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CNN People in the News

George Harrison: The Musical Journey of `The Quiet Beatle'

Aired December 01, 2001 - 07:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, the girls screamed, the band made rock and roll history. But the youngest Beatle never sought fame and fortune.


ALAN CLAYSON, AUTHOR, "THE QUIET ONE": He was the one that was the least keen on stardom. But at the same time, he was the one that was the most self-contained about it.


ANNOUNCER: A gifted guitarist, not always known for his talent of writing memorable songs.


JIMMY TARBUCK, SCHOOL FRIEND: He was a great songwriter in his own right, and perhaps a little bit overshadowed.


ANNOUNCER: Overshadowed, maybe, by John and Paul, but thought of as family.

PAUL MCCARTNEY, FORMER BEATLE: He's such a brave lad. To me, he's just my little baby brother.


ANNOUNCER: The musical journey and life of George Harrison, now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

DARYN KAGAN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Daryn Kagan.

On Thursday afternoon, George Harrison died quietly at a friend's home in Los Angeles. Cancer took the life of the former Beatle, who was just 58.

The news came as no surprise to many, as Harrison had been battling recurring cancer all year. But his death still jolted fans everywhere, those who gently mourned the passing of a musician, the social activists, and the reluctant star. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): George Harrison never sought the fame that often surrounded him. He was dubbed the quiet one, the sad Beatle, the spiritual one. He didn't clown around like John and Paul and Ringo. He didn't like touring, and he even feared for the band's safety.

But his influence on the world's most famous band and his work as an activist for social causes sealed his spot in rock and roll history.

MARTIN LEWIS, BEATLES HISTORIAN: George was an integral part of The Beatles. One of the things that he did was, he was very responsible for their sound.

KAGAN: Few clues to George Harrison's incredible success can be found in his early years in Liverpool, England. He was born February 25, 1943. His parents were a bus driver and a homemaker. George was the only Beatle whose young life had been fairly undramatic.

CLAYSON: He was the one that was least keen on stardom. He was the one that was least -- but at the same time, he was the one that was the most self-contained about it. He -- I suppose he -- I suppose he -- I think a lot of it was to do with a secure family background. I mean, the other three Beatles came from what can be described, I suppose, as broken homes.

KAGAN: In Liverpool, a teenaged George rode the bus to school with a kid named Paul McCartney, who was a year and a half older than George. The two loved guitars and the same kind of music.

Paul introduced his younger friend to the Quarrymen, a band that included Paul and another Liverpool lad, John Lennon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul introduced him to John, and Harrison got in on the strength of his playing. You know, John heard him play and said, OK, well, all right, I guess we'll carry him along.

KAGAN: George may have been young, but he was the most talented guitarist of the bunch. He was allowed to join, and in 1960, the band became The Beatles. No one, especially George, could have guessed what was to come.

LEWIS: He was driven by his passion to be a musician. It wasn't, How can I become famous? It was, How can I play music? What can I do that will give me pleasure?

So when the fame came with the music initially, it was great, of course, lots of people were listening to the music. But among The Beatles, he was the one who enjoyed least all the mass adulation, and the frenzy did not give him pleasure.

KAGAN: In February of 1964, The Beatles appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The Fab Four became the most popular band in America. That's the same month, by the way, that George Harrison turned all of 21. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE HARRISON: I don't really fancy 21, I much rather like 20, you know, it's sort of a nice round figure and all that.


KAGAN: It was about this time that Harrison started experimenting with songwriting and The Beatles with movie making. During the making of "A Hard Day's Night," Harrison met a young model named Patti Boyd, who had one line in the film. The two married in 1966.

Harrison sought more of a private life. He complained about the touring, even felt that The Beatles' safety might be at risk.

ANTHONY DECURTIS, "ROLLING STONE" MAGAZINE: Back in the '60s, George was afraid of violence being executed against The Beatles. He was afraid of The Beatles being assassinated literally, you know, in 1966. So when it actually happened to Lennon, it was just shocking for George on all those levels.

KAGAN: The band's last live concert was in San Francisco in the summer of '66. With his wife, Patti Boyd, Harrison developed an interest in Indian mysticism, an interest that soon influenced the music of The Beatles.

ALAN LIGHT, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "SPIN" MAGAZINE: I think the single thing that George brought was his interest in and his introduction of Indian music, Eastern music, into rock and roll. I think any exploration of non-Western music in pop was a direct result of George Harrison picking up a sitar and getting interested in Indian music and meditation and leading The Beatles to India in 1966-67.

That's a pretty revolutionary thing.

KAGAN: Patti Boyd not only encouraged her husband's interest in India but inspired one of The Beatles' most successful songs, "Something," written by Harrison.

PETER CASTRO,"PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: It was a beautiful love song. It was written for Patti Boyd, who he was madly in love with at the time. And it's a melody that is timeless. Frank Sinatra, actually, called it the greatest love song of the last half century.

KAGAN: "Something" stopped the charts in the U.S. Other songs penned by Harrison, like "Here Comes the Sun," proved to be big hits too.

But there still was reluctance to record Harrison's songs.

LEWIS: He grew up in the big shadow cast by John and Paul, but in a sense the sibling rivalry made him a better songwriter. He strove to equal them.

KAGAN: The Beatles split in 1970. Harrison would say the biggest break in his career was getting into The Beatles, and then added the second biggest break was getting out.

CASTRO: He was very frustrated. I mean, it's no accident that he came out with "All Things Must Pass," and at the time that was a triple album, which was almost unheard of at the time. And it was sort of his way of saying to The Beatles and the rest of the world, This is the material you would have gotten had these people, had these two, John and Paul, allowed me to write more songs.

KAGAN: Of the former Fab Four, Harrison scored the first solo heat with the release of "All Things Must Pass." It included the single "My Sweet Lord." But Harrison lost all the royalties on that song when a court later ruled that the song was based on The Chiffons' "He's So Fine."

In 1971, Harrison organized two benefit concerts in Madison Square Garden. The cause, poverty relief for the people of Bangladesh.

LEWIS: The concert for Bangladesh brought together Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan and Leon Russell, big rock stars of their day. He was the first, the pioneer, of that sort of thing.

KAGAN: Harrison followed up the success of the fund-raising efforts and the subsequent recordings made from those concerts with another smash release, "Dark Horse," in 1974. Its dark theme reflected a troubled personal life. His marriage to Patti Boyd soon ended.

He later married his second wife, Olivia, who gave birth to their son in 1978.

Harrison enjoyed sporadic success in his last 15 years. He had a solo hit in 1987 with...


KAGAN: ... and he teamed with veteran rockers Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty and others to form The Traveling Wilburys. He even dabbled in record and film producing, funding the Monty Python film "The Life of Brian."

LEWIS: He really was a true Renaissance man in that his interests encompassed a lot of areas. But he never went screaming for the credit.

KAGAN: The man who never courted publicity found himself in the spotlight for reasons unrelated to any of his business or charity efforts. He was treated for throat cancer in 1998. Harrison blamed it on smoking.

JIMMY TARBUCK, SCHOOL FRIEND: He used to play his guitar, and he'd have a cigarette on one of the strings. You know, when they tie the string to the top of the guitar and the strings would be loose, he'd sometimes have a cigarette. And he was a heavy smoker when he was younger. KAGAN: In 1999, Harrison survived a near-fatal attack while on his sprawling estate in southern England. An intruder stabbed the musician, puncturing Harrison's lung.

For much of his career, he had worried about attacks from deranged fans, a fear that deepened with the assassination of John Lennon in 1980. With Lennon's death and now that of Harrison from cancer, only two ex-Beatles remain.

MCCARTNEY: Even when I saw him last time, and he was obviously very unwell, he was still cracking jokes like he always was.


ANNOUNCER: Coming up, lead singer Bono reflects on Harrison's place in music history and his influence on U2...


BONO, U2: You know, we claim him as Irish, you know.


ANNOUNCER: ... when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.


KAGAN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

This week, I sat down for an exclusive interview with U2's Bono. It was a candid talk about the loss of musical legend George Harrison. But it was also a celebration of Harrison's music and influence.

The Beatles changed the world of music and set the stage for superstar bands to come, groups like U2.


KAGAN: This week, the music world lost a legend in George Harrison. What can you tell us about the man and the musician?

BONO: Well, he didn't like U2 very much.

KAGAN: You know that?

BONO: Yes, yes, I do know it. But we loved him, we really did love him. And, I mean, The Beatles, you know, wrote the map for a group like U2. And he was a quintessential part of it. And, you know, brought a special songwriting genius that's easily overlooked.

And I think there's a sort of unknowable quality, a kind of mysterious quality about his music which made him a very attractive character and gave The Beatles an extra dimension, really.

KAGAN: You mention the songwriting. Paul McCartney and John Lennon get so much credit for the songwriting, for what made The Beatles. But when you look at some of the gems that George Harrison came up with, it really is remarkable, he does really leave a songwriting legacy.

BONO: You know, we claim him as Irish, you know. I think three of The Beatles are sort of Irish, and -- because Liverpool was, you know, across the road from Dublin. A lot of people emigrate to Liverpool. And I think there's a certain melancholy in the Irish that you hear in George Harrison's songwriting.

And, I mean, he's -- his is the only one that I think Frank Sinatra covered.

KAGAN: "Something in the Way."

BONO: Yes, "Something in the way she moves," I mean, it's funny, because when you hear his music played now on the radio today, it's sort of overwhelming sadness. That was already in the music, but now you sort of -- now it's -- his death kind of almost allows you to surrender to.

KAGAN: And you can identify with that, and not just as musician but as being Irish as well?

BONO: Yes, I mean, I do. I mean, for us, they're -- The Beatles are untouchable, and we still look to them as models of what can be achieved when four people get into a room and start experimenting. And...

KAGAN: And much like you guys, four guys who got together young and went so far, took over the world.

BONO: Yes, and they were mates, and before they were a band, the same as U2. I'm not -- it's kind of sad that two of them are gone now. And I think we have to be very -- it's always worth reminding ourselves just how lucky we are to be alive at a time when we grew up with The Beatles.

KAGAN: Can you give me any examples of how you can see influences of Beatle music in U2's music?

BONO: Just being in a band, just, you know, a garage band, you know, when you're in a band, it's like it's you against the world, and if you come from a neighborhood in Dublin or Liverpool, and you come to America, and you discover the roots of soul music and blues and stuff that may or may not have influenced you, but certainly has opened your ears and eyes up.

It's a -- you know, they were the first to do that.

KAGAN: Now, something you share in common with George Harrison, he was a man who saw his fame, who saw rock and roll as a platform to go something beyond, to look at problems of others, to look at causes that some people might not seem as popular or worthwhile. Do you admire him for that?

BONO: Well, I can remember, as a teenager, he -- you know, I heard about the floods in Bangladesh via George Harrison. I mean, that's just...

KAGAN: He was ahead of his time.

BONO: ... that's just the way of the world, isn't it? You know, when you're a teenager, you're not watching the news, and so it takes sometimes somebody that you look up to or whatever to just -- to turn you on to a particular problem and what we might be able to do about that problem.

So the concert for Bangladesh was way ahead of its time.

I think, I mean, I think it probably wore him out, these benefit things do, and he's probably been asked to do -- I know I am -- all the time, you know, you know, you have to be very careful about these things. You only get a few punches every year to make a point like that.

And -- but it went -- whenever he could, he did.


ANNOUNCER: When we return, how the rest of the world remembers George Harrison...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I grew up with The Beatles. I loved The Beatles. They brought me so many happy memories.





MCCARTNEY: To me, he's just my little baby brother. We grew up together. I'm devastated, obviously, like everyone else. He had a long battle with his cancer, and -- but I saw him two weeks ago, and he was full of fun like he always was.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What would you call that hair style that you're wearing?



GEORGE MARTIN, BEATLES' PRODUCER: George is a wonderful man and a fine musician. But most importantly, I think he was a very loving person, full of humor. And I don't think he really wanted to be a famous person.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: So this is the famous Beatles.


MARTIN: I think he wanted to do his own stuff by himself.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We grew up with The Beatles. You know, their music, and the band, the personalities of the band were the background to our lives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I grew up with The Beatles. I loved The Beatles. They brought me so many happy memories. And I feel so sad, and I've been crying a lot today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think some of the time his contribution, musically, was overlooked, and that now that people recognized what he actually did give.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He wrote with great, great sensitivity. I think he wrote about things that really cared.

MARTIN: Because, I mean, we've known it had been coming for a long while, but still doesn't prepare you for the day when it actually happens.

MCCARTNEY: We just had so many beautiful times together that that's what I'm going to remember him by, a lovely guy who's full of humor. As I say, even when I saw him last time, and he was obviously very unwell, but he was still cracking jokes like he always was. And he'll be sorely missed. He's a beautiful man, and the world will miss him.