Before their emergence as music phenomenons, rock bands commonly relied on professional songwriters for their material and on studio musicians for their recordings.
The Beatles were role models. Their multiple talents enabled them to combine their instrumental abilities, their vocal harmonies, and their songwriting strengths. Their legacy is conceived to be one of the most influential artists of the last century. Even decades after the band broke up, The Beatles have become a yardstick to which all new rock and roll bands are compared.
Paul McCartney and Wings - 1973
Imagine what it must be like to have a romantic love ballad, written just for you, become the hottest-selling single of the year. Well, to Linda Eastman McCartney, it happened three different times -- with two different songs -- in three different decades.
The first time came when Linda's father, a New York attorney, introduced her to his client, songwriter Jack Lawrence. She was a toddler, but inspiration enough for 'Linda,' a charming ballad recorded by big band crooner Buddy Clark. It was a million-seller in 1947, and sixteen years later, the song came back in rock'n'roll form, as sung by Jan and Dean.
It was the sixties; Linda married a Princeton man and followed him to the University of Arizona. He became immersed in graduate research, and Linda, lonely, took up photography to pass the time. Eventually, she got a divorce. She returned to Manhattan, and found work as a receptionist for Town & Country magazine at $65 a week.
As part of her job, Linda opened mail, and one day she came across a photographer's pass to a Rolling Stones concert. She grabbed her camera, saw the show, attended the press party, and -- incredibly -- was the only 'newsperson' admitted into the Stones' quarters. She walked away with a scoop, exclusive photographs, and a nickname given to her by the other reporters: 'The Park Avenue Groupie.' By 1967 she was 'big enough' to arrange a meeting with Paul McCartney. She slipped him her phone number, he called, and a romance dreamed about by millions was on. After a whirlwind courtship, they were married on March 12, 1969.
The Beatles broke up a few months later; Paul was the first to leave and first to release a solo album. That record, McCartney, included an early testament to his beloved bride, 'The Lovely Linda.'
'I remember John Lennon saying, 'I didn't think that was your taste in women,'' recalled Paul. 'But it doesn't matter what your taste was for when your wife comes along, if it's someone you love. I never really had a home for a long time, and I started to realize that I wanted that kind of warmth. When you're eighteen you can sneer at such things, but once you turn thirty, you reconsider. Mind you, I could have said to John, 'Well, look at you. You must be joking.' But we all grow up, get older and wiser.'
Paul's first solo single came out in the spring of 1971: 'Another Day.' After that, he made a momentous decision: 'about the craziest thing I could do,' he admitted. He brought his wife -- who had no previous musical experience -- into the act.
'At first, Linda was terrified out of her mind,' said Paul, 'and picked on something silly. She was absolute rubbish you know, but has improved as a keyboards player. But then again you don't always form technical groups.' Linda was given equal billing on Paul's next project, the Ram album, and the number-one single that came from it, 'Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.'
Next, the McCartneys formed Wings, by adding former Moody Blues member Denny Laine on guitar and session man Denny Seiwell on drums. Later, ex-Grease Band guitarist Henry McCullough joined up, although he left, along with Seiwell, after the group made their first tour of England.
Wings debuted in 1972 with 'Give Ireland Back to the Irish,' a political single immediately banned by the BBC. McCartney responded -- tongue-in-cheek -- by making their next 45 a nursery rhyme, 'Mary Had a Little Lamb.'
And then came 'My Love.'
Paul considered this tune to be one of his two best of the decade. It was a valentine to his wife: 'A smootchy ballad,' as McCartney would say. His first single of the year, it was also the first release (and first number one) credited to Paul McCartney and Wings, the name they used in 1973 and 1974. Issued in mid-April 1973, it was certified a million-seller in less than three months.
'My Love' was the only single issued from Red Rose Speedway, Paul's fourth album after leaving the Beatles. Both the album and single reached number one simultaneously in early June. Ironically, the record displaced by Red Rose Speedway was a Beatles compilation, 'The Blue Album' 1967-1970. Red Rose Speedway was also notable for the Braille message embossed on the back of the jacked. Intended for Stevie Wonder, it read: 'We love you, baby.'
Paul McCartney spent the seventies making hits beginning with 'Another Day' in 1971. As the leader of Wings, he cut all kinds of records. In 1973, there was the roaring 'Hi,Hi,Hi', the sentimental 'My Love', and the dramatic James Bond movie theme 'Live and Let Die'. After cutting the latter with a forty-piece orchestra, Wings reverted to a raucous song inspired by Paul's nickname for his battered Land-Rover.
That tune, 'Helen Wheels,' came from Band On The Run, Wings' most popular album of the decade. The album included 'Jet' (named after the McCartneys' little black dog) and the title track. Their final record of 1974 was cut in Nashville: 'Sally G,' backed with 'Junior's Farm' ('Junior' was lead guitarist Jimmy McCullough).
In 1975, Wings switched labels from Apple to Capitol, and recorded Venus and Mars in L.A. and New Orleans. That album amassed orders of one-and-a-half million copies before release. It yielded three major hits: 'Listen to What the Man Said,' 'Letting Go,' and 'Rock Show.'
By 1976, Paul McCartney had established himself as the consummate hitmaker -- composer, arranger, publisher, producer, bandleader, singer and musician. No one doubted his ability to make hits, but some criticized the sentimental way he sometimes did it. Even during his Beatle days, McCartney had been called a romantic, a softie, and he was never embarrassed by it. 'I'm a fan of old-fashioned writing,' he admitted. 'I do like rhyme, when it comes off. I hate silly rhymes, but when they work, they're the greatest little things in songwriting.'
At the height of their contentiousness immediately following the breakup of the Beatles, John Lennon said that Paul's material was 'a lot of rubbish,' and that he 'couldn't rock if he tried.' 'He sounds like Englebert Humperdinck,' said Lennon, who further attacked his old partner in 'How Do You Sleep?,' a cut off the Imagine album.
'I listened to him for a few years,' said Paul, 'and used to think, 'I can't write another of those soppy love songs. We've got to get hard and rocky now.' In the end, though, I realized that I just had to be myself. It's bolder, you know, to say, 'What's the difference? I like it.''
And with that, McCartney composed 'Silly Love Songs' -- a tune that overcame its own silliness by its obvious sincerity. Its mass acceptance proved McCartney's point, much to his satisfaction.
'The fact is, deep down, people are very sentimental,' he said. 'If they watch a sentimental movie at home, they cry, but in public they won't. We don't like to show our emotions; we tend to sneer at that. And in the same way, people may not admit to liking love songs, but that's what they seem to crave.'
Wings' single came out in mid-April 1976, just before the final leg of a tour that took them to the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and five cities in Europe (in Berlin, Paul and Linda painted the lyrics of 'Silly Love Songs' on a bedsheet and paraded it along the Berlin Wall). In every town, the specter of Paul's former group was there -- in America, where a ten-year-old Beatle track, 'Got to Get You Into My Life,' had been revived; and in England, where almost a quarter of Britain's Top 100 single records were old Lennon-McCartney songs. In concert, post-Beatles material was emphasized, and the result was a rousing string of celebrative events. 'Paul confronted his legacy,' wrote one reviewer, 'and was not engulfed by it.'
And of course, to make things sweeter, both Wings' new album (At the Speed of Sound ) and single ('Silly Love Songs') reached number one while they were on the road.
A complex man with many talents, George Harrison was actually the hardest Beatle to solve. He survived the fame and fortune to produce films and solo records and has pulled together his musical mates for a variety of good deeds and high ideals. George Harrison's death came almost twenty one years to the day that John Lennon was shot. Lennon's death affected all Beatles fans more than they would care to remember, as it was such a huge shock. In Harrison's case, the fans knew he was gravely ill and that his death was inevitable. All the same it is unbearable to think that he's gone......
I don't go around from day to day thinking, 'I am George Harrison from the Beatles.' I try to balance my life with peace and quiet because the other side of it is really rowdy. I'm a Pisces. I am an extreme person. One half is always going down where the other half has just been. I was always extremely up or extremely down, extremely spiritual or extremely drugged. Now there is a bit of maturity. I have brought the two closer to the middle. I don't get too far up or too far down, and that feels good.
I started out at fourteen, fifteen. I met Paul and John, and we played in little events until 1960, when we started to do better and sought to do it professionally. Then we had the mania, and I had a solo career. Actually, I had little careers going on on the side, like my involvement with Indian music and Ravi Shankar. I have lots of hobbies. I love gardens. The Beatles was such a big part, but I didn't want it to be the end of my life. 'In 1964, we came to America. We went out in 1969, and that is the end of the story.' Actually, it is a continuing story. 'Here today, gone to Maui.'
There is a lot of renewed interest in the Beatles because of the CD releases, and this 'Twenty Years Ago for Sgt. Pepper,' but there will always be periods when the Beatles sell again. In the Seventies, there was a period, and now another one in the Eighties. I think it happens with each generation. I saw it happen with my own boy. I didn't tell him anything about the Beatles, and then one day he suddenly said, 'Hey, Dad, can you show me the piano riff to 'Bulldog'?'
I thought, 'How the hell did he even hear such an obscure tune?' And then I realized that when all kids get to be five and six, they watch Yellow Submarine. As they get older, they somehow discover the Beatles. It has an everlasting quality.
There was a magic chemistry that happened between us and somehow it got into the grooves on those records. Not every song we ever did was brilliant, but a lot of them are timeless, great songs that happen to have a chemistry in the grooves which appeals to each generation as it grows up.
It was sad when we broke up because we had been so close for so long. Mick Jagger said at the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame dinner that the Beatles were a four-headed monster. We never went anywhere without each other. We shared all the miseries, and the isolation of limos, hotels, planes, and concert halls, which is all we ever saw for years.
The saddest thing was actually getting fed up with one another. It's like growing up in a family. When you get to a certain age, you want to go off and get your own girl and your own house, split up a bit. At the same time, for me it gave me the perfect chance to do my own records. I didn't have many tunes on Beatles records, so doing an album like All Things Must Pass was like going to the bathroom and letting it out.
Some of my solo records didn't do so well, which was OK. Paul feels more like he has to be a success all the time, but for me I had such ego satisfaction through the Beatles period. We had more fame than anybody could imagine, so when some of my solo records didn't sell, it didn't really matter to me. As an example, Ringo once said to me, 'I have to have a Number 1.'
I said, 'You don't have to have a Number 1. You want to be number one. The record is second.' I say, if you set yourself up looking for success, when you have a failure, you fall much deeper. I say, bring the two together. As Bob Dylan said, 'When you find out you are at the top, you are at the bottom.'
Of my songs, 'Here Comes the Sun' and 'Something' are probably the biggest. Frank Sinatra, who sings it with his 'Stick around, Jack,' says 'Something' is the greatest love song of all time. He used to say it was the greatest love song of the year. Then the decade. So what he's saying now is very nice. At last count, which was years ago, there were 140 covers of 'Something.' Sinatra, Smokey Robinson, Ray Charles. My personal favorite is the version by James Brown. It was one of his B sides. I have it on my jukebox at home. It's absolutely brilliant. 'Taxman' was done not too long ago by Berry Gordy's son, so I've done all right.
You can take the Beatles separately and analyze all their energy, but when you put them together astrologically and chemically, something stronger takes place that even the Beatles never understood. As Dylan said, 'To understand you know too soon there is no sense in trying.' Dylan is so brilliant. To me, he makes William Shakespeare look like Billy Joel.
After splitting with model Pattie Boyd, whom the song ‚ÄúSomething‚Ä relates to, he married for the second time, to secretary Olivia Arias of Hawthorne High School. They had a son, Dhani... who would be Harrison's only child.
In 1980, Ringo had been working on an album called (at the time) Can't Fight Lightning. For that album, George contributed a couple of songs, including 'All Those Years Ago.' The lyrics were different then, and Ringo eventually excluded the song. After John's murder, George rewrote the lyrics, and it was released as a tribute to Lennon.
George formed a film production company, HandMade Films, in 1978, producing such memorable films as Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) and Time Bandits (1981).
John Lennon did much to shake up rock and roll, move it forward, and instill it with a conscience during his years with The Beatles. As a solo artist, his music soothed, provoked, and sought community. He shaved away all pretensions of poetry and illusions of grandeur. His compositions 'Imagine', 'Instant Karma', and 'Give Peace a Chance' became anthems with tough minded realism and idealism. He declared 'War Is Over' and spread his message of peace.
With the birth of Sean Ono Lennon, he dropped out of sight for five years. He chose to raise Sean as a househusband. His eventual return to recording music in 1980 brought us the album 'Double Fantasy'. The songs 'Watching The Wheels' and 'Beautiful Boy' celebrated the joys he found outside of being a pop star. '(Just Like) Starting Over' was a rocker where Lennon sounded his happiest. The album was released on November 17, 1980.
On December 8, his life came to an untimely end when he was shot outside his New York City apartment. He was returning home with his wife Yoko from a recording session for an album that was posthumously released as 'Milk and Honey'. Three weeks after his death... with the entire rock world still in disbelief and mourning, '(Just Like) Starting Over' from Double Fantasy hit # 1.
At The Grammy Awards on February 24, 1982... Yoko and Sean brought the audience at The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles to its feet......
From the L.A. Times:
John Lennon's and Yoko Ono's 'Double Fantasy' was awarded a Grammy as the album of the year Wednesday night, providing one of the most dramatic moments in the 24-year history of the record industry competition. As soon as the award was announced in the nationally televised ceremony, Ono - whose presence was a surprise to the capacity crowd - walked to the stage with the couple's son, Sean. Fighting back tears, Ono said, 'I just want to say... Thank you very much.' As the audience responded with a standing ovation, she went on, 'Both John and I were always very proud and happy we were part of the human race and that we made good music for the Earth and the Universe.'
Although he says he's finished talking about his father and the Beatles, Julian Lennon --the oldest son of the late John Lennon --has issued a statement to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his father's death at the hands of a deranged fan in New York City. The comments express joy, regret, anger, and forgiveness as he reflects on his life with his father and his relationships with his stepmother, Yoko Ono, and his half-brother, Sean.
Julian, who was born to Lennon and his first wife, the former Cynthia Powell, expresses great love for Sean but is sharply critical of his father for neglecting him over the years, and of Ono for being a wedge between them. He refers to his father in later years as ''John Ono Lennon' (manipulated lost soul) and writes that during his years with Ono, his father was 'sucked into a black hole and all of his strength consumed.' Julian's relationship with Ono has been openly contentious, and the two have haggled in recent years over John's estate and money Julian felt is owed to him.
Julian Lennon's full statement follows:
'A lot of people have phoned and e-mailed me with questions about the Beatles, and about Dad and what my thoughts are on the 20th anniversary of his death. I decided that when the bells rang and the fireworks went off last New Year's that in the year 2000 I would finally stop talking about Dad and the Beatles to anyone, except to say that they were a great influence on my life musically! It's all been said and I have nothing left to offer. I feel that in the past a lot of people have considered me the book of knowledge on this subject, which I am certainly not!
'I was born John Charles Julian Lennon on 8th April 1963 and lived with my biological father, John Lennon, for just a few years. After that I only saw him a handful of times before he was killed. Sadly, I never really knew the man. I think that the work he produced was incredible and so was what he achieved with his three friends, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. But his work hasn't given me a clear insight into what his real life was about or how he truly felt about it.
'Life is difficult enough. Trying to find one's own identity makes it even harder, especially when you're not allowed to be you. How are you supposed to define your own character when all people want from you are answers about someone else's life, a life that you don't have answers for! I am not John Lennon, I never will be! I have never lived his life and never will do! Yet a lot of people believe I have all the answers! Well--I don't! I feel sorry for all the lost souls out there who have to look outside themselves for the truth. Everything comes from within, it's just a question of being able to touch it. You learn from without but you know from within.
'I went through a series of love/hate relationships with Dad, whether he was there or not. I suppose it's much like any other relationship out there, except ours was public and there for all to see, whether I liked it or not. There was a lot of anger in my life during my teens and 20s, because I didn't understand what was going on or why things were the way they were. I had a great deal of anger towards Dad because of his negligence and his attitude to peace and love. That peace and love never came home to me.
'I wonder what it would have been like if he were alive today. I guess it would have depended on whether he was 'John Lennon' (Dad) or 'John Ono Lennon' (manipulated lost soul). Once I began to look at his life and really understand him, I began to feel so sorry for him, because once he was a guiding light, a star that shone on all of us, until he was sucked into a black hole and all of his strength consumed. Although he was definitely afraid of fatherhood, the combination of that and his life with Yoko Ono led to the real breakdown of our relationship. We did not see each other for extended periods of time, and as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind! But the Beatles themselves played no part whatsoever in our demise.
'Anyway, I just wanted to say that wherever he is, I hope he realizes the mistakes he's made as I realize them and hope never to repeat them, as he did his father's. I have a brother, and I love Sean very much and I hope that he's able to cope with his destiny. One thing's for sure, he's got a big brother who will protect him and love him till the end, whatever happens! Keep your chin up, kiddo! I just hope you do the right thing by Dad! May karma prevail!
'And Dad, wherever you are, may your light shine as long as we do! We are one!'
Ringo Starr... the man who replaced drummer Pete Best and became the fourth and final Beatle. His contributions to the group kept the band perfectly on beat. His vocal stamp was on a handful of Beatles songs: 'Matchbox,' 'I Wanna Be Your Man,' 'Act Naturally,' 'Yellow Submarine,' 'With A Little Help From My Friends,' and 'Octopus's Garden'
After The Beatles broke up, he had a string of solo hits including 'It Don't Come Easy,' 'Photograph,' and 'You're Sixteen.' In 1981, he starred in the forgetful comedy 'Caveman' with Dennis Quaid, Shelly Long, and Catherine Bach. It was on the set of this movie that he fell in love with Catherine... and married her that same year. They are still together after all these years.
He became the narrator for a children's series called Thomas The Tank Engine in 1984. Later, he was the train conductor on Shining Time Station in 1990 and 1991 until he was replaced by George Carlin. He resurrected his musical career by touring and performing with his All-Starr Band in The 90's.
Lennon, McCartney and Harrison have all said that Ringo was the best rock and roll drummer in the world.
The opening of the show starts out with a Beatles Memorabilia Auction...
Martin Short - Auctioneer... Do I hear forty-five thousand dollars? I hear forty-five thousand dollars. Do I hear fifty? Fifty thousand for the guitiar pick used by John Lennon while recording '8 Days a Week.' No? Forty-five thousand once, forty-five twice, sold--to the gentleman in the second row for forty-five thousand dollars. (Applause from bidders) Now, if you will turn to page 21 in your catalogues, we have Lot 35, a particularly fine piece: a toothbrush used by Paul McCartney during the Rubber Soul recording sessions. It's a blue, medium-bristle Oral B 40 with one of those little pointy rubber things at the other end. Yes, madame?
Julia Louis-Drefuss (Bidder)... DId Paul actually use the little pointy rubber thing?
Martin Short... It is our understanding that he did. I will open the bidding at sixty thousand dollars. Do I hear sixty? (A hand is raised) Do I hear seventy thousand dollars? (Another hand is raised.) Do I hear eighty thousand dollars? (Another hand is raised.) Do I hear ninety thousand dollars?
Julia... A hundred and ten thousand dollars.
Martin Short... $110,000 once, $110,000 twice, sold--to the woman in the third row.
(Applause breaks out from everyone in the bidding room.)
Martin Short... Now, ladies and gentlemen, if you will turn to page 22 in your catalogues, we have Lot 36, Ringo Starr.
(Ringo enters, dressed in the classic Beatles 'Ed Sullivan Show' outfit of black slacks, grey collarless jacket over a white dress shirt. He walks around the room, and displays himself to the bidders.)
Martin Short... He was the drummer for nine years with the Beatles and performed with them on all their albums and tours. As you can see, he's in very good condition. I will open the bidding at $75,000. Do I hear 75? Do I hear $75,000 for this drummer with the Beatles? Do I hear $65,000 for RIngo Starr? A member of the Beatles...talented musician...owner of a large ring collection. (Calls on the second bidder, who has raised his hand.) Yes, sir, $65,000?
Gary Kroeger (2nd Bidder)... No, no--I was wondering about the jacket he's wearing.
Martin Short... Yes.
Gary... Was it by any chance ever worn by Paul?
Martin... I'm sorry, no,sir. Do I hear $15,000 for Ringo Starr? $15,000? Good Lord, this man is a human being! Yes, madam?
Pamela Stephenson (3rd Bidder)... Hmmmmm.....well, does he do anything?
Martin... Ah, Ann knows more about that than I would. Ann, what does he do?
Ann (played by Mary Gross)... Well, he, uh, plays the drums. And he has a very interesting ring collection.
Pamela... Can he talk?
Ann... Yes, I think so. (She hands him a card.) Here, Ringo, would you read this?
Ringo: 'Live, form New York, it's Saturday Night!'
Even after his successful run on ABC's 'Soap', Billy Crystal appeared an an SNL player doing what he always wanted to do. One of his most popular sketches was 'Fernando's Hideaway.' His impression of Fernando Lamas as a smarmy talkshow host with the phrase, 'You look mahvelous!' was a sensation.
You never knew quite what to expect when Fernando interviewed his guests. Ringo Starr and his wife Barbara Bach...
Fernando... You look maah-velous!
Barbara... You look pretty good, yourself.
Fernando... Well, thank you, darling. I'm blushing inside. My temperature is rising, it isn't surprising. I'll tell you that, right now. (He looks over at Ringo Starr) You know what I'm saying to you?
(Ringo starts to speak, but Fernando quickly loses interest and focuses on Barbara)
Fernando... Barbara ---
(Ringo remains stunned that he's not the one being interviewed)
Ringo Starr was the only Beatles to ever host Saturday Night Live. In a sketch, George Harrison showed up once to claim the $3000 check that Lorne Michaels offered to The Beatles to play one song on that show. Paul McCartney appeared twice as a musical guest.
During the Dec 8, 1984 SNL broadcast... Ringo also sang with Sammy Davis Jr. Billy Crystal pulls off a very good impression of Sammy as they sing a medley of songs such as 'With a Little Help From My Friends', 'Act Naturally', 'I've Gotta Be Me', 'Octopus's Garden', 'Photograph', and 'Yellow Submarine.'
I saw JukeBox 101 perform at Leuzinger's Memorabilia Day 2005. They were very good. Dean Rice, Ralph and Frank Harrington, and I checked out song after song as they played. It was a moment to reminisce.
Frank reminded us of a varsity football game in which he threw the ball to me, and I dropped the pass. I did remember that tragic moment, but it wasn't as bad as Frank described. The memories that we hold on to.
Here we were. Four friends reunited on the Leuzinger campus in front of the slab. Here once again, where I first made my debut as a musician many years ago. I played in the band with Richard in the Beatle's cover band 'Seltaeb' in 1980.
One sunny afternoon, I ditched a baseball lunch meeting. Since this was my first gig as a musician, I could not declare my musical intentions to my fellow ball players and Coach Bowman. It was supposed to be a secret.
As we started to play our first song, I froze up in mortal fear. It was a completely different experience than pitching on the mound or playing football under the lights with the Olympian Torch lit. That day on the slab, I was exposed physically... and worse yet, emotionally. I could not strum my guitar.
As my microphone fell to the ground, the entire varsity baseball team and Coach Bowman walked out to the front of the slab. They stood there watching the band. Someone had snitched on me. Well, I was caught. What could I do, but pick up the fallen microphone. I gave the crowd my best Beatle 'Oooooooo!'. Richard pulled off a great Paul McCartney rendition while playing left handed on his carboard cutout bass guitar. Very good for someone who is right handed.
Such great memories. The music. The CIF baseball playoffs at Anaheim Stadium. Football. Friends.
Orlando Salazar '80
July 4th, 1981 - Leuzinger High School Fireworks Show
On Leuzinger's Olympian Field, I had the personal pleasure of watching Richard Castillo, Orlando Salazar, Tony Diaz, and Carlos Ibanez perform as the group 'Seltaeb'. I am a big fan of Beatles' music. These four young men were very good at simulating the song styles and vocals of the original lads from Liverpool. The crowd certainly voiced their approval after each tune. Terry.
Los Angeles Times - December 09, 2001
By Rubin Martinez
It was a warm fall evening in 1997, and on the patio of the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, mariachi trumpets were blasting. The occasion was a family reunion, and it was in all ways a typical Mexican fiesta – except for the presence of a handful of guests who stood out among the Old World elders and Mexican American kids. Huddled together at a table were George Harrison and some of his friends, including Indian sitar legend Ravi Shankar, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra and session drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner.
But the rock ‘n’ roll royalty was not the center of attention that evening. Harrison’s in-laws, Maria Louise and Esiquiel Arias, as matriarch and patriarch, had the spotlight. Harrison was there because of their daughter, Olivia Arias, whom he’d married in 1978, thereby gaining a huge Mexican American extended family in Los Angeles.
The former Beatle has been eulogized since his death last month for his cross-cultural collaborations, for popularizing the sitar in Western pop, for serving as a bridge between East and West. But perhaps his most fundamental cross-cultural endeavor was in his personal life.
Harrison married into a typical working-class Mexican American family from Hawthorne. Like millions of others, Esiquiel Arias immigrated in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. He settled in Los Angeles, finding work on the railroads downtown and living in a rundown labor camp then known as La Seccion de Santa Fe. The Arias family eventually moved up, buying a house in Hawthorne, where Olivia and her siblings grew up.
Harrison met his future wife at A&M Records in Hollywood, where she worked, while he was in the U.S. promoting an upcoming tour with Shankar. On the surface, they made a strange pair, but their relationship made sense. The working-class Arias family are a sort-of American version of those famously working-class people of Liverpool. Harrison, the son of a bus driver, grew up in an English version of East L.A.
On the night I met George and Olivia at the Wilshire Ebell, the live music was performed by one of the world’s great mariachi bands, Los Camperos de Nati Cano.
Later, Harrison talked to me with great enthusiasm about Jorge Negrete, one of the great crooners from the golden era of mariachi music. He said that he wanted to use an image from an old Negrete album on the cover of one of his own future projects.
It was one of those uniquely L.A. moments–a sort of postmodern version of the first contact between Old and New Worlds 500 years ago.
The in-between space where cultures meet unself-consciously is exhilirating. I grew up in a family where cultural pastiche was the norm. My father is Mexican American and my mother an immigrant from El Salvador who arrived in L.A. with a crew of other young, single women from Central America seeking an American future. Many of her friends found American husbands. At their reunions, we danced to a blend of merengue and rock; we ate tamales and Swedish meatballs.
But in my formative years in L.A.–around the time that Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” played constantly on the AM radio of my dad’s red Volkswagen beetle–the pieces of Southern California’s cultural mosaic were not fitting together so easily. To this day, in many ways, they still do not. All too often, cultural mixing is both conscious and aimed at profit. In the process of buying and selling the traditions of an ethnic or spiritual group, profound cultural meanings may be lost–for both buyer and seller. In the end, we’re left with that postmodern conundrum: a world of symbols detached from their original significance. It is a world in which we can wear each other’s clothes, dance to each other’s music–yet still remain trapped in an outmoded colonial hierarchy.
It is still easier for a white, middle-class Angeleno to commune with the mystical East than to really get to know the Salvadoran nanny or the Korean merchant. Sure, L.A.’s elites take salsa lessons and eat kimchi–but how much closer does that really get them to the cultures of the immigrant workers that serve them?
By all accounts, Harrison was no mere cultural tourist–his spiritual border-crossing was a lifelong commitment. And he backed it up with actions, like the Concert for Bangladesh, widely credited as the birth of rock philanthropy.
Harrison crossed borders with gusto. And so it was altogether fitting that Harrison, on a mission promoting the music of Shankar, arrived at A&M Studios in Hollywood and met the striking Olivia Arias. From Liverpool to Hawthorne, via India. In his art and life, Harrison blended his disparate worlds seamlessly, and by doing so helped make the world a smaller, more loving place. Descanse en paz, Jorge.