and Galloway, and there, the doctor diagnosed me with anxiety. A week or so later, I was randomly in a local newsagent and overheard the shopkeeper talking to a customer, “Did you hear George Harrison died?”

Talk about a thunderbolt. I knew he’d been ill, but in the stramash of my own mental health difficulties and I just hoped he’d make it. After all, he did that awful week just after Xmas 1999. I kept telling myself all the way back to my mum’s that no. No. He was okay. They were mistaken. I misheard. Then I switched on the news and was even number for a day. Then I bought every single newspaper I laid my mitts on to read about him in my room, and broke my heart crying.

So, yeah. For some, perhaps an over reaction. Like earlier this year, when I was in the local corner shop (why is it tiny wee grocers!), and mentioned to the cashier about how rotten it was Bowie had died, and she dismissed it, saying, “Oh he was 69 anyway”. Yes. But to dismiss someone like that, be it rock star, politician, actor or a non-public figure, it’s just cold. They all matter.

And to fans being devastated when their hero dies. Well. Okay, I get it might not mean so much to me personally if some rock star dies who I might not be such a fan of, in comparison to others. But the point is, they matter to someone. They might mean just about everything. In my case, George Harrison gave me an escape, showed me new ways in which I could look at myself, what journey I might take, how I might treat others and always, always not to drown in the bad stuff, that none of this is permanent. So it was like a sledgehammer when he passed.

But, as he said. All Things Must Pass. To this day, I still remain a huge fan. And I still find new things to learn from his life and music.

Also lately, getting frustrated with the world, politics, people, I still take lessons. For instance, Run Of The Mill from ATMP:

“Everyone has choice
Of when to and not to raise their voices.
It’s you that decides which way you will turn,
While feeling that our love’s not your concern.”
Or, the big one for when the anxiety clouds start rolling and enveloping, Beware Of Darkness:
“Watch out now, take care
Beware of the thoughts that linger
Winding up inside your head
The hopelessness around you
In the dead of night
Beware of sadness
It can hit you
It can hurt you
Make you sore and what is more
That is not what you are here for.”

And then there’s the overall hope George had despite, as he had often commented during interviews, that people still had goodness within them, despite the world being screwed up. And that the ‘material world’, as he put it, was temporary. There was a bigger thing ahead. 

Death in the end wasn’t a big scary thing. As his son, Dhani, put it, George had no fear of dying, no attachment to this world or his body, which he saw was just a shell. For George, the emphasis was on the spiritual. He emphasised it as something that we all have to find. If anything, it seemed to have given him comfort in an increasingly mad world with more focus on media, money, corrupt politics and environmental damage. He just kept in his massive gardens, cultivating it, whilst the world outside spun out of control. 
At the same time, he acknowledged he had his flaws and go almost go off in the deep end at times, before bouncing back. He never saw himself as anything special. Perhaps the one factor that myself and many others disagree with him on. He was incredible. And his legacy lives on. He, most of all, of all the musicians of his generations, was a force for good. And perhaps the most humblest.

The last word belongs to George:

“Sometimes I feel like I’m actually on the wrong planet. It’s great when I’m in my garden, but the minute I go out the gate I think, ‘What the hell am I doing here?”