Saturday, July 16, 2022

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass (1970)

It used to be commonplace to ask, "Who's your favorite Beatle?" It ought to be commonplace again. People of the world, unite. Declare your favorite Beatle, and be willing to defend your choice with a fire in your belly!

I'll lay my cards on the table. Ask me who my favorite Beatle is, it would depend on the day. I'm just being honest.

My favorite Beatle, I could say, is John. Let me count the ways. For one, he was the leader from back when the Beatles were kids dressed in leather jackets like Marlon Brando in The Wild One. As leader, he was the one to carry forth the vision of the band. Most of his roes with Paul were not about musical quality but whether this or that song captured the vision of the Beatles. John's vision was about something greater than making music. It was political and iconoclastic. We see with his two solo albums that what he'd been interested in all along was a utopian world, without war, without poverty, full of peace. In my view, the way he went about grasping after this ideal world was rather stupid. You can't get there by meditation and prayer alone. You actually have to mobilize people. Even pacifist Gandhi got people to march. Criticism aside, John is my favorite Beatle for his leadership and vision.

But, you know, on other days, I would say no, that's not right. Paul's my favorite. While Paul was not the leader, it was his persistent head-butting with John that made the Beatles greater than the sum of its parts. John needed this pushback. Without the pushback the band would not have been the powerhouse it continues to be today in the public consciousness. Paul was the man who tailored and refined the music the most. We can see from Peter Jackson's sprawling Get Back documentary that Paul picked up the slack for the band when John was checked out and didn't want to do the Beatles anymore. In some respects, Paul was the power behind the throne. So, you see, Paul is best.

How about Ringo, though? What I absolutely love about Ringo is he didn't talk much. This might not come off as a strength, but as St. Paul says, God knows how to make a person's weakness a strength; there's strength in apparent weakness. In the Get Back doc, when any of the other band members are at one another's throats, Paul jut sits there and watches. He's a reminder that when things get too violent, they don't have to be that way. In the Get Back doc, we can see Ringo is clearly not checked out. Just watching, waiting, listening. He's the most aware of anyone they're there to make music. He leans forward with his elbows on his knees and drumsticks in hand while the others talk. They say, "Do this," and he says, "All right." They ask, "Ringo, what do you think?" and he says, "I'm not sure. What do you think?" One of the cutest moments from the Get Back doc is when Paul's wife is sitting with George's and they are talking about the band's members. One of the wives says, "You know, I love Ringo. I love him the most. He's always so calm. He relaxes me." A few moments later, during rehearsal, Paul's daughter is running amok through the rehearsal space, hopping around and tripping over the cables snaking across the floor. A little after, while the Beatles are running through a song, she sits on Ringo's knee behind his tall partition, takes one of the sticks from his hand, starts pattering arrhythmically against the snare. Paul, unable to see Ringo from behind his partition, halt the music and says, "Wait, wait. Hey, Ringo. I don't know what you're doing back there, mate, but you're off, way off." We see Ringo look our way, mug for the camera, and grin. All that is why Ringo is the best Beatle and my favorite. Plus he wrote "Octopus's Garden," which is a fun song.

Okay, okay, and now finally, I need to say that on my bluest of days, when I'm feeling a bit like George himself, I would say George is my favorite. He's the one who is most spiritually broken. He's the one who in spite of making several superficial, basically aesthetic changes to his appearance and personality, he remained at heart the divided young man who was already in full view for the world when he was just under twenty. (Side note: If you're at all interested in the personal life of George, Martin Scorsese directed a documentary in 2011 titled George Harrison: Living in the Material World. It's rather sad, it's three and a half hours, and honestly, I only made it halfway through.)

From the beginning, the spiritual life was foremost in George's mind. He grew up Anglican, a member of the Church of England. If you'll recall, the Church of England was created by Henry VIII because the Pope wouldn't grant Henry a divorce. So Henry cut off the English churches from the Pope and Catholic Church and made himself head of England's church. In the seventeenth century, the Church of England rewrote some of the Catholic teachings and the order of service, but in all truth, the COE and the Catholic Church remain quite similar today. Think of the COE as a kinder, gentler Catholicism, but and a church that is confused about what it is institutionally. Ask an Anglican or an Episcopalian if they're Catholic or Protestant and they shrug. (NB. Episcopalians are what the Anglicans called themselves when they got to America; incidentally, several Founding Fathers were Episcopalian, including George "I Shall Not Tell a Lie" Washington.)

 Anyway, as many youths do, George rebelled against COE on the grounds of the church's hypocrisy. ("If everyone's so pious, why don't they act like it?") He also thought some of the teachings were too sectarian and doctrinaire. But as a spiritual seeker, he landed, in his mid-twenties, on the side of the Eastern religions. And he remained on that side. His original attachment, as you may recall, was with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a long-haired, long-bearded, seemingly peaceful robe-clad figure from India who founded the Transcendental Meditation movement.

Here's TM in a nutshell. One of the yogis/gurus/teachers in the organization/religion gives you a mantra. It's supposed to be entirely unique to you. You may not know what it means but it's supposed to be a special word or phrase you're to repeat during meditation. For example, imagine you're given the phrase aham prema, which means "I am divine love." (Of course, you wouldn't be given that phrase, probably. As I said, mantras are supposed to be unique to you.) With that mantra in mind, you're meditate twice a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, 20-minute sessions apiece, the whole time repeating your mantra to yourself in your head. When your mind wanders, you return to the mantra.

Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? It mostly is. But TM gets flack on various different fronts. One criticism concerns the mantra. You want the mantra, you're sold the mantra. I don't remember the cost, but it's pricey.

A related criticism from meditators is there's nothing special about this paid-for mantra. Some say you could just as easily create your own mantra or focus on your breath while you meditate.

It's also been alleged that the so-called unique mantras are not as unique as thought. One story goes that some well-to-do, fat-pocketed practitioner of TM received his mantra from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi directly, forgot it, then asked for his mantra again. He was given a completely different mantra.

The practitioner couldn't remember his mantra, but he knew the one Maharishi told him the second time around wasn't it. "That's not my mantra," he said to Maharishi.

"It's doesn't matter," Maharishi replied.

You can also read accounts online of people who have left TM who have compared notes and discovered that they've been sold the same mantras.

Another criticism leveled at TM concerns the founder himself. It's been alleged that while presenting himself as humble and modest, he was, during his lifetime, quite concerned with money and fame. He drove a Rolls Royce, he lived in a palace, he constantly courted celebrities for parties and merriment. And surprise, surprise, he liked the ladies. The moment that caused his split with the Beatles was when the Beatles heard of Maharishi's allegedly making a move on a high-profile actress.

I want to share more about George, of course, but I can't neglect to mention one more realm of criticism leveled at TM, which I think deserves to be mentioned. Like a lot of religions, TM promises a lot. By virtue of doing these meditative practices, sitting twice a day for 20 minutes repeating a mantra, you're supposed to be able to tap into another spiritual world. About this, I'm agnostic. Maybe you can, maybe you can't. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

What rubs me wrong is this. Supposedly, if you work more one-on-one with TM teachers (paying more money, too), you can obtain superpowers. Spidey-senses ought to tingle here. My favorite claim is that if you practice long enough, you can learn to fly. HERE is a video of some of the more advanced TM students flying. (I highly recommend you watch this. There are more like this on YouTube. God bless the religion for actually allowing this stuff out in the public.)

Final word on TM. The most prominent practitioners of TM are rich. I guess this is common with a lot of religions, right? That the most prominent members are rich? Well, in TM, the really die-hard ones live on a glorified compound somewhere in middle America where they are led by Maharishi's successor. He's a white man who wears a gold hat. In their little civilization, they have their own currency, what are basically TM bucks. Apart from the die-hard rich, usually old moneyed families (who else would they be?), there are the celebrities. Jerry Seinfeld is a prominent practitioner of TM, Mister "Whaaaaat is the deeeeeeeal with these peeeeeeeeeople?" himself.

To return to George: despite his deep dive into Hindu-spiritual music, his hanging out with yogis, his meditating regularly and praying at temples, despite all the outward spiritual stuff, from his twenties on, he was reputed to have been a hound dog. Women, booze, drugs, the whole nine yards. Affairs, frequently, or perhaps he had an open relationship with his longtime wife, who knows?

In this way, George came full circle. He left the comforts of COE on account of its hypocritical members. But in the end, hypocrisy bites us all in the bottom. This is very relatable. It's for the fact that George was a spiritual seeker and yet a completely, totally obviously flawed person that makes him my favorite Beatle.

All Things Must Pass is a good album, but be forewarned: it's mighty beefy and long. Fortunately for us, it's a testament to George's amazing songwriting abilities, which had been mostly taken for granted while he was the littlest one of that famous foursome. Oh, but I'm only telling you what you already know. You have this album, don't you?

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