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“It’s the quiet ones you really have to watch.”
At the beginning of Beatlemania, when my second-grade friends and I intuitively knew that choosing your fave was akin to proclaiming your religion only more important, I liked the idea of aligning myself with The Smart One but he was almost as popular as The Cute One (whose obviousness made him out of the question) so I switched my public allegiance to Ringo, just to be different. It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I dropped the charade and came out as what I had in truth been from the very beginning: A Paul Girl. There is nothing he could ever do to change that, and considering some of the things he’s done—Wings, “Ebony and Ivory,” Heather Mills—that's saying something.
But George? I never even pretended to like him best.
My reevaluation began when I recently watched A Hard Day’s Night for the first time in years. Much had been made about Ringo’s and John’s acting abilities, but what struck me upon re-watching was that George is the one with star quality. He strolls through the movie with ironic detachment from the frantic antics of the other lads. His acerbic asides were no doubt scripted but seem off the cuff because they are so in keeping with his self-possessed cool persona—a bemused spectator to the John & Paul Show.
In the final concert scene, he does a playful side-to-side shuffle-dance during “I Should Have Known Better,” smooth and jangly (appropriately enough since he at that very moment was inventing jangle pop on his Rickenbacker 12 string). John or Paul would never do anything like that. Too self-conscious, as is apparent in all their scenes; they're trying way too hard. John does do a frantic parody of the Charleston at the end of that concert set, but it’s awkward and clownish compared to George’s fluid footwork.
Shortly after my A Hard Day's Night viewing, I took a five-hour road trip with a friend who only had two CDs in her car, one by an Italian pop star and the other Concert for George, the tribute to George performed at the Royal Albert Hall a year to the day after his November 2001 death. I chose the Italian pop star. After ten minutes or so of Paolo Somebody, I said maybe it was time to give George's music a chance.
And it was. By the end of the second disk, when Paul sang "All Things Must Pass," my friend and I were in tears. Under those poignant circumstances (the tribute concert, not my road trip), its simple eloquence was overpowering, and I wondered how I had not noticed before.
I bought the DVD of Concert for George and watch parts of it somewhat regularly. It's slightly ironic that what got me liking George and his songs was hearing them sung by people other than him, but in truth it's not the music that gets me. It's the obvious love and respect that all of the musicians show for George. It's how Eric Clapton and Monty Python and Tom Petty, Jeff Lynn, Ringo, Paul, et al display such emotion, mostly joy, all inspired by the man whom Paul, in introducing his ukulele version of "Something," calls his "beautiful friend."
From what I've read, George faced his final days with equanimity, "fearless of death and at peace," according to his family. I don't subscribe to his religion (to quote Ringo in Help) but I admire and maybe envy the serenity his spirituality brought him.
The Quiet One, in harmony to the end. Happy birthday, George.
— Mary Ghiorsi