George Harrison: When He Was Fab
How the youngest Beatle felt about fame and spirituality
For a decade and a half after the Beatles broke up, a press-shy George Harrison brushed off attempts at conversation about a certain foursome he considered overrated. By the time of 1987’s Cloud Nine, though, he felt confident enough about his new work to address that past, as well as his enduring beliefs. EW’s Chris Willman spoke with him then:
Is Sgt. Pepper special for you, or just another album?
There’s about half the tracks I like and the other half I can’t stand. I like most of side 1…. And I love ”A Day in the Life,” and I even like the little Indian one that I did, which is really strange and unique. But there’s a lot of them on there—”Fixing a Hole” and ”When I’m Sixty-Four”—which to me are just average. I like Rubber Soul and Revolver, actually. I like some of the White Album a lot; the rest is okay, but I don’t think it’s that special. But even if what they’re saying about Sgt. Pepper being the greatest record of all time is all wrong, I’m glad they’re saying it about one of our records and not somebody else’s, you know.
Did you have any qualms about having ”Sexy Sadie,” John’s diatribe against the Maharishi, on the White Album?
Not at all. In fact, I titled it ”Sexy Sadie.” I don’t know what John would say about that, but he was sitting there and I was saying ”Well, John, wouldn’t it be more subtle to call it, say, something like ‘Sexy Sadie’? It’s a bit obvious—’Maharishi.”’ No, I didn’t mind, because I like that tune. The words, that was John’s concept of what happened to him….But even John was wrong some of the time.
Is it easier to talk about the Beatles stuff now?
Yeah….[For a while] we started thinking only of the aggravation. But we helped each other through an unbelievably heavy period. We had a great laugh, really, although we were like caged animals for most of the time. That was the best bit about being in that band, rather than like Elvis, being just one Elvis, who consequently suffered things on his own. Even though he had 29 fellows with him, he was just one Elvis, but there were four of us. That pressure would have been too much for us individually.
Some people were surprised by your Python connection; they associate you with Krishna Consciousness and missed the humor of your solo albums.
That’s true….Well, being born in Liverpool, everybody thinks they’re a comedian.
There’s more spirituality being explored in music today, much of it more Christian than the Eastern things you were exposing.
The West always had this problem about the East, but Christ was from the East. [I believe] Christ spent ages in India, and even after, when he was wherever he was — Jerusalem or wherever — it’s still more East than Paris. [Laughs]….The Eastern thing says, ”If there’s a God, we must see him. Otherwise, it’s better not to believe. It’s better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite.” And that’s why I said in [”My Sweet Lord”], ”I really want to see you.” They think Christ is the only son of God, and that you can’t see him anyway, because we nailed him up…I want to see God and have him in my life moment to moment. Otherwise, who am I kidding? You know, going around like the Pope, kissing the floor. I want a direct experience of that, and fortunately, that is available. And it’s not on your TV set and you can’t get it out of a magazine and it’s not on the dollar bill and it ain’t on Macy’s windowsill. [Laughs]
In the ’70s, I remember going to airports and…
Oh, those guys?
…I’d be wearing a Beatles shirt, and they’d come up and say, “Do you like George Harrison?”
This is another disappointing thing about the Krishnas. Their master (Srila Prabhupada) was great, and I knew him quite well. And if he had known they were doing that, they would have got their behinds kicked….It’s biting the hand that feeds you. I was trying to help them, and I’d find there’d be all that stuff going on behind my back, giving me a bad name…. I’ve been associated and have friends in that, but I never joined ’em. I mean, I joined ’em in spirit, but not in that spirit of trying to rip people off at airports. Although it did make a good joke in the movie Airplane!