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

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The jaunty "Wreck of the Hesperus" — with its hearty assertion, "I'm not the wreck of the Hesperus/Feel more like the wall of China… I can rock as good as Gibraltar" — challenges the one-dimensional image of Harrison as the blissed-out mop top in the sun, dotingly gardening behind the wall of Friar Park. "I don't know if people actually think along the lines of 'Well, he's getting old," says Harrison, who looks composed and distinguished, if somewhat weathered, at forty-four. "But I've thought that people must be thinking that. It's really a funny song. When I started writing it, I just opened my mouth and those first two lines came out. I thought, 'Oh, okay,' and continued along that theme" — he hesitates and laughs — "until you get to the middle eight, and I suddenly go into a vicious attack on the press!"

The blasts at "poison penmen" and "brainless writers" in "Wreck of the Hesperus" are echoed in the media bashing of "Devil's Radio," with its assault on gossip journalism. Harrison still smarts from the intensity of the media gaze fixed on the Beatles. And during the Seventies, the love affair between Harrison's first wife, Pattie Boyd, and his close friend Eric Clapton was something of a scandal — fueled in no small part by Harrison's peculiar decision to invite Pattie and Eric to record the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye, Love" with him on his 1974 LP Dark Horse.

"I've observed it, I've been a subject of it to a degree, I may still be that," he says about media gossip of the sort delineated in "Devil's Radio." "The song came about because I passed a church in a little country town in England that had a billboard outside it saying, gossip — the devil's radio. don't be a broadcaster. I've always kept away from that — though I've done my share — because with my past I've tended to be one of the people being gossiped about. It's such a waste of time."

The delightful Sixties goof "When We Was Fab" — Harrison routinely refers to the Beatles as "the Fabs" — was conceived even before Harrison and Lynne went into the studio to start working on Cloud Nine. Harrison and Lynne were vacationing in Australia — earning the song its working title of "Ozzy Fab" — where Harrison, who is an auto-rac- ing aficionado, wanted to catch the Adelaide Grand Prix. "I had this guitar that somebody had loaned me," he says, "and, I don't know why, I thought I'd like to write a song like that period. And I could hear Ringo in my head, going, one, two… da-ka-thump, da-ka-thump."

When Harrison and Lynne returned to England, they continued adding bits to the song, until it resembled the loonily textured "I Am the Walrus" more than any other Beatles track. Ringo contributed his patented drum sound — "Those little fills are just pure Ringo," Harrison says — and Harrison even played sitar at the song's close. "It's got complete joke words," Harrison says about the song's lyrics, which include such parodic gems as "Caresses fleeced you in the morning light. But there's enough nostalgic affection in the trippy grooves of "When We Was Fab" to tickle the brain cells and bring a smile to the face of any Sixties survivor.

A somewhat less benign exploitation of the Beatles' legacy was the recent Nike commercial in which John Lennon's ambivalent Sixties anthem "Revolution" turned up as the soundtrack for an ad campaign announcing a "revolution in footwear." Through Apple Records, the Beatles have filed suit against Capitol/EMI Records for licensing the Beatles' original master of the song to Nike for the ad, despite Capitol's assertion that Yoko Ono insisted that Nike use the Beatles' original version.

"In a nutshell, there are all these people who have the rights to everything, or believe they have the rights to everything," Harrison says, alluding to the ownership of the Beatles' catalog of songs by Michael Jackson and of the Beatles' recordings by Capitol Records. "The fact that the original master is used — I think we ought to have some say in that, seeing as it was our lives. The complication comes from the fact that Yoko, when she heard that they wanted it, insisted that it be the Beatles' version. The further complication is that Yoko is now — as John's estate — in effect a quarter of the Beatles or Apple.

"The history of the Beatles was that we tried to be tasteful with our records and with ourselves. We could have made millions of extra dollars doing all that in the past, but we thought it would be-little our image or our songs. But as the man [Bob Dylan] said, 'Money doesn't talk, it swears.' Some people seem to do anything for money. They don't have any moral feelings at all."

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