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George Harrison Gets Back: Rolling Stone's 1987 Cover Story

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Harrison clearly has no idea about the meaning of what the cue cards are asking him to say — "I suppose this could be called acting," he says to a visitor at one point — but the colloquially surrealistic dialogue goes on, with many retakes.

"The title of your new album is Cloud Nine. Is this some veiled reference to a major-league hit this year?"

"I think it will be a pennant year for us, Fred."

"You want to talk a little bit about your album, tell us what's involved with it?"

"Well, we made it in Haiti," says Harrison, opting for the improvisational put-on. "It's got little voodoo things inside it that make it go quicker."

"With a lifetime record like yours, George, it's hard to imagine how you could top yourself. Tell us, is there something in the vinyl or in the label? If you answer this question, you could clear up a lot of controversy for us."

"Well, Fred, once in a great while in every player's career, the chance of a lifetime comes along," says Harrison in an uncomprehending monotone. "It's like when Paul Molitor stepped up to the plate to smack the ball just one more time. It's hard to explain, Fred. I guess you have to be out in the field to understand. This much I do know."

Harrison is trying to be a good sport, and the film crew is just doing its job, but between the script's wildly incongruous baseball references and the former Beatle's obvious discomfort with being required to hawk his new album, the shoot is something less than a cinematic triumph. "How does this relate to the record?" Harrison asks at one point, his frustration palpable. "That's what I'd like to know."

Shortly after the shoot, Harrison unwinds in one of the Warner offices. "They all mean well," he says indulgently of the Warner crew, as he pulls a pack of Marlboros from his bag and lights one up. "It's just that they're trying to cater to their staff. They're all into baseball. I can understand what they're trying to do, but it doesn't mean anything to me. Fred, Oooh, whew."

"You look like the only person here who might be from New York," is the first thing Harrison says when he picks me up, two months before the video shoot, at the train station in Henley-on-Thames, the London suburb where he lives with his wife, Olivia, and their son, Dhani. I was told that someone would meet me and drive me to Harrison's estate, called Friar Park, but I didn't expect the man himself. Harrison is smiling and friendly as he leads me to a black Ferrari 275 GTB for the short drive to his home.

George Harrison has spent a good deal of time since the Beatles' split-up avoiding the public eye. "Got out of the line of fire" is how he puts it in one song on Cloud Nine.

The psychic roller coaster the Beatles rode in both their public and private lives was a large part of the reason for Harrison's withdrawal. The first impact of that experience for him was a disorienting sense of being swept along by something much larger than himself. "We were just kids, getting carried away on the whole snowball effect," he says. "It was later, when all that smoking reefer and LSD came about, that you started getting into thinking, actually saw what was happening. Before that, we didn't have time to think. We were just going from one gig to another and into the studio and TV studios and concerts."

Partly as a result of their outspokenness about their experiences with "reefer and LSD" — and John Lennon's famous remark about the Beatles' being "more popular than Jesus" — the Beatles began distancing themselves from the less open-minded segment of their audience. But they paid a price for their freedom. "We were loved for one period of time, then they hated us, then they loved us, then they hated us," Harrison says. "We went from being the cute, lovable mop tops to being these horrible, bearded hippies — and back out of it again. The press, they put so much praise on you that the only thing left to do is start knocking you down. We'd been through that, and it got to the point that it didn't even matter."

Throughout all the external shifts, Harrison, the youngest member of the group, stood in the shadow of John Lennon and Paul McCartney as a songwriter and had a difficult time both establishing himself within the group and defining his own identity once the band broke up. Harrison's interest in Eastern music and mysticism — which got its start when the Beatles were filming Help! in 1965 — helped center him, but it also contributed to his image as a stern figure outside the pop-culture mainstream. To free himself from his past, Harrison often went unnecessarily far out of his way to deny the significance of the Beatles and to discourage any expectations of him as a former member of the most popular band in history.

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Song Stories

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