The Answer Is in the End: George Harrison, a Prophet for Our Time
George Harrison died on 29 November 2001 at the age of fifty-eight.
After meeting A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, of which he became an active participant, Harrison turned his devotion to Lord Krishna in 1969. [i]
The pop star and the prophet are rare bedfellows – but with the simple wisdom of his lyrics and the melodic sweetness of his slide guitar, George Harrison brought them together in a marriage of great inspiration.
Rock ‘n’ roll’s most famous heroes tend to ensure greatness by an early death, but the “quiet Beatle” reconciled unparalleled fame with a dedicated spiritual search, crowning the lowly pop song with profound twists and joyful shouts in the process.
Unlike his fellow Beatles, Harrison’s Liverpool childhood was untouched by death, grave illness or major discord, and his early enthusiasm for music was welcomed and encouraged by his parents. His mother bought him his first guitar in 1956 when he was thirteen years old, and he would spend many hours in his bedroom with school-friend Paul McCartney, practicing.
Initially overshadowed in the Beatles by the formidable partnership of Lennon and McCartney, he began to shine in his own right with songs such as ‘If I Needed Someone’, ‘Think For Yourself’ and ‘Taxman’. Experimentation with drugs and the pressures of being one of the most famous people on Earth soon led to more serious soul-searching, and Harrison began to look to the East for inspiration.
A trip to India to study both Indian philosophy and classical music followed a meeting with Ravi Shankar in 1966.
His contribution to the Beatles became more individual as he introduced the sitar into popular music, and began the first of his metaphysical searchings in ‘Within You Without You’ on the seminal album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:
When you’ve seen beyond yourself
then you may find
peace of mind is waiting there.
And the time will come
when you see we’re all one
and life flows on
within you and without you.
However, such insight did not save him from suffering. 1968’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is the heart-rending cry of one who suffers intensely at the pain of others but can do little to alleviate it, save hope and sing. Written as it became clear that the Beatles could no longer contain the dynamic that had powered them, it is the clearest expression of the conflict within Harrison between the demands of being a Beatle and an individual searching for love and meaning.
I look at you all, see the love there
while my guitar gently weeps.
I look at the floor and I see it needs
still my guitar gently weeps.
I don’t know why nobody told you how
to unfold your love.
The lyrical yearning is balanced with a melodic sweetness rarely found in pop music, and to reach such profound depths in such a limited form is surely the mark of a prophet: one who dresses timeless truths in contemporary clothes.
Following the break-up of the band in 1971, Harrison was free to follow his own path, and he fulfilled his creative potential with the huge sound and great success of his firs solo album, All Things Must Pass. Working with Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones pianist Billy Preston and old accomplice Ringo Starr, Harrison brought us the lovely pop psalm ‘My Sweet Lord’, which struck a deep chord with fans everywhere and was distinguished by hitting No. 1 in the UK charts twice; in the year after Harrison’s death as well as in 1971, the year of its release.
It was in the same year that Harrison dragooned his superstar friends to perform the first ever rock benefit concert – in aid of war-torn and drought-stricken Bangladesh. Musical collaboration, film-making, extensive charitable work, friendship and large amounts of time among his beloved plants and trees in the 1970s and 1980s continued to bear the stamp of one who sought how to love and be loved to the depths of his soul. For such a man to be the target of a knife attack, as he was in 1999, seems to be the cruelest of ironies, but his reaction – to chant the words of the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra – was characteristic.
To be a member of the world’s most famous band, yet to shine so brightly with unmistakable inner light, is to fulfill that celebrated goal of the soul-searcher in perhaps the most difficult of all surroundings.
George Harrison was unquestionably in the world yet not of it, and his final, simple words echo those who have stepped that same path before him: “Find a way to love each other.” What more need a prophet say? George Harrison died on 30th November 2001 at the age of fifty-eight.
[i] From the TMS Editor
Ben Jolliffe is a freelance writer who specializes in faith, education and modern culture.
This article first appeared on Resurgence Magazine No. 220 Sep/Oct 2003.
Tags: Bhakti Yoga, Biography, George Harrison, Hinduism, History, ISKCON, Nonviolence, Peace, Prabhupada, Religion, Solutions, Spirituality, Vedas, Vedic Culture
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 25 Nov 2019.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: The Answer Is in the End: George Harrison, a Prophet for Our Time, is included. Thank you.
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