This fan found it easy to identify with the "quiet" Beatle

By Bill McFarland

Northeast Times Staff Writer

Despite losing his long battle with cancer, the "quiet" Beatle will never be silenced. The music of George Harrison will live forever.

Shortly after learning of the death of the rock music icon, editor John Scanlon asked me to write something about it. As the resident Beatlemaniac at the Northeast Times, I guess I was best-suited for the task.

Several co-workers expressed their condolences to me on Friday, and one noted that I was dressed appropriately — in black. Others pointed out that I seemed to be taking the news rather well.

Unlike December 1980, when John Lennon was slain by a warped "fan," Harrison had been ill for some time, and his death was anticipated. As much as I am saddened by the loss, I'm glad that he is finally out of his misery.

Rather than mourn his passing, we should celebrate his life. From such humble beginnings, Harrison accomplished so much, and in his later years, he seemed to find the inner peace that eluded Lennon.

People often ask me about my fascination with the Beatles. It's because I can relate to them on many levels.

The story begins in the mid-to-late 1970s, long after the band had split up. It was a very dark period in my life. As a youngster, I was dealing with a serious illness, a near-fatal car crash and the emotional trauma of a family situation that never improved. Music was one of the few things that brought joy to my life.

During that time, I attended a Beatles convention in Center City and became wrapped up in music that I had heard around the house as a child. I began collecting some of the Beatles' more-obscure vinyl records — some extremely rare, others very expensive. My collection is not impressive, but this hobby helped pull me through some tough times.

I learned more about the Beatles' personalities in the 1980s when videos became available. Through performance tapes and interviews, I could see how it was inevitable that the phenomenon of Beatlemania would be short-lived.

They were kids when they formed the Beatles; they were together for more than 10 years, and by the time they reached their late 20s, they had drifted apart and developed different interests that they wanted to explore. Although this is a normal part of maturing, it was tragic for fans who hated to see it end.

Individually, everyone liked Paul because he was the romantic one, and people seemed to drift to Ringo because he had a sullen look that made folks want to cheer him up.

I related more so to John for several reasons. Like him, I was self-taught on the guitar and not very good at it. I also wore glasses, and I had a sarcastic — even bitter — view of a world that I didn't understand. John was the one whom I emulated.

But I was always reminded by others of obvious comparisons to George. Some thought there was a physical resemblance. Others pointed out how I had his personality traits. Like him, I was quiet and introverted. I normally appeared to be lost in my thoughts, and I was generally overshadowed by others because I was uncomfortable being the center of attention.

Despite being in the background, George could be just as romantic as Paul. Something, from the Abbey Road album, was considered one of the most romantic of the Beatles' songs.

George could also be as funny as John. During an interview when Beatlemania was at its height, George was asked how the boys were dealing with their sudden wealth.

"We're not rich," he insisted.

The interviewer then noted that the band was generating enormous amounts of cash and asked where the money was going.

George replied, "Well, Her Majesty gets a lot of it."

Beatles manager Brian Epstein had signed the band to a rather one-sided contract, mainly because the members were unsophisticated and naive about business affairs. It was not a 50-50 deal like Col. Tom Parker had with Elvis Presley, but it gave the manager the lion's share of the income. Epstein got 25 percent of the gross. After the expenses were deducted, whatever was left was then divided by four and distributed to John, Paul, George and Ringo.

When the boys finally began to acquire large sums of money, George was disillusioned about the amount that they were allowed to keep. His disappointment was evident in one of his first protest/social consciousness songs, Taxman, from the Revolver album. Singing the song from the perspective of a tax collector, George displayed a sarcastic wit that was every bit the equal of Lennon's.

Let me tell you how it will be.
It's one for you, 19 for me.
'Cause I'm the tax man.
Yeah, I'm the tax man,
And you're working for no one but me.

And as George developed his songwriting skills, he also acquired a business savvy that served him well. The team of Lennon and McCartney never owned the rights to their Beatles songs because they unknowingly had signed them away. George started his own company, Harrisongs Ltd., to protect his publishing rights.

Some interesting milestones in my life involved the Beatles, and George was at the center of two in particular.

One of the highlights of my brief, and unsuccessful, career as a musical performer was an invitation to sit in with a Beatles cover band that I had befriended. They called themselves Abbey Rhode but were actually the Volpe brothers — Ron, Steve, Carmen and Mike Volpe.

I can still remember being onstage with them at a packed Deptford Tavern one night, belting out one of my favorite Beatles songs, Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby, which was George's rocking cover version of an old Carl Perkins rockabilly record.

My equally short-lived radio career began at an obscure station where, after much pestering, I was given an on-air audition and told to make the most of it. Thinking that there were others like me out there, I blasted two hours of nothing but the Beatles. It went over so well that I was immediately offered a weekly show.

I never did two hours of the Beatles again, but my show was scheduled to air on the date that Harrison's 1981 hit, All Those Years Ago, was released. I had a connection at the Sam Goody record store on Cottman Avenue and managed to get one of the first copies available. I might have been the new kid on the block at WIDS-AM, but that record made its debut — on our station — on my show.

All Those Years Ago was the first collaboration of the three surviving Beatles after the 1980 shooting death of Lennon.

I never embraced the Eastern music or mysticism that became a large part of George's life after the Beatles met with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who espoused transcendental meditation. I do know that it meant a great deal to him.

Friday night's Nightline aired a clip from an interview during which George explained a philosophy on life that revolved around three main questions: Who am I? Why are we here? Where are we going?

Those of us who ponder these questions usually spend a lifetime searching for answers. I think George solved the mystery. He knew who he was, and he may have even figured out why we are here. He apparently knew where he was going because he died peacefully — without any fear of death.

We should all be so lucky.

This story was published on Dec. 5, 2001, in the Northeast Times in Philadelphia, which owns the copyright. It may not be reproduced anywhere else without permission.


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