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Friday, November 30, 2001

Canadian fans, friends remember Harrison

Canadian Press

TORONTO -- Shambhu Das remembers well the day in 1968 his mentor Ravi Shankar called him with a request to teach sitar to a young man named George Harrison.

"One day I got a cable, 'Shambhu, do you want to be here?' I said 'I can't stay long,' but I flew from Bombay to Delhi," recalls Das, who now lives in Toronto where he still teaches the Indian instrument.

A limousine met him at the airport, then took him on a seven-hour drive to the retreat where John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Harrison were studying meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. There, he began a brief collaboration and a lifelong friendship.

"When he later came to Bombay, Ravi Shankar said 'You take care of him,'" says Das. "We got very friendly and started sitar. We stayed in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay."

Even registered under another name, Harrison was found out and Beatles fans descended on the hotel.

"Hundreds of them started shouting on the street 'We want George, we want George' and they somehow managed get his room number and started knocking on the door," Das remembers.

"George said, 'We can't do it this way, we have to go somewhere else where we can quietly practise our music.' We went to Kashmir, a very quiet place, and stayed in a houseboat south of the Himalayas. It was like a first-class hotel."

Harrison, 58, died Thursday of cancer.

He was respectful, a good student, says Das. But mostly, it was his character that Das remembers.

"He was such a good person, a kind person, a quiet person, very thoughtful."

Robert Seely's first encounter with Harrison was not so quiet -- at 13, he was one of the few Canadians who actually got to see the Beatles play live.

"Loud doesn't half describe it -- deafening more like," says Seely, 50, now a math professor at McGill University in Montreal and Webmaster of The Beatles in Canada site (www.math.mcgill.ca/rags/music/beatcan.html).

"I had never been in such an excited audience before, and cannot think of any that has ever equalled it since," says Seely.

The first Beatles song to debut in Canada, She Loves You, entered Toronto's radio charts on Dec. 2, 1963 at No. 42. By the time they toured Canada in 1964, Beatlemania was in full swing.

"At that moment, these four guys from Liverpool were the essence of life itself," says Seely. "That feeling passed long ago, but its memory will remain with everyone who experienced it, I am sure."

"But to see these men grow old is to see one's own youth pass, so yes, I do think there is an element of 'memento mori' here," says Seely.

"Their growing old, their passing, reminds us of what has passed, what has disappeared from our own lives. These memories, these feelings, are not entirely unpleasant, curiously -- they are a rare mix of sweet and bitter sensations, perhaps best not indulged too often."

Like many of Harrison's fans, Seely says he will likely memorialize the quiet Beatle in a quiet way.

"I will probably get some of his records out and slip them into my CD drive, to listen to as I do my usual work. I will read and perhaps participate in the discussions on the rec.music.beatles news group, and will no doubt have a few conversations with friends and family," he says.

"I will shed a quiet tear for the quiet one, and reflect on how glad I am he gave us such wonderful music. His real tribute is in his back catalogue, isn't it?"

Harrison's death is a signpost of the baby-boomer generation, said Larry LeBlanc, music historian and Canadian editor of Billboard magazine.

"We can all feel touched by him, by his music, by the man himself. Even though he hadn't had an album since 1992, there's a spirituality that has kept with us all those years."

"He was the first to go solo, but he also wrote two of the most classic Beatles songs -- Something, which Frank Sinatra called one of the most beautiful love songs ever written, and Here Comes the Sun."

Rumours of Harrison's grave condition circulated early this month amid reports that he was having cancer treatments at Staten Island University Hospital.

"I would say he was a remarkable man," Dr. Gil Lederman, the hospital's director of radiation oncology, said Friday from New York.

"He was adored by the multitudes. The paradox was that he only wanted his quiet solitude. He thought life and death were related. That death was part of life and he had no fear."

Cancer patients visit Lederman in the hopes of being cured, but also "to try to get out of pain or stop bleeding or slow down the cancer," he said.

"For someone who's dying, to be pain free is pretty remarkable."

In Halifax fans were calling record stores to set aside Harrison CDs for them. Even those who were born after the band's breakup in 1970 mourned Harrison's death.

"I found out this morning and it was kind of a shock," said Lisa Johnston, 23, of Dartmouth, N.S.

"You weren't expecting it. He's not really that old. And it's another section of the Beatles gone.

"Comparatively, music nowadays is nothing like it used to be, by any means. There's just one-hit wonders and there's nothing else any more. You can still listen to any (Beatles) album straight through and go, 'That was a great one.'"

Which George Harrison song will you listen to today to commemorate him?

While My Guitar Gently Weeps
My Sweet Lord
What Is Life
When We Was Fab
All Things Must Pass
Within You Without You
All Those Years Ago
Here Comes The Sun
None of the above

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