Something Forever

- Chapter 2 Part 2/5 -

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Ravi Shankar bring us George!

Before we step more deeply into the swinging sixties, I would like to do a a recap of the events of late, of that which caused it all. We remember the 29th August 1966, the last official life concert of the Beatles in San Francisco, Candlestick Park, after 15 exhausting concerts the Beatles were convinced that it was time to quit this mass hysteria caused by their live concerts. Because long-since there was no sound to be heard for themselves, and the shows drowned in a fan wall of sound.

30th August flight of the Beatles via New York to London. On this trip, George Harrison said to Tony Barrow, the press spokesman for the Beatles, "That's it for me. I'm not a Beatle any more." This officially ended the tournee years for the Beatles!

On 5th September, after all had decided to take a break, John Lennon began to do his outdoor filming in Germany for the anti-war film "HOW I WON THE WAR". John traveled to Celle in Lower Saxony, where parts of the movie should be filmed. He plays the Corporal Gripweed, had his hair cut short and began to wear wire-rimmed glasses, army standard-glasses which where commonplace in the second world war. By the way, my father, the old Fritz, also has left such wire-rimmed glasses from his days in the army, which I received and could use only after his death. These glasses should be the new flagship for John now. During shooting breaks, as it is delivered, John Lennon wrote his song, Strawberry Fields Forever.

("Strawberry Fields Forever" /YouTube)

According to a report by Neil Spencer, the true start to the east for Sir George so already started on 14th September 1966, " because when he boarded the plane to Bombay, he had previously got himself a short haircut and a beard. The beard was not only covering, no, it was also hip and new, as on the last records "Revolver" and "Rubber Soul" none of the Beatles had a beard. So no one in faraway India would recognize him, it was thought. George suffered a bit from the fact that in Europe he simply could not run around on the street because of his fame as a Beatle. Isn't it a pity that a bellhop in Taj Mahal Hotel recognized the Beatle in spite of his outfit, and faster than a indian motor Riksha the news spread throughout Bombay. Within hours, Bombay experienced its own renewed outbreak of Beatlemania. Thousands of teenagers laid siege to the Edwardian castle walls of the hotel and shouted, "George, George, Ravi Shankar bring us George!".

In the suites of the musicians the phone constantly rang. A caller even posed as Mrs. Shankar and asked for George. When Mr. Shankar took the call, she changed her mind. After a few days and ineffectual attempts to put the fans off, one thing was clear, like Ravi Shankar summarized: "I could not teach, George could not practice."
At a hastily convened press conference on 19th September at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Apollo Bunder, Mumbai, the classic star said that George had come "not as a Beatle" to India, but "as my student". He asked to be allowed to work in peace. "Not as a Beatle!" With strong echoes these words might have worked in George Harrison's ears. He literally longed to escape from the Beatles golden cage. His threat to leave the band already had accomplished that the Beatles didn't go on tour any more. In the next six weeks the 24-year-old George would discover what it is like to be no Beatle. The first time since 1960, he experienced himself as a true individual. Whether away at the foot of the Himalayas or in the midst of a dusty, bustling India - George Harrison discovered himself new. This visit to India should not only have influence on Harrison's life and the future career of the Beatles, but also to the Western pop culture for decades to come."

"But first, it was India's turn, and it descended upon the young Harrison with unexpected violence, after he and Ravi had moved to a quieter suburb of Bombay. After years of living in guarded hotel rooms and big shot neighbourhoods, apparently an overwhelming experience. "It's unbelievable. When you go down the street, you see moving buses, taxis, people on bicycles, in between chickens and cows. A guy in business suit with briefcase beside an old Sanyasi with saffron-colored cloak. All mixed. An incredible place, bombarding your senses with its layers of sounds, colors and noises", Sir George later told in his memoirs. "I felt transported back in time. For the first time I had the feeling to be no Beatle, not just a mere number any more."

(George und Ravis Sitar-Lesson at YouTube)

"Ravi's sitar hours proved to be hard work. "It was the first time that I approached the music with a little discipline." George said, tedious practicing scales was indicated, as plenty of yoga, to be able to keep the unwieldy sitar in the correct position, and to spend many hours cross-legged without getting tired. Most lessons were not given by Ravi Shankar in person, but by his first officer called Shambu das, to whom Sir George soon had a close relationship. Above all, the yogis kept him busy:
"There are stories about men who are hundreds of years old, about yogis who control the levitation, and about saints that can bury themselves and live for weeks. I wanted to see iit all with my own eyes." His host took him to the ancient temple city of Benares, in which thousands of holy men had gathered for the Ramila festival. "Different groups of people, many of them singing, an incredible mix. A Maharaja, kicking the the dust up when he came riding on the back of an elephant. Pretty exciting for me." After visiting the temple, other sitar exercises followed.

George Harrison, Ravi Shankar and his students lived at first in the holy city of Rishikesh, later in the airy heights of Kashmir on a house boat that was on a lake in the Himalayas. An idyll to which Sir George recalled warmly 30 years later. "They woke us before dawn, brought us tea and biscuits, I saw boats passing which where drawing floating gardens, and heard Ravi doing his morning exercises the next door, it was a very privileged position." Meanwhile Shankar not only was musical guru for Sir George, but also spiritual teacher. After all, music is divine in the Hindu faith. How the world should know soon, George Harrison had found God. What had been indicated to him and John Lennon during their LSD trip (the "dental experience," as their inside joke), suddently seemed to make sense!

When Sir George and Patti returned to London in late October 1966, he was completely changed. A concentrated musician had become of him, who in the coming years should hardly take the guitar and instead should devote himself to the study of the sitar. Great songs just came out of him - from now on, he always had more material than could be placed on the new Beatles albums. Not least, India told George Harrison about his identity. But it was not only India, the music and his awakening enthusiasm for religion and philosophy. Now he knew what it is like to be no Beatle, and here he was ahead of the others.

In retrospect, it appeared to Sir George as he just followed a track on his way to India. The plot of their movie "Help" - a parody air show or an early comic-culturelike story about violent followers of the dark goddess Kali, chasing a magic ring - earned him the first encounter with a sitar. Neil Spencer recalls, "Richard Lester then undertook Indian musicians for a restaurant scene. Soon came the shaky final part of "Norwegian Wood", played on a tourist sitar, which he had bought at "India Craft" on Oxford Street. Then came the book. When George on the set of "help" celebrated his 22nd Birthday, unexpectedly an Indian pulled up on his bike and pushed each Beatle an Indian religious book in their hands. No one did more than to eyeball it, but later for George Harrison it was a further hint that brought him to the right path. He was by far not the only one who heard the call of the East. And by the way things were going, the West was just there again to start the one of the regular love affairs with the subcontinent. Since Madame Blavatsky with the Theosophia Mystica had raised interest in Hinduism and Buddhism 200 years ago, Indian mysticism was a popular topic among Western intellectuals .!

This was followed by whole generations who dedicated themselves to the Oriental mysteries, including the writer and scholar William Butler Yeats, the psychedelic pioneer Aldous Huxley, shaman professor Dr. Timothy Leary and of course the fabulous beat Daddy Allen Ginsberg.

If you listen closely into those days, you could already perceive the Hare Krishna mantra along with bells, cymbals and drums from far New York, where Allan Ginsberg had become an enthusiastic supporter of the newly founded "Krishna consciousness". A movement that catched George Harrison a few years later. When the Beatles turned towards the East, all the others also did it. As always they had captured the coming mood first, and in wise precognition of the New Wave, Master Harrison already had composed a complete song for the sitar, namely "Love You to"!

(Beatles "Love You To" at YouTube)


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