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George Harrison Gets Back

The mystical ex-Beatle, when he was riding ‘Cloud Nine’ back into the material world

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George Harrison performs on stage at Prince's Trust concert, London in June, 1987.

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“I didn’t think it was that stupid,” mutters a puzzled George Harrison during a halt in a video shoot, as a battery of eight Warner Bros. Records employees hastens to reassure him. The mood in the sky-lighted, wood-paneled room at Warner Bros. headquarters in beautiful Burbank, California, is a heady mix of exhilaration and tension. Harrison has just delivered Cloud Nine, his first album in five years, to the label. The record is Harrison’s finest since his first solo outing after the Beatles’ breakup — the three-album set All Things Must Pass, in 1970. With good reason, Warner Bros, holds big commercial hopes for it.

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Aside from those considerations of art and potential sales, the mere presence of the mysterious ex-Beatle at his record company’s offices has propelled the place into a dizzying spin. For the two days that Harrison has been on the scene meeting the press and talking business with the label’s bigwigs, the staff has been buzzing. Admirers peek around doorways to catch glimpses of him, and a steady stream of devotees has presented him with albums and other memorabilia to autograph. “In the past week there’s been more Beatles records around here than Warner Bros, records,” one staffer says jokingly.

But if Harrison’s legendary stature has sparked the mood of exhilaration, it’s also charged the undercurrent of tension. The video interview being filmed is not for MTV — it’s a promotional clip for the annual Warner/Elektra/Atlantic (WEA) sales convention in Miami. Featuring segments with a host of premier Warner Bros. acts, the video is intended to “get the troops up, raise the level of morale, motivate the salespeople for the fourth quarter,” according to Adam Somers, the vice-president of creative services at Warner Bros., who is coordinating the filming.

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To achieve those all-important ends — the holiday season is crucial to the bottom line throughout the record industry — Warner Bros. has recruited fast-talking NBC West Coast sportscaster Fred Roggin and conceived a quasi-comical baseball theme to link the artists’ skits. In the year of the lively ball and corked bats, that theme is, What is Warner Bros. Records putting into its vinyl to give the company so many big “hits”? Get it? Perhaps you do, but Harrison — being British and all — doesn’t. Still, because of the priority the label is placing on CloudNine, Harrison’s spot is to be the “culmination” of the tape, according to Somers.

George Harrison (1943 – 2001) by Anthony DeCurtis

When told of the planned shooting the previous evening, the generally cooperative Harrison “wasn’t too receptive” to the idea, says one Warner employee. As the room was being prepared and equipment set up the following morning, several staffers met with Harrison — “sans anyone else,” as they requested with a glance at a nearby reporter — “to explain to him what this is about.” That explanatory session presumably involved some prepping on the cultural significance of baseball in America and the no-bullshit significance of happy salespeople to successful record releases — of which Harrison hasn’t had too many lately. Neither bloody nor bowed, Harrison nonetheless emerged from the meeting reconciled to his fate.

“Well, George, thanks for joining us,” says a stand-in for Roggin, reading from the script. “The question in everyone’s mind at the WEA meeting in Miami is, How’s that arm doin’?”

Photos: The Beatles Through the Years

Harrison, sporting a long-sleeved, black and white striped polo shirt, black jeans and pointy black suede shoes, is seated on a comfortable leather couch, fingering his beard. “Oh, the arm’s fine, Fred. Thanks for asking,” he responds gamely. “A bit of rhythm guitar, you know. I’ve been working it hard, too, what with this latest series of games with Houston.”

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.

Over time, however, he has grown much more relaxed about the events that took place all those years ago, and he has become more outgoing as a result. Last June he appeared at the Prince’s Trust benefit concert in London with Ringo Starr and a pickup band of musician friends, including Eric Clapton, and played two Beatles songs. He also popped up one night last spring at the Palomino club in Los Angeles and jammed with John Fogerty and his old friend Bob Dylan “after sitting there for four hours, drinking beer,” Harrison says, laughing. “It was a bit raggedy to say the least, but we had a laugh.”

Friar Park, where Harrison spends much of his time out of the spotlight, is an apt symbol of his essentially private nature. The grounds are dominated by an enormous, ornate mansion, built by the nineteenth-century British eccentric Sir Francis Crisp, that served as a convent before Harrison bought it in 1969. “It’s like Disneyland — ‘Give me some coupons and I’ll show you this,”‘ he says of the tendency of visitors to be intrigued and distracted by the estate’s fairy-tale-like environment. In its whimsicality, spiritual heritage and atmosphere of protected seclusion, Friar Park is so much the perfect home for Harrison that he has twice celebrated the place in song: in “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp” on All Things Must Pass and “Crackerbox Palace” on 33 & 1/3. Friar Park also affords plenty of opportunities for one of Harrison’s favorite solitary activities: the decidedly un-rock-star-ish pastime of gardening.

While Harrison shied away from the limelight through much of his post-Beatles life, he has hardly been inactive. In 1971, at the request of his friend the sitarist Ravi Shankar, Harrison organized the benefit concert for Bangladesh — a forerunner of the Band Aid and Live Aid events — that brought together many of the rock superstars of the time for the cause of famine relief. He toured America in 1974, albeit somewhat haphazardly and to mixed reviews, with a full band of his own and a virtual orchestra of Indian musicians. He wrote an autobiography, I Me Mine, and launched the movie company HandMade Films, which has become a highly respected force in the British film industry through its production of the Monty Python movies and such top-quality projects as Mona Lisa and the comedy Withnail and I. “It just seems to have taken on its own life now,” Harrison says of HandMade, which he began with his business manager, Denis O’Brien, as a way to save Monty Python’s Life of Brian for his Monty Python friends after the original backers pulled out. “It’s quite a good little company inasmuch as we’ve made films that nobody else would do, that people have either turned down or been afraid to make.” He also started his own record label, Dark Horse, in 1974, produced and played on records by other artists and maintained a consistent flow of solo albums and singles, cracking the Top Forty eleven times.

But with the failure of his last solo LP, 1982’s halfhearted Gone Troppo — which drew part of its inspiration from his fondness for tropical climes — Harrison seemed to grow disillusioned with the music industry. “I just think he wasn’t interested, personally,” says keyboardist Gary Wright, who is Harrison’s longtime friend and who co-wrote the poppy “That’s What It Takes” for Cloud Nine. “Sometimes when you make a record and it’s not successful, you just don’t want to go through that process for a while. You want to have your wounds heal.” At Friar Park, Harrison reflected on his self-imposed retreat from the music business and said, “I got a bit tired of it, to tell you the truth. It’s one thing making a record, but if nobody plays it on the radio, what’s the point of spending months in the studio?”

In addition, Harrison was less than wildly enthusiastic about the direction of popular music in the Eighties. “On the album before Troppo, which was Somewhere in England,” Harrison said in the Warner Bros. office, “I wrote this song called ‘Blood from a Clone’: “They say they like it/But now in the market/It may not go well/Because it’s too laid-back/It needs some oom-pah-pah/Nothing like Frank Zappa/And not New Wave/They don’t play that crap/Try beating your head on a brick wall/Hard like a stone/Don’t have time for the music/They want the blood from a clone.’ That kind of thing got me a bit pissed off. It was good to get that off my chest, but by the time I’d not made a record for a few years, I was relaxed and cool about everything.”

While cooling, Harrison continued to write songs and record at his twenty-four-track home studio and occasionally jammed with guitarist friends who live nearby, including Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Bad Company axeman Mick Ralphs and Alvin Lee, formerly of Ten Years After. When in 1985 he began to feel that he might want to make a new album, he started thinking about possible producers. Though Harrison had never met him, Jeff Lynne — the leader of the Seventies symphonic-pop band Electric Light Orchestra — immediately came to mind. That Lynne’s work with ELO always revealed a strong Beatles influence couldn’t have escaped Harrison’s notice, but Harrison emphasizes other factors.

“He’s a guitarist, he’s a songwriter, he’s had his success,” Harrison says of Lynne. “Just from the records, I thought he would be good, if we got on together. It was really a question of finding somebody to get in touch with him and then meeting with him, without saying, ‘Well, look, right down the line from now I’m going to try to make a record, and you’re it‘ — and frighten the fellow away. But that was in the back of my mind.”

Lynne, of course, was smart enough not to take the ex-Beatle’s invitation — passed along through guitarist and producer Dave Edmunds, a mutual friend — at all lightly. “I was in Los Angeles, actually, at the time,” Lynne says. “Dave Edmunds said to me, just matter-of-fact, ‘Oh, by the way, I forgot to tell you, George Harrison would like you to produce some stuff with him.’ You know, ‘by the way.’ If I could’ve picked one guy I wanted to work with, it would have been George. I was stunned, really.”

Following that initial contact, Lynne came by Friar Park for a casual dinner, and the two men hit it off. Harrison followed up with a phone call and suggested they start making some music together. “I waited,” Harrison said, “then I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to make the move.’ He may be shy, or if he isn’t and he just didn’t want to know, then I’d give him the chance to tell me to piss off!” They got together a few more times “for a laugh and a drink,” and then in mid-1986, while Harrison was working on the soundtrack to Shanghai Surprise — HandMade Films’ one magnificent flop and a film Harrison dismisses as the company’s “joker in the pack” — Lynne helped out on one track, an instrumental piece called “Zig Zag.” They continued to meet, played new songs for one another, and without a formal agreement being reached, it soon became clear that a new musical team had been formed.

While he had broken ground both with the cult-favorite band the Move in the Sixties and later with ELO, Lynne was walking down a path trod by some formidable people when he agreed to work with Harrison. Not only had Harrison made some of the greatest records in pop-music history with the Beatles and their producer George Martin, but All Things Must Pass — which included such classic Harrison tracks as “My Sweet Lord.” “Beware of Darkness,” “Isn’t It a Pity” and “What Is Life” — was coproduced by none other than Phil Spector. Spector had first worked with the Beatles on John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” and on the group’s Let It Be, and he also oversaw the production of the live album from the concert for Bangladesh. Fortunately for Lynne, Harrison is not awed by his own past.

About the creative breakthrough that All Things Must Pass seemed to represent, Harrison says, simply, “Don’t forget, John and Paul had been more satisfied from their ego point of view, having written all those tunes with the Beatles. Especially after 1966, I was starting to write loads of tunes, and one or two songs per album wasn’t sufficient for me.

“By the time All Things Must Pass came, it was like being constipated for years, then finally you were allowed to go,” he says, laughing. “I had seventeen tracks, and I didn’t really want to chuck any away at the time — although I’m sure lots of them in retrospect could have been chucked away. I wanted to get shut of them so I could catch up to myself.”

As for working with Spector, who is nearly as well known for his excesses as for his studio prowess, Harrison says, “He’s been a bit outrageous, but he was very sweet. He was like a giant person inside this frail, little body. I had a lot of laughs with Phil and a lot of good times. But I had a lot of bad times as well. Most of the stuff I did with Phil, I ended up doing about eighty percent of the work myself. The rest of the time I was trying to get him into hospital or out of hospital. He’d be breaking his arm and, you know” — he shoots a knowing glance — “various other things.”

Harrison and Lynne’s working arrangement for Cloud Nine was a good deal more straightforward. They met for two weeks in early January at the Friar Park studio and laid down the basic rhythm tracks for about seventeen songs. Reconvening at regular intervals through late summer, they gradually narrowed their focus until they were left with the eleven songs that ended up on the album. Along the way they were joined in the sessions by guitarist Eric Clapton; drummers Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner and Ray Cooper; keyboardists Elton John and Gary Wright; and sax man Jim Horn.

Despite the shifting cast of characters, collaborating with Lynne gave Harrison the enjoyable feeling of being in a band again. “The Beatles were a little unit on their own,” Harrison says. “We grew up together, we played all our apprenticeship together in Liverpool and Germany. We completely understood each other. Having Jeff Lynne, for me it was like ‘Now I’m back in a group.’ We share responsibilities, we share ideas.” Having Ringo on hand also helped Harrison feel comfortable. “Ringo is like myself with the guitar,” Harrison says. “I don’t play it that often. I don’t practice. Ringo may not play the drums from one year to the next, but when he picks up his sticks and gets his drum skins tightened right, he’ll just rock and play just like he played in the old days.”

Harrison and Lynne were in complete agreement about what the songs on Cloud Nine should sound like on record. “I think he feels the same as me,” Lynne says of Harrison’s sense of sonic proportion amid the high-tech, electronic din of so many Eighties records. “He didn’t want all this banging and clattering going on.”

Lynne defined a crisp, bright, neatly textured sound that sidesteps trends and still manages to set Harrison squarely in the Eighties. “George is the king of rock & roll slide guitar,” Lynne says with glee, and Harrison’s sinuous, gently weeping leads are prominently featured on the album — nowhere more prominently than on the title track, where he duels exquisitely with his longtime buddy Eric Clapton. The ballads, “Just for Today,” “Someplace Else” and “Breath Away from Heaven,” subtly capture the mood of prayerful, detached contemplation that is still at the center of Harrison’s spiritual life. The album’s first single, “Got My Mind Set on You,” which was written by Rudy Clark and recorded by R&B singer James Ray, is the sort of cocky, early-rock kicker that formed Harrison’s musical tastes and that he still listens to regularly. And “This Is Love,” “That’s What It Takes” and “Fish on the Sand” find Harrison mining the pop vein that yielded many of his catchiest songs of the Seventies.

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-racing 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.”

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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