What Is Life: More thoughts on “George Harrison, Living in the Material World”

Today's guest post is by Julie Farin (@JulieFarin)

I recently had the opportunity to attend the NY Film Festival’s big-screen premiere of Martin Scorsese’s 2-part HBO documentary on George Harrison: Living in a Material World.  As a lifelong Beatlemaniac, John Lennon has always been my favorite of the Fab 4, with Paul McCartney a close second, and George Harrison a dark horse at third.  For some reason, I never took a serious interest in the solo career of the Quiet Beatle, as I did Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band or McCartney’s Wings ("Silly Love Songs" notwithstanding).

GeorgeMy zeal for the Lennon/McCartney powerhouse overshadowed my appreciation for Harrison’s contribution to the band that pulled the trigger on the British Invasion.  Being a third wheel to one of the most successful songwriting teams in popular music had to be frustrating for the youngest Beatle.  As the nearly four-hour documentary demonstrates, Harrison handled his creative competition with the dynamic duo as well as could be expected under the circumstances, and even managed to land a very memorable song or two on several Beatles albums, most notably Rubber Soul ("Think for Yourself") Revolver ("Taxman"), The White Album ("While My Guitar Gently Weeps") and Abbey Road "(Here Comes the Sun," "Something").

Part 1, which chronicles Harrison’s upbringing in war-torn Liverpool through the rise of Beatlemania in America, was not a revelation.  Most of these stories have been told and re-told countless times (although some amazing never-before-seen photos and footage of the early Beatles is a highlight).  In Part 2, Harrison was described by many friends, family members, and colleagues as having two distinct personalities that were constantly at odds with each other.  Ringo Starr described The Beatles’ lead guitarist as “a bag of beads” as well as “a bag of anger.” 

Harrison’s inner turmoil with the trappings of fame and success led to his quest for inner peace through Eastern philosophy, Indian mysticism, and Transcendental Meditation.  However, he never totally renounced the material things in life, as most notably witnessed by his purchase of Friar Park, a 120-room Victorian neo-Gothic mansion in Henley-on-Thames in England. In Part 2, Harrison recounts the joys of chanting the mantra and his quest for the spiritual, while his widow, Olivia, alludes to how “George loved women and women loved George.”  He also struggled with drug addiction during certain periods of his life.

Even though Harrison died of cancer at the age of 58, I was left with the feeling that he was satisfied with having led a full life of accomplishments, as short as it was.  He told an interviewer that apart from his son, Dhani, who needed a father, he couldn’t really think of anything else keeping him here on this earth. He was ready to go.  All things must pass.  And according to Olivia Harrison, upon George’s death, “There was a profound experience when he left his body.  It was visible.  He just lit the room.”

George Harrison, Living in the Material World  can be seen on HBO On Demand.

7 thoughts on “What Is Life: More thoughts on “George Harrison, Living in the Material World”

  1. Hi Joanne – Yes, the documentary delves extensively into George’s concern regarding the plight of the people of Bangladesh. He reveals that it was his mentor and sitar-instructor, Ravi Shankar, who first brought the matter to his attention. George was the first celebrity to stage a concert of this magnitude for charity.
    And yes, it is very ironic that more than 40 years after the breakup of the Beatles, John, Paul, George & Ringo remain popular news stories.

  2. Great blog, Julie. I couldn’t agree more with Precchia and RepMan. Julie, as you know, George has always been my favorite Beatle and I have always loved his solo work. I haven’t seen this documentary yet, but am looking forward to taking it in.

  3. Agreed. Scorsese’s documentary on The Quiet Beatle has been criticized for not being enough “fun.” But I for one welcome a sober exploration of this often underrated musical powerhouse.

  4. Absolutely; Harrison was a true “Seeker” in every sense of the word, as was Lennon. And we can all learn great lessons from the extraordinary life he lived.

  5. Great blog, Julie. Thanks for authoring it. I do think, though, you’ve overlooked the documentary’s biggest ‘lesson’: George’s obsession with lifelong learning. That’s why I thought it was such a relevant blog subject. I see more and more young people entering the work force who seem totally disinterested in learning more about what came before. I think we can all learn from the dark horse’s non-step quest to better understand himself, the world around him and what, if anything, exists beyond life.