Martin Scorsese has made a two-part, three-hour HBO documentary on George Harrison, The Quiet Beatle. It is very good! Here is its trailer:
Despite being a bit overwhelming without the comforting HAL-9000 of an overarching voice-over, there’s an incredible emotional truthfulness to the sometimes messy chronology that is bound to resonate with any non-sociopath watching it. Even if you (for shame) don’t like The Beatles, the themes addressed in this doc are so universal – loss, the search for meaning, not fitting in – and brought with such passion, it could rope in anyone, I feel.
A rather funny dichotomy the doc posits is George’s transcendentalism (he was the one who brought Ravi Shankar and the sound of India to the Beatles), his disparaging of material wealth and such against the fact that “he wrote Taxman, didn’t he?”
George did have a chip on his shoulder, as his strung-out, obviously coke-addled self in the early-to-mid 80s would attest. Scorsese doesn’t really dwell on his problems there, however, and leaves it at “tough times in George’s life.” Which is fine, in itself, since the doc is already rather extensive.
Besides wife Olivia Harrison’s reminder that George wrote Taxman, there’s also the rather incongruous accounts of the relation of first wife Patty Boyd and Eric Clapton’s feelings for each other to the big man himself. Clapton describes Harrison as almost guru-like, advising his friend and then-wife to follow their hearts to whichever destination made them happiest. Boyd describes Harrison as confrontational, possibly wearing a turtleneck-and-chain combo with his Jesus-stache and hair, telling her to CHOOSE ONE OR THE OTHER!!!! Is one lying? Are they both lying? Are they both correct?
It actually wouldn’t surprise me if both were telling the truth somehow. I’ve been reading some Emerson and Thoreau lately, men equally influenced by Indian yogis, just a century before Harrison. Emerson founded the American literary transcendentalist movement in the first half of the 19th century, and was mostly an essayist, more concerned with converting people to his point of view than producing any art.
Thoreau’s book Walden, however, pretty much defines a “transcendentalist lifestyle” as meant by Emerson. Living in a self-made cabin at the edge of Massachussetts’ Walden Pond, Thoreau manages to be a smug asshole about living like a fucking bum for two years and pretty much being the 19th century equivalent of a hipster going “Oh, I’m rejecting a material lifestyle to reach Enlightenment! You probably haven’t heard of it!”
Between Emerson’s mortifying navel-gazery and Thoreau’s terrible smugness, I think Harrison’s emotional confusion comes out as a step forward. He wasn’t a highly educated man like the former two, for one, so it’s understandable that he’d fall back on some less than reputable means of coping with loss. The quest for transcendence/higher knowledge(/God, if you will) is a noble one, but it’s not worth pursuing if you don’t do it in service of your fellow man. Emerson bored you to tears, Thoreau insulted you; Harrison wrote you the BEST SONG TO BLAZE UP TO EVER