Posts Tagged ‘George Harrison’

A brief reflection on Pete Townshend’s “Who I Am”

February 25, 2013

I know photos can lie, but Towshend looks great at 67!

I’m back home in the States, having returned yesterday from Kenya. I still want to share one or two more posts related to the trip. In the meantime, I finished Pete Townshend’s brutally candid autobiography Who I Am on the plane yesterday.

It is, at least in small part, about the author’s deep spiritual yearning. In the late-’60s, Townshend became the most famous follower of a 20th-century Indian mystic called Meher Baba, to whom he dedicated the album Tommy (and his first solo album, Who Came First) and about whom he wrote several songs (including one of the Who’s most famous, “Baba O’Riley”) and articles. He even founded an institute in England dedicated to Meher Baba’s teachings.

Unless I’m mistaken, Meher Baba falls within the realm of Hinduism and is considered by some to be a manifestation (or “avatar”) of God.

Who I Am is already a long book, with a lot of ground to cover. Nevertheless, I wish Townshend had said more about his religious journey. He leaves too many questions unexplored. For example, he said he heard the voice of God in a hotel room at a Holiday Inn in the Midwest. What did God say? How did he experience this “voice”? How does he interpret its meaning? He describes having an out-of-body experience during an LSD trip, which was interrupted by an actual angel telling him that it’s not time to go yet. In fact, he makes at least a few references to literal angels and demons.

If Townshend accepts the reality of a spiritual dimension populated by angels and demons, surely their appearances to him deserve further comment and reflection than simply to mention that they were there. He surely knows that many of his readers will think this discussion is bunk. Also, how does this spiritual realm fit within the worldview espoused by Meher Baba—and might such beliefs fit more tidily in another religion, i.e., Christianity?

The main story that Townshend tells in the book is his struggle with and victory over drug and mostly alcohol addiction. Given his many relapses, this “victory,” as Townshend knows better than anyone, is always frighteningly provisional.

Townshend describes a doctor on the West Coast whom he credits with saving his life on more than one occasion. He’s the same doctor, I think, who also helped his friend Eric Clapton. Regardless, he said the doctor had an “infectious Christian faith,” which he shared with Townshend, although Townshend remained committed to Meher Baba. Given that Townshend grew up within a largely Christian culture in postwar England—even though he wasn’t a churchgoer and never professed Christian faith—I wanted to hear about those conversations. What did he learn about this doctor’s faith and what made it compelling to him? How was this doctor’s faith different from other Christians he’d encountered?

These questions probably don’t matter as much to Townshend because he assumes universalism: many paths lead to God; you’ve got Jesus, I’ve got Meher Baba. I just wish someone as intelligent as Townshend would have identified this assumption and at least called it into question.

Townshend describes his relationship with George Harrison, who became the world’s most famous Hindu convert in the ’60s and never looked back. Townshend loved Harrison, but he offers a small but surprising critique of Harrison’s faith. Regarding one long conversation with Harrison, he writes:

George was happy to talk to me about Indian mysticism and music, even his use of cocaine. I found it hard to follow his reasoning that in a world of illusion nothing mattered, not wealth or fame, drug abuse or heavy drinking, nothing but love for God.[†]

I’m glad he said so! I find it hard to follow as well: Christianity utterly rejects this kind of dualism that imagines that how we live our lives has little or no connection with our love for God. We are bodies and souls, inseparable and intertwined, as even our best science understands.

By the way, here’s one of my favorite Townshend songs from one of my all-time favorite albums, (All The Best Cowboys Have) Chinese Eyes, from 1982. The song is about God’s providence. It challenges us to see that that “somebody” who saves us is the One who loves us and is working for our good.

Pete Townshend, Who I Am (New York: Harper, 2012), 265.

“I’d better just start getting with God, preparing”

October 10, 2011

As I’ve written about elsewhere, I admire George Harrison. He was one-quarter of the greatest band ever, an excellent slide guitarist, and a creative musician and songwriter in his own right. I also admire him because of his stubborn unwillingness to check his religious faith at studio door. Not that he didn’t enjoy some commercial success—as an ex-Beatle, how could he not?—but his overtly religious songs hampered his ability to top the charts.

Harrison, a nominal Catholic growing up, converted to Hinduism. Unlike many of his fellow rock stars in the ’60s, he didn’t merely dabble in eastern religion, he embraced it wholeheartedly.

George Harrison

In 1999, a couple of years before he succumbed to cancer after a long battle, Harrison was stabbed in his bedroom one night by an intruder. A new HBO documentary about George called George Harrison: Living in the Material World, directed by Martin Scorsese, makes clear just how close Harrison came to becoming the second Beatle to be murdered.

I don’t subscribe to HBO, and I haven’t seen the new film, but in this Vanity Fair article, George’s wife Olivia describes the event and its aftermath.

It was while they sat together in the hospital, receiving treatment and processing the horror they had just endured, that George shared with Olivia what had gone through his mind during the attack. “He told me that his mind focused on letting go, leaving his body in the way that hewanted to go,” Olivia said. “He thought that he was being murdered, and he didn’t want to die on someone else’s terms. He told me, ‘I was lying there, thinking, I can’t believe this is happening! Well, I’d better just start getting with God, preparing.’”

I can’t help but think of Jesus’ words: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). I’m also reminded of a prayer from our United Methodist Book of Worship for funeral services. One petition asks that we would learn to live as a people who are prepared to die.

Easier said than done, I know. But isn’t that a worthy goal for living a Christian life? How much of our daily routine would have to change if it were?

“You point the way to the truth when you say, ‘All you need is love'”

January 11, 2010

I collect vinyl records—mostly LPs—but recently I’ve been seeking out 45s of songs from my childhood and early adolescence. Between 1978 and 1982, listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 Countdown, broadcast on Z-93 on Sunday mornings, was an important preoccupation of mine. Even when we went to church, I was still often able to catch the last hour or so. I remember rooting for certain songs to be number one on the chart. It was a big deal for some reason.

All that to say I recently picked up a #2 hit song from 1981 called “All Those Years Ago,” by George Harrison. In the wake of John Lennon’s murder in December of 1980, I developed a passionate interest in the Beatles, and this Harrison song was a tribute to his ex-bandmate. In fact, this song was the nearest thing to a Beatles reunion: Paul and Ringo sing and play on it. Read the rest of this entry »