Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Interview: George Harrison, Educational TV - early December 1967

Q: The things you've said in interviews, I guess the accepting that Indian music is only part of it.

George Harrison: Yeah, but for me the Indian music was a stepping stone for the spiritual things, because the music really is very much spiritual. It depends how spiritual the performer is, who's playing it, and also the type of raga that's being played. The music is, it's really, there's no words because it's guided so subtle, and I've found that like most things, the more that you know about it, the more you see there is to it.

Q: When you first heard it, how much did you know about it?

GH: I didn't know anything about it at all.

Q: When was that?

GH: About two or three years ago now.

Q: And how did it happen that you heard it?

GH: I heard a few people over a period of about eighteen months mention to me Ravi Shankar, I just kept hearing his name. And a friend of mine in America said, "You ought to listen to this." So I went home and bought the record of it, I couldn't believe it. Because really, it's hard to explain, I just felt as though I knew it, somehow. I'd never heard it before as far as I know, never heard it before in this life.

Q: Is it totally foreign to your own musical experience, was it a brand new thing that you had to learn?

GH: Not really, it's like any music, you start with do re mi fa so la ti do and all the exercises, whatever it is, you learn the finger exercises. Same as sitar, sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa, which is the same.

Q: And how many scales are there?

GH: I think there's a lot.

Q: And how many do you think you know? I mean, I'm just curious.

GH: Oh, I don't know, you see. I think there's about 72 basic ones, but I think there's lots more.

Q: But you don't need that?

GH: No, the thing is, the main, the obvious thing, you see with their music they have to learn how to handle the instrument, they have to learn all the scales, all the exercises, it's all really disciplined. And I think actually years and years of strict exercises, then they don't start the improvising until maybe eight years later. And then they sort of absorb the music into themselves. I mean, this is the thing really, Ravi Shankar is the music, really, himself. Because he's absorbed it all into him so, and he sits to play it, anything can come out, you know, anything, it depends entirely how he feels.

Q: Mr. Shankar and Indian music have meant more to you than just simply a new mold of music, I mean it's been a whole. . .

GH: I think it's the discipline, really. I mean, being in my position, they were the things really I liked about Ravi Shankar. I'd met in my career, I'd met all sorts of people, film stars and all this sort of thing, and yet there wasn't really one person that I had a lot of respect, that much respect for. Because there wasn't one person I'd met who was that good in my estimation, until I met Ravi Shankar. Because he really is, you have to meet him to know, the discipline and just the respect that he just has for all that music and the culture. And he just, he knocked me out, really. And the whole thing of, for him to sit and show me the very first exercise on sitar, and he enjoyed doing it himself. It's really amazing that somebody that great can come down to a low level and do it completely.

Q: It has a great deal to do with humility, you've spoken about his humility, do you think that some of these qualities of mind have to do with the way the young people have. . .

GH: You've got to really be in a pure state of mind to really accept it, the true form of this music. And the only way that he's got to that position is by this self-renunciation and by the discipline of years and years and years of practice. And so, lots of people really think of the East as, you know, smoke a bit of opium and then you can play like that, but you can't, you know, because the original thing is actually so straight spiritually and mentally and physically to be such a great performer.

Q: He's made it very clear in his statements about drugs and about tobacco.

GH: And really, people, like in India it's an understood thing, they have great respect for musicians or for any people like that, who really, whatever they do, if they do it that great, like doctors, scientists and philosophers, and all their saints, and the musicians. The musicians, you see, they walk down the street and the people bow and touch their feet and be very humble. And they really put the musician on a really high pedestal. Whereas over here, the people, you know, they don't know anything like that, and so they do tend to come and they smoke cigarettes and lie around watching it, and they can't perform with those conditions, you know. So Ravi always makes a point of telling the people "no smoking," and "don't do this, and don't do that." And it's right really, because if he had to have that much respect for the music in order to play it like that, then they should at least have a little respect for the hour or so that they sit there to watch him.

Q: Do you feel that this Indian music and this Eastern music is going to be more and more a part of what you're playing and writing?

GH: I hope so. In fact, since my interest in Indian music, I've had trouble with chords actually, with modulation. I didn't realise this for some time, but I got completely into the Indian music and just practised sitar as much as I could. And now I realise I was neglecting the guitar and all that thing, so then I became a Beatle again, and then I found I'm neglecting this. And it's very hard, you know, because obviously I can't become an Indian musician, can't become a sitar player. And if I stop doing everything else and just concentrate on that which I can't do, because I'm a Beatle and I've got to be a Beatle.

Q: Is it affecting their music?

GH: Yeah, well maybe. Yes, I think it is a lot. They've all seen Ravi perform and you know, I tried to get Ringo interested in playing tabla. I think now he's ready, you know, to learn a little bit. About two years ago when he first saw it, it was so far out for him, you know, it was just too much, he couldn't, you know I think he got scared by it because it's so deep and so involved.

Q: But you think that there's a particular reason why people are ready for Ravi Shankar now, where they wouldn't have been fifteen or twenty years ago.

GH: Yeah. I think the reason is because the evolution, you know, obviously like one generation, a struggle against the older generation, and then the younger generation become the old generation and the generation then has that struggle again. Most of all the time, it's changing and slowly getting better and better all the time. I think we've reached a state now where all these influences have all got to, they've manifested themselves onto this level of life. Not just with the music, with the spiritual thing like in New York in particular, there's so many swamis and people. I think there's so many people now, doing, going in for all this, for yoga, meditation and things like that. I think it's just got to a time now when people want something a bit more solid in their life. Something they can rely on, and they found most of the things . . . there's nothing in it, you've got to go a bit beneath the surface to get something real out of life. And I think the younger generation are more aware of this than say the old people. I think that the next generation will be even more aware of it.

Q: Do you think this is what Shankar and his music and his world is offering?

GH: Well, I think it's all part of the big plot, the music and the spiritual thing. And all they are, among the younger generation that want something more out of life, it's all part of the big thing that's going to change the world eventually. It may take two thousand years more, I don't know. But the climax of it all will be the golden age and everybody will be very spiritual and very friendly, there'll be no wars, and in actual fact, earth will be heaven, as it were.

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