I was once asked to name a person that I looked up to or admired, someone influential in my life. Put on the spot, having to think fast I could only think of one name, George Harrison. Okay, I know what you’re thinking, a Beatle?, come on you can do better than that! Well sorry, but it’s true. I even seriously considered naming our son named Harrison. I’ve always been a Beatles fan since the very first time I saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9th, 1964.
Like much of America, my family watched Ed Sullivan almost every Sunday night. The wide-ranging variety show offered the chance to see some of the greatest entertainers of the day as well as some of the quirkiest: plate spinners, magicians, ventriloquists, puppeteers, to name a few. That February night 73 million viewers like me watched in rapt anticipation as Ed, as quirky as many of his guests, touched off a revolution that changed popular music and me forever.
“Now yesterday and today our theater’s been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation and these veterans agree with me that the city never has witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves the Beatles”
The studio audience went wild. Barely able to be heard he continued…
“Now tonight you’ll be entertained twice by them — right now and in the second half of the show. Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles!”
It’s impossible to adequately convey the scope and breadth of the Beatles’ impact on my generation’s music, dress, and attitude towards established norms. Each new music single, album, or TV appearance was an eagerly anticipated event. There was no MTV, no music videos, not even FM radio yet. If you saw the Beatles on TV, it was only once, no replays, no recording to watch later, you had to wait until their next appearance. What thrill it was going to the Lyric Theater in late 1964 to see their first movie A Hard Day’s Night. There was so much screaming in the theater I could hardly hear the dialogue or music, it was magic.
When Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album was released in 1966 I bought the album within days of its release at Sam’s Deli down the street from my house. I rushed home to listen to it on the family hi-fi and was stunned by what I heard. My 12-year-old self didn’t understand what I was hearing, I was not sure I liked it. The album didn’t just push boundaries it shattered them, it was evolutionary. Eventually the sonic experience of it all, the way the Beatles dressed, even the album art laid the groundwork inside my head for the changes to come.
George was always my favorite Beatle. There was something mysterious and intriguing about George. His cool aloofness, standing between Paul and John slightly upstage, the black Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar held high at his chest. When George stepped forward to share the microphone with Paul their tight harmony seemed effortless and matter-of-fact. Along with thousands if not millions of other kids, I could picture myself singing with Paul too. The clothes, the hair, the Italian boots, what was not to like and emulate about George for a 10-year-old boy?
George wasn’t a flashy guitar player, but like many of the “greats”, he always seemed to do the right thing, add just the right guitar lick at just the right moment making everything work. You can hear it in every lick and solo that night in February. And that was only the beginning as George would eventually become an accomplished songwriter too.
Beatles fans will recall the group got briefly involved with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, on a trip to India in 1968. For the rest of the band, this was a fleeting encounter with Eastern thought and practice but for George, it was the beginning of a life-long journey. George began in earnest writing about the spiritual life, seeking personal transformation and enlightenment. At a time when many of us were questioning conventional religion and rejecting our own religious upbringing, here was George talking openly about God (the Hindu ones). George opened the door for many of us to a new way of looking at both seen and unseen worlds.
Within You and Without You
And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse the truth
Then it’s far too late
When they pass away
When we find it, to try our best to hold it there with our love
With our love, we could save the world, if they only knew …
Thanks in part to George, my junior year of college I became seriously interested in Eastern thought and practice. Long before yoga clothing became a marketing gold mine I was practicing Hatha Yoga on a tattered throw rug in my living room and taking a class once a week with one other student at the local YMCA. My friends and I experimented with psychedelics pushing the our won boundaries. We read books like the Autobiography of a Yogi, The Doors of Perception, Be Here Now, The Tibetian Book of the Dead, among others looking to better understand this new transcendental territory.
My senior year I moved with my like-minded friends to an old farmhouse 30 miles from school. They were attending a different university 30 miles in the other direction, our house was located in the middle. I arranged all my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We became vegetarians, meditated twice a day, and gave up all drugs for the entire school year…now that’s commitment!
I drifted in other directions after college and graduate school. Once children came along things got even more complicated. I had a severe brush with depression following my brother David’s death in the early 90s. For about ten years I returned to the Orthodox Church, the church of my youth, looking to see what might be hidden there. The high point of that experience was a pilgrimage in 2014 to Mount Athos, an isolated monastic republic in northern Greece, considered one of the holiest places on the planet. All of it was soul-nourishing (perhaps live-saving) and spiritually profitable but in the end, it wasn’t a good fit.
A few years ago I stepped back on the path so long ago inspired by George, now with a better yoga mat and renewed interest in the practices that modern science and popular culture finally recognize as beneficial and legit.
Within You and Without You (cont)
No one else can make you change
And to see you’re really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you