‘Material world’ did not claim Harrison

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

All things must pass. All things must pass away.

— George Harrison

I don’t know why this memory comes back to me, but one day when I was a whole lot younger this strange-looking guy who liked to hang out at my mom’s Ocilla restaurant (the Hamburger Hut) came over to me.

“I hear you know a little about music,” he said, and I acknowledged that I really liked music. He just stared at me for a few beats, and it was one of those uncomfortable stares. The guy had really long, stringy hair, a scar on one of his arms that looked like a burn and one of those faraway looks that made it seem like his mind was several time zones away.

“So who’s the best guitar player?” he suddenly asked.

I paused only a second or two, then without much thought threw out the names that are the typical response to that question: Clapton, Hendrix, Beck, Page, Allman, King ...

The dude bored his piercing eyes into me and offered an assessment that I still think about today: “George Harrison,” he said, simply. “When you play that well with the best, you’re one of the best.”

The media types from back in the days of Beatlemania attempted — much as the media types of today still do — to categorize the Fab Four at the height of their fame, and George was always “the quiet Beatle.” And more than a few pundits from that time opined that Harrison and drummer Ringo Starr were mediocre-at-best musicians fortunate to have been dragged along in the wake of the stunning star power of John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Such nonsense was, of course, rendered meaningless when Harrison proved his mettle with the greatest solo work by any of the post-breakup Beatles: his 1970 classic triple album(!) “All Things Must Pass.” Yes, Lennon did “Imagine” and “Double Fantasy,” and McCartney did “Ram,” “Band on the Run” and “McCartney,” but none of those works had the impact or the number of transcendent songs as “All Things Must Pass.”

I broke out Harrison’s opus and settled into a semi “wow, we lost a great one” funk in recent days after watching Martin Scorsese’s wonderful HBO documentary about Harrison “Living in the Material World.” Using rare and never-before-seen footage, as well as classic stuff from throughout his career, the groundbreaking filmmaker paints a portrait of Harrison as a master musician who refuses to allow the insanity of the material world that the Fabs created interfere with the spirituality that became the main focus of his life.

Turning away any number of offers to cash in on his one-of-a-kind musical legacy, Harrison steadfastly refused almost all offers, preferring to work alone in the immaculate gardens of his massive estate. He most famously left his solitude behind to put on a humanitarian benefit for friend Ravi Shankar (the amazing, first-of-its-kind “Concert for Bangladesh”) and to record a couple of albums with musical buds Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne as the ultimate supergroup, the Traveling Wilburys. But except for an occasional album or a rare tour, Harrison was content to live the simple life of the country gentleman.

His son, Dhani, told an interviewer that for the longest time he thought his father made his living as a gardener. “He’d work 12 hours a day in his gardens,” the younger Harrison marvelled.

Beatle fans old and new get an insider’s look at Harrison’s extraordinary life in Scorsese’s documentary, but the real winners are those — like that guy at the Hamburger Hut — who realized the guitarist’s impact on the world’s greatest band long before he drove that point home to the masses with his post-Beatles work.

Cancer claimed Harrison in 2001, but “Living in the Material World” — and listening to the following list of one fan’s Top 15 George songs — helps remind us all of his legacy as one of the most gifted rock musicians ever.

  1. Something (with the Beatles)
  2. Dark Horse
  3. My Sweet Lord
  4. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Beatles)
  5. Handle with Care (with the Traveling Wilburys)
  6. Beware of Darkness
  7. Here Comes the Sun (Beatles)
  8. Got My Mind Set on You (a Rudy Clark remake)
  9. Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
  10. End of the Line (Traveling Wilburys)
  11. Wah-Wah
  12. Ding Dong, Ding Dong
  13. Isn’t It a Pity
  14. I Me Mine (Beatles)

15 (tie). What Is Life

15 (tie). All Things Must Pass

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.