Beautiful last public performance by beautiful George Harrison
[George Harrison]: “…I get confused when I look around at the world, and I see everybody’s running around, and you know, as Bob Dylan said, ‘He not busy being born is busy dying.’ And yet, nobody’s trying to figure out what’s the cause of death, and what happens when you die. I mean that, to me, is the only thing that’s of any importance. The rest is all secondary.”
Host: That was the great George Harrison during a surprise visit he made to VH1 in 1997. And that was a day that I will never, ever forget. George came by the studio with Ravi Shankar to promote Ravi’s album, Chants of India, which George had produced and played on.
…It was truly a magical afternoon. And it ended up being George Harrison’s last public performance.
We wanna give you a chance to hear some of the remarkable conversations George shared with us that day. And you’ll see as he got more comfortable he talked about the Beatles, the Maharishi, …and so much more. People like to call George Harrison the Quiet Beatle, but I’ll tell you, when he opened up, he was one of the smartest, most interesting, and funniest people it was ever my honor to meet.
George: It may sound like a lofty thing to say on VH1, but basically: What are we doing on this planet? And I think through the Beatle experience that we’d had, we’d grown so many years within such a short period of time, and had experienced so many things, and had met so many people. But I’d realized, there was nothing, actually, that was giving me a buzz anymore.
I wanted something better. I remember thinking, ‘I’d love to meet someone who will really impress me.’ I don’t mean because, somebody like, you know, Burt Lancaster, ’cause he was in a movie. I mean, I met Burt Lancaster, and he impressed me on that level. But I meant somebody who could really impress me. And that’s when I met Ravi [Shankar]. Which was funny, because he’s this little fella, with an obscure instrument [sitar], from our point of view. And yet it led me into such depths. And I think, that was, that’s the most important thing. It still is for me.
You know, I get confused when I look around at the world, and I see everybody’s running around. And you know, as Bob Dylan said, ‘He not busy being born is busy dying.‘ And yet, nobody’s trying to figure out what’s the cause of death? and what happens when you die? I mean, that to me, is the only thing, really, that’s of any importance. The rest is all secondary.
Host: Do you think, in part, musicians are afraid to deal with subjects that are so big? Or it just doesn’t occur to them? Or do people think, ‘it’s not commercial enough, who wants to talk about life itself?’ ?”
George: I don’t know what anybody else thinks. And, you know, as the years have gone by, I seem to have found myself more and more out on a limb as far as, you know, that kind of thing goes. I mean, even close friends of mine, you know, they maybe don’t want to talk about it because maybe they don’t understand it. But I believe in the thing that I read years ago, which I think was in the Bible. It said, “Knock, and the door will be opened.”
And it’s true. If you want to know anything in this life, you just have to knock on the door, whether that be physically on somebody else’s door and ask them a question. Or — which I was lucky to find, — is the meditation. You know, it’s all within.
Because, if you think about it, — the whole of creation is perfect. You know? there is nothing that goes wrong with Nature. Only what man does, then it goes wrong.
But we are made of that Thing, the very essence of our being, of every atom in our body, is made from this perfect knowledge, this perfect consciousness. But superimposed on that is, — if I can use the word, — the tidal wave of bullshit that goes through the world. So, we’re being barraged by, you know, by bullshit.
But not only that, the way the world is structured, or the way creation is structured, we have duality, which says: yes/no; good/bad; loss/gain; birth/death. And it’s this circle that you get trapped in. It’s like, “The Memphis Blues Again” [Dylan song]. And that’s the hardest thing to understand. What is causing both of these things? What’s causing day and night, good and bad? It’s all the cause, and this is the effect.
So, I mean, we’re gettin’ really transcendental here. But, to say that our physical being is really, on a very, very subtle level, it’s just like the sap in a tree. In a tree is the sap, and it runs throughout all the parts of the tree. Now, it’s like that: our bodies are manifesting into physical bodies, but the cause, the sap, is pure consciousness, pure awareness. And that is perfect, and perfect knowledge. But we have to tap into that to understand it.
And that’s really why, for me, why this record [Chants of India, by Ravi Shankar] is important. Because it’s another little key to open up ‘the within’ for each individual to be able to sit and to turn off: …‘turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream’ ” [quoting Beatles song from decades earlier, before they all learned to meditate].
Host: Ravi, you said a very beautiful thing a couple of years back in an interview. They asked you what it was like for you to become a big rock star, quote, unquote, a big pop star, as it were. And I recall you saying it was easier for you because you were older at the time, as opposed to George who was in his early twenties when it happened.
Do you think, George, that that may be a reason why you found a search for something deeper in life?
I think about you embracing Eastern philosophy. I think about Dylan becoming born again.* Do you think it drove you to search for something deeper? Because you were worshiped by millions. And why do you think that it drove you to search for something deeper. As opposed to Elvis, who had a hard time handling it?
* [Bob Dylan also learned Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation technique.]
George: Actually, Elvis, I think, looked for something deeper, too.**
** [Elvis, though addicted to various drugs, was also interested in various forms of meditative spirituality. See the book, The Tao of Elvis.]
Host: Yeah, he did…
George: Because I know that he was, at different times, he was involved with different organizations.
I mean, it was sad about Elvis. I think, compared to the Beatles, Elvis, I always saw the problem for him was, that he was the only one who had that experience. Because, like hippies, you know? So it takes more people to have that, to share the experience. I mean, the four of us all experienced the thing, and in a way we gained strength and supported each other in the turmoil.
But, yeah, I think fame is a good thing, in terms of giving you a heightened experience, or at least more experience, and…But then, it’s what you do with that, or what that uncovers.
I think, for me, you know, as I say, I realized I wanted, you know, I just want more. ‘This isn’t it. This isn’t it.’ You know, fame is not the goal. Money, you know, although money’s nice to have — it can buy you a bit of freedom, you know; you can go to the Bahamas when you want, — but, it doesn’t… It’s not the answer.
And the answer, you know, is how to get peace of mind. And how to be happy. That’s really what we’re supposed to be here for.
And the difficult thing is that, we all go through our lives and through our days, and we don’t experience bliss.
And, you know, it’s a very subtle thing. And to experience that, and to be able to know how to do that, is something you don’t just stumble across, you’ve got to search for it.
Host: Did you experience bliss on stage, when in the studio, in a way, when performing? Did it put you in touch with that bliss?
George: Well, we had happiness at times, and uh…But, you know, not the kind of bliss I mean, where, like, every atom of your body is just buzzing, you know? Because it’s, again, it’s beyond the mind. It’s like, you know, it’s when there’s no thought involved.
And that, I mean, it’s a pretty tricky thing to try to get to that stage. Because it means controlling the mind, and being able to transcend the relative states of consciousness — waking, sleeping, dreaming, — which is all we really know. Ah, but there is another state, that goes beyond all that. And it’s in that state, that’s where the bliss and the knowledge that’s available, is.
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Host: I know the one benefit concert that you’ve done in England, in the past couple of twenty years or so, was for the Natural Law Party, back in ’92, I believe. What brought that about?
George: Well, it was, — one of the things that made it easier was, I’d just done a tour of Japan with Eric Clapton’s band. So I was kinda up to speed with the songs that I was doing. And I had, the band was there that knew all the material. But that was, — I think there was a general election going on.
And as far as I’m concerned, whichever, — you know, there’s Neil Innes, from the Ruttles, he wrote a song once, and he said,“No matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in.” And it’s like that, you know. In England, you always get, — as far as I was concerned, the Left, the Center, and the Right, they’re all really the same. They’re all different shades of the same greyness.
And, although it was a long shot, you know, Maharishi tried to get these people to form together into a party which would be called the Natural Law Party, which was,—
Host: The same Maharishi Mahesh Yogi?
George: —Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. And the idea behind it, really, is to have consciousness as the basic thing. Because if — really, you know, we get in government, or we get in any situation in life, we get the reflection of our own consciousness, — we can’t really complain about what we have because that is us.
It’s a reflection of our own being.
Now, if we could have people who are actually conscious in a spiritual sense, then all the underlying problems to society… — I mean, it wouldn’t be able to change just overnight, but over a generation, or two generations, you could have things where, for instance, say in England, and I’m sure it’s the same here, you get disease. So you’ve got a lot of expenditure on hospitals, and on fixin’ up people who have disease.
Now, the problem is, that most doctors, they study disease; they don’t know about health. So you’d need to re-program stuff so that you teach people about how to be healthy. That way, you don’t spend so much money on disease. You’d have, people would be healthier. You wouldn’t have such a requirement for these various things that take up all the money. You’d be able to use that money for something else.
So, the natural law that operates on this planet, or in the universe, everything, as I said earlier, everything works in a perfect order. And there’s a scheme to things which has a certain intelligence that drives it and that makes everything work. Now, if we as individuals could go to that level of consciousness where we can bring it into our being, and, as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi once said, “For a forest to be green, each tree must be green.” So it’s no use just one or two people being like this. You’d have to make the whole of society, if they had that understanding… And that’s what I think, really, you have to school people. Right from being children, teach people about their health, about their bodies, about consciousness. Because it’s all to do with consciousness.
Raise the level of consciousness, and then everything automatically becomes better.
Host: You think it can happen, or do you think people are totally on auto-pilot too much?
George: It can happen, but it’s something which will take a long, long time, generations of people.
I mean if you look now, just through, say, from the 60s, or the 50s, there’s a lot more people, thanks to, say, Indian music, thanks to rock ‘n’ roll music, who have got much more understanding. You go out there on the street now, you can find Indian spice shops, Indian restaurants, and places to go for yoga, for meditation. There’s a much higher awareness, generally, on those kinds of things. And so it is seeping through. I mean, where did all the really good hippies go, when they all dropped out?
Host: They’re driving Volvos, George!
George: — Well, I don’t think all of them. I think a lot of them are, you know, have brought up, there’s probably two generations of kids now, who are much more open to that type of consciousness. And they’ve been brought up by, you know, being vegetarian, or whatever, that helps the society become, you know, much more balanced. That’s, it’s all to do with the balance. You know, we’ve got too much extreme goin’ on.
Host: You’re optimistic?
George: Well. You have to be optimistic. Yeah, you know…
Host: I…me, too…I just… You know, it’s so funny, when you talk to people, it’s down the middle: those who think it’s getting better, those who think it’s getting worse, and those who think it’s reflected in the music in all cases…
George: It is getting better, and worse. Because that’s the nature of relativity. You know: good and bad, good and bad. But the individual, you know, if the individual gets on that consciousness, then it doesn’t matter. Because, in a way, you can retain the balance between the good and bad. You know, because really, good and bad are the same. They are. It’s the same sort of thing. So it’s like, in the middle is the safe half….