Holy Krishna! What kind of an opening night for George Harrison is this? Ravi Shankar asks for silence and no smoking during his music. Silence is very important, he says, because music is eternal, and out of the silence comes the music. Something like that. But, instead, out of the audience comes this piercing death cry, followed by a rain of war whoops. After a few numbers, people start shouting, “Get funky!” and “Rock and roll!”
In the press box at PNE Coliseum in Vancouver, one reporter is guessing that the Sanskrit letter for Om, illuminated in shadowboxes at either end of the stage, is actually the Indian dollar sign. Another insists it means “No Smoking.”
Harrison, meantime, is hoarse from the beginning and strains through each song. Billy Preston eventually perks up the show with two numbers in the second half, but the night sputters to a conclusion with more Indian music, more cries for rock and roll and, in the end, Harrison receiving a perfunctory encore call. He performs “My Sweet Lord,” and out of the silence comes the silence — a still and seated audience with only the front section clapping along.
“I hated it,” said Pat Luce the next morning. Pat Luce wasn’t a paying customer. She’s a publicist with A&M Records, on the tour for Harrison’s Dark Horse label, which A&M distributes. “We had a lot of conferences after the show,” she said. “They’re having a rehearsal today. George has to rest. He’s been rehearsing every day and recording every night to get the single out. Last night everyone was — they weren’t down; in the framework of the show, there is a fabulous show; they know it’s a good band.
“But, one, it’s too long; two, Ravi’s got to be one set. And three, George has to shut up.”
In San Francisco, producer Bill Graham gazed through an office window at the unceasing rain and shook his head very slowly. On the wall behind him hung memorabilia from his two other big tours of 1974 — Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. He fingered the felt-tip pen dangling from his necklace and worried about anything he might say.
He’d been up till four that morning, in fact, agonizing about what to tell the press. He was clearly upset with the tour; he had a sheaf of notes on his desk covering the shows in Vancouver, Seattle, and now, last night, in San Francisco. But he should be talking to George, not the press, he said, and so far he’d only spoken with Tom Scott, Harrison’s saxophonist and musical sounding board, and Denis O’Brien, Harrison’s business manager. Ordinarily, explained Graham, he talks freely with Harrison, “except on things artistic.” He wasn’t sure he should step out of line, as technical producer of the tour, and criticize the artistic and musical structure of the show.
So specific thoughts were off the record. But if he was going to talk at all, it had to be straight. “I could say to you, ‘We’re working on things,’ you know. ‘George is in great spirits!’ It’s like the football team that’s lost 43 games in a row, and you say, ‘How do you feel, coach?’ ‘Well, my spirits are up and we’re still in there!'” Graham smiled vaguely at the metaphor. “But we all know that the plays ain’t working, and we’re looking for a new quarterback.”
He recalled the return of Dylan and the reunion of CSNY. Their audiences. Graham has a sense for audiences. “At the beginning of each show, I think the public has the same feeling — yes, that wonderful aura. I think with Bob Dylan the public loved what they got. With CSNY they got three-and-a-half hours of music and were pretty well satisfied. With George Harrison, they would definitely have wanted more of George Harrison.
“That’s my criticism of George, out of deep respect for his great talent and great ability. I think what the public leaves with is a continuing respect and reverence for what he has done, and a. . .” Here Graham chose his words carefully. “. . .perhaps a feeling of bittersweetness about not having gotten just a bit closer to what their expectations were. I don’t know. They didn’t get to go back in the time machine enough.”
On the Dylan tour, Graham, the backstage showman, had lit up a fancy Cuban cigar for every show well done. I asked him whether he’d smoked any so far on this tour.
His eyebrows perked up. “Ah, but that’s the point. There’s no cigars!”
I realize the Beatles did fill a space in the Sixties, and all the people who the Beatles meant something to have grown up. It’s like with anything. You grow up with it and you get attached to it. That’s one of the problems in our lives, becoming too attached to things. But I understand the Beatles in many ways did nice things, and it’s appreciated, the people still like them. The problem comes when they want to live in the past, and they want to hold onto something and are afraid of change. — George Harrison at his Los Angeles, press conference, October 23rd, 1974
The last time I saw George Harrison in the flesh as a Beatle, he was a standout. The group was on a stage covering second base at Candlestick Park, home of the San Francisco Giants, the night of August 29th, 1966. San Francisco was the last stop of a 19-city American tour. JPG&R, all in lacy white shirts and mod green jackets that matched the outfield grass, had strolled out of the first-base dugout, waving casually at a mad crowd of 26,000, and laughed through 11 songs in 30 minutes flat.
And I remember how George stood out from the other three that evening. He wore white socks.
As things turned out, the Candlestick Park show was the last concert the Beatles ever did. “We got in a rut,” Harrison told Hunter Davies, the biographer, years later. “It was just a bloody big row. Nobody could hear. We got worse as musicians, playing the same old junk every day. There was no satisfaction at all.”
The next month, George and his wife, Patti, were off to India. Having idly picked up a strange, twin-bowled instrument called a sitar on the set of Help!, he was interested in studying under the great Indian composer and sitarist, Ravi Shankar.
It was five more years before Harrison returned to the stage, at the behest of Shankar and for the benefit of the people of Bangladesh, East Pakistan. He was the host, dressed all in white, gathering friends like Billy Preston, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell and Bob Dylan around him.
And it was there, at Madison Square Garden, that Harrison tasted the desire to tour again.
“He was definitely inspired after Bangladesh,” said Billy Preston. “He wanted to do it again, right away. But it took some time. Bangladesh was an exceptional show because everybody was there. He had to do a lot of thinking on this one, because he had to get out there and be the one.”
There were other delays for Harrison: the fusses over the profits from the Bangladesh benefit and album; the McCartney-sue-me, we-sue-Allen Klein blues; various sessions with friends like Harry Nilsson, Preston and Starr; the Living in the Material World album and the creation of Dark Horse Records. One of Dark Horse’s first releases was Shankar Family and Friends, which featured Shankar conducting a 15-piece Indian orchestra, sometimes joined by rock and jazz instruments. Ravi Shankar, it turned out, was a major reason for Harrison’s return to the stage.
“I have always been very eager to bring out such a number of good musicians from India,” said Shankar, who has composed music for small orchestras for some 30 years. “George heard a few tapes I had of things with groups and he was impressed and was telling me for almost seven years that I should bring something like this over. And I said, ‘Well, you must also take part in it.’ And it’s only last year we became more confident.”
Last February Harrison visited Shankar in India to plan the tour. In the spring he began to gather his backup. First he chose Tom Scott, saxophone player behind Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Billy Preston and John Lennon, and in front of his own band, the L.A. Express. Having studied Indian music at UCLA with a Shankar disciple, Harihar Rao, Scott was invited to play on the Shankar Family album last year. When his L.A. Express accompanied Joni Mitchell to London this spring, Harrison called and asked him to join the tour.
George then picked drummer Andy Newmark, formerly with Sly Stone, and bassist Willie Weeks. Newmark and Weeks had played with Ronnie Wood (of the Faces) on his solo album, as had Harrison. Finally, Harrison chose second guitarist Robben Ford, from the Express, Billy Preston and percussionist Emil Richards, another Harihar Rao student who worked on Ravi’s LP. Meanwhile, Scott rounded out his horn section with Chuck Findley and Jim Horn. “Jim and Chuck are my two favorite horn players,” remarked Scott. “We can rival anybody. No disrespect meant to anyone else, but we’re hot.” Horn and Findley both performed at the Bangladesh benefit.
In October Harrison arrived in Los Angeles to begin rehearsals and to finish his own album, Dark Horse, which begun a year ago in London. He chose to squeeze both projects — plus a single, also called “Dark Horse” — into a three-week period. He promptly lost his voice, and, at a press conference on the eve of the tour, announced as much, adding, ho ho, that he might very well go out the first few shows and do instrumentals.
That might not have been a bad idea. Harrison did, in fact, start each show with his mouth shut, presenting himself as just one of nine band members, playing a well-arranged, tension-and-release number called “Hari Good Boy Express.” But when, on the opening night in Vancouver, Harrison broke into “The Lord Loves the One,” he sang off key, and the voice, in its first flight, instantly sounded tired. The performance earned minimal response; people yielded easily to distraction, studying the “Dark Horse” banner unfurled high above the stage, or the hand painted, rainbow-colored tour shirts worn by Willie Weeks and Jim Horn, or Harrison’s hair — shag cut, medium long, blown dry — or his denim overalls and Hush Puppies. (Billy Preston wound up covering for him, singing high parts of songs. Later, Preston said Harrison was resigned to the arrangement. “He feels a little bad about it, but there’s nothin’ he can do about it, he’s been working so hard.”)
In any event the first U.S. tour by a former Beatle was underway, “and for a long time,” Jeani Read, pop critic for the Vancouver Province wrote later, “all I could think about was Dylan a few months ago, singing all his songs wrong for the people who wanted to hear them the way they were used to hearing them. Because Harrison sang most of his songs wrong, too. Except the painful difference was that Dylan was in complete control of what he was doing. It was an extraordinary experience in image breaking, of personal integrity. And George — well, George didn’t seem as if he knew what he was doing at all.”
Wrote Don Stanley, of the Vancouver Sun, “He attempted to storm through the material, a la Dylan’s recent magnificent tour, and ended up agonizingly hoarse.”
(Dylan attended the two concerts November 12th at the Forum in Los Angeles, and he visited with Harrison between shows. During the encore, he zipped out the back doors into the parking lot, accompanied by his wife and several friends. He stopped to say hello, and, yes, he enjoyed the shows.)
Through Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Long Beach and Los Angeles, Harrison sounded the same, and so did the reviews. In San Francisco, Phil Elwood of the Examiner: “Never a strong singer, but a moving one, Harrison found that he had virtually no voice left and had to croak his way through even the delicate “Something.'” In Los Angeles, Robert Kemnitz of the Herald: “Opening with ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ the band was cooking so fast and hard that Harrison’s vocal shortcomings were easily overlooked. But as he tore into ‘Something,’ shouting the lyrics of a most tender ballad like a possessed Bob Dylan on an off night, you realized the voice was almost gone.”
And by Los Angeles, at the first of three shows at the Forum, more than Harrison’s voice seemed to be cracking. After an eight-second response — more a yawn than a hand — for a new song called “Maya Love,” Harrison told the house: “I don’t know how it feels down there, but from up here, you seem pretty dead.” Later, his voice breaking, he angrily lectured someone in the audience who’d screamed out a request for “Bangladesh”:
“I have to rewrite the song. But don’t just shout Bangladesh, give them something to help. You can chant Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, and maybe you’ll feel better. But if you just shout Bangladesh, Bangladesh, Bangladesh, it’s not going to help anybody.”
Finally, after he’d cooled down a bit, Harrison apologized for the way things seemed to be going.
The next night, Harrison played two shows at the Forum with less-than-packed houses. Forum manager Jim Appell estimated the first crowd at 9000, the second at 11,000. The Forum seats 18,000.
Most of the people who’d forked over $9.50 to see Beatle George expected a Beatle show; a rubber soul revue, a long and winding memory lane. Even if they’d kept up with Harrison these past few years and knew better, they still wanted a Beatle.
George, from the outset, refused. At rehearsals, during the first run-through, it took two hours and 18 songs before George would do a Beatles song — “In My Life” from Rubber Soul. The way Tom Scott told it, Ravi Shankar had to go to Harrison to urge him to consider audience expectations, “and give the people a couple of old songs; it’s okay.” “George says people expect him to be exactly what he was ten years ago,” said Shankar. “He’s matured so much in so many ways. That’s the problem with all the artists, I suppose, Frank Sinatra or anyone popular for many years. People like to hear the old nostalgia.”
“George,” said Tom Scott, “is one of the few guys with the prestige and the resources to do something good and is willing to do it and put his neck on the line. By that I mean presenting a show with so much new material when people expect him to do a Beatles.”
“Something good” meant Harrison’s presentation of Shankar and his new music, and it meant his insisting on being just one of the guys onstage, playing humble host to the others, giving individual spots to Preston and Scott.
But it also meant a dismaying refusal to acknowledge his past, and the fact that if he hadn’t been a Beatle, he might not be doing a $4-million tour inside of seven weeks. And Harrison went further. He tampered with the past. So you had Harrison singing, “Something in the way she moves it,” turning the lover’s tribute into a lecherous shout. Bars later, he sang: “You’re asking me will my love grow/I hope so, I don’t know.” * And again: “I look at you all/ See the love there that’s sleeping/While my guitar gently smiles.” ** And, on a song written by John Lennon (who was the only former partner to send flowers to the opening show): “In my life . . .I love God more.” ***
“George didn’t want to do ‘Something’ at all,” said Billy Preston, describing the rehearsals. “I knew he was gonna have to do it, and he started rebelling against it by doing it a different way, rewriting the lyrics. But at least he’s doing the song.”
Harrison may have the right to change lyrics — his own, at least — but how would you like it if Frank Sinatra came out for a once-more-in-a-lifetime shot and sang, “I did it . . .His way”? Or if Dylan on his tour had proclaimed, “The answer, my friend, is coming from within/The answer is coming from within”? To a dedicated nostalgia freak, the slaughter of such secular cows can be pretty frustrating. Or pretty silly.
There were other problems: The shows suffered from sound mixes that buried many instruments and from poor structuring. The Vancouver concert, for instance, included two appearances by Ravi Shankar’s orchestra, which, for many in the audience, was at least one too many. Introducing “our little pal” Shankar and orchestra for their second set, Harrison seemed to note the lack of excitement in the air. He put in an urgent plug for Indian music: “I’d die for it,” he said, and tapped his electric guitar — “but not for this.” After the opening night disaster, a lackluster hotel gathering turned into a series of meetings with Ravi, Tom Scott, Billy Preston and Harrison. Shankar suggested a restructuring of the show. “It was just showbiz,” said Scott. “No one wanted Ravi to come out to a hostile audience.”
Even with Shankar condensed into one powerpacked set, the rest of the concert left a lot of songs to be desired. Of a total 23 tunes in two-and-a-half hours, only eight were familiar Beatles or Harrison songs: “Something,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” “For You Blue,” “Give Me Love,” “In My Life,” “What Is Life” and “My Sweet Lord.”
From Seattle through Los Angeles, the shows generally went like this: “Hari Good Boy Express” (the instrumental), “Something,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Preston’s “Will It Go ‘Round in Circles,” and “Sue Me, Sue You Blues.” Then with less than half an hour gone, Harrison introduced Shankar and orchestra for seven straight numbers, the rock band staying on for the first, “Zoom Zoom Zoom” (composed by Ravi in L.A., he said, after a drill session at the dentist’s) and returning for the last two — the Shankar single, “I Am Missing You (Krishna, Where Are You?)” and a jazz composition, “Dispute and Violence.” Intermission. So far, three Harrison songs in one entire hour. And in the second half, whatever hits there were had to be sorted from a puzzling pile. Harrison kicked off with “For You Blue” and “Give Me Love,” which in several performances was the first song whose introduction was recognized by the audience.
Then an instrumental, a directionless jam spawned during rehearsals at the A&M sound stage called “Sound Stage of My Mind,” followed by “In My Life,” with strong brass where there used to be gentle guitar. Then a jazzy, jamlike number from Tom Scott called “Tomcat,” “Maya Love,” with guitar lines reminiscent of “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” and the most consistent high point of each concert: Billy Preston with his hits, “Nothing from Nothing” and “Outta-Space.” (In the first shows, the two numbers were separated by Harrison’s “Dark Horse,” which destroyed the desperate momentum of the first Preston number and hurt Harrison’s own.)
After “Dark Horse,” Harrison announced his last number, “What Is Life,” and returned for “My Sweet Lord,” speeded up, unrecognizable except for the lyrics and weighed down by exhortations from George to go to the god of your choice. “Krishna/ Christ/Krishna/Christ/Krishna/Christ,” he chanted over and over, adding a mention now and then for old men Buddha and Allah.
On paper, without mentioning the drive of Andy Newmark’s drumming, the color of Emil Richards’s percussion work, the solidity of Willie Weeks’s bass, the vocal (and sweeping keyboard) help rendered by Billy Preston, the exuberant rock and blues guitar of Robben Ford, and the brilliant horn work of Tom Scott, the concert sounds pretty dreadful. But it wasn’t quite that bad.
For one thing, before each show there was a mood of expectation, and in Vancouver, that itself was a show. The audience ignited matches, of course, plus $1.39 butane lighters, paper torches and sparklers (which several people cleverly heaved into other parts of the crowd, hot-wiring unsuspecting victims). Everywhere, one could still detect faint traces of Beatlemania. A 20-year-old woman outside the Seattle Center Coliseum spotted Harrison arriving and ran into a crowd screeching, “I saw him! I saw his glasses! I saw his nose!” A younger woman, in a George Harrison T-shirt, cried uncontrollably in the front row in Vancouver. And, at the Oakland Coliseum, a crowd of four or five dozen fans stormed past a puny link of three security guards and rushed up to the stage to help George with his heavy load during “Give Me Love.”
Also there was the appealing sincerity of George Harrison himself, blissed-out and beaming while committing all manner of ghastly, antishow-business mistakes — overintroducing Ravi Shankar or Billy Preston, imploring the audience to “have a little patience” for the Indian music before they’ve even heard any, constantly apologizing for his defective throat and greeting Ravi Indian style, with a pranam, kneeling and touching Shankar’s feet, placing his hands on Ravi’s head, thus showing humility in front of his friend and teacher.
Behind Ravi, George was one of the guys, sharing a mike with the tambourine player on the refrain of “I Am Missing You.” Behind Preston, he was the good-natured but awkward white guy, twirling his fingers overhead at the wrong spots on “Circles,” joining Billy for a little skittering Can-Can before bowing out and back to his place.
Some critics called it “The Billy Preston Show,” and they weren’t far off. When Preston, in natty, sequined suit and mushroom-cloud Afro, began to move behind the instruments arrayed around him — a clavinet, a Hammond B-3 organ, ARP and string ensemble synthesizers and a Wurlitzer piano (On “Circles,” he also blew a keyboard harmonica called the Melodica) — all the pent-up hell of a boogie-hungry horde broke loose.
Preston, former protegé of Ray Charles, friend of the Beatles, keyboard man on the Let It Be sessions, Apple recording artist (with two albums coproduced by Harrison), gave the crowds what they couldn’t get from Harrison: hit rock and roll songs, done faithfully, in full voice. So it was Billy who got the audience up on its feet, up on the chairs; in San Francisco, at the Cow Palace, it was Billy who at long last triggered a welcome surge toward the stage.
Watching him skipping along, shouting “Do you wanna PAR-ty?” and working up the customers, one began to wonder. Billy is an exceptional musician, a good composer of infectious black/pop confections and a willing showman. But he is not an extraordinary singer nor a particularly innovative arranger nor a brilliant showman. He is no Sly or Stevie, and in terms of music and charisma, certainly no Beatle. But here he was, the momentary savior of the George Harrison show, the reason the few guards set up fronting the stage were suddenly white-knuckling their flashlights and eyeing each other; the reason Bill Graham, behind an amplifier onstage, was yelling and waving his arms at the band to keep the momentum going.
George, through all of this, looked grateful, pointing at Billy, shouting his name, while Preston pointed and shouted back: “George Harrison! Back on stage!”
In Vancouver most of the audience were polite for Ravi Shankar and his 15-member troupe. A little itchy, maybe, and possibly thinking they’d rather be scoring a hot dog or hearing more Harrison, but — polite. It was in Seattle that Shankar and his orchestra finally broke through. The song was “Dispute and Violence,” introduced by Harrison with the note, “otherwise known as jazz.”
Like many of Shankar’s pieces, “Dispute and Violence” was a sometimes loose, sometimes tight fusion of various forms of Eastern and Western music — folk, classical and spiritual Indian; rock, jazz and even big-band swing. There was Indian scat-shouting, trilling and jabbering, representing dispute; squeaking reeds and flutes and a Don Ellis brass for measures of violence; and Andy Newmark’s drums, Emil Richards’s kitchenware percussion and Alla Rakha’s tabla setting a steady battle tempo. Shankar at the podium, arms flailing, index fingers dipping and pointing, took it all to a victorious, symphonic, last-stomp halt.
Two young men behind me jumped up to join in the resounding ovation. They would not stand up again until the end of Preston’s two numbers. I asked them what they liked about “Dispute and Violence.”
“It’s the beat,” said the first one. “I saw him a year ago, with just a small group, two or three. I wasn’t expecting anything like this.” “It’s beautiful,” said the second. “You hear every different type of music there is in the world.”
“If you were gonna talk to God,” remarked the first, “that would be the way.” The man said he was 19 and had come to hear Beatles songs. He’d never heard Harrison’s Material World, and he didn’t much remember All Things Must Pass.
Three other songs stood out in the Shankar set. “Cheparte,” meaning spicy or “hot stuff,” received standing ovations following a rousing battle between the veteran Alla Rakha on tabla and T.V. Gopalkrishnan, a younger man who clearly relished the rock stage and crowd, on the mridangam — a barrel-shaped drum he struck with his hands at both ends. The two sat side by side, and overhead lights switched between them as they took their solos, slapping and hammering away at different pitches until they joined together, both lights on. The crowd whooped like it had just heard a ten-minute, heavy-metal drum workout.
“Zoom Zoom Zoom” introduced the audience to singers Lakshmi Shankar and her daughter, Viji. Both recipients of India’s highest musical honor, the President’s Award, they stood at each side of their in-law conductor. (“Oh, look,” said a woman in the audience at a San Francisco concert. “Ravi Shankar and his Hot Licks!”)
Lakshmi stood still, arms crossed in front of her, and with her three-octave voice glided easily through “Zoom Zoom Zoom.” The lyrics had a taste of Brazil ’66 and her voice reminded one of Norma Tanega, for those who remember “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog.”
Shankar’s one turn at the sitar was reserved for a song called “Anurag” (“Love”), and even this one was a surprise, a hot-beat number featuring inter-plays between his instrument and two violins, with Ravi fingering decidedly bluesy figures, then conducting, from his perch, several solos, among them the tabla tarang, a group of 12 waterbowls and the santoor, an instrument that resembles an autoharp and is played with delicate mallets. Again, the sound was symphonic and dynamic. I heard the number performed five times and never once thought of hot dogs.
“I have always been — what is the word? — ‘dilemma?’ — to my listeners the last 30 years,” remarked Shankar one day in San Francisco. As onstage, he is a soft-spoken, obviously proud man. The only difference in his appearance, here in the hotel room, was that he was wearing horn-rimmed glasses.
“By the time they form an opinion that I am doing this, I am doing something else. So it’s puzzling for them, and that’s why I have been criticized more than anyone — sacrileging Indian music or jazzifying Indian music, breaking the tradition, all sorts of things you might have heard yourself. But I keep my base very strong.”
I was, of course, asking about how he decided on rock instrumentation for his new LP. He had previously joined with violinist Yehudi Menuhin for an album, West Meets East, and with André Previn and the London Symphony for Concerto for Sitar and Orchestra.
“It just came out very spontaneously. I feel inspired to doing new things when I hear sounds; I like to work with different instruments. Like, writing this music for the ballet [called Dream, Nightmare and Dawn, of which “Dispute and Violence” is a part], I didn’t want to use only Indian instruments, so I tried the brass section — just to make it more universal.”
On the tour, all of Shankar’s songs were about five minutes, for many a relief from the long ragas he plays at his own concerts. He wrote (and edited) many of them specifically for the Harrison audience, he said.
“And none of the songs are, in the Indian sense, classical. They are different, because, imagine, with all those impatient kids, if I sat down and started playing for a half hour. And it wouldn’t blend together; the wholeness of the show wouldn’t be there. “It’s only lately that I’ve been hearing a bit more of rock music,” he said. “I find that there’s a lot of great things in that music, but I personally believe that 50 to 75% is the loudness of it.”
To amplify the Indian instruments for hockey/ rock halls, some 80 mikes and pickups were required. “It distorts the clear sound of the instruments — we have to sacrifice that part to be loud enough,” said Shankar. “But loudness has the big — what is the word, I don’t know — that gives the greatest effect to the listener.”
Shankar, in recent years, has avoided huge rock concerts and festivals, for reasons that transcend technical difficulties. “After I went to Woodstock and one or two others, I thought maybe I should not go any more. It has changed from the atmosphere at Monterey to, maybe not violence, but too much drugs. And I thought maybe there’s no use in my going, because it’s not my type of music.
“It sort of hurts me to see people all stoned and doing silly things, things I couldn’t imagine. And our music needs a bit of respect like any serious music — Bach, Mozart — so when I found that it was not possible, I thought it was better to keep away.”
In the summer of 1967, less than a year after the Candlestick Park concert, Harrison, then 24, came back to San Francisco with his wife, to have a look at the hippies who’d blossomed out of the Haight-Ashbury district. George and Patti drove into the area in the early evening and strolled, unnoticed, along Haight Street. They reached a sector of Golden Gate Park called “Hippie Hill.” David Swanston, of the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote up the visit in a delightful fairytale style.
“A young man was entertaining a crowd of about 20 hippies. Harrison and his wife listened for a minute and then Harrison asked, ‘Can I borrow your guitar?’
“The young man said. ‘Sure.’ Harrison took the guitar and started to play. And played unrecognized for about three minutes.
“A girl listened, looked at Harrison, turned away, looked again, and then started shouting: ‘Hey! That’s George Harrison. That’s George Harrison!’
“As the cry echoed through the park, hippies clambered down hills, dropped from trees and sprang from behind bushes. A sizable crowd formed. “Harrison played for about ten more minutes and then shouted, ‘Let’s go for a walk.’
“‘Yeah.’ shouted the hippies, ‘let’s go.’
“And off they went. Harrison strumming the guitar, the hippies following along. As the crowd left the park and moved down Haight, it grew. And grew.
“As Harrison strolled and strummed, hippies bubbled up beside him and posed questions:
“‘How does it feel to have the family all together?’ one asked.
“‘It’s gettin’ better all the time,’ Harrison responded.
“‘What do ya think of the Haight-Ashbury?’ another queried.
“‘Wow, if it’s all like this it’s too much,’ Harrison answered. . .”
Less than a year later, talking to Hunter Davies. Harrison would dismiss the hippies he met in the Haight-Ashbury as “phony.”
But this year, he was back. Before the tour he had decided that several concerts would be benefits, and he had heard about the plight of the Haight-Ashbury Free Medical Clinic. Opened the year of Harrison’s first visit, the Free Clinic survived the district’s speed/rip-off/deterioration phase, and, like the Haight itself, had recently grown. The medical clinic is now only one of eight concerns, the others including a Women’s Needs Center, a therapy program for heroin addicts and a vocational rehab center. This year, federal revenue-sharing money marked for 1975 was diverted by Mayor Joseph Alioto, and after two months of applying for grants and of trying to set up a rock benefit, the clinic was almost resigned to shut down the medical sector, which last year spent $67,500 to treat 10,000 patients. Harrison donated net profits from his first San Francisco concert to the clinic. A week after the show, the clinic’s medical director, Dr. Elizabeth Anthony, said the donation would be $66,000.
The day after the benefit, Harrison, along with manager O’Brien, publicist Pat Luce and Olivia Arias (a representaitve of Dark Horse) visited the clinic. This time, he was no pied piper leading an adoring mass. At the clinic — actually a flat, and a rather worn-out Victorian one, at that — there were patients, and they recognized Harrison. But, founder Dr. David E. Smith said, “Nobody gaped; nobody mobbed him or kissed his ass. There were no fuck-ups.” Apparently visitors to the clinic are notorious for fucking up while waiting for help.
Harrison visited for about a half hour, just before a concert. His party toured the facilities and, in a back room, chatted with several staff members. He gave them gifts, among them a Dark Horse necklace and pieces of embroidery, and asked for a Free Clinic T-shirt.
“He said he hoped to start a ripple with other musicians doing the same kind of things,” writer Amie Hill, a clinic volunteer, said later. “The doctors gave him a plaque, and — I didn’t hear this, but — someone told me he said, ‘Don’t thank me; it’s not me, it’s something else over us that acts through people like me. I’m just an instrument.'”
And as he spoke, he broke into songs, one of them going something — actually, exactly — like this:
The Lord loves the one that loves the Lord
And the law says if you don’t give,
then you don’t get loving.
Now the Lord helps those that help themselves
And the law says whatever you dois going to come right back on you*
After the visit, back in the limousine, something kept nagging at George Harrison. It was the plaque, and all the gratitude of the Clinic workers. He really meant it when he said not to thank him, that he just wanted to help cause a ripple.
He turned to Pat Luce as the car headed toward the freeway for the Cow Palace. “I’d like to get that out somehow,” he told her. “Do you think Rolling Stone might want to do an interview?”
George Harrison, it seemed, had gone to as much trouble as he could to avoid troubling with interviews during the tour. He had done a press conference in Los Angeles and even helped prepare an official press-kit interview (“Tell us about Dark Horse Records”; “Tell us about the group Splinter that you recently produced for Dark Horse Records”; “Tell us about your new album”).
The press kit also included a “George Harrison: Then & Now” feature, comparing his answers to a questionnaire in the New Musical Express in early 1963 to his answers as of late 1974. It mentioned that Harrison had lost 16 pounds and had gone through an eye-color change, from dark brown to blue (“That’s what happens when you get the Inner Light,” said one of those cynical Vancouver critics). Where his former occupation was “Student,” now it is “Beatle.” His hobbies, typical for 1963, were “Driving, records, girls.” Now, typical for 1974, it is “None (work is/play is/work/is play).” And where only 11 years ago Harrison’s “most thrilling experience” was “First disc a hit within 48 hours of release,” now he insists it is “Seeking Krishna in Brandaban, India.”
At his press conference, Harrison explained why he did so few interviews: “I’m a musician, I’m not a talker.” But now he wanted to talk. Luce set up a dressing-room visit between shows at the Forum. We waited through the visit by Dylan and watched Harrison’s father and brother mingling with the musicians in a room decorated with Indian bedspreads on all walls.
Finally, just a half-hour before Harrison had to return to the stage, we met. We talked mostly about immediate concerns, and ended up thrusting and parrying about the criticisms of his concerts. He was friendly, direct, strong willed, tugging at his fingers now and then, digging into me with his currently blue eyes. Behind him, Olivia Arias smiled knowingly at all his remarks.
He spoke briefly about the Haight-Ashbury benefit. “For me to be able to do some act which is nothing, really — they need much more money than they got from that — but just to go and see what they’re doing there is nice, and it’s comforting to see that there are nice people in the world like in Haight-Ashbury Clinic, and it’s God bless ’em, you know.” As for charity:
“I can’t give the chapatis out to the people who are hungry. All I can do is make an action to attract attention to something.”
More than anything else, Harrison was thinking about his concerts, and about the response so far. He spoke with more earnestness than the anger and impatience his words, on paper, might imply.
“This show is not just by chance we all bumped into each other in Vancouver. I mean, that’s how some people come and review the show, as if it was simple just to get it there. I mean, we went to great length and great pain and through a lot of years of life and experience to be able to be grateful to even meet each other, let alone form it into a band and then put in on the road.
“There’s a lot more to it than just walking in and shouting if you’re drunk or — you know, the people have to think a little bit more. The audience has to sacrifice a little bit of something. They have to give a little bit of energy. They have to listen and look, and then they’ll get it, they’ll get something good. They think it’s going to be this or that, then that itself is the barrier which stops them enjoying, and if you can just open your mind and heart, there’s such joy in the world to be had.”
I was tempted to speak for those who, once their ears were open, heard a destroyed voice doing rearranged songs. But that could wait. I asked him to evaluate the shows so far.
At every concert, he said, something good has gotten across to the audience. “There’s been bad moments in each show, but I mean it doesn’t matter, because the spirit of everybody dancing and digging it. And if you get 50 drunkards who are shouting, bad-mouthing Ravi or whatever, and you get 17,000 people who go out of there relatively pleased, some of them ecstatic and some of them who happen to get much more from it than they ever thought. . .”
Because I’m taping the audience every night and asking them about it, and I know we get ten people who say the show sucks, and we get a hundred who, when you say, ‘Did you get what you wanted?’ say, ‘We got much more than we ever hoped for.'”
He had no control over his rehearsal and recording schedules, he said. “I don’t have control over anything. I believe in God and he is the supreme controller even down to the rehearsal.” So his voice on “Dark Horse” is husky, “and it’s more like I am right at this minute. I’m talking about the emphasis that gets put on a thing. People expect so much. If you don’t expect anything, life is just one big bonus, but when you expect anything, then you can be let down. I don’t let anybody down.”
What about those who scrounged up $9.50 wanting at least a taste of “Beatle George”? Harrison leaned forward:
“Well, why do they want to see if there is a Beatle George? I don’t say I’m Beatle George.”
“Well, one of the things you don’t control…”
“I do control…”
“…is how the audience feels about you. The conceptions…”
“Okay, but I certainly am going to control my own concept of me. Gandhi says create and preserve the image of your choice. The image of my choice is not Beatle George. If they want to do that they can go and see Wings, then . . .Why live in the past? Be here now and now, whether you like me or not, this is what I am.”
At his press conference, Harrison had made an opening statement: “I really didn’t want to do this for a living. I’ve always wanted to be a lumberjack.” What did he mean by that? I could only think of Dylan’s song,
You have many contacts
Among the lumberjacks
To get you facts
When someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect
Anyway they already expect you
To just give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations*
“Well,” said Harrison, “What I mean is like Billy Preston says, ‘I ain’t tryin’ to be your hero.’ But I’m just a lumberjack.”
Softly Harrison began to sing the lumberjacks’ lusty and ludicrous anthem, from the first Monty Python and his Flying Circus album. “I’m a lumberjack and I’m all right, I work all day and I work all night. I chop down trees, I skip and jump, I go to the lavat’ry. On Wednesday I go shopping, and eat buttered scones for tea …”*
He was finally drowned out by laughter from Pat, Olivia, Tom Scott and me.
“You know what I mean?” he asked. “I mean, I’d rather try uphold something that I believe in than destroy something I don’t believe in. Because it’s a waste of time.”
I tried again. I was thinking of Bill Graham’s heartfelt criticisms, but Harrison was thinking of that pack of shut-minded reviewers.
“There will always be, but . . .fuck it, my life belongs to me.” Quickly, he corrected himself. “It actually doesn’t. It belongs to him. My life belongs to the Lord Krishna and there’s me dog collar to prove it. I’m just a dog and I’m led around by me collar by Krishna . . .I’m the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna. I’m just a groveling lumberjack lucky to be a grain of dirt in creation. That’s how I feel. Never been so humble in all my life, and I feel great.” So George Harrison is a grain of dirt. A happy grain of dirt. I accept that, and I’m happy for his happiness. And yet he is in show business, which, from where I sit, requires at least some responsiveness to the audience. Harrison’s voice rose.
“So I am in show business. And this is my show, right?” He broke out in song again: “Take me as I am or let me go.
“You know, I didn’t force you or anybody at gunpoint to come to see me. And I don’t care if nobody comes to see me, nobody ever buys another record of me. I don’t give a shit, it doesn’t matter to me, but I’m going to do what I feel within myself.” Harrison was singing again, a snatch of “What the World Needs Now Is Love.”
And he was smiling again. “I mean, if it’s going this well, as I feel, with no voice, I can’t wait to have a voice!”
Out in the hallway, performers headed for the stage. Behind the curtains, behind the building mood of expectation, Bill Graham supervised last-second details. How did the interview go? he asked. Fine, I said — Harrison was strong minded and quite happy with his shows.
“If he’s happy, then I’m happy,” said Graham, in the spirit of show business. . .