Read the Beatles

With Martin Scorsese's new documentary on George Harrison airing this week, a look at the Fab Four—and their legacy.
5 stories

Forty-one years after the Beatles told the world to let it be, we are still fascinated by John, Paul, George and Ringo. This week, the quiet Beatle gets his due: HBO will air George Harrison: Living in the Material World, a two-part documentary directed by Marin Scorsese.

In 1987, Anthony DeCurtis profiled Harrison for Rolling Stone and he revealed that he was still coming to terms with Beatlemania. "We were just kids, getting carried away on the whole snowball effect," Harrison told DeCurtis. "It was later, when all that smoking reefer and LSD came about, that you started getting into thinking, actually saw what was happening. Before that, we didn't have time to think.” Over time, Harrison understood the cycle of fame: "We went from being the cute, lovable mop tops to being these horrible, bearded hippies — and back out of it again. The press, they put so much praise on you that the only thing left to do is start knocking you down.”

With the murder of John Lennon in December 1980, however, came a reverence that felt painfully familiar. Writing in New York magazine less than two weeks after Lennon’s death, Pete Hamill placed the slain Beatle in an appropriate pantheon: “Because it was John Lennon, and because it was a man with a gun, we fell back into the ritual,” Hamill wrote. “If you were there for the sixties, the ritual was part of your life. You went through it for John F. Kennedy and for Martin Luther King, for Malcolm X and for Robert Kennedy. The earth shook, and then grief was slowly handled by plunging into newspapers and television shows. We knew there would be days of cliché-ridden expressions of shock from the politicians; tearful shots of mourning crowds; obscene invasions of the privacy of The Widow; calls for gun control; apocalyptic declarations about the sickness of America; and then, finally, the orgy over, everybody would go on with their lives. Except . . . this time there was a difference. Somebody murdered John Lennon.

Three days before Lennon was shot, Jonathan Cott interviewed him for Rolling Stone. At times, Lennon’s words were hauntingly prophetic: “You know, give peace a chance, not shoot people for peace,” Lennon told Cott. “All we need is love. I believe it. It's damn hard, but I absolutely believe it. We're not the first to say, 'Imagine no countries' or 'Give peace a chance,' but we're carrying that torch, like the Olympic torch, passing it from hand to hand, to each other, to each country, to each generation. That's our job. We have to conceive of an idea before we can do it. I've never claimed divinity. I've never claimed purity of soul. I've never claimed to have the answer to life. I only put out songs and answer questions as honestly as I can, but only as honestly as I can—no more, no less. I cannot live up to other people's expectations of me because they're illusionary.”

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