Ashley Kahn On The Book George Harrison On George Harrison

by Carl Wiser

Beyond the music, George Harrison showed a way toward inner peace and spiritual fulfillment. His interest in Eastern philosophy, which began with the Beatles in 1967, became a lifelong learning experience. In his interviews compilation George Harrison on George Harrison, we can trace his journey through his own words from 1962 until his death in 2001.

These interviews are not stock promotional pieces that repeat the same talking points over and over - they get to a real depth that reveals Harrison's true nature. There are also some real surprises here, including a transcript of a BBC radio show from 1979 where Harrison and Michael Jackson end up talking about reggae ("It's like the hardest thing really to play right"), Eddie Money, and "Ain't No Sunshine."

In this Q&A with the book's author, Ashley Kahn, he describes what he learned in compiling these interviews. An excerpt from the book is posted here.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): What song do you think George Harrison had the most personal connection with?

Ashley Kahn: It's hard to say because as time went by, George grew and evolved and had a different relationship with the music he made in his younger years. In the interviews he did in the '70s for example, he's very intent in distancing himself from the Beatles period, and talks more about his songs that reflect his spiritual focus - like "What Is Life" and "My Sweet Lord."

Years later, after the dust of the post-Beatles breakup had settled, he gets a kick when knowledgable journalists ask him for the stories behind long-forgotten tunes like "Don't Bother Me" or "If I Needed Someone."

As to the present day and the pandemic, I know he'd be pleased to know that "Here Comes The Sun" is currently the most streamed Beatles song in year-end lists, and is one of the songs hospitals play over their intercom system when COVID survivors are discharged.

Songfacts: How did Harrison's relationship with his bandmates change over time?

Kahn: There's nothing like getting past a complicated period of litigation (as the Beatles went through during most of the 1970s and well into the '80s) to allow healing and reconnection.

Of course, certain scars did not heal all the way, and in 1988 when Paul did not attend the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for the Beatles - as one example - the rift between George and Paul was painfully obvious. But in 2001, when George's battle with cancer was all but lost and his days were numbered, Paul was at his side for a tearful farewell.

Songfacts: What subjects did Harrison become most animated when talking about?

Kahn: George loved to laugh, or as they say in Liverpool, "have a good larf." It really could be about anything at all - as in a 1964 interview with all the Beatles, and he makes up the nonsense term "baggy sweeger."

His most animated moments are less about what he's discussing, and more about his being in the moment, enjoying himself in a relaxed way and forgetting himself for a few minutes - and fortunately we found a number of interviews and speeches when that happens, like a rare reconnection with Ringo Starr on Aspel & Company, a popular UK TV talk show, in 1988, or speaking directly to fans on the Rockline radio show the same year in the US.

Ashley KahnAshley Kahn
Songfacts: Which of the interviews did you find most revealing?

Kahn: Hmmm. That's a tough one - I have so many favorites, and I know I'll feel I unfairly left out say, his first attempts at explaining his displeasure with the Beatles' fame in 1966, as I will at what was his first interview ever in the US - published in a high school newspaper near East St. Louis in 1963.

I think George's conversation in 1992 with Timothy White - the celebrated music journalist who was editor of Billboard in the late '80s and '90s - stands out for me as one of the most revealing of his earliest years in Liverpool; his love of Indian music and culture; his deep dive into Eastern spirituality. It's all in there, with the benefit of a mature perspective of someone who's just about to turn 50. Also I was able to use Tim White's raw, original interview transcript - not the carefully edited published piece. That's definitely one of my favorites. [Here's an excerpt from that interview.]

Songfacts: What did you learn about Harrison's spiritual journey?

Kahn: Interesting question. I would say that much like Carlos Santana - another rock hero whose spiritual dedication in that period of the '60s and '70s never ended (he still meditates and studies Eastern and mystical writings) - George searched through a number of different Eastern ideologies and paths, and that the search never really ended. He was open to new ideas even when it seemed he had settled on one.

For a long time, he associated himself with the Hare Krishna movement, but later expanded into following other gurus and teachings. And like Carlos, and other determined devotees, he and his wife Olivia eventually found a way to take what they liked from various teachers and combine it into their own way.

I believe from what I read and heard in so many interviews with George is that ultimately, a spiritual search requires a proactive stance on the part of the seeker, and that there are countless ways of reaching the goal of enlightenment and universal connection. As quaint and filled with '60s idealism as that might sound, there's power in that conviction - and one can feel it in George's words.

July 29, 2020
George Harrison on George Harrison is available at Amazon and other booksellers. Here are the George Harrison Songfacts entries.

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