Chuffed to Bits: Living in the Material World – 5 Things I Learned About George Harrison from the Scorsese Documentary

Recently, I watched George Harrison: Living in the Material World, the new documentary directed by Martin Scorsese.  As a lifelong Beatles fan, I was fascinated to learn more about George Harrison’s life before, during, and after his time with the Fab Four.  If you haven’t yet seen it, I highly recommend it.  Here’s the trailer for the film.

 

 

To be honest, Paul has always been my favourite Beatle, with John coming in a close second (sorry, Ringo). However, I learned a few things about George that I wasn’t aware of prior to seeing this documentary that may have just moved him to the top of my list.

He put his mark on some of the Beatles’ best songs.  I have no idea why I thought Lennon and McCartney were the ones who wrote Something, but it was actually George who wrote what Frank Sinatra once called the greatest love song ever written.

 

 

Harrison also came up with the memorable guitar riff for And I Love Her. Paul McCartney says in the film that he didn’t write that part at all, that it was George who thought the song needed a little something extra. That 4-note riff (DO, DO, DO, DO) made a great song even better.

 

 

Upon further research, I also discovered that it was George who sang the lead vocals on my favourite Beatles song of all time, Do You Want to Know a Secret.

 

He was a producer of cult films such as Life of Brian, Time Bandits, and Withnail and I.  Harrison was a big fan of Monty Python and according to Eric Idle, he mortgaged his house to finance the movie Life of Brian because he really wanted to see it.  I happen to love Withnail and I, so I was really chuffed (to bits!) to learn that George was also a producer on that film as well.

 

He did a lot of the work on his country estate, Friar Park, himself.  George loved nature, and was an avid gardener, doing much of the landscaping and renovations on his 30 acres of land and 120-room gothic mansion in Henley-on-Thames himself.  In the film, his son Dhani (who bears a striking resemblance to his father) talks about how his father used to look out at the grounds in the moonlight because the shadows would mask all of the weeds and imperfections, and in that light he could visualize how he wanted the estate to look.  Interviewed recently by Rolling Stone, Dhani shared some thoughts about his dad, stating that when he was a small boy, “I was pretty sure he was just a gardener.” Harrison would work 12-hour days planting trees and flowers at Friar Park, pursuing his vision.

He had a great sense of humour.  In the documentary, Harrison’s wife Olivia recounts the harrowing experience they both survived in 1999, when a crazed fan broke into their home and attacked them, stabbing George as many as eight times.  Eric Idle shares a side note to this story.  Apparently there were some new household staff members at Friar Park around that time.  These people had only been working for Harrison for a few days, and as he was being carried out of Friar Park on a stretcher by the paramedics, George looked over at the new employees and said, “So, what do you think of the job so far?”  Ringo Starr also shares a very poignant moment about when he went to visit Harrison at the end of his battle with cancer.  Starr had to leave to fly to America to be with his daughter who was having a brain tumor removed.  Ringo gets visibly emotional as he recalls George asking him, “Do you want me to go with you?”  He may have been known as the quiet Beatle, but George Harrison certainly didn’t take himself too seriously, even under the most dire of circumstances.

He was extremely spiritual.  I’ve always known from listening to his music as a solo artist that George Harrison was a spiritual person, but I had no idea how deep his belief and faith in spirituality really was until I watched this documentary.  George was a devotee of meditation, studying with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and was also a devotee of Hinduism and the Hare Krishna tradition of japa (chanting a mantra).  In addition, George produced the Hare Krishna Mantra as a single, and even included the actual mantra in his hit song, My Sweet Lord.

 

 

George Harrison was an incredible human being, and George Harrison: Living in the Material World certainly illustrates this in a fascinating, beautiful way that pays great tribute to the man, his life, and the legacy of music he left behind.

Comments

  1. avatarRay says

    Amie,

    No disrespect intended but if you didn’t know George sang lead on ‘Do You Want To Know A Secret’, how big of a Beatles fan could you be?

    In fact every single item on your list of things you didn’t know about George have been well documented. I enjoyed the documentary but there was virtually nothing new for any George fan.

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Ray,

      George and Paul’s voices can sometimes sound the same to my ear on certain songs. And because “Do You Want to Know a Secret” was credited to Lennon/McCartney, I’d always just assumed that Paul was the one singing lead.

      I’m sorry if there wasn’t anything new in this piece for a massive George fan such as yourself, but the title of it is “5 Things I Learned About George Harrison.” If you already knew everything that was presented in the documentary, then well done, you. ;-)

      Thanks for reading. :-)

      • avatarRay says

        Hi Amie,

        I wasn’t trying to come across as a know-it-all. Maybe I should have mentioned I’m 61 and grew up with the Fab Four so it would be rather difficult to slip a new fact past me.

        George certainly was my favorite and even though he would tell me it’s a bit silly, I still miss him. We need more people like him.

        Again, my apologies if I sounded rude. That’s not my nature. In closing, don’t thank me for reading. Allow me to thank YOU for writing the articles.

        • avatarAmie says

          Hi Ray,

          Apology accepted, and I do want to thank you for reading; it makes writing so much more enjoyable for me knowing that someone will be reading what I’ve written. :-)

          I’m quite jealous that you grew up with their music as it was being released! I discovered them when I was a little girl. My parents had a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s on vinyl that I would play over and over again, and they constantly had the radio in our house tuned to the “oldies” station, so I came to appreciate them that way as well. One of the very first CDs I ever received was the soundtrack to “A Hard Day’s Night” for my birthday. Whilst the rest of the kids in school were listening to groups like INXS, I was drowning in the sounds of Elvis and The Beatles. ;-)

          Thanks again for reading, and for sharing your thoughts. Cheers! :-)

  2. avatarPR Acharya says

    Thank you Amie for this wonderful account of George. I completely agree with what you say. Many many thanks again.

  3. avatarShaw says

    Lovely article! I’ll definitely watch the movie now. “Here Comes the Sun”, “Something”, and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” are some of my all-time fave tunes. Classics all.

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Shaw,

      I’ve had “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” stuck in my head for days now; what a great tune. I also had the pleasure of seeing Paul Simon in concert last night, and he performed “Here Comes the Sun” during the show, which was such a treat.

      Thanks so much for reading. :-)

  4. avatarDr. Mikey says

    Hey Amie,
    Like Ray, I’m a bit older than you and grew up with the Beatles. Watching Ed Sullivan on Feb 9, 1964 changed my life. I thought I knew a lot about George and the others, but I also did not know that George came up with the Spanish guitar riff on “And I Love Her.” I wonder if he or Paul came up with the idea to end the song going from A minor to A major. It is a great ending.

  5. avatarGreg says

    Amie, I’m not at all concerned that you didn ‘t already know the facts you learned in the film, I don’t know of many people who would know much about bands they didn’t grow up with. I’m looking forward to seeing it – not released in Aust until later this week I think. The important part is that you now know more and like the lad a bit more than before. When he was a Beatle he did mainly covers in the early years, and apart from Something, Here comes the Sun & While my Guitar Gently Weeps I think his best was done post Beatles, Think of All Things Must Pass, My Sweet Lord, Isn’t it a Pity and All those Years A go the latter after John was shot. And as well as co-writing Badge for Cream (with Clapton with whom he shared a love of guitars and women), I’m extremely grateful for him funding Monty Python. What a great artist & human. Greg

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Greg-

      Please let me know what you think of the documentary after you see it. I think they did a great job, and it was interesting hearing Clapton talk of his life and times with him, as well as hearing Olivia and Dhani share some of their stories as well.

      I agree. He was a great artist and a great human being.

      Thanks so much for reading. :-)

  6. avatarEdSullivan says

    Nice article, Amie. I was never a big George fan but my interest grew greatly after I heard the now infamous “Decca Tapes” where he sings lead on just as many songs as the other two. In fact, I was very surprised at how he could really rock-out as a singer during those early years, also evident on the BBC tapes. Here’s another small tidbit you probably don’t know: He sang lead on “Chains”, the Carol King song on their first EMI album, recorded in one day, where they all had terrible colds. On the new remastered version, you can even hear him clear his throat right before the second bridge. You just wish you could hug him!

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Ed,

      Thanks for reading!

      And no, I didn’t know that tidbit about their having colds during the Decca recordings. Thanks very much for the trivia. :-)

  7. avatarPearl says

    Your article is well-written, but when you say there are 5 things you learned about George Harrison, you make diehard fans laugh. There are millions of diehard fans out here reading every article, There are many who claim to love the Beatles and that’s great. The Beatles impact involved more than music. What “surface” fans don’t realize is that there is such a high level of love and interest in the Beatles, even today, that the things that you “learned” are part of Beatle fan’s DNA. Its all well-known folk-lore.

    The George documentary was fantastic, however I agree with Ray. There was nothing I didn’t already know about George Harrison. I and all aficionados in fact awaited it hoping to learn something new. As usual when it comes to hungering for unheard of Beatle data, one is left wanting. As a fan who became addicted the moment they stepped onto that Ed Sullivan Theater Stage, I made it my life’s quest to know everything on earth about them. Only a most marginal fan wouldn’t know that Harrison wrote “Something.” George was an “incredible human being” as you say. His spiritualism and his anger have all been well documented in books and movies. All four of them were incredible. Having lived my teens with the Beatles at the entertainment helm was an experience I wouldn’t trade for all the Justin Beibers in the world. However, I will bet you that Justin Beiber’s fans know every lyric to every song as well as the history behind every song. They know his birthday, his favorite colors and foods. the Beatles’ history has been documented in thousands of books and video adnauseum. A true lifelong Bealte fan who discovered them in the 70s (and there are many second, third, fourth generation fans who didn’t witness the British invasion-having been born too late) would have read at least one of them in the last 40 years. I am so sorry for the sarcasm, but I can’t hold back in this instance.

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Pearl,

      Thanks for reading.

      I guess I just don’t understand the anger and sarcasm. Perhaps it’s just me, but I would never question someone’s love of a particular band or artist, based on the fact that they didn’t know all of the details of someone’s life. It’s not a competition for who’s the biggest Beatles fan. I simply love their music, and I enjoyed learning more about George.

      Nowhere in the title of this piece did I claim to be revealing anything that anyone else didn’t already know about George Harrison, nor was this piece written for a Beatles website. I simply wrote about what I personally learned from watching the documentary, which I really enjoyed. I’m sorry if what I wrote upset you.

      Thanks again for reading.

  8. avatarShanna May says

    Sheesh, people! Dig around those medicine cabinets and take a pill, will you?! Thank you, Amie for sharing these little tidbits with us non-“true” Beatles fans. I’ve always said George was my favorite Beatle because he was pretty enigmatic and he resembled my dad. I’m also a huge lover of many of his songs (though “My Sweet Lord” never really found that sweet spot for me, personally *cue attack dogs*). “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” continues to break my heart and “Here Comes the Sun” never fails to make me smile. Thanks for your column and keep the articles coming. I always enjoy reading!

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Shanna,

      You’re entirely welcome. Us “surface” Beatles fans have to stick together. ;-)

      Thanks very much for reading. :-)

  9. avatarJake says

    Amie – if you enjoyed finding out more about how George left a real musical mark in The Beatles’ music (i.e., writing the riff for “And I Love Her”), I think you would really enjoy reading Simon Leng’s book “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” He explores George’s indispensable musical input on several Beatles songs, like “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Nowhere Man,” “She Said She Said,” etc. Leng also does a really good job highlighting the spiritual significance of music in the Indian culture, and shows how George’s embracing of that “music-is-more-than-entertainment” mindset profoundly affected his songwriting and attitude towards the Beatles as a group. Short version: you’d probably love this book. I wrote a review of it here: http://bit.ly/rrtL7x

    • avatarAmie says

      Hi Jake,

      What a wonderful review! Thank you very much for the recommendation; I’m putting this book on my list of must-reads. :-)

      Thanks so much for reading!