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COLUMN SIXTY-SEVEN, JANUARY 1, 2002
(Copyright 2002 Al Aronowitz)

TRIBUTE

(Copyright Paul McDonald 2001)

During the sixties when I was growing up in the conservative Southern Baptist culture of Paducah, Kentucky, rock and roll music, especially Beatles music was the barometer by which the world's depravity was measured. According to the whispers I heard in the back pews of church, the Beatles claimed to be greater than Jesus, the first letters of their songs were acronyms for LSD, and they had secret messages embedded in their records that you had to play backwards to hear.

In the seventies I moved with my family to Birmingham, Alabama where, despite my parents best efforts, I became a non-repentant rock and roll addict.  By then George Harrison had just released his solo album All Things Must Pass and I couldn't understand why people in church weren't embracing music that was a far cry from the legendary backward drug references.  Then, one Sunday evening a Christian folksinger pulled out his guitar and played My Sweet Lord as three young ladies sang "Hallelujah" and "Hare Krishna" in the background.  The significance of the moment went over the heads of most people, but I was awestruck that George Harrison of all people was having his music played in a Baptist Church in the Deep South.  I kept the church bulletin as a souvenir.

As I got older, my spiritual horizons broadened, and I eventually embraced some of the mystical traditions of India.  I re-acquainted myself with George Harrison's work and found a man who obviously didn't care about demographics and dared to ask questions that matter.  Why are we here? What is the purpose of life?  How can I know God?  During the illness and death of a dear friend I sought comfort in the music of George's earlier group and I discovered something totally unexpected.  John and Paul wrote songs about childhood, like Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and In My Life. George composed melodic love songs like Something and a song of enduring optimism called Here Comes the Sun. I began to realize that the Beatles were actually as wholesome as the Osmond Brothers.

In 1999 George gave an interview to Billboard Magazine where he mentioned how much it meant to him when he received a letter from an 84-year-old woman telling him that My Sweet Lord had changed her life.  I thought for a moment and then wrote George a letter thanking him for his music and for sharing his spirituality with the world.  A few months letter, an orange envelope arrived at my apartment.  On the back was stamped "The Office of George Harrison."  Inside was a poem titled Why Meditate and a small lapel pin inscribed with the Om symbol.

This past Friday I woke up to the news that George Harrison had succumbed to cancer.  While his death was not unexpected and I am deeply saddened at his loss, I have to admit a certain sense of fulfillment.  For George Harrison and all those he touched, death is not the end, but part of the conscious journey to know God.  And for that understanding I will always be grateful.  ##

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