George Harrison interview
This is an interview with George for the “Countdown” program in Holland.
February 23, 1988
Q: You once said you couldn’t imagine being a rock star when you were forty. So here you are.
G: I wasn’t a rock star when I was forty. I waited until I was 44.
Q: This is your first album in five years. Why did you keep us waiting for so long?
G: Well, I don’t think I kept anybody waiting really. Realistically, I had records out in the past which people didn’t even notice. So because I haven’t had one for five years, everybody’s saying “Why did you keep us waiting for five years?”, but if I had brought out a record in 1981 and 1982 and 1983, maybe it wouldn’t be so interesting. I think the main thing was I got a bit tired of making records on my own. I feel I’ve got a lot of music in me, and I’ve got the desire to get that music across. But sometimes it doesn’t always work out right. And I found that in retrospect, working on my own was not the best situation. So I waited a few years to have a rest and to find somebody I thought I could make a good record with. With Jeff Lynne it worked out very well; he’s really good.
Q: Why didn’t we notice all those previous records? Was that your fault or ours?
G: I think it is a combination of both. My fault inasmuch as I got tired with working on my own, and maybe the mixes weren’t as good as they could have been. But also, because the music at that time – everybody wants you to change and become the flavour of the month, and I refuse to do that. And also, I put a record out and I’d say: “well, there’s my record, that’s what I do.” I make records. I’m not good at interviews. I don’t like to do that. It’s 25 years of doing that sort of thing, so I don’t feel really at ease about going out, doing television and interviews, and promote myself. I’m very bad at promoting myself. So, I’d put a record out, give it to the record company, and they would think, “Well, if he’s not promoting it, we’re not gonna work as hard on it.”
Q: But now you have to do all this promoting. How difficult is it for you to go back into the limelight? Do you hate it?
G: I don’t like talking about myself, but if people are gonna know that there’s a record out, I have to do a little bit. And so, I decided I’ve had a rest, and if I’m gonna do it I should do it now. Now is the time I feel good about it. So, I do these interviews. But basically, all we’re doing is talk about a record. I wrote songs, make records, and if the record’s good then people will like it, and if it’s not they won’t.
Q: It should not be necessary. Is that what you mean?
G: It should not be necessary, but it is because there’s so many other people out there doing it that the question is: is the disc jockey gonna play my record or is he gonna play all those other records?
Q: Does the title “Cloud Nine” have any special significance to it?
G: I don’t really think so. IT became called “Cloud Nine” because after the photograph was taken for the album sleeve, we had all these clouds on it. I was trying to find a title that didn’t have anything to do with a song title. For a while it was called “Fab,” but the word “fab” had to be seen as sort of a joke and I didn’t want people to get the wrong impression. Then I saw the photograph and we decided to call it “Cloud Nine.”
Q: One of the songs, “Devil’s radio,” is an assault on gossip journalism. In what way do you feel victimized by that type of journalism?
G: It’s not just gossip journalism. It’s gossip in general. The idea for that came from a church. I was at the traffic light in my car, and there was this little church with a sign on the side of it that said, “Gossip: The Devil’s radio. Don’t be a broadcaster,” and I thought it would be a good idea for a song. It says in the song: gossip is in the magazines, it’s on the radio, it’s people talking, it’s in the films and in the clubs. It’s everywhere, not just in the press. I may be more sensitive to it because maybe there’s more gossip told about me and The Beatles than generally, but gossip is not a good thing. It’s a negative thing, and I don’t want to know all those twisted little stories.
Q: But you don’t feel victimized by gossip journalism then?
G: No, because I kept out of it. There was a period when I hated it, and then I spent a lot of time keeping out of the press. And now, particularly in England, they’re quite nice to me. Even the paparazzi, the worst of them, have a nice relationship with me.
Q: But you lead the most extremely normal kind of life you can imagine. You do a lot of gardening….
G: Well, I haven’t been gardening very much because I’ve been making films and records, but I don’t’ go to nightclubs, and I don’t hang out. I’m not the kind of person who fits easily into a gossip column. They try to put me in occasionally and to make me like one of them, but I’m not really one of them.
Q: Of Ringo Starr, who played on your album, you said, “He is like myself, only on drums.”
G: We’ve grown up together for so many years, and I know Ringo as a great drummer, but he doesn’t practice. It doesn’t seem to matter. He just picks up the drumsticks. For my songs, he’s very good. HE listens to the song once and he knows exactly what to play. He is the kind of drummer who never likes drum solos, so he just plays. He keeps good time and instinctively knows when there 's a little piece that needs a fill. It’s the same with me. People call me a guitar player and in a way I am. But I never practice. There’s years and years in my life when I never picked up a guitar except to make a record. I know I could be quite good, but I don’t practice enough.
Q: Do you get the feeling that the older you get, the better you become?
G: Yes. For me, because when I was younger and with The Beatles with John and Paul it was hard for me to come to and get my confidence. And I think a lot to do with playing and writing songs and singing, particularly vocals, is hard if you’re very very nervous. Because your voice chokes up. Now I’m getting older I don’t’ care what anybody thinks, and consequently, it comes over better.
Q: Being the youngest member of The Beatles, did you have any particular difficulty establishing your own identity in the group?
G: I wasn’t even trying to identify, or make an identity. I was just in the band really, and every so often I thought I would like to get my tune in. That was difficult in the beginning, and maybe more so after The Beatles split up. That’s why I had so many songs. It was difficult at times, but I didn’t mind. I accepted being that member of the band that was in the middle. I didn’t mind being that person.
Q: At the time of the split you were only 27. You had a lifetime of experience; you had been through everything imaginable. Can you describe who you were at that moment?
G: In no less than 25 words? I don’t know. At the time when we split, we’d had too much input. All that being close together, touring the world, mania, everything like that. We needed a rest from each other, and we needed space to grow. I think it’s important because we’re growing all the time. That situation is just like a family. You’re so close together, and then you grow older and you want to move and go into your own house and have friends. And that was necessary. I don’t have any regrets over the Beatles splitting up. I think they did a fantastic thing in that short time. But everybody wants them to get together again, and that’s impossible. I think it’s better left as it is.
Q: But you lived so extremely intensively. Was there anything left to accomplish by yourself?
G: Well, at the time The Beatles split up the first thing I had to accomplish was to record all the songs I had written during The Beatles days which never got onto vinyl. That was “All Things Must Pass,” that for me was good. It was like unburdening myself with all these songs that were basically from the past. I wanted to get back into the present.
Q: Nevertheless, you spent the majority of the years after the breakup of the Beatles avoiding publicity. Can you say that you essentially have a private nature?
G: Yes. I’m a private person. I realize that having been in The Beatles, it’s not easy to be private all the time. But even if you’re not in The Beatles, I think everybody needs some space, somewhere they can go to be quiet and get away from the day job. That’s important for everybody. And for me, The Beatles was like a day job.
Q: You had the privilege of meeting Mr. Kissinger once.
G: Yes, me and Henry, we’re great buddies. Somebody told me he wanted to meet me when I was in Washington. So they took me over to the State Department, and when I got there they brought me to his office, and he shook my hand and said, “Why did you want to meet me?” I didn’t know what to say, because I was going there because he wanted to meet me. I don’t know what I said, but I waffled something to get out of it, and he said, “Do you want to have a photograph taken?” I said “OK” and he pressed a button, a photographer came in and took our photograph. And that was it. The Great Henry.
Q: In what way was having a child changed your life?
G: Well, it’s made me want to not kill myself too soon, you know. Sometimes we go too fast in life. And he makes me realize my responsibility. I want to have the time to enjoy that relationship. And I think everybody who is a parent knows that when you have a child you also can be that child and be the parent and your own father at the same time. It puts you into three different periods of time. Three generations can be experienced in one. It’s a nice experience.
Q: How crazy were you?
G: Crazy. You know, rock and roll is crazy.
Q: What’s your son’s favorite type of music? Yours?
G: No, not mine. He likes this album. He actually thought the single should be the single before we finished making it. But he likes Chuck Berry. The thing he wants to do most is play “doo-doo-doo-doo-dang-dang-dang” I’m glad he likes that. HE heard the Beach Boys doing “Surfin’ USA” so I played him Chuck Berry doing “Sweet Little Sixteen.”
Q: And your favorite music, apart from your own?
G: My own is not my favorite. Not really. I like it when I’m doing it. But I like all kinds of music. Ravi Shankar, Hawaiian music, Django Reinhardt, Robert Johnson. All kinds of music.
Q: Someone said that your home, Friar Park, is somewhat like Disneyland.
G: In a way. It was just a big old Victorian mansion house that was decaying, all broken. They were going to knock it down and building a housing estate there. I bought it because it was a great example of Victorian craftsmanship even though it was broken. And I fixed it up because it was interesting. It was like the National Trust in England, who preserve nice old buildings. I like old buildings, so I wanted to do it like that. But it does have a few crazy things to it. We’ve got the Matterhorn in the back garden, the Blue Caves of Capri under the lakes. They’re all bust up, really, not worth coming to see.
Q: But the house is very important to you. You’ve been celebrating it in two songs.
G: Yeah, it’s a place where I can get privacy. It is nice when you go into a house and you feel it’s a nice room to be in because it makes you feel good and it’s conducive to writing songs or feeling happy.
Q: But was it exaggerated to say you’re doing a lot of gardening there?
G: Yes, because the gardens were beautiful back in 1900, but then they were neglected and they got all overgrown. And I just try to fix them up again, take the ivy off the trees and tidy up a little bit.
Q: It’s a well-known fact that you believe very firmly in reincarnation. What can you this firm conviction?
G: Just by studying the Vedic script, or even reading was Jesus Christ said. Jesus taught all about reincarnation, except in Constantinople in 441 AD they decided to get rid of that. The Romans were then starting to feel there was something good about Christ, but they didn’t like some of the things he said, so they fashioned it to suit themselves. And at that point in time, they cut out what he taught about reincarnation and the law of karma, which is, as he said “God is not marked, for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” Christ taught the law of karma and rebirth.