Remembering George – 1943 – 2001
(from the Archives, December 2001)
My baby book says my first favorite song was “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. Actually, I remember it being the flip side, “I Saw Her Standing There”, but I think that was a bit risqué for my mom to acknowledge (“She was just seventeen, if you know what I mean…”)
They were always there. I was 4 when their first album hit America. My folks were just young enough to buy it in an effort to stay hip. My siblings were just old enough to acquire all the albums in their first U.S. pressing. My lunch box in 1st or 2nd Grade was the powder blue one that mimicked the photo on the cover of Something New. Worth a small fortune now, I’m sure. I can still remember some of the groovy dresses girls wore to the record party my brother and sister threw, when ‘Sergeant Peppers’ was played for the first time.
We had the bobble head dolls. We had the posters. We had our favorite Beatle. The girls all liked Paul. My brother liked John. But I adopted George early on, probably out of a need to be different, but also I think because of his mysterious, brooding seriousness that seemed to make him stand back in his own corner. I guess I related to that image in myself even as an 8 year old.
When the film A Hard Days Night came out it cemented in America’s collective consciousness the various personality roles of each Beatle. It never occurred to younger viewers that they were just two-dimensional stereotypes constructed by script writers. But they remain in our minds to this very day. Paul as the cute and coy good boy who takes care of his grandfather, gets the nice girl and specializes in “Silly Love Songs”. John as the cryptic conscience of his generation, irreverently witty in his working class way, but somehow superior to us all – waltzing with Yoko in his white, bell-bottomed suit, calming the waters with a wave of his walrus flipper, making sure we knew year after year that “All You Need Is Love.” The circumstances of his death haunt me to this day. Ringo was arguably the most intelligent and clever of the four, (the phrases “A Hard Days Night” and “Eight Days a Week” were among his many inventions) yet he remains forever branded as the tag-along buffoon who was lucky to be there at all.
And then there was George. The Other One. With the British teeth, the Scotty Moore solos, and the early Rickenbacker 12-string. The movie pegged him as the stoic. The one a little snide, who tells it like it is. His big scene remains a gem. Lost in the TV studio, he is mistaken for a typical teen and whisked into a suite where overly-hip executives ask, or rather dictate to him his opinion about the latest Britney Spears-like teen idol. They are appalled and confounded when confronted by his articulate and straight forward appraisal of their corporate product: “She’s a drag. Me mates and I turn the volume down and say rude things about her.”
He went on to have the best beards, the best cars, the best sitars.
For a 19 year old from Wavertree who was suddenly one of the Fab Four, then the unofficial ambassador for Eastern Spirituality in the material world, a Traveling Wilbury, and finally the gentle recluse in the giant mansion, occasionally showing up on stage or screen to pay tribute to various co-legends, and ducking the occasional, insane fan, he seemed to manage just fine.
Death by cigarettes. How sad. But that too is a sign of the times in which he had lived. In fact our whole culture was mirrored in his life. His final years were spent far from the discotheques of the Sixties, the concert arenas of the Seventies, the self-absorbed excess of the Eighties. And like so many of us, the Nineties were spent retreating to a quiet nest with a lawn and a fence – albeit one large enough for a legend with his own mythos. How fitting it seems today that the pinnacle of his artistic expression was found under the title All Things Must Pass.
Besides, his taste in guitars ran toward small-bodied Martins made out of mahogany. I like that in a Beatle.