Tag Archives: Olivia Harrison

george_harrison_living_in_the_material_worldI think about George Harrison a lot after seeing the documentary Living in the Material World.

I was a Beatles fan as a tween, at a point when I collected music on cassette tapes, but it began earlier with my parents’ LPs. There was at least Meet the BeatlesSgt Pepper’s, and Yellow Submarine. When I was old enough to understand value, Dad explained with regret that he’d once owned an extensive collection of Beatles music on reel-to-reel but, in a moment of monetary need, he sold it. I did not remind him that his vinyl copy of Sgt Pepper’s was a 1967 original that included paper doll cut-outs of each Beatle, which I had played with and destroyed in my younger explorations of his records.

George was the understated Beatle, and it was easy to forget his point-of-view both within and without the Beatles. After his death, George’s second wife Olivia worked with Martin Scorsese to define and share his essence through existing material and new interviews. In this talk about the documentary, Scorsese explains his approach:

“Really there were long discussions about why I wanted to make the movie but it was really about him having everything in his life and still not being fulfilled…trying to find a meaning beyond that, some sort of spiritual transcendence in his life. This comes through many different ways…it has to come from the music. But primarily, ultimately, he’s going towards— as we all are— towards death. So this is how we talked about what the film should be from the very beginning, the beginning of that journey to the end of our lives.”

There is a point in the movie where George speaks, on old footage, about going to parties during the Beatles’ height. While he had access to the era’s gamut of artistic celebrities, he expressed general disappointment, saying “Nobody really impressed me.”

What resonates with me about this comment is that it was not coming from a common place of being bored and hoping to be entertained by other people. On the contrary, George had investigated and accessed an unrefined relationship with himself, and he sought to relate to others whose efforts came from a similarly observed place. His tone in saying “nobody really impressed me” was not arrogant; his tone was kind. And maybe even lonely. He wished everyone the best but didn’t see them finding it for themselves. That point in the documentary marks the realization that one can not rely on anyone else’s idea of experience. The only thing for George to do was to more acutely perceive his own experience. So he made it a priority to do that and, along the way he met Olivia who was special to him because she understood this. In one interview Olivia names this mode of operation: Preparing to not have a body. Preparing to die.