I've tried to write about George's life on many occasions, failing miserably most times. I'm always left feeling I've left something out or somehow not drawn out the spirit of the man. I'm left with a kind of uncomfortable void around the question "but who was he?" Perhaps that's why, for me, Martin Scorsese's documentary Living in the Material World* is a truly extraordinary accomplishment.
George would often get asked "didn't you used to be a Beatle?" and his reply on each occasion was "so they tell me!" I often thought this summed up something far deeper than merely being an amusing answer to an oft-asked question. I think it encapsulated the very spirit of George, who was often seen as the "quiet Beatle" and yet to those close to him he was a man who was truly conflicted and divided. Someone who was not a one-dimensional cardboard cut-out who fitted neatly into someone else's descriptor but instead a fully rounded person with great talents, great spirituality but also flaws, self-doubt and insecurities. A man who was torn between the world he lived in and the way he would have liked the world to be.
Quite apart from being a genuine triumph, Scorsese's documentary has also helped me on a very personal level to fashion my own thoughts and personal memories of George into a little more order.
George experienced most of the drama's and experiences life has to offer at full pace; and perhaps his conflicts can best be illustrated by his favourite past-times; his love and fascination with fast cars and motor racing and his enduring love of gardening and the Chelsea Flower Show, possibly not the most obvious bed-fellows! The former demonstrating his life-long willingness to take risks and the latter demonstrating his quieter, more spiritual side. Maybe one thing complimented the other or maybe one simply offered an escape from the other!
I've always struggled to explain to those who didn't know George how complex a person he was; a man with so many contradictory layers who was endeavouring to merge them all into one so they could co-exist more comfortably. I don't think he ever really managed to successfully merge all the various component parts and I, for one, am glad that he didn't - each was valuable and unique to George and each was one more thing for which I miss him.
I've often recounted humorous incidents from the past involving George to friends who are always fascinated to have a momentary glimpse into the life of a man who, despite being remarkably 'normal' in so many ways, was also truly extraordinary in so many others. He could have a very mischievous sense of humour which was sometimes infuriating but at other times hilarious. He was both unendingly patient and inordinately impatient, incredibly tolerant and equally incredibly quick to anger at injustices, a man who was happy to stay at home and work on his garden and yet also a man who was always seeking new ventures and experiences. A man who, not content with having been in one of the most successful bands of all-time, moved into film-making ostensibly to help out a friend but who somehow ended up remaining involved for years after the initial movie was finished, who quietly set up The Material World Foundation in 1973 which is still going strong today, overseen by his wife, Olivia Harrison, and which has supported countless individuals and organizations since its inception. He also continued to write, record and release albums, both on his own and with others.
It's coming up to ten years since he passed and the George I remember most these days was a man who was busy living his life, not constantly looking back. He didn't spend a great deal of time sitting around reminiscing about his Beatle days or wishing this or that had been different in some way, instead he constantly moved along his own very unique path, bringing us all along with him. And its this constant movement which probably best sums him up. He would often use the old adage when describing himself, "I'm a work in progress" and that is how he chose to view the world, a work in constant progress, definitely not perfect but trying very hard to be, making mistakes but trying to rectify them, being unreasonable at times and overly reasonable at others. Whichever words I attempt to use to describe George are inadequate as I can instantly think of an equal number of opposing words which would probably describe him just as well!
He was a man who loved living his life, loved to be with those close to him and to share his life with them at the same time as being a man who could enjoy his own company. He was someone you could spend time with without feeling the need to constantly fill the space with chatter, and yet also someone you could talk long into the night with, a man who left an extraordinarily deep impression on those who knew him personally as well as those who knew him through his music.
He'd been through some fairly chaotic past experiences, all of which he used to assist him in his constant quest to keep spiritually moving forward and, in my opinion at least, I think he did finally come to a point where he could accept that his conflicts and paradoxes all complimented each other and where he could allow them to co-exist more peacefully due, in no small part, to the love, care and stability offered by his wife and family. George valued his family enormously, he valued his friends enormously too, in fact, George may have been the only person I've ever known who always found something valuable in EVERYONE.
As a final comment I'll say that George was a lover and a fighter all of his life, most of his fights were with himself but his love was always for others and he extended it warmly and generously, but always quietly and unobtrusively. He has left a massive hole in my life and I still miss him enormously; writing about him is one of the most challenging things I've ever done and yet I couldn't let the release of the documentary go by without comment as it has helped me to thrash out some inner demons of my own. I've finally realized that there is no simple way to sum George up, how on earth can anyone sum up a man who was not only always his own person but also always the exact opposite of himself, both things very often at the same time!
Thank you George, for allowing me to share in parts of your life and for giving me the wisdom to know that, although you may have passed from this world and moved on to the next part of your spiritual journey, your love continues on right here, right now and into the future, to comfort and guide those of us who, for the moment, remain behind.
*George Harrison : Living in the Material World is released in the UK from October 4th, 2011.