Sunday, January 18, 2015

George Harrison Living in the Material World

There's high, and there's high, and to get really high - I mean so high that you can walk on the water, that high-that's where I'm going. - George Harrison

Illustrated life of George Harrison book coincides with Martin Scorsese documentary

Thousands of books, articles, and other works have been published about The Beatles. This is one of the very best: Harrison's widow, Olivia Harrison, has published the life of her late husband in pictures—Living in the Material World: George Harrison, named for Harrison's solo album of 1973.

Often referred to as "the quiet Beatle," George Harrison was an English musician, guitarist, singer-songwriter, actor and film producer who achieved international fame as lead guitarist of The Beatles. Following the band's break-up, he was a successful solo artist, later a founding member of the Traveling Wilburys. Harrison was also a session musician and a film and record producer. He is featured in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll: The Definitive History of the Most Important Artists and Their Music.

Most of The Beatles' songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. However, Beatle albums from With The Beatles onwards generally included one or two of Harrison's own works. His later compositions with The Beatles include "Here Comes the Sun," "Something" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".

By the time of the band's break-up, Harrison had accumulated a backlog of material, which he then released as the triple album All Things Must Pass in 1970, from which two hit singles originated: a double A-side single, "My Sweet Lord" backed with "Isn't It a Pity", and "What Is Life". In addition to his solo work, Harrison co-wrote two hits for former Beatle Ringo Starr, as well as songs for the Traveling Wilburys—the supergroup he formed in 1988 with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison.

Living in the Material World was edited by Mark Holborn, distinguished editor of illustrated books, who has worked with numerous photographers and artists, from Annie Leibovitz to Lucian Freud. There is a foreword by Martin Scorsese and an introduction by Paul Theroux. The work was published this September to coincide with the release of Martin Scorsese's documentary of the same name.

Living in the Material World draws on Harrison's personal archive of never-before-seen photographs, letters, diaries, and memorabilia to reveal the full arc of his life, including his guitar-obsessed boyhood in Liverpool, the astonishment of the Beatles years—illustrated with George's own photographs—and his days as a solo musician and bohemian country squire.

Here too is the record of Harrison’s lifelong commitment to Indian music, which he introduced to the other Beatles, as well as their Western audience. His adventures as a movie producer, Traveling Wilbury, and Formula One racing fan are also chronicled. The book is filled with stories and reminiscences from Harrison’s friends, including Eric Clapton, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and many, many others. Among its previously unpublished riches are photographs taken by Harrison himself beginning in the mid-1960s. It is a rich tribute to a man who died far too young, but who touched the lives of millions.


“The four-hundred-page book is filled with reproductions of notes, letters, scribbled lyrics, and some never-before-seen photographs. How many Beatles fans are out there? And how many ‘liked George’? Quite a few, it may turn out: the book debuts at number 24 on our extended nonfiction bestseller list this week, in its first week on sale.”
Publishers Weekly

Olivia Harrison has been very generous in putting together this exquisite book. She includes a huge number of personal photos of George in non-public settings: very early Harrison family photos, from his 1963 trip to the US, at Friar Park, in India. There are early photos from The Cavern and The Star Club and from Australia; and copies of correspondence including a wonderful letter from John Lennon to Mrs. Harrison from Hamburg. I ordered it immediately if not even sooner. I loved the photographs of 2-year-old George in the arms of his sister, Louise, then nearly 14. I had to smile at tween George sunning himself with family friends, father Harold Sr. and brother Peter, in or about 1954. I especially liked the picture of Louise and Harold Sr. at a dance in the late 1940s, a loving couple who welcomed George with that same love.

It was also a treat to read about various Harrison family members. From 1965-1969, Louise Harrison lent her voice to a column in a newsletter in a fan club newsletter honoring her son. Postcards George had written various friends and family members; sketches from his school workbooks all paint young George Harrison into sharper focus. As a bonus treat, readers enjoy the inclusion of quotes by various family members, such as George's sisters-in-law, brothers, fellow Beatles and various friends.

George's love for Eastern music led to a life-long bond with Ravi Shankar, whom he met in 1965. The friendship is beautifully chronicled. George's home Friar Park is also here, from its "evolution" to its finished state, metaphoric in that it parallels George's "evolution" to that of gardener, a passion he inherited from both Harold Sr. and Louise.

It is a safe bet that fans who read this will love seeing Harrison, then 12 astride a motorcycle labeled "43" (as in 1943, perhaps), a future Formula One enthusiast. The then-future Beatle would follow his love for "things fast," as he would later sing in his 1979 gem, "Faster." In 1963, Harrison, then 20, had a blast go-karting with his fellow Beatles, no doubt wishing his go-kart could be driven with a bit more speed.

"Harrison, the artist extraordinare, humble gardener, author, father, husband, son, brother, uncle, and complex iconic figure remained a boy at heart," One amazon reviewer writes.

One thing I've long wanted to explore was Harrison's Catholic roots. Louise French Harrison was Catholic and had George baptized when he was 1 month old. His Catholic roots remained with him for his entire life. He had a beautiful statue of Blessed Mother Mary on the grounds of Friar Park. While George explored Eastern religion and philosophy, he recognized that the precepts of all faiths are very similar.

Living in the Material World is a beautifully presented coffee table-sized book that runs to nearly 400 pages, a real treasure. The photos are stunning and very few have been seen before. It is amazing that, 48 years after the start of British Beatlemania, we can experience such a wealth of previously unseen, high quality material. Olivia Harrison has my heartfelt appreciation for sharing this labor of love with the fans.

Olivia Harrison is a producer and philanthropist. She has received a Grammy Award for her video of the 2002 Concert for George, which she organized to benefit the Material World Charitable Foundation in memory of her husband, George Harrison; and a UNICEF Spirit of Compassion Award in recognition of her family’s assistance to the children of Bangladesh.

Michael Jacobs, president and CEO of Abrams, the book's publisher, commented:
"This is a publishing event that George's fans all over the world have been waiting for. He was a touchstone for a generation, and we are thrilled to have been selected by Olivia Harrison to help bring this amazing and beautiful book about George's life to the public."

This is an essential book for George fans and Beatle fans. Very highly recommended.

"I want to tell you, my head is filled with things to say." - George Harrison, 1966

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