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.