George Harrison, the mystical songwriting guitarist of The Beatles and acclaimed offbeat filmmaker, died fourteen years ago today, on November 29, 2001. Harrison’s death, coming months after the Twin Tower bombings of September 11, was not met with the same worldwide outpouring of grief that followed the senseless assassination of John Lennon. Perhaps that was more fitting, as George was all about internal growth.

Though not as celebrated a songwriter as his counterparts Lennon or Paul McCartney, Harrison produced classics. Harrison wrote so fluidly that when Frank Sinatra sang “Something,” he said it was his favorite Lennon/McCartney song. Michael Jackson, in the audience during a televised performance, could be seen, Harrison once joked, cursing himself for not owning that part of The Beatles’ catalog. Harrisongs are only northern songs, but it’s okay, he wrote them like that.

Harrison’s songs had depth, mixing spiritual ideology with his inborn Liverpudlian cynicism. Songs like “My Sweet Lord” or “The Light That Has Lighted the World” speak of a universal celebration of mystical truths, while “Taxman,” “Piggies,” “Sue Me Sue You Blues” and “This Song” mock the material world. Countered against these were the lighthearted ditties like “Crackerbox Palace” or “Savoy Truffle,” a song about Eric Clapton’s rotting teeth (“You’ll have to have them all pulled out”).

Harrison could move into harmonies that were dark and slightly out of key, but his ringing Hawaiian slide was always perfectly in tune both musically and emotionally. His guitar not only wept, it laughed, it mocked, it sneered (listen to Harrison’s lead on John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?” where it does all three).

In keeping with Daily Offbeat’s obsession with all things offbeat, including music that defied mathematics, Harrison is acclaimed for his rhythmic proclivities. Stray beats and moving time signatures added to Harrison’s otherworldly chordal knowledge to transform his songs into masterful compositions. But The Beatles could make a four man band sound like an orchestra even when George Martin didn’t book strings and horns for sessions.

George adapted many of these time signatures to rock because he was studying the music of India. Along with John McLauchlin of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Harrison explored semitones and hemitones and hemi-semitones like no western guitarist since maybe Django Rheinhart. Maybe. Though Django was doing it with three fingers.

Harrison, and the Beatles in general, never called attention to the fact that the songs veered from the straight four and occasional waltz of most rock and pop. The music always served the performance. You probably didn’t know that there were dozen time signature changes in “Here Comes the Sun” until you read the fake books. Admit it. Even the handclapping was perfectly offbeat.

Not content with mastering musical forms, Harrison also produced films for a laugh. Quite literally, actually. George produced Monty Python’s Life of Brian just because he knew it would be funny and he didn’t care if he was the only one who got the joke or heard the joke, that joke was worth telling. He hocked his house for that. He got it back, of course.

Harrison was a natural comedian, as evidenced in any of the Beatle films, even Let It Be, the documentary of the breakup of the band. If he had lost it all to finance the film, he would have been the first to see the humor in it. He was, after all, the first Beatle to try and cash the check the band was offered to play Saturday Night Live.

Harrison also invented the rock benefit with his Bangladesh concert, film and album.


You know, he wasn’t a bad gardener either.

Olivia Harrison said that when George finally dislodged himself from the material world that she experienced a spiritual anomaly of a most mystical kind. Some fans have felt that through his music. We all may miss him, but there is a sense that he’s not that far away.

Remember the death, but celebrate the life.

Ever the natural comedian, George Harrison wanted to collect a full $3,600 from Lorne Michaels who offered the Fabs the money to fully reunite.

The guitarist who was known as “the quiet” Beatle made noise. George Harrison made a noise with his melodic guitar lines, slide and voice that was heard around the world. Both with the Beatles and after the Fab Four’s breakup. Along with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, George Harrison changed music, society and spirituality.

The Beatles, and George Harrison in particular, also ushered in a taste for world music in America. Although Harrison didn’t personally make any comments about Kpop, he would have been a fervent champion. George Harrison had already opened the world to Indian music with his use of the sitar and that of his teacher, mentor and friend, Ravi Shankar.

George Harrison was born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England. Harrison was the youngest of four children of Harold Hargreaves Harrison and his wife Louise (née French). His father drove a bus. All the other kids in the neighborhood knew him because of this and because his hair was so long, even then. He went to school with Paul McCartney, who was nine months older than him and never let him forget it.

George Harrison auditioned for John Lennon’s band, the Quarrymen, in March 1958, on the word of McCartney, who was already playing guitar in the band. The Quarrymen became Long John and the Silver Beatles, which became The Silver Beatles which became The Beatles. Just in time for them to play the rough red-light district of Hamburg, Germany. The Beatles played upwards of eight hours a night. Keeping themselves up with pep pills they washed down with copious amounts of beer.

The Beatles were wild men in their early days. It was Brian Epstein who put them in suits, signed them to a personal management contract and, after they failed multiple record company auditions, including Decca who would sign the Rolling Stones, they were signed to the comic label of EMI records and produced by comedy music producer George Martin, who had recorded the Goon Show with Peter Sellars.

It took a while for Harrison to catch up to the songwriting talents of Lennon McCarney, but he had originals on almost every one of their records starting with “Don’t Bother Me” on With the Beatles, released in America as Meet the Beatles.

But Harrison’s guitar often transported the bare-boned lyrics and chords that came into EMI studios on Abbey Road into new realms.
Harrison’s songs were at turns thoughtful, satiric, progressive and beautiful. Frank Sinatra called Harrison’s “Something” the best Lennon-McCartney song ever written. Thanks Frank, said the ever-sardonic George.

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Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, a massive three-album solo record, showed how many songs, licks and jams George had up his corduroy sleeves.

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George Harrison invented the benefit concert with his relief concert and album “The Concert for Bangladesh.” He had been told of massive famine caused by flooding in India by his friend Ravi Shankar and immediately wanted to know how to help.

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George Harrison started HandMade Films for the sole purpose of seeing Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. The film company would go on to produce other classics like “Time Bandits,” “Whitnail and I” and “The Long Good Friday” before it was sold, when it would then release “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.”

Harrison formed The Traveling Wilburys with his friends Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynn. The band would put out two albums, Volume I and Volume III.

Ever the natural comedian, George Harrison wanted to collect a full $3,600 from Lorne Michaels who offered the Fabs the money to fully reunite.

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Harrison’s last album “Brainwashed,” included his son Dhani Harrison on guitar. They reproduced some Harrison classics as bonus songs.

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