In the wake of Martin Scorsese's documentary and the accompanying book by Olivia Harrison, Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard has written a wry, penetrating piece about the manifestations and challenges of George's Hindu faith over the years. I won't go into more detail. Just read it; it's first-rate work.
As a reader who has compulsively consumed the ever-expanding body of Beatles literature for 40 years, I have trouble picking out a favorite anecdote or most memorable quote. Is it John’s “If there is such a thing as a genius, I am one”? Or the note Paul sent John one day in the waning days of the group: “You and your Jap tart think you’re hot s—”? Or maybe it’s the time an airline stewardess offered George a glass of wine, not knowing he was deep in meditation. “F— off,” the spiritual Beatle replied.
One of George Harrison’s most appealing traits was self-awareness. He would have seen (and said) how absurd such talk was. “I was never a real guitarist,” he once told his friend Klaus Voormann. And he wasn’t; he couldn’t launch the fireworks like Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck, and the disciplined technique of Andrés Segovia or Julian Bream never interested him. About his songwriting, he told an interviewer: “There’s no comparison between me and someone who sits and writes music. What I do is really simple.” Right again. He compared himself to a pastry chef, able to combine musical ingredients nicked from others to make a pleasing presentation of songcraft. He made many marvelous records, but as a source of fresh musical ideas, he said, “I’m not really that good.”
When the cancer finally carried him off, his family’s formal statement insisted that he had never feared his own death, and even welcomed it, so sure was his faith in an afterlife and in God. The claim is repeated emphatically in the documentary. But this has the feel of a white lie—another bit of Beatle mythmaking. His last months were, in truth, a frantic scramble around Europe and North America in search of experimental cures that might keep his spirit housed in his body a few months longer. None of them worked.