George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters is a new anthology of the words of George Harrison by Grammy Award winning author Ashley Kahn.
Being a Beatle (and an ex-Beatle) meant that Harrison was interviewed over the course of his life literally thousands of times. This carefully curated and chronologically arranged anthology pulls together his most revealing and illuminating interviews, personal correspondences and writings. It spans the years 1962 to 2001 and provides a remarkable insight into the man he really was. You come away from this book with evidence that George Harrison was way more than just “the quiet Beatle“. He was an articulate, funny, candid and deeply spiritual human being.
In many cases Kahn uncovered interview tapes that have never been shared publicly in-full, and he includes them here unfiltered, without bias or interpretation.
Some of the stand-outs for us are the interviews by David Wigg, Anthony DeCurtis and Maureen Cleave. Cleave wrote a fascinating piece on Harrison for the London Evening Standard in 1966 entitled “How a Beatle Lives. Part 3: George Harrison—Avocado with Everything . . . ”. Now, remember, he’s just 23 years old at this point but in the second paragraph of Cleave’s article she states that Harrison is: “…a strong-willed and uncompromising character with a strict regard for what he considers to be the truth, and an even stricter regard for his own rights.”
It’s a trait that stayed with him throughout his life. Three years later, David Wigg asks Harrison how he comes to terms with fame and being a Beatle:
George Harrison: All I’m doing, I’m acting out the part of Beatle George, and, you know, we’re all acting out our own parts. The world is a stage and the people are the players. Shakespeare said that. And he’s right, you know.
David Wigg: Do you expect another part, later?
Harrison: Oh, many parts. Yes.
Wigg: Is that why you’ve come to terms with it?
Harrison: Yes, because you just do whatever you can do. I mean, even if it’s being a Beatle for the rest of my life, it’s still only a temporary thing. And, I mean really, all we did was get born and live so many years and this is what happened. I got born seemingly to become Beatle George. But it doesn’t really matter who you are or what you are, because that’s only a temporary sort of tag for a limited sort of period of years.
That approach to life (in this temporal world and beyond) were to remain a constant. Nearly twenty years later, in an interview with Anthony DeCurtis for Rolling Stone magazine around the time of the release of the album Cloud Nine, Harrison was still looking to keep the same even keel to his life, to keep things in perspective:
DeCurtis: One of the things about it, in mentioning that, you’ve always been a person who’s taken such care to keep a private life, to maintain that kind of thing. Does it feel sort of strange to be back in the record company office, sitting down, interviews, tapings? All this business?
Harrison: Not really, not really. I feel it’s like, sort of, say, somebody who is a fireman, or something, and he doesn’t sit around in his fireman suit all of his life. But when he goes to work he puts it on and he goes and gets on his fire engine. It’s sort of like that. Once I’ve done all this bit, I’ll walk away and I’m still . . . I mean it’s only the moment I’m in Warner Brothers office, or, somebody comes up to me and says, “Hey, will you sign this record,” or something, that I’m conscious of being an ex-Beatle and being George Harrison. I don’t live my life thinking that I’m this sort of . . . pop person. And so I think, now even more so, it’s just much easier for me to talk to people. I just talk to them like one human to another. And although that’s all superimposed on top of my being, all this past and present, but I just walk away from these interviews and just carry on as if nothing happened.
Of course being based in Australia we were pleased to see included a 1988 interview by the respected Australian journalist, Ray Martin, who got another perspective on how Harrison counteracted that “Beatle George Harrison” expectation that accompanied him wherever he goes:
Martin: There is a quote….of you saying that “I have to be more ordinary than ordinary people are.” Why do you have to be more ordinary?
Harrison: [Chuckles.] Well, because, um, people have—we all have concepts of each other, you know? And the concept is, somebody see[s] me on a plane or in the streets or something, and they immediately remember all this Beatle stuff, and they have this concept of me as that person. But in reality, I don’t go around thinking of myself as “George Harrison the Beatle,” or whatever. I do now because I’m on the television, but normally I’m just like you, you know, just like everybody else; I’m just a human, and sometimes you have to, rather than just be ordinary, you have to make an effort to be more ordinary, in as much as that they will calm down and try to see that there’s actually a person in here [gestures toward himself]—other than this big myth about the Beatles. That’s all.
This is just one of many themes running through the content painstakingly gathered together for this book. George’s words reveal the complexity of his character: wise but at times naïve, sensitive but also self-deprecating, and always refreshingly, unabashedly human. As editor Ashley Kahn writes in his preface: “Read his words and know the man. Read, and know a life well-lived.”
George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters is published by Chicago Review Press.
As a side note, Chicago Review Press has an extensive number of titles done in the same style as this book. They are part of a ‘Musicians In Their Own Words’ series, and the list of artists is lengthy including Dylan, Coltrane, Joni Mitchell, Bowie and Miles Davis – to name but a few. One you might also want to seek out is Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon.