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In Memoriam: George Harrison

Remembering the Beatles' George Harrison, who died yesterday at age 58. Ray Suarez talks with Jim Henke, chief curator of the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    George Harrison once called himself the "economy- class Beatle." To others, he was the quietest member of the most famous foursome in rock 'n' roll history. Today in Harrison's hometown of Liverpool, fans turned out to remember the group's lead guitarist. Others turned up in Los Angeles and the part of Central Park called Strawberry Fields. His former colleagues and friends also paid tribute.

  • SPOKESMAN:

    He was very funny, as somebody said, talked a lot. He was full of enthusiasms and was quite cynical, I always thought, in a very funny way– skeptical.

  • MICHAEL PALIN, Actor:

    He had this inner energy which was there even if he was quite tired or whatever — there would be this tremendous energy. And he was a great talker, this man who was supposed to be the quiet Beatle, but never stopped talking when I was there.

  • BEATLES SINGING:

    Ooh I need your love babe guess you know it's true

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    A bus driver's son, Harrison took up the guitar early, befriending Liverpool's Paul McCartney. They joined Paul's friend John Lennon in a band called the Quarrymen, which later became the Beatles.

  • SPOKESMAN:

    Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles!

  • BEATLES SINGING:

    Close your eyes and I'll kiss you tomorrow I'll miss you remember I'll always be true…

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Beatlemania reached the states in February of 1964. More than 70 million Americans watched the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Harrison, on the guitar, was credited with providing the group's signature sound.

  • BEATLES SINGING:

    It's been a hard day's night and I've been working like a dog…

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    In the mid '60s, the Beatles made several movies and produced many of their 27 number one hits.

  • BEATLES SINGING:

    Something in the way she moves…

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    In the late '60s, Harrison wrote "Something." Frank Sinatra called it "the greatest love song ever." Known for his wit, Harrison helped fund the slapstick movie Monty Python's "Life of Brian." He once told an interviewer, "If you're going to be in a rock group, it might as well be the Beatles."

  • BEATLES SINGING:

    My sweet Lord, oh my Lord…

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    A year after the Beatles broke up in 1970, Harrison the solo artist topped the charts with "My Sweet Lord," a song reflecting Harrison's religious side. In 1971, Harrison organized the first megastar charity act, the concert for Bangladesh. Other events followed his lead years later.

  • HARRISON SINGING:

    Because you're a sweet and lovely girl it's true…

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Following an up-and- down solo career during the '70s and '80s, Harrison was more reclusive in the 1990s, but still making music. In recent years, Beatles music still topped the charts with the releases "Anthology" and "One." In 1997, Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer. In '99, he survived a stabbing at his mansion by a deranged man. Lung cancer struck two years later, and yesterday in Los Angeles, the quiet Beatle died at the home of a friend. He was 58. For more on the life and music of George Harrison, we're joined by Jim Henke, chief curator of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, and former music editor for "Rolling Stone" Magazine. Jim, what did George Harrison bring to this group of four individuals that… Where everybody was bringing something to the table? What was his contribution?

  • JIM HENKE:

    I think, you know, first off, as a guitar player, he really was an accomplished guitarist, and he was very influenced by Carl Perkins and a lot of the rockabilly artists from the '50s, and so he brought a great guitar sense, a great rock 'n' roll sense. And then as the group developed, he also proved to be very adventurous. He was the one that really got into eastern religions and Indian music, and brought the sitar, the Indian instrument, to the Beatles, and played it on songs like "Norwegian Wood," and really, I think, started expanding their music in directions that rock 'n' roll had never gone.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    So it made a Beatles song sound different from what you heard on the run of Top 40 Radio in 1966.

  • JIM HENKE:

    Yeah, absolutely. And he, like I say, George, you know, often is looked at as the quiet Beatle, the one who was sort of in the background, but I think– particularly from, like, '66 on or so– he really did play a role in the changes that they went through in that period, and obviously all the things they were doing during that period really influenced the society at large.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    You mentioned that he was interested in eastern religion and so on. He famously brought the Beatles to India, but it's hard for us to remember, did Americans hear much Indian music or see much in the way of Indian culture before that?

  • JIM HENKE:

    I don't… You know, I don't think they did, and I think certainly not, you know, popular music didn't really have much to do with it, or didn't really incorporate much of that. And I think, you know, it really was Harrison's interest in that, and he really brought, you know, made Ravi Shankar an international star, and, you know, like I say, took rock 'n' roll, which had always been influenced by the blues or rockabilly or pretty traditional things, suddenly had these odd influences that George was really out there in the front of bringing them about.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Let's talk about George Harrison a little bit as a songwriter. I mean, it must have been tough to be hanging around with two of the greatest popular songwriters of the last half century and shine out yourself, but he wrote some pretty big songs, didn't he?

  • JIM HENKE:

    Yeah, he did, and I think in the beginning he definitely was, as the youngest member of the band, and he, like you say, had John Lennon and Paul McCartney to compete with, and I think it was tough for him. But he wrote "Tax Man" and some other songs early on, but then as the… Again, once the group progressed, and I think once they stopped touring and really became more of a studio outfit, George took a bigger role. He of course, wrote the song "Something" that was, you know, one of probably the most covered Beatles songs, you know, played by other artists, so he did become quite an accomplished songwriter. And then after the Beatles broke up, his first solo recording, "All Things Must Pass," was a three-album set that really, I guess, you know, everything that he had pent up inside and built up there, he suddenly unleashed this. And it's one of the, if not the best, one of the best albums, solo albums, that a member of the Beatles made.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    I remember when the Beatles broke up, all that attention on Yoko Ono and on the relationship between Paul McCartney and John Lennon. But it sounds in the interviews that he gave after, that George Harrison wasn't exactly the happiest guy in the Beatles either, in those last stages.

  • JIM HENKE:

    No, I think, you know, and I think in fact at one point he sort of walked out of one of the sessions and said that he was leaving, and then he ultimately came back in. But I think there was a lot of dissatisfaction in those days, in particular, I think, with George, because he was starting to become more creative artistically and even with that, there was still, you know, if he got one or two songs on the album, he was doing good, and I think he was very frustrated by that. And then the friction that was existing in the group between John and Paul. I think it wasn't a real happy time for any of them. Plus, I think George always had a little bit of difficulty dealing with the acclaim that the Beatles got, and how… Just sort of how much they were in the public eye. I don't think that's something he was that comfortable with ever in his life.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    He was quoted recently jokingly saying, "I guess we were the Spice Boys." But they were something much more significant than that, just a pop group.

  • JIM HENKE:

    Yeah, and I think that's certainly something nowadays people don't… It's hard to make a comparison, because the bands that are big now, you know, are not the same as what it was like when the Beatles came about. You have to remember, it was in the wake of President Kennedy's death and the country was sort of in an odd state, you know, not unlike what things are like today, and suddenly here are these four guys from England come over and they've got their, you know, long hair and they're very witty and charming and making this wonderful pop music, and they really just became a sensation. But you know, the way they dressed, the way they… You know, everything they thought about. I mean, they really became a huge influence on culture and on our society, and it was a much different thing than the Spice Girls or the Backstreet Boys or something like that. I mean, they really had an impact that's hard to imagine nowadays.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Is it even possible to be that big today, given the way the music business is divided up into so many genres and sub-genres and there's no real top 40 radio anymore?

  • JIM HENKE:

    Yeah, I think it would be very tough for a band to come about and have that kind of overall impact that the Beatles had. I mean, it's… Just everything's very much… The demographics– what group is this band going to appeal to, or what group is that band going to appeal to?– And radio's very split up. MTV, to a certain extent, you get a little bit more of that, and they do show a variety of things, but I think it would be very tough. You know, it's a different time, too. It was much more… I guess, much more innocent, and like I say, things weren't as marketing directed as they are now and all that, and I think… You know, who knows? It could happen, but I haven't really seen it since the Beatles.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Toward the end of his life, George Harrison was quoted expressing great pleasure at how much the music was still being listened to, especially by young people today.

  • JIM HENKE:

    I think that's one of the amazing things, and we know last year when the Beatles greatest hits album, the number "one" album, came out, a lot of kids got into that, including my own son. I had a seven-year-old son who suddenly was into the Beatles. And it's just one of those things that seems to be passed down from generation to generation, you know. It's something that when you have little kids, you play them the Beatles and everyone seems to be interested in that. And to me it just comes down to that it was great music, that the songs really do hold up, and you can listen to them, you know, 30 years after the fact or whatever and they still sound tremendous, and it does seem to just get passed down from generation to generation.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Jim Henke at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, thanks a lot.

  • JIM HENKE:

    Thank you.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And we close tonight with some music by George Harrison. Here is Harrison alone on "For You Blue," followed by with the Beatles together singing "Here Comes the Sun." ( Bouncy music playing )

  • GEORGE HARRISON SINGING:

    Because you're sweet and lovely girl I love you because you're sweet and lovely girl it's true I love you more than ever girl I do I want you in the morning girl I love you I want you at the moment I feel blue

  • BEATLES:

    I'm living every moment girl for you little darling I feel that ice is slowly melting little darling it seems like years since it's been clear here comes the sun here comes the sun and I say it's all right here comes the sun here comes the sun it's all right it's all right it's all right…