Timely biography of the recently deceased former Beatle.
Shapiro (Carlos Santana, not reviewed, etc.) makes the case for George Harrison (1943–2001), the so-called “Quiet Beatle,” as the most iconoclastic and unconventional of the Fab Four. As an ambitious young rocker, Harrision was disillusioned by the hype machine (“All that big hassle to make it, only to end up as performing fleas”) and unnerved by the group’s chaotic tours, especially the threats made against them. As the Beatles embraced the psychedelic era with the epochal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the other members followed George’s lead in exploring transcendental meditation, Eastern music, and hallucinogenic drugs. But Beatle albums scanted his songs in favor of Lennon-McCartney contributions; his bitterness over this issue and his desire for a more private domestic life estranged Harrison from the band well before their 1970 breakup. His first solo project, the triple LP All Things Must Pass, was an improbable chart-topper, while his social concerns inspired the benefit Concert for Bangladesh. Later albums like Gone Troppo were less well received, leading Harrison into financial and contractual disputes. His life in the 1970s and ’80s was a strange mix of excess, spirituality, and gardening. Harrison used drugs and alcohol extensively but avoided the heroin addiction of friends like Eric Clapton, while his dedication to Krishna consciousness led him to both bombastic religious advocacy and incongruous equanimity regarding the long-term affair of Clapton and Harrison’s wife Patti, who inspired Clapton’s song “Layla.” Following the murder of John Lennon in 1980, Harrison further obsessed over his privacy and security, yet in 1999, he was stabbed by a deranged fan in his own home. Forthcoming about his subject’s personal and musical missteps, Shapiro remains reverent overall—ironically so, given Harrison’s own cynicism toward celebrity and the Beatles industry.
Hardcore fans already know this territory, but baby-boomer readers in general will enjoy Shapiro’s nostalgic look back at the Underrated Beatle.