With the comfort of Pete Ham at his right, George picked the opening notes to “Here Comes the Sun.” The crowd roared approval and George let loose a sly smile before returning to his terrified gaze. An hour into the concert, he still had a bit of nerves and though he had Badfinger with him now, and a horde of friends throughout, he was consumed with worry and deep blue thoughts.
So far, so good. It was happening, this Concert for Bangladesh, by all standards a huge success. He was front and center for the first time, his shoulder length hair spilling onto his burnt orange shirt, the white coat of his gleaming suit discarded. George’s serious demeanor, coupled with his long Egyptian pharaoh beard, made him look well beyond his 28 years. He stared out, thinking.
Would Bob show?
It was difficult for George to behave normally around Dylan; he worshipped the man and the man didn’t make it easy on George. Dylan wouldn’t commit. Oh, he had lots of reasons, most circling around his almost absolute disappearance from the stage these last five years.
“Hey man, you know this isn’t my scene,” Bob drawled laconically.
George was near breaking point from the gaggle of lawyers, record executives and accountants who circled like vultures, looking to pick the charity carcass clean. Bob was an idol and friend, but at this moment of great human suffering, he was acting selfishly. There was a higher purpose here.
“Look, it’s not my scene either. At least you’ve played on your own in front of a crowd before. I’ve never done that.” Never. He’d always been comfortable in the back. “The Quiet Beatle?” There was something to it. He didn’t want to be the focus, but that was the way God planned it.
Would John come?
John owed him. George had been willing to play with John and Yoko when others in the band wouldn’t. Avant-garde? That’s French for bullshit, but George was a dutiful friend. He’d played vicious slide guitar on John’s anti-Paul vendetta “How Do You Sleep?” George had played the dutiful follower but now he’d grown up and John was confused, lost in maya, apart from true love and unity.
He’d agreed though, at first. Even when George put his foot down and told him “No Yoko,” John was still ready to play. The last few days brought silence. George knew that for all John’s “peace and love” crap, he was a competitive bugger and was consumed by jealousy as George went to the top of the charts and sold millions of records. Little George as charitable hero? Well, that was too much for John to take.
George needed John’s help and knew he deserved it.
Would Paul come?
Ah, Paul. The yin and yang of Mr. McCartney. There’s love there and hate, friendship and spite. Hare Krishna. There was no surprise when Paul answered the request with a demand to end the Beatles’ legal partnership. He’s deep into the material world, and should see this concert serves the Lord; it’s not simply a matter of money and paper. But Paul is Paul and he behaves in a way that causes him to stand alone sometimes. It’s why George was surrounded by friends and Paul worked with his wife.
What does Bob say? “I waited for you when I was half sick; I waited for you when you hated me.” “I’ll wait still. These are my brothers,” George thought as he picked the notes at the end of “Here Comes the Sun,” and felt panic creep. With the song over, he grabbed a drink from atop an amp and began pacing, unsure, as he looked to his left. He’d written “Bob” on the set list, and if Dylan didn’t show what came next?
When he saw a dim figure in blue denim and tight curls, George relaxed. But when he saw another figure in denim and granny glasses, he was elated. It was John!
George stood behind the microphone.
“Like to bring out a friend of us all, Mr. Bob Dylan.”
Madison Square Garden exploded. The crowd saw John before George had the chance to announce him. John strutted on and did his spastic walk and retarded clapping. For all his reputation, John was a cruel bastard and not above making fun of the afflicted. But it was funny. George laughed; John always did that when he was nervous. When John stopped and beckoned offstage, George panicked. He brought Yoko!
But it was Paul.
Paul sauntered on stage, cooler than John, exuding Vegas-y confidence, a real rock star.
Dylan gave George a nod of the head. John came close, grinning broadly as he patted George lovingly on his hairy cheek. George bowed imperceptibly. Paul gave him a brotherly hug, tight and warm. Both John and Paul turned to Ringo, already onstage, and gave a bow. The band – Klaus Voorman, Jesse Ed Davis, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton - stood at the margin of history and cheered.
That was it. George thought back to the happy moments recording Abbey Road, even when it was clear they were coming to the end of the road. It was great fun to work on his own, but he never wanted to see the end of The Beatles, at least not the Beatles as he saw them.
People had imagined The Beatles as something else entirely, but the four of them were the only ones who knew what it was like. Now, nearly two years since the breakup and speculation over what was happening, separating what was real from what wasn't, what could have happened from what wouldn't, it was all over.
Just like that.
After Ravi Shankar asked George Harrison to do something for the ravaged people of Bangladesh, George put together The Concert for Bangladesh, a charitable event. Bob Dylan refused to commit and George was unsure whether the elusive Dylan would show until the very moment he walked on.
John Lennon had initially agreed, though he was skeptical of benefit concerts. Though George had refused to allow Yoko Ono to appear, John didn’t seem to mind but as the date grew near he grew uncomfortable without Yoko. On the eve of the August 1, 1971 show, John bowed out and flew to Paris. Paul McCartney agreed to appear, but only if George would help dissolve the Beatles legal partnership. George refused. Ringo Starr, of course, immediately agreed to play.