10 times George Harrison was refreshingly grumpy in his memoir ‘I Me Mine’

George Harrison looking a bit grumpy. Photo by Steve Mathieson

What comes to mind when you think of George Harrison? I’m guessing spiritual, peaceful…maybe even Beatle? As a songwriter, Harrison isn’t name-checked as often as John and Paul, but he wrote some of the Beatles’ most beautiful songs (Something, Here Comes the Sun). Sceptics abounded when he launched his solo career in 1970, but Harrison won them over with the beauty and depth of his music.

As well as being the cutest Beatle (fact), Harrison was funny. He never lost his zany Liverpudlian humour, even as his profound spirituality grew. A Monty Python fan, he famously mortgaged his home to finance Life of Brian. HandMade Films, the production company he created for Life of Brian, ‘helped to sustain British cinema at a time of crisis, producing some of the country’s most memorable films of the 1980s,’ according to author Ian Inglis.

George Harrison was a man of many passions, including gardening and motor sports. When he published his memoir I Me Mine in 1980, he was only 37 years old. Although some great accomplishments in his too-short life were ahead of him, Harrison had already experienced a lot of life’s extremes. And it’s fair to say that at times in the book, which he co-wrote with close collaborator Derek Taylor, he sounds grumpy. Not that I’m complaining. In fact, there’s something refreshing about his grumpiness, and his willingness to share some of his less than sparkling thoughts and experiences.

1. On being a Beatle

‘There were a lot of things we had to do collectively that didn’t grab me personally that deeply. There was never anything, in any of the Beatles experiences really, that good; even the best thrill soon got tiring. You don’t really laugh twice at the same joke, do you, unless you get really silly. Anyway, when you suffer it makes you grumpy…there was more good than evil in being a Beatle but it was awful being on the front page of everyone’s life, every day. What an intrusion into our lives.’

2. On the Grammy awards

‘That sort of thing is awful. I feel as if that has really gone out of my life. I never want to see any of that stuff again. It is such a bad diversion in your life. I would rather go and see the head-hunters up the Amazon or watch Monty Python.’

3. On touring America with the Beatles

‘The trouble with partnerships [is] you get roped in on other people’s trips. Completely roping everyone into a whim. Then you start getting into it and they can’t handle it any more. It is very important to try and minimise the aggravation and spaciness in our lives. But that was impossible in the beginning. Those tours in the United States were crazy. The first big American trip, when we arrived in San Francisco in 1964, they wanted to do a ticker tape parade and I remember saying “No, no, no.” That imagery of people being shot. Kennedy, Beatlemania, madness. Talk about pressures!’

4. On Hard Day’s Night and Help!

‘The Dick Lester version of our lives in Hard Day’s Night and Help! made it look fun and games: a good romp? That was fair in the films but in the real world there was never any doubt. The Beatles were doomed. Your own space, man, that’s so important. That’s why we were doomed because we didn’t have any. It is like monkeys in a zoo. They die. You know, everything needs to be left alone.’

5. On arriving in Sydney with the Beatles

‘Sydney, Australia, in 1964 was another hassle altogether….At the airport they had us put into cars with our names on, John, Paul, George, Ringo individually, in huge dayglo paint…And this rubbish was all happening while cloaks we had made in Hong Kong were shrinking, several inches in minutes, on our backs and suits we had had made in 24 hours also in Hong Kong the day before, were “melting”…after the drive round and round in [a] truck in the rain…Thanks.’

6. On the meaning behind his song This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying)

‘If people keep on at you long enough, the chances are you will become depressed. We must struggle even though we are all rats and valueless, and try to become better human beings…so this song came out [of that].’

7. On being in Manila with the Beatles

‘Manila. One of the nastiest times I have had. It relates to the sort of life we were leading. We were open to that sort of unhappiness…It was terrible tropical heat and straight away we thought we were all busted…We thought they would go right through [our bags], find all the dope [cannabis, “nothing nasty”] in our bags and there we were on this boat, in this one cabin, surrounded by cops. So depressing.”

8. On modern music

‘You know I think I would rather listen to Lady Be Good by [Stephane] Grapelli right now than almost anything. He is probably the best violin player in the West. I don’t listen to mush of today’s music — most of it leaves me shell-shocked: prancing ugly egos.’

9. On the Beatles song Don’t Bother Me

‘The first song I wrote — as an exercise to see if I could write a song…I don’t think it’s a particularly good song, it mightn’t even be a song at all but at least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing and then maybe eventually I could write something good. I still feel now “I wish I could write something good.” It’s relativity. It did, however, provide me with an occupation.’

10. On respecting your instrument

‘One thing that happened said a lot. The telephone rang and I put the sitar down, stood up and went to step across the sitar to go to the phone and Ravi [Shankar] whacked me on the leg and said “the first thing you must realise is that you must have more respect for the instrument.”…It is all part of the discipline, and it is true, you can’t appreciate anything if you have no respect. I was never into those people smashing up their guitars anyway. That was just rubbish.’

George Harrison’s memoir I Me Mine was co-authored by Derek Taylor. The book was first published in 1980 as a signed, limited edition of 2000 numbered copies, hand-bound in leather, by Genesis Publications. It has since been published in other editions.

Writer and editor