A Tribute to George Harrison
30 November 2001
I learned of George Harrison's death as I rushed to catch the morning train to work this morning. No one told me Harrison had died but I sensed his passing. A gentle man, who often fills the concrete mass known as Alewife Station with the sound of music, was playing the simple chords of "Here Comes the Sun" on his guitar. It was a quiet tribute, guitar picking with no lyrics, and I was thankful for the peaceful way in which the message was conveyed. The music slowed my gait and helped me to appreciate the musician's presence and the look upon his face. Sitting in the train I was frustrated to find that the Boston Globe I held in my left hand had no mention of George's death. The frustration quickly subsided. Harrison's life was associated with peace and I was pleased that news of his death was not conveyed next to the dominant images of war.
Harrison's death affected me more than I would have expected. I note celebrity deaths relative to the passage of life and the reminder of mortality each passing brings, but I have never been impressed with mere celebrity. His death made me more reflective. My nature tends to be more charitable towards people in death, more forgiving of their past flaws and misdeeds and quicker to praise them. I wish that I had this perspective on the living but I find it hard not to judge. My sense of Harrison was that he was a good man and there was no disconnection between my view of him in life and in death. I admire him for his relative lack of celebrity. How many knew that George taught Lennon how to play guitar? John, Paul, and Ringo eclipsed Harrison in persona but my sense is that they all trailed him as people.
The Concert for Bangla Desh was my first introduction to the ability and willingness of rock stars to help the poor. Our responsibility for all of the world's people had been drilled into me much earlier in parochial school but Harrison gave it new life. In a culture that emphasizes self, Harrison reminded young people that we are our brothers' keepers. He took the responsibility to save lives that most people willingly discarded. Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston and many others joined Harrison but he was the driving force in what would be copied by other artists in the years to come. The Concert for Bangla Desh called for the fraternity of the world's people long before We are the World was an international event.
I am going to go home tonight and pull out the box set album of The Concert for Bangla Desh that has been locked away in my closet for over 20 years. I'll play "Wah-Wah," "My Sweet Lord," "Something," and "Here Comes the Sun." I can't remember the last time I heard Dylan singing "Just Like a Woman." If I can get the turntable to work I think I'll play that too.
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