I have written a lot about George Harrison, but nothing compared to the hundreds of hours I spent thinking about him when I was a child--maybe until I was about 24 years old. It may be ridiculous to say that a complete stranger, a celebrity, changed your life, but it can happen--it happened to me. I first saw George on the Ed Sullivan Show less than three weeks after my father died, and all the love I had left in me that was suddenly going nowhere, going only into space, I was able to give to George. (I suddenly had an intense memory as I wrote this of the first weekend I didn't go see my father--the deep disorientation of staying home, of feeling my body want to be elsewhere. Completely confusing days, weeks, years.)
I was too young to have romantic feelings toward him. He was my brother. Every quality in me that my mother found exasperating were things he liked; how excited I got, how chatty, how I followed her (him) around. He wanted to take me everywhere with him! I toured the world with the Beatles and made sure Paul gave George credit for his part in the songs. I had bad dreams about Paul--which all showed up later in the Let It Be sessions.
It's an odd thing to love a celebrity. It has never happened to me again. Of course it is a matter of projection, but what relationship isn't, at least in the early stages. Yet the tug of war between projection and love, projection and love seems to deepen one's self knowledge in a way nothing else does--if you stay in long enough. I learned from George that I don't suffer fools gladly. I could feel that impatience in him, that streak of judgment that sat right alongside his spirituality and his true desire to be enlightened. It seems these aren't contradictory impulses, if Jesus is any example. I have come to think that they are layered emotions existing at different levels of defense. George wanted real love. You want that, and you're going to feel a lot of anger sometimes. Love is so so easy, until you find out what it means; until you discover that it is going to show you all the parts of yourself you have kept hidden, and it is going to disappoint you if your loved one doesn't have anything in him very deep down. To be in love is to make someone up. To love is to be hammered on an anvil.
I dearly love the photos of George and Patti Boyd. I didn't love her when I was a girl; I didn't want to share. I love her now, though. The two of them together are so beautiful. There is obliviousness to them in all their pictures that has the allure of otherworldliness. A funny thing about the Beatles is that millions identified with and loved them, imagined that they would be finally understood if only they knew them, but to really take these photos in is to understand that even by this age, early twenties, they were already living a rarefied life unimaginable. I've read of George that he never carried a wallet or any money--just as the royals don't. This may or may not be true, but the story says how above the world he was, how it was his privilege to move along pathways open to only a few--the eruvs, the exceptional routes, of the rich and famous. I never imagined this when I was young. I thought him normal, and overwhelmed. But the photos of his house at Surrey where he lived with Patti Boyd show the graffiti he and friends painted on the walls, wild style in the 'burbs, where it was surely an eyesore to some. He dolled up his Mini Cooper with his own signs and symbols--you could see him coming. Patti left him to marry Eric Clapton, though it seems Patti was virtually pushed away by George's transformation into a religious person, his celibacy. I never blamed Patti for leaving. It's hard to blame any rock wives for whatever they end up choosing. It can't be easy, following the boys around.
George is my style icon. He has a chic based on thinness and confidence. If you go through hundreds of pictures of him, you see him dressed in a lot of farfetched get ups, but there's always something there that holds the eye, some sense of a comfort with being a body in the world that, like the impatience, is a bookend to his desire to be "free from birth." None of the other Beatles had this chic; few do. The three photos here are so different, yet all revealing. The disguise photo with the large sunglasses, the bushy mustache, the hippie coat--who wouldn't notice this striking person? The costume with the collar turned up just so, and the hat set on the thick brown hair at exactly the right spot to crown the beautiful face--a deep artless self-awareness. The picture of him in the green doorway defined for me forever how to dress. Faded jeans, a dark blue linen shirt, run down blue espadrilles, messy hair...has anyone ever done better? This photo was taken in the Bahamas when the Beatles were filming Help! I have another one in this series on the wall in my writing room, for everyday inspiration. Absolute glamour.
It is hard to say now what has meant the most to me about George. I think, in the end, it was his stubbornness--his knowing he had a voice, and his determination to have it be heard, even while competing with two of the great geniuses of the 20th century, John and Paul. I continue to live with tender feelings toward him, begun when I was a very sad child. Thinking about him today hurts my heart, but he helped.
Thank you, George.