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

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In or out of the public eye, one aspect of Harrison's life that has remained consistent for more than two decades is his interest in spiritual matters. A firm believer in reincarnation, Harrison led the Beatles to Maharashi Mahesh Yogi and transcendental meditation in the late Sixties, and his fascination with Eastern religion and music encouraged the cross-fertilization of cultures that was such a rich aspect of that time. Yet Harrison's immersion in mystical thought also transformed his initial tag as the "quiet" Beatle to the "serious" one — mistrustful of fun, self-righteous about his beliefs, intolerant of people who didn't share his otherworldly vision and coolly detached from problems he saw as manifestations of the "material world."

And while he's less strident now, he can still occasionally come off as removed. After a feeling discussion one afternoon at Friar Park about how hard hit British inner cities have been in the Thatcher years — "It's terrible, it's just like hell," he said of Brixton, a run-down section of London that was the site of street riots in the late Seventies — he suddenly pulled back into a much less compassionate posture. "But I don't know, I don't know the answers," he said. "I think in the end, everybody has to go inside themselves and get spiritual. The more individuals there are with inner strength, then that will manifest itself in the external world."

Harrison may no longer give his songs titles like "It Is 'He' (Jai Sri Krishna)," but understanding the depth of his spiritual convictions is essential to understanding both the man and his music. "It's still very much there," he says of his religious consciousness. "When I was younger, with the after-effects of the LSD that opened something up inside me in 1966, a flood of other thoughts came into my head, which led me to the yogis. At that time it was very much my desire to find out. It still is, though I have found out a lot. I've gone through the period of questioning and being answered, and I feel I've got to the point where there isn't anything really that I need to know.

"Maybe in my youth, I was more exuberant about it. Now I've had more experience of it, and it's inside of me. I don't talk about it that much."

Having a child — his son Dhani is nine — has also gone a long way toward settling Harrison down. "I think the first thing is I stopped being as crazy as I used to be," he says, laughing, about Dhani's effect on his life, "because I want this child to have a father for a bit longer. Also, I think with a child around I can realize what it was like to be my father. At the same time, you can relive certain aspects of being a child. You can watch them and have all these flashbacks of when you were the kid. It somehow completes this generation thing."

Of course, in broader terms, "this generation thing" has been all the rage this year — with the crowd that came of age talkin" bout their g-g-generation yakking again and seeming as if it were never going to shut up. Powered by the release of the Beatles CDs and the twentieth anniversary of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Summer of Love, Sixties bands dominate the media with a force they haven't shown since… well, the Sixties. Does Harrison think that much genuine understanding emerged from all the backward glancing?

"I think primarily it's nostalgia," he says. "Everybody can remember where they were when the Beatles sang "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on The Ed Sullivan Show, or I remember where I was when President Kennedy got assassinated. It's all part of our history or our nostalgia.

"As to how much it means now," he says, "I think that for a lot of the young kids, it's handy that this resurgence comes about. There's a lot of young kids who are starting to go back in time and listen and say, 'Hey!' Where maybe ten years ago, the Beatles were, like, nowhere to these kids, now the new generation latches onto them."

Some members of the younger generation are looking back even further than the Beatles, however. "Like my boy's nine, and he just loves Chuck Berry," Harrison says. "When I did that Prince's Trust concert last June — that was the first time he ever saw me hold a guitar onstage in front of people. He's got to know a bit about the Beatles, but I've never pushed that on him, or tried to say, 'Look who I used to be.' I did my two cute songs: 'Here Comes the Sun' and 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps.' He came back after the show, and I said, 'What did you think?' He said, 'You were good, Dad, you were good [slight pause]. Why didn't you do "Roll Over Beethoven," "Johnny B. Goode" and "Rock & Roll Music"?' I said, 'Dhani, that's Chuck Berry's show you're talking about!"'

Dhani discovered Chuck Berry through a roundabout route. His mother, Olivia, a California girl, dug out the Beach Boys' "Surfin' U.S.A." after Dhani heard the song in the movie Teen Wolf. Then, Harrison says, "I said, 'That's really good, but you want to hear where that came from,' and I played him 'Sweet Little Sixteen."' It was love at first listen. "I made him a Chuck Berry tape," Harrison says, "and he takes it to school with his Walkman."

Does his father approve? "Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis — there hasn't been any rock & roll better than that," Harrison says plainly.

Harrison hasn't put his past entirely to rest, even as he moves confidently into the future with Cloud Nine. Playing the Prince's Trust concert, for example, initially presented some problems. After he was contacted about doing the show, Harrison got a call from Ringo. Each had been contacted without the other knowing about it. "Ringo phoned me up," Harrison says, "saying, 'Somebody's asked me if I'm doing this Prince's Trust, and of course, I can't really do it without playing on it with you.' I said, 'Ooo, I don't know about that.' I mean, Ringo will always be my friend, but just that made me nervous. I felt straightaway, somebody's trying to set this up again." This is the prospect of a Beatles reunion — the myth that will not be put to rest. "You know, it's one thing going on as me," Harrison says. "But if I'm going on as the Beatles, I want to be able to have some sort of control over it."

So the old paranoia may occasionally flare, but George and Ringo eventually did the show. The passage of time has brought its rewards. "What's happened over the years," Harrison says in conclusion, "is all these people — Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo, whoever I come across of these old guys — we're not old. But you know what I mean — they're getting better. The older we all get — maybe it's this mellowing process or whatever — everybody seems to have gotten so much more at ease." At ease in the material world. Now that's a novel idea that means George Harrison is on cloud nine for sure.

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