Published on Monday, May 23 2011
“…Your employer is trying to put pressure on me. To blackmail me.”
“Pressure is a prettier word,” I averred.
“I don’t care much about pretty words anymore. You live with words a long time. Then all at once you are old, and there are the things and the words don’t matter anymore.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “Suit yourself,” I replied, “but you get the idea.”
In Robert Penn Warren’s blisteringly, clear-eyed novel, All the King’s Men, the characters of Judge Irwin and Jack Burden convey a hint of wisdom that comes (seemingly) only with aging: the letting go. I admire George Harrison the most out of the Beatles. Quiet, unassuming, profound. Like Lennon he was political, but didn’t seem to be coming from a place of self-grandeur (and they certainly can’t market or make T-Shirts about the ideas George was talking about, yeesh).
To point to Brainwashed, Harrison’s final and actually posthumous album. The undertones spoken by Judge Iriwin is echoed in the mood of the album itself: I have no care for pretty words anymore and let me give it to you straight. The way George Harrison lived his life, the things he cared and didn’t care about, his song themes, all are loosed on Brainwashed (the album) and even culminate in Brainwashed (the song). The Folky/Rock and Roll/Eastern Indian/Spitiual leanings that permeate all of Harrison’t existence show up as pillars, not moments, on this record.
Recorded right up to his death in 2001 and left with instructions as to how it should be finished (down to the artwork), Dhani (his son) and Jeff Lynne (who is Electric Light Orchestra and played on/produced the record) were (one assumes) faithful to the note. If one needed a Master’s Class conducted by Harrison explaining his thoughts on life, this would be it. Sure, you could suss out a lot of similar themes from All Things Must Pass or even 1987′s Cloud 9, but here, Harrison – for better or worse – communicates explicitly about matters both political ans spiritual. He can’t be bothered with pretty words anymore. “If you don’t know where you’re going/any road will take you there,” he sings on the album’s opening track (which is a helluvalot better way of saying the quip, “Not all who wander are lost.” Hippie stuff rules, ya’ll.)
From critiques against the abuses that can take place from Institutionalized religion (see: P.2 Vatican Blues, which is a hilarious song) to admiring the contemplative, simple life that he ended up living post-Beatlemania (see: Pisces Fish), Harrison doesn’t mince and muddle down where he’s coming from, even if it’s not the easiest to understand or swallow: “I’m living proof/of all life’s contradictions/One half’s going where the other half’s just been.” The whole album is both celebratory and scathingly serious.
The closing track is Brainwashed and it is unrelenting. To my knowledge, the closest Harrison had ever gotten to being this critical of his time was on “Awaiting On You All” from All Things Must Pass: “And while the Pope owns 51% of General Motors/And the stock exchange is the only thing he’s qualified to quote us/The Lord is awaiting on you all to awaken and see/By chanting the names of the Lord you will be free.” But even that direct of a statement doesn’t hold a Great-Easter-Vigil-Candle to the litany of things Harrison lines up on “Brainwashed.” I don’t even want to write any of the lyrics, because it would end up being the whole song. Suffice to say, he doesn’t stop and nothing seems safe, from the military to himself. And what’s the cure for all of society’s ills? God. That’s all, he says. “Won’t you lead us through this mess/From the places of concrete,” and “You are the wisdom that we seek/The lover that we miss/Your nature is eternity/You are Existence, Knowledge, Bliss.” Straight to the point.
While the political and spiritual content of the album is reaffirming/a wake-up call/dismissive (depending on where you’re coming from), what’s not to be missed and is most interesting to me is the context of the record as far as Harrison’s life is concerned. It was damn near the very end of it all (even though he had written some of the songs that would appear on Brainwashed as early as 1987) and this may be the reason for its bluntness. Returning to “Awaiting On You All,” even though it does say what it says about the Pope, GM, etc., on the original vinyl sleeve, those lyrics in particular are strangely absent, which has been an interesting conversation point with us here at Blacktooth. He was 27 at that point and was in his 50′s when he wrote Brainwashed. What was it that gave him reservation back then, but not so later on in life? Was it because – at the time of All Things… – the general conversation in the music world was around Van Morrison’s Moondance, MC5′s Back in the USA, or Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, versus in 2002, where Britney Spears, Nickleback and Nelly were dominating the general public’s talking points, thus the time for subtly had passed? The exert from All the King’s Men may have some clue for us, but wherever/if you settle on an answer, the fact remains: George Harrison is a little sage, and that’s why he is this year’s recipient of the Blacktooth Best Christian Recording Artist of All Time award. Congrats George, you did better than us.
Below is the song Any Road for experiencing, and a link for the song Brainwashed on Youtube