Remembering George

The following is a transcript of my comments made to Andrew Flynn (Canadian Press), some of which appeared in his on-line article Canadian fans, friends remember Harrison. Of course Andrew's article features other people's reactions; I am placing my own comments in full here as my tribute to George, and in thanks for his music. The interview took place about 3 weeks before George died - although we hoped for the best, at that time it was clear that his illness was serious enough to fear the worst.

Andrew's first question was about my concert experience. I attended the matinee concert the Beatles gave in September '64 in Montreal, and he wondered what it was like. He suggested it was loud with a lot of screaming. My reply:

"Loud" doesn't half describe it! "Deafening" more like. My most enduring memory of the experience is of a girl about 2 or 3 seats away from me, who was so totally in the throes of hysteria: she screamed, jumped, waved, cried, (I won't swear she didn't soil her pants, but I was too young then to have suspected such a thing!) - she was completely oblivious of anything but her immediate feelings. She wasn't alone, there were hundreds, thousands like her in the crowd, but her proximity to me made this very real, very vivid. I don't know who she was, but the memory of that unknown girl is still my personal embodiment of what Beatlemania was. You can see her by the thousands in any old video of the time, of course. But to really understand it, you "had to be there" ...

I can also actually remember the concert - I could hear some of the performance (that show didn't sell out, so maybe it was a little quieter than the norm!), I can remember Twist & Shout and Money - I think! To be honest, I knew their early albums so well by then, I could hear the songs without stimulus, and could imagine them even if I couldn't actually hear anything. (But I will still swear I could actually hear those immortal voices, through the din ... and you won't get me to admit otherwise after all these years!) I can remember the frustration of waiting through the "warm-up" bands (what a hell it must have been for them, to offer their musical souls to an audience that just wanted them to disappear and be replaced by the four gods!), and the excitement that drove it all away once our boys ran onto the stage. I learned later that Ringo had received a death threat, and tried to hide behind his drum kit, eager for the set to end. But that was not at all apparent to me then, I just relished every minute of this incomparable experience. I had never been in such an excited audience before, and cannot think of any that has ever equaled it since. More rewarding musical moments? - sure. But more vivid cultural experiences? Probably not. At that moment, these four guys from Liverpool were the essence of life itself. That feeling passed long ago, but its memory will remain with everyone who experienced it, I am sure.

Some background: at that time, I was about 13. Before serious girl friends, before really having become an autonomous person. I was certainly still a kid, even if one with pretensions of independence! I was a choirboy at the time, and went with a school friend who was also a choirboy in the same choir - we had a choir rehearsal that evening, which was why we went to the matinee concert. I can recall the odd juxtaposition (odder then than it would be now perhaps, since rock'n'roll was still a bit "counterculture" in 1964) of leaving the Beatles concert to go directly to a church choir rehearsal. Nothing would have stopped us going to the Beatles, so this didn't seem so odd to us, but there was a slight air of unreality in making the change nonetheless.

Next, Andrew reminded me of a comment I had made in reply to his original email - I said that pondering the liklihood of George's death did provoke a sense of "memento mori", to which he responded that perhaps many fans who were "there" in the 60's might feel something similar. He also commented that he'd met Ringo recently, who seemed in excellent health. My reply:

I'm glad to hear Ringo is well - I hope Paul is too, and although it may be a bit unrealistic, I still hope the best for George. 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. I am long past thinking I am still young, that era has long past, though like most people my age, I still take pleasure in a vigorous life, intellectually, emotionally, and even physically. I don't live with past memories as anything other than that: *past memories*. But nevertheless, the Beatles are a symbol of those past times, and one cannot help but feel a mix of feelings: sorrow and sympathy for the pain of life and loss felt by familiar faces - we understand now that these men are *men* with feelings, lives, families and friends, and suffer the same experiences we have come to experience ourselves, so we can empathize. But also they are symbols of ourselves, of our youth, of our "sown wild oats", and so their experiences remind us of our own in a more abstract way. And 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.

Of course, most important is one's best wishes for four men who so enriched one's life at an important formative stage. They gave us so much when they were performers at that long party we call adolescence, that now I only wish them what happiness life can give them. If George is indeed dying, I hope he is given as much grace and as little suffering as possible.

Next I was asked if I thought George was underappreciated (Andrew said G was his own favorite Beatle). My reply:

It is hard to say if he is underappreciated, maybe he is, maybe not - most fans I know have a keen sense of his excellence. He did have two incredibly talented band-mates, and he "bloomed" later than they did. So by comparison he might seem dimly lit next to John and Paul, but that is hardly an easy comparison to subject anyone to. But he released (and recently re-released) one of the finest "solo-Beatles" albums ever with "All Things must Pass", he wrote a couple of the Beatles biggest hits (especially "Something", though I could list many others of his that are among my favorites, and turn up frequently on other people's "favorites" lists), and he is the main person behind that flirtation with Indian music in the mid 60's that really started the (continuing) "World music" fusion. His was the first big rock "benefit" concert (for Bangladesh), he collaborated with people like Clapton and Dylan, ... the list of visible achievements goes on. I would certainly think he is a musical figure to be reckoned with, and I have the feeling this is well understood at least among those who can distinguish between the four Beatles. Is he my favorite? All I can say, and that too for John, Paul, and Ringo, is that he is among the top four of my favorite Beatles. The ranking among them is always in flux. :-)

Admitting this was a bit macabre to ask about someone still alive, he asked if I planned anything to mark George's death, any online tribute perhaps, or what. My reply:

No - not really. 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 news group, and will no doubt have a few conversations with friends and family. 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?
Farewell George: All things must indeed pass, but isn't it a pity? Of course you live as long as your songs are played, sung, and listened to.