George Harrison, our yin-yang king of rock and roll, the dark horse who searched for the inner light, proved in many respects the hardest of the Beatles to figure out. So it's fitting, like an old brown shoe, that fans aren't quite sure exactly when to commemorate what would have been his 70th birthday.
For much of his life, Harrison believed he was born on Feb. 25, 1943. The Beatles were long over when it emerged that he arrived late on Feb. 24 that year.
There’s no such confusion, though, over how much fans miss him, even if the milestone hasn’t generated a Beatle-sized hoopla. The 70th birthday of the so-called “Quiet Beatle” is something to shout about.
The notion that the youngest Beatle would be a septuagenarian if he were still with us is enough to make even those of us who weren’t born when Harrison and his band mates first played the “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964 feel old. Then again, the memories and music he created with and without John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr remain a constant force of renewal – an inter-generational fountain of youth deep enough to accommodate a fleet of Yellow Submarines.
A wide audience got a glimpse of just how deep perhaps the least celebrated of the Beatles was with Martin Scorsese’s great 2011 HBO documentary, “George Harrison: Living in the Material World.” Scorsese came closest of any chronicler to capturing the elusive essence of the uncommonly talented and deceivingly complex musician, who died in 2001 at age 58.
Harrison indulged in off-stage excesses during the height of Beatlemania, but became intensely spiritual, embarking on a personal and public journey that merged East and West. He enjoyed the perks of fame, but eventually turned intensely private. He possessed a strong of sense humor – he was a pal and producer to the Monty Python crew – but could be preachy at times (even if he couched lyrics like “Chanting the names of the lord will make you free” in a masterful pop tune like “Awaiting on You All”).
Long overshadowed by the dual genius of Lennon and McCartney, he ultimately produced songs (“While my Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Something”) as strong as theirs in the group’s final years, which ended Harrison was a mere 27. He made perhaps the best Beatle solo album of them all (“All Things Must Pass”), but turned his back on music for extended periods in the final three decades of his life, happy to tend to his garden.
So maybe it’s too much to expect that Harrison’s 70th birthday would receive as much attention as
similar bittersweet Beatle benchmarks. The 2010 70th anniversary of Lennon’s birth spurred celebrations and headlines, as did McCartney’s hitting of the seven-decade mark last June. Starr, the oldest of the band, ushered in his 70th in 2010 with a concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall that featured a surprise appearance by McCartney – and possibly the final dual performance by the surviving half of the Fab Four. Those of us lucky enough to be there to see them play the Beatles' "Birthday" left with ears ringing from the screams of a crowd that ranged from about 8 to 80, giving us a state of what it must have been like all those years ago.
Harrison grew to hate the racket helped propel him and his mates to unmatched musical stardom, but nothing can drown out the legacy of the not-so-quiet Beatle. George Harrison fans get two days to celebrate his life with music and reflection, and that’s, well, something.