I'm beginning here a series of essays celebrating the life and music of an artist who touched my life deeply--George Harrison.
Most know him simply as the "Quiet Beatle." But an exploration of his music, which only surges in strength and depth near the end of the Beatles and continues unabated until his untimely death in 2001, shows him to be anything but Quiet. Rather, he boldly proclaims simple but ancient truths through delicately beautiful music.
My twin brother Kevin and I discovered George Harrison in our first year at college. And his overt spirituality was a direct factor in my own adult rediscovery of the faith tradition of my nurture. The fact that I did not enter into the Hinduism in which he came to find meaning is immaterial. I consider him, as it were, a sort of spiritual advisor and the man to whom, more than any other, I owe my spiritual life.
The first piece I will examine is a song from one of his very least successful and little known albums, Gone Troppo (1982).
The song "Wake Up My Love" is a fast, bright, happy, piece that opens the second side of the album. (I call them "sides" because back then I put this piece of black vinyl on a turntable.
A tradition developed in our household. My father, who was ever the early riser, had taken a liking to George as well, especially charmed by some of George's covers from songs of his era, such as "True Love."
So, as we sipped our first cups of coffee in the very early morning (perhaps 6:00 AM), my father, my brother Kevin, and I would put on "Wake Up My Love" and sip and sing. And then we would head into our days.
The song opens and George is asking someone to wake up:
Here I go again
Here that knocking won't you let me in
Only want that same old thing
Yet it's me here ring, ring, ring
I want your love
Wake up my love
And let it in
In another verse, George again pleads for someone to wake up and let in his love:
My life's been so many ways
Too much darkness gets me crazed
All around us people fight
Christ, I'm looking for some light
Inside your love
Wake up my love
And let it in
And here's where, typical of George, the song has actually taken a twist. He's not saying "Christ" here as an offhand mild expletive. No, he's been addressing Christ all along. And he's looking for light inside Christ's love.
Now, I need to be clear that George lived and died a convinced devotee of the Krishna expression of Hinduism. His son Dhani sprinkled George's ashes in the Ganges after his death, per the artist's wishes. But George espoused a big tent view of the Godhead. He believed that Jesus was some expression of the Godhead. He believed the same about Krishna. He was not a Bahai, who believe in a formal recognition of multiple incarnations, naming several of them. George's religious views were his own.
In the end of the song, he lifts the veil on the secret subject of the song and he explicitly tells God of his desire to draw closer to him:
Oh, I need you, Lord
Oh, I need you more.
With this emptiness outside
You know, Lord, it drives me wild
I got tired of wrong and right
it can seem I need your light.
That's me knocking on your door
And it's you I'm looking for
I want your love. Wake up my love. And let it in...
George here is expressing a beautiful song within the ancient motif of the Sleeping Deity.
It finds expression, for instance, in the Book of Psalms 44:23, "Awake, why sleepest thou, O Lord? arise, cast us not off for ever."
As well, in the Gospel of Matthew 8:24-27, Jesus is asleep when the boat that he and the disciples are in is hit by a sudden storm. They have to awaken their Lord, who then calms the storm.
So there is nothing faithless about asking God to wake up. We know, of course, that God never sleeps. In Psalm 121:4 we read that he who keeps Israel "neither sleeps nor slumbers." But the Psalmist who wrote 44 above was not faithless to express his frustration at God apparently not acting and asking that question. And so, George knows the God on whose door he knocks is not sleeping behind it. He merely means that, in his human weakness, he grows weak in the aridity he feels as he continues to seek a deeper relationship with God without any immediate feeling of spiritual effect. But George stays faithful to the God he loves and keeps knocking at that door.
Listen now to this beautiful piece.