The first rock and roll concert I ever went to was George Harrison's concert at what was then the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland. It was 1974, and George was in the midst of his first and only full-fledged concert tour of the U.S.
I was all of fifteen years old, and this was quite an experience for me. I had previously only been to R&B shows in smaller venues, and I wasn't quite sure of what to expect at a rock concert. Needless to say, I was a bit overwhelmed, at first, by the huge crowd (about 20,000 people), the sheer loudness of the music, and the ever-present smell of a certain illegal substance that was seemingly being smoked by about half the crowd.
A couple of things still stand out about that night. Unfortunately, the music is not really one of them. George's voice was pretty shot, ravaged, I believe he himself later admitted, by incessant smoking. (Fortunately, his voice would come back to him, and many more hits would follow. But he only toured one more time, in the early '90s, in Japan.)
What really stood out was the sense of anticipation before the show, and the excitement that flowed through the crowd when George appeared. Everyone stood up, cheering, and straining to get a better view. "There he is!," you could here people exclaim. "Oh my God," I thought. "It's a Beatle!"
The Beatles had only broken up four years before, and George was only 31 at the time of the concert, but The Beatles Legend was already becoming firmly entrenched in our pop culture consciousness. At this point all four former Beatles were enjoying successful solo careers. Although fans were forever hopeful, it seemed unlikely that we'd ever see the four of them perform together again. And as the spontaneity of the '60s' music scene began to give way to the bland, unimaginative pop-rock of the mid-seventies, some began to appreciate the Beatles' musical accomplishments in a whole new way: in their entirety, with a beginning, middle, and end to their musical output.
The Beatles legend may have consumed some of the fans and much of the media, but it did not consume George Harrison. He lived his life pretty much as he wanted to and as he saw fit. He indulged his passions for car racing and gardening. He spent most of his time with his loving wife, Olivia, who quite literally saved his life two years ago when George was attacked and stabbed by an intruder at their home. He loved and raised his son, Dhani, sheltering him from the public eye until only these last few years, as Dhani has reached adulthood.
And, of course, he gave us his music, as he saw fit. Although George released eight studio albums of new material between 1970 and 1982, his last all-new studio album came out way back in 1987. Yet George's musical output is so rich and so varied, full of honesty, humor, and hope. Of course, not every song-indeed, not every album-was a gem, but several of his albums are wholly solid affairs, fully equal to or better than the efforts by his former band mates or other contemporaries. "All Things Must Pass", his 1970 release, is especially superb. [See "Tony Recommends", below.]
George's passing is very sad, and one wishes he could have enjoyed a longer life, because he was one of the few people who seemed to "get" what life is really all about. I am heartened by the fact that George was a deeply spiritual man, and although I'm sure he didn't want to die, it seems he was not afraid of death, and was accepting of it.
In the end, I am truly touched by the fact that while we cared very much for him, he seemed to care for us, too. One of his final public statements was issued just a couple of months ago, as rumors began to spread that he may be near death. "I'm feeling fine," he said, not really denying that he was very sick. And then he said to his fans: "Please don't worry."
And we shouldn't. We should cherish the memories, like I cherish the memory of that first rock concert. Our sadness, in time, will pass. George himself assured us of that, thirty-one years ago: "It's not always going to be this gray," he wrote. "All things must pass, all things must pass away."
Looking for music by George Harrison? Unfortunately, most of George's output from 1976 and afterwards is not currently available on CD. George owned the rights to the recordings, and was in the process of systematically re-mastering and re-releasing them. Let's hope his family, in time, will continue that project. In the meantime, George was able to finish and re-release "All Things Must Pass," his stellar 1970 album. The new version is excellent, and sounds better than ever. The double-CD "Concert for Bangladesh" is reportedly due out soon. Of the other albums available, "Living in the Material World" has it's charms, but is uneven. When his other albums eventually return to the market, pick up "33 and 1/3rd," "George Harrison," "Cloud Nine," "Best of Dark Horse," and "Traveling Wilburys Vol. One".
Good Morning America's weather forecaster, Tony Perkins, is also an avid music fan and an expert on pop music. He has interviewed Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and Ringo Starr, among others on GMA.