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He gave the Beatles their substance, sound


HADDONFIELD, N.J. -- Within a year of the Beatles' breakup, George Harrison used his pop star status to engineer a relief benefit and subsequent album whose proceeds ameliorated the human tragedy of millions dying of starvation and cholera in war-ravaged Bangladesh (East Pakistan).

Thus it became evident that Mr. Harrison was the man of substance, the man of ideas and spirituality behind the Beatles.

He was more than just another pop musician in the cultural phenomenon known as the Fab Four. His dedication to counterculture initiatives was obviously driven by true egalitarian hope rather than solipsistic needs.

Now that Mr. Harrison has died at the young age of 58, what will be his legacy? A reputation that was trivialized musically by his former, flamboyant bandmates, who marginalized his reserved manner into a background role?

Ironically, it was George's interests that made the Beatles' evolving sound so distinctive, their cultural impact so intense. For George, the music was important only if it helped in a search for consciousness.

Upon discovering transcendental meditation and Indian philosophy, he added these elements to his music and concomitantly Easternized Western culture. He added to rock 'n' roll the ethereal drone of a sitar, the subterranean rumbling of a timbale drum and the exotic tempos and time signatures of Indian ragas to create an exotic undercurrent of melody that made time stand still.

Instead of screaming rock anthems, teen-agers retired to darkened apartments illuminated by blue lights and wafting clouds of incense where they listened to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in one long meditative drone. They reveled in how thematically the songs moved from romantic love to sharing to running away from home to growing old. But ultimately it didn't really matter unless you looked Within You Without You, as George's profound addition informed us.

George felt musically that the Beatles were not a defining moment for him. He set out to prove his case in a series of great bands and a lifelong collaboration with Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitar master.

And now that George has passed on -- moved upward on the Hindu Wheel of Life, as his reincarnation beliefs taught him -- I imagine him reborn, possibly emerging from a chrysalis, an extraordinarily beautiful butterfly.

Or perhaps he's pierced through Maya, the Hindu veil of illusion known as the material world, and exists on a higher plane, as pure spirit within the Music of the Spheres, his song going on forever, beyond time.


Thomas Belton is a free-lance writer who lives in Haddonfield, N.J.

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