Beatle Harrison overglorified

By ELI J. LAKE  |  Nov. 30, 2001 at 4:16 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- It is a tragedy when anyone dies, particularly someone as beloved as George Harrison, but let's not hyperventilate. My esteemed colleague, friend and fellow gadfly, Martin Sieff, is guilty of giving the "dark horse Beatle" a truckload more credit than he is due.

He writes, "Harrison, who seethed during his years in the Beatles at the way his own musical contributions were overlooked and underrated, in the end produced a far more substantial body of work than Lennon or even Sir Paul McCartney. And in a remarkable number of areas his contributions to Western cultural life proved lasting and profound."

Well, Western cultural life will be just fine without him. There is a reason why his musical contributions were overlooked because they were few and far between.

When John Lennon left the Beatles, he recorded "Imagine," a theme to this day for utopian "peaceniks" and "globalists." McCartney wrote "Maybe I'm Amazed," the wedding song for countless couples. And Harrison released "All Things Must Pass," the record he touted as his most important work. My parents owned the four-record set with the various statues of gnomes on the cover -- it is unlistenable, with the exception of "My Sweet Lord."

That song landed Harrison in court for its melodic replication of the Phil Spector-produced "He's so fine." The song ends in the repeated chorus "Hare Krishna, Hare Hare," popularizing a cult that plagued our nation's airports for years, eventually prompting many cities to pass new zoning laws to counter the Hare Krishna's cynical recruitment strategy.

Harrison's contributions to Beatles albums with four exceptions -- "Something," "Here Comes the Sun," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Tax Man" -- were usually the low points. How many Beatles fans skipped the first song on Side Two of Sgt. Pepper's "Within Without You," to move on to "When I'm 64"? Did the Magical Mystery Tour relay stop off at "Bluejay Way"?

Harrison's movies were no doubt entertaining, but it was John Cleese and the pythons who made "The Meaning of Life" so brilliant. Harrison simply had good taste and money. He also had good taste in women, like his first wife, Patti, who inspired the timeless "Layla" by Eric Clapton. The song must have caused considerable pain to Harrison considering that Clapton's tribute to Patti's adultery rocked harder than anything he ever penned.

Years later Harrison, like Clapton, was the beneficiary of the "Classic Rock" format that hijacked American radio between 1985 and 1992. During this period, glossy pap such as "I've Got My Mind Set on You" and his noodlings with Bob Dylan, Ray Orbison and the rest of the Travelling Wilburries, were recycled on regular programming loops like North Korean work songs preparing the masses for another day in the mines.

The spread of these hypernostalgic stations (owned largely by Infinity Broadcasting) robbed my generation of its high school rebel anthems. It delayed the popularization of grunge and other alternative rock genres until Nirvana released the ironically titled "Nevermind," forcing the cash-rich boomers controlling the industry to pay attention.

Balding sell-outs like Harrison, Clapton and Steve Wynwood stole valuable recording contracts from younger bands that actually had something interesting to say in this dark age of American rock culture.

Harrison will be missed, if not for his music, then perhaps for his contribution to fashion. With the exception of Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas, no one did more to popularize the T-shirt and blazer "Miami Vice" look than Harrison. In his later years he was rarely seen without his suit sleeves rolled up to his elbows in the style of Crockett and Tubbs.

Harrison was also a pioneer in cultural appropriation. His late 1960s work with Indian sitar legend Ravi Shankar inspired latter-day musical colonists Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon.

Perhaps Juilliard should create a Harrison scholarship like the one named for Cecil Rhodes, another British egg beater whose name shamed Zimbabweans for many years when their land was called Rhodesia.

The Harrison scholarship should go to students who have enough good sense to surround themselves with more capable musicians. Every year diligent but uninspired tunesmiths could receive funding to find real visionaries with which to launch their careers, preferably in other countries that lack sophisticated intellectual copyright laws.

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