A Conversation With George Harrison

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It seems as if Paul was the Beatle with whom you were least compatible musically – you've gone on record as saying you wouldn't play with him again.
Yeah, well now we don't have any problems whatsoever as far as being people is concerned, and it's quite nice to see him. But I don't know about being in a band with him, how that would work out. It's like, we all have our own tunes to do. And my problem was that it would always be very difficult to get in on the act, because Paul was very pushy in that respect. When he succumbed to playing on one of your tunes, he'd always do good. But you'd have to do fifty-nine of Paul's songs before he'd even listen to one of yours. So, in that respect, it would be very difficult to ever play with him. But, you know, we're cool as far as being pals goes.

Do you miss not playing with a regular band and going on the road?
No. I don't like going on the road. Sometimes I feel physically very frail. I can feel knackered, really tired, just having to get up early to get an airplane – I can feel ill having to travel. On the road there're all these medicines flying about to help you catch the plane on time, all that sort of stuff. And I'm a sucker for that. I could do myself in.

That was the problem in 1974, when I toured America. I'd done three albums before I went on the road, and I was still trying to finish my own album as we were rehearsing, and also we'd done this other tour in Europe with these classical Indian musicians. By the time it came to going on the road I was already exhausted. With the Beatles we used to do thirty minutes onstage, and we could get it down to twenty-five minutes if we did it fast. We were on and off and "thank you," and back to the hotel. Suddenly to have to be playing two and one-half hours for forty-seven gigs, flying all round, I was wasted.

But I had that choice of canceling the tour and getting everybody uptight, or going through with it. So I decided, "Sod it, it's probably better to do it." But no, I don't miss it at all – being in crummy hotels, eating lousy food, always having to be somewhere else.

There was a lot of flak about that tour. Did you think the criticisms were justified?
The flak about the tour was terrible. [Exasperated] There're always people who don't like something, but on the average it wasn't a disaster. I wanted it made clear that it was a tour with Ravi Shankar, but Bill Graham wouldn't do that. They tried to make it look like it was just me coming, that sort of trip. But even in the Indian music section there was a part of that, every place we played, where the audiences were up on their feet screaming and shouting their approval.

But the press clippings were unbelievable. By the time I got back to England people were saying, "That's it, you're finished, man." It was the worst thing I'd ever done in my life according to the papers. But really, there were moments of that show that were fantastic. So all the negativity about that was a bit depressing, but [grinning triumphantly] I fought my way back to recovery!

That tour coincided with the formation of your own record label, Dark Horse. You were signing and producing other performers such as Ravi Shankar and Splinter, and seemed very active in promoting other artists' careers.
Yeah, right, and that was another reason why 1975 wasn't so good . . . why I was so wiped out, and it resulted in me saying, "Sod it, I don't want a record company." I don't mind me being on the label because, all right, I can release an album and it makes some profit, and I don't phone myself in the middle of the night to complain about different things. But artists are never satisfied. They spend maybe $50,000 more than I'd spend making an album, then they won't do any interviews or go on the road – whatever you'd organize for them, they'd foul it up. It was just too much bullshit. They think a record company is like a bank that they can go and draw money out of whenever they want. But, nevertheless, there were some good things that came out of it: the Attitudes album, Good News, is really good. And I'm happy about the Indian music we did – the Ravi Shankar's Music Festival from India and the Shankar Family and Friends albums. But generally the record company was too much of a problem.

Was there a lot of resistance from the other Beatles when you first introduced sitar on the group's albums?
Not a lot, because at that time it was all experiments and stuff. In fact, I think it was John who really urged me to play sitar on "Norwegian Wood," which was the first time we used it. Now, Paul has just asked me recently whether I'd written any more of those "Indian type of tunes." He suddenly likes them now. But at the time he wouldn't play on them. "Within You, without You" was just me and some Indian musicians in the studio by ourselves. It sounds a bit dopey now in retrospect, except the sitar solo's good.

Your interest in Indian music and, particularly, in mysticism and the disciplines of spiritual development has always been the most misunderstood and most derided facet of your life. Do you have any theories as to why that should be?
It's ignorance. They say ignorance is bliss, but bliss is not ignorance – it's the opposite of that, which is knowledge. And there's a lot of people who have fear. It's like I was saying earlier about all those guys in Liverpool who knew us in the early days and are now running Beatlefests. All of those guys had a good opportunity when the Beatles left Liverpool to leave, too; they could have been running their own TV shows and doing all kinds of things now. But they were like big fish in a little pond. And the fear of failure is a bad thing in life; it stops people from gaining more knowledge or just understanding deeper things. So when somebody presents them with a whole set of ideas they don't understand, fear takes over. They want to destroy it, chop it down. Just like that loony guy in America who claims to go round deprogramming people from Krishna and the Divine Light Mission and that. That's his fear coming out, because if you understand something, you don't have to fear it – there's no panic, no problem.

Basically I feel fortunate to have realized what the goal is in life. There's no point in dying having gone through your life without knowing who you are, what you are or what the purpose of life is. And that's all it is. People started getting uptight when I started shooting off my mouth and saying the goal is to manifest love of God – self-realization. I must admit, there was a period when I was trying to tell everybody about it; now, I don't bother unless somebody asks specifically. I still write about it in my songs, but it's less blatant, more hidden now. I'm a very poor example of a spiritual person. I don't really want anything in my life except knowledge, but I'm not a very good practitioner of that.

Has remarrying and having a child significantly changed your life?
Yeah, that's been a wonderful thing for me. Everybody who has a baby thinks their child is wonderful, and it is. I'm enjoying it a lot and, again, that's probably why John isn't working. After a long time of waiting, he and Yoko finally had a child and I think he wants to give most of his time to watching the child grow up.

You met your wife, Olivia, at the end of what seems to have been a pretty low period for you personally – 1974.
Yeah, well after I split up from Patti [Boyd, Harrison's first wife], I went on a bit of a bender to make up for all the years I'd been married. If you listen to "Simply Shady," on Dark Horse, it's all in there – my whole life at that time was a bit like [laughing] Mrs. Dale's Diary [a now defunct British radio soap opera].

Were you going down fast?
Well, I wasn't ready to join Alcoholics Anonymous or anything – I don't think I was that far gone – but I could put back a bottle of brandy occasionally, plus all the other naughty things that fly around. I just went on a binge, went on the road . . . all that sort of thing, until it got to the point where I had no voice and almost no body at times. Then I met Olivia and it all worked out fine. There's a song on the new album, "Dark Sweet Lady": "You came and helped me through/When I'd let go/You came from out the blue/Never have known what I'd done without you." That sums it up.

There are a number of love songs on the album – in fact, it's a very positive record altogether. Is there any one song that you're happiest with, or means more to you than the others?
I like them all really, but the two I least like are "If You Believe" – I like the sentiment of that, but it's a bit obvious as a tune – and "Soft Touch," which is just pleasant but there's nothing special about it, I feel. All the others I like for various reasons. "Blow Away" I like because it's so catchy; in fact, I was a bit embarrassed about it at first, but it turned our good and people seem to like it. That was the first new tune I wrote. I was in the garden and it was pouring down with rain, and I suddenly became aware that I was feeling depressed, being affected by the weather. And it's important to remember that while everything else around you changes, the soul within remains the same; you have to constantly remember that and fight for the right to be happy.

And I like "Faster" because I fulfilled the thing the Formula One motor-racing people kept asking me – to write a song about racing – and I did it in a way I'm happy about because it wasn't just corny. It's easy to write about V-8 engines and vroom vroom – that would have been bullshit. But I'm happy with the lyrics because it can be seen to be about one driver specifically or any of them, and if it didn't have the motor-racing noises, it could be about the Fab Four really – the jealousies and things like that.

Is that the Beatles' life story?
Exactly, and when people keep asking, "Why don't the Beatles keep on going?" they don't realize that you can kill yourself. Or maybe they do realize that; maybe they want you to. There's a lot of that in motor racing. I've seen people say they want somebody they don't like to crash, which is crazy.

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