“Here Comes The Sun”: George Harrison (Feb. 25, 1943-Nov. 29, 2001)
“Here comes the sun, and I say: It’s all right.”
The day that the news of George Harrison’s death reached here before dawn, Nov. 29, 2001, was dreary and sunless. The clock radio clicked on to the newscaster’s first words, “…the former Beatle,” and we knew what the story was before he finished the sentence.
Harrison’s death at age 57 was not the shivering shock that John Lennon’s had been Dec. 8, 1980. His long, grim battle with cancer was well-known.
But still, the hope that some healing miracle would vanquish the long, cold, lonely winter of his affliction flourished. He had returned to the recording studio, after all, on Oct. 1 to record “Horse To Water”, co-written with son Dhani; the fact that his publishing company for that song was RIP Ltd. 2001 was just another example of the wry Beatle’s sardonic wit, we hoped.
After all, for years Harrison’s reply to the inevitable question had been, “As long as John Lennon remains dead, the Beatles will not reunite.”
The three Beatles who survived Lennon had made their peace while working together on the Anthology project during the late ‘90’. They had put finishing touches on two John Lennon tracks, “Real Love” and “Free As A Bird”. Those titles summed up what they brought to pop music.
What Harrison brought to the Beatles was, first of all, was his distinctive guitar style. “No one fit a solo to a song better than that guy,” said guitarist Keith “Birdman” Smith of Chicago. “His ‘Roll Over, Beethoven’ made me want to play guitar,” said Russell Miller, another lead guitarist and singer.
And Josh Bradshaw said:
“George was my hero when I was a teenager. The Beatles had an immeasurable impact on me personally, and as a musician. In my mind, it seems like my heroes are supposed to be immortal and nothing bad is ever supposed to happen to them. I feel empty and very sad.”
Bradshaw, 41, is a second-generation Beatles fan from Pekin who plays many of their songs in his ongoing career. To those of us who remember watching the Ed Sullivan show that cold night of Feb. 9, 1964, the feeling of loss is more complicated. This was the soundtrack of our young lives.
We remember carloads of Catholic high school girls singing, “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you.” We remember dark beer-splashed college apartment rooms booming with ‘Twist And Shout”. We remember falling in love to these songs, mourning our losses to them. We remember quoting Harrison during our wedding ceremony: “It’s all too much for me to take/ The love that’s shining all around you.”
The luckiest of us saw them play live—in this case, Chicago on Aug. 12, 1966, the first show of their final tour. They raced through that eleven-song set in under a half-hour, with only McCartney’s bass clearly audible over the screaming hullabaloo at the International Ampitheater.
They did “Rock And Roll Music,” “She’s A Woman,” George’s song “If I Needed Someone,” “Day Tripper,” “Baby’s In Black,” “I Feel Fine,” “Yesterday,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Nowhere Man,” “Paperback Writer,” and “Long Tall Sally.” Only later would we learn that they were playing after receiving death threats predicated by Lennon’s imprudent remark that “We’re bigger than Jesus right now.”
Harrison quit the Beatles on the plane home after that tour, only to be talked back into rejoining for the group’s last three years. Long overshadowed by the magnificent songwriting of Lennon and Paul McCartney, Harrison finally came into his own: his “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun” are the two best songs on Abbey Road, the Beatles’ final album.
He introduced the sound of the Rickenbacker electric 12-string guitar to pop music, a vibrant jingle-jangle that would become the trademark for bands like The Byrds and R.E.M. His fascination with the Indian sitar, first heard on Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood,” brought world music tone colors into rock and roll.
His singing was essential to the Beatles’ distinctive harmonies. And while many praise his latter-day songs, his early ones were memorable as well: the shy ingenuous charm of “You Like Me Too Much” and “I Need You”, the bristling swagger of “If I Needed Someone” and “Don’t Bother Me,” the wistful spirituality of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Long, Long, Long.” His “I Me Mine” recorded Jan. 3, 1970, was the last song the band would complete.
Megan Foster Campbell, 40, who grew up to the Beatles’ music, said: “I think his dry sense of humor was often (like his songwriting) overshadowed by John’s more brazen sarcastic wit. One of my favorite Beatle movie moments is in Help!, where the band singing ‘I Need You’ on Salisbury Plain near Stonehenge. It is enchanting, in some way, to watch George sing this song, windblown and shivering.”
The night of the day George Harrison died, this writer and his bandmates in A Fine Kettle Of Fish gathered for our regular Thursday night session. We played really well and we had a lot of fun. If Harrison and the Beatles are to be remembered for anything, perhaps that should be it: the jovial fellowship, the redeeming joy, the healing magic of music.
That is the sunshine that makes everything, finally, all right.