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- November 23, 1992
- George Harrison
November 23, 1992
My dad suddenly appears in the doorway, "you better get down here, I think this is it" he exclaims and disappears. Tim and I weary from a long night on “death watch” and three weeks of all night shifts watching over him have been taking a break, dozing in the visitors’ lounge. The fear that he would die on someone else’s watch has been nagging at me from the start. Now the time had come. We stagger to our feet and dash down the hall bursting through the room’s double airlock doors. I sit at his feet on the right side of the bed. I’m not really sure why but I put my hand on his chest. My mother holds one hand (as she has done most of the night), Eddie, his partner, the other. My father is at the head of the bed close to his face. Tim is on the other side of the bed across from me.
The haunting drone of spastic breathing of the past 12 hours, as he lay comatose, is now replaced by what must certainly be the “death rattle”. In a matter of seconds his chest heaves reflexively, he gasps, pulling his hands out of Eddie’s and my mother’s grasp. His face ashens as the warmth of the human soul departs. His entire body seems to deflate. Life is leaving him and we collectively cheer him on. In an instant he is gone yet, surprisingly we are not distraught. In fact I don’t believe any of us even shed a tear. We had shed many tears over the past weeks, had many close calls, now we were exhausted and numb. The long night, the many years of worry were over.
My last look at him in that terrible room is from the hallway. His cold lifeless body, once so strong and agile is bathed in sunlight beaming through the window like a spotlight… his final curtain call (oh.. he would not be happy with the hairdo!). Bravo my dear brother! Good show!
Over the 13 years since my brother David’s death of AIDS I have been trying to figure out how to talk about it. From the very moment of my arrival in NYC in early November, until we buried him back home, it was as if I were in some kind of scripted drama, in a movie. Over and over I found myself stepping back and thinking how surreal the given moment was, how vivid, how rich. “This can’t be happening like this” I would think. My difficultly over the years lie not in coming to grips with the loss but in finding a way to convey what I can honestly say is the most incredible three weeks of my entire life. I’ve never felt so alive; nothing remotely compares, not even the birth of my children.
What better setting for drama than NYC, hold up with my brother and his friends. Gay men and drama just go together. I had made many a trip to NYC in the years leading up to his death, unfortunately often as the result of some health crisis and had gotten to know many of them quite well. Spending time with them was like being in an episode of “Seinfeld” and “Will and Grace” all rolled into one, it was a laugh a minute! The love my brother’s friends had for him was astonishing, particularly that of his best friend Tim. For me being in this loving open environment was liberating. We laughed, we cried, often it seems in the same breathe. David was in there right along with us (in between visits from our departed grandmother Coles and Marilyn Monroe) laying in bed, blind, fighting for his life cracking jokes and dissing with the best of them.
A week or so earlier he asked Eddie and I to go make funeral arrangements for him, I broke down and lay at his side weeping uncontrolably. When I composed myself he promptly directed us to pick out a simple casket… “something in mahogany” he said and .. “see if we can get the Judy Garland Room” at Frank Campbell ( the funeral parlor where she was laid out). We all busted out in laughter!
We were all there for David, to help him come what may. Little did we know that in the process he was helping us, helping us let go of him.
Nowadays the life and death struggle of AIDS seems very distant from our awareness. Back in the late 80s and early 90s suffering and death was a regular part of life in the gay community. The drug cocktail that now allows many to live relatively normal lives was years off. Then the struggle to find treatments for the many diseases of AIDS was literally a battle waged against the government and drug companies. David and a number of his friends were on the front lines of that battle, fighting to survive and fighting so that others might live as part of the controversial activist group ACT UP
David’s personal battle with AIDS was a difficult one marked by many horrific illnesses that ultimately left him blind. When I couldn’t reach him at home I’d call Lenox Hill Hospital (see my rolladex card to the right) to see if he was there. It was at Lenox Hill 7th floor, the AIDS ward, that he spent his final days.
With this entry I hope to begin recounting this tale in more detail not so much for the reader’s benefit but for my own. I miss my dear brother terribly (that’s us together in the header image at the top of this page just behind the word “counting”). His death was a life transforming event. I pray that telling the tale will perhaps complete the transformation.
I was once asked to name a person that I looked-up to or admired, someone that was influential in my life. Put on the spot, having to think fast, I could only think of one name, George Harrison. Ok, I know what your thinking, a Beatle, come on you can do better than that! Well, sorry but its true! Call me shallow but, its George. I even strongly considered naming our son Harrison. I’ve always been a Beatles fan since the very first time I saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Sitting around the TV, as we did almost every Sunday night, Ed with his classic “stone-faced” delivery…..
Listen to an NPR story on the “Beatles Coming to America” in celebraton of the 40th anniversary.
It is hard to explain the influence the Beatles had on my generation. Each album and TV appearance was an eagerly anticipated event, often one that had an evolutionary if not revolutionary impact on music and popular culture. Take their appearance on The David Frost show of “Hey Jude” in Sept 1968 for instance. What could better capture the spirit of the era than that setting and song, it has taken on an almost “anthem-like” status in American culture. When Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band was released the sound was so revolutionary that it was shocking and not easy to assimilate. I didn’t like it and promptly put it away, not listening to it again for months. Now, of course, it is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time.
George was always my favorite Beatle. There was something intreging about George. Certainly there were better guitar players and song writers, yet if you look at the body of his work and listen carefully you realize how terrific he really was. He wasn’t flashy but like many of the “greats” he always seemed to do the right thing, add just the right lick at just the right time to make everything work. If you are a Harrison fan I highly recommend watching the Concert for George DVD. What an incredible concert! When you hear other fabulous musicians (Eric Clapton, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynn, Billy Preston, Ringo, Paul, among others) playing George’s songs you get a whole new perspective on his music. Watching it inspired me to write this story!
Beatles fans will recall that the group got involved briefly with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi 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 wrote and sang about the spiritual life about seeking enlightenment, about God. At a time when many of us were questioning conventional religion, rejecting our own our religious upbringing George was talking openly about seeking God (the Hindu ones that is).
Forgive me lord
Please, those years when I ignored you, hmm
Forgive them lord
Those that feel they can’t afford you, hmm
Help me lord, please
To rise above this dealing, hmm
Help me lord, please
To love you with more feeling, hmm
“Hear Me Lord”
From: All Things Must Pass
Tyler Swan, 2003For me this helped opened the door to a spiritual quest of my own influenced by such books as:The Natural Mind, Be Here Now, The Autobiography of a Yogi, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead , The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, The Doors of Perception among others (hey, I’m a child of the 60s, what do you expect!). Of course I won’t go into the gory details (perhaps at another time) but I credit George, in part, with inspiring my journey as misdirected as it has been at times. Now, as you have read elsewhere in this site, I’m back home where I belong, the Orthodox Church… namaste George!
When you’ve seen beyond yourself-
then you may find, peace of mind, Is waiting there-
And the time will come when you see
we’re all one, and life flows on within you and without you
“Within You Without You”
From: Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Early Beatle clip “I Saw Her Standing There” at Google Video
Concert for George Website
Concert for Bangladesh See some great clips from the concert
GeorgeHarrison.com Flash intensive site with some great media
All Things Must Pass Shockwave and Flash intensive and a bit too far-out but some interesting tidbits on this amazing album.
George Harrison Lyrics