By Shelley L. Germeaux
This article was originally published in Daytrippin’ Issue #18, Spring 2002, after George’s death. It is being republished with updated information, in honor of what would have been his 76th birthday.
George Harrison’s autobiography, I Me Mine, was originally published in the fall of 1980 by Genesis Publications. At 450 pages long, you would expect a comprehensive and detailed life story. However, the autobiographical section, (including Derek Taylor’s italicized commentary), is just 67 pages, and not close to being a Beatles tell-all. It is an intimate and personal perspective of the major themes of George’s life up to that point, often lighthearted, but also revealing some traumatic moments.
Fifty full-page photographs follow, but the overwhelming bulk of the book–the final two-thirds— are the reproductions of George’s original song lyrics, jotted on envelopes and various notepads. Lyrics have been re-typed in their final form, accompanied by George’s candid and at times humorous comments about the inspiration behind the song.
This initial Genesis publication of I Me Mine created some controversy. It was a limited edition of 2000 numbered copies, leather-bound with gilt tooling, in a slip case, signed by George, and priced at £148 (or $355.) The price and limited pressing drew sniffs from fans who regarded George as the one Beatle who was not “living in the material world.” (Nowadays, at this writing in 2019, it is a rare find and not too many people are offering them up for sale. We found one recently listed at $4400.)
George can be proclaimed “not guilty” however when he explains that “two drunkards” persuaded him to reproduce his lyrics and get them nicely bound. He was very interested in fine books and decided a few close friends might like to have copies. The ugly reviews, however, prompted a quick mass-produced re-release by Simon & Schuster. That was nice, but it naturally upset the people who had paid for the limited edition.
Comparisons of the two versions reveal huge differences in quality, of course. In the Genesis version, the photographs are glossy and sepia-toned, separated by protective overleaf sheets. Two extra photographs are in the Genesis version: a large fold-out of the students at Liverpool Institute, and one of son Dhani. The lyric sheets are reproduced in color, bringing to life the various color pens and odd scraps of paper George used.
The 1981 Simon & Schuster edition was 50 pages shorter, and the photos and lyrics are in black and white—and much less expensive. This was followed by a 2002 reprint that featured a heartfelt seven-page introduction by his widow Olivia Harrison. This introduction adds a special warmth and clarity to George’s story that only a wife can give.
The 2017 release of I Me Mine: The Extended Edition was also a Genesis Publications release. At 569 pages, the new edition is significantly larger than both previous editions. There is a wealth of previously unseen archival material including 59 additional song lyric sheets and commentary; seven of which are from his 2002 posthumous album Brainwashed. The lyric sheets are reproduced in pristine color, and some new color photos of George have been added.
The first clue that I Me Mine is not intended to add much to Beatles’ history is George’s dedication “to gardeners everywhere” at the front of the book. He begins with a comment about “entering the womb at 12 Arnold Grove” in Liverpool, then describes memories of being a child there. The unbearable lack of heat forced to him sleep with a hot water bottle. The horrors of school drove him to skipping out, and ripping up reports that said, “I cannot tell you what his work is like because he has not done any.”
The only real reference to his memories as lead guitarist of The Beatles refers to his being excited to become “famous” initially, but that his memories quickly turned sour. The craziness of Beatlemania came with travel nightmares and death threats, and he describes the Manila experience (the show in the Philippines) as “one of the nastiest times I have had.” Continuing to let the air out of the Beatle myth, he added: “I have also been grumpy at times because there were a lot of things we had to do collectively that didn’t grab me personally.…There was never anything, in any of the Beatle experiences, really, that good; even the best thrill soon got tiring.”
John Lennon complained in the Playboy interview from September, 1980, that George had apparently forgotten him while writing his autobiography. Lennon said: “I was hurt by it … By glaring omission in the book, my influence on his life is absolutely zilch and nil … I’m not in the book.” In actuality, that’s not true because John is mentioned on eleven different pages. In a later interview, George said in response that he felt John was annoyed because “I didn’t say that he’d written one line of the song ‘Taxman’. But I also didn’t say how I wrote two lines of ‘Come Together’ or three lines of ‘Eleanor Rigby‘, you know?” John obviously assumed this was supposed to be a full account of George’s life and everyone in it, along with appropriate musical credits and influence; but George had taken a much more informal approach without the “niggling” as he put it.
George’s discovery of Indian spirituality in 1965, and learning sitar from Ravi Shankar, changed his life. He said he took yoga in order to hold the sitar properly, because it is such a cumbersome instrument and must be supported by the ball of your foot. Humbled by Ravi’s skill, he saw that he would never be a great sitar player himself, and decided to keep his day job playing guitar.
George’s humor overrides his “grumpiness” when he talks about his favorite comedy group Monty Python and his friendship with Eric Idle. “What should have happened is that the Bonzos and the Beatles should have turned into one great Rutle band with all the Pythons and had a laugh.”
He moves onto the acquisition of Friar Park in 1969 which was, he says, “beyond his means” but it was the best thing he had ever done for himself. Sir Frankie Crisp, the estate’s original baronet, left philosophical tomes around the gardens, which provided George with daily advice and a sense of inspirational companionship. It was here that he acquired his love for gardening, which gave him years of tranquility and peace.
His passion for “motor-racing” is evident as he rattles off the drivers he considered heroes from the days of youth. Derek humorously suggests that if not for his editing, this section would have been “excruciatingly” long. The feeling is that we have been spared from eye-watering yawns from the list of cars George has owned, races he attended, and driver statistics.
George’s comments relating to each song lyric are very revealing. This is where some details of his life that were not addressed in the narrative are picked up. For example, in the 1976 song “Crackerbox Palace”, the line “Know that the Lord is well and inside of you” refers, not to God, but to a comedian named Lord Buckley whose Los Angeles home was named “Crackerbox Palace.” Another song from his 1976 album, 33 1/3, called “See Yourself”, addressed Paul McCartney’s compulsion to tell the truth about his LSD use, with his line “It’s easier to tell a lie than it is to tell the truth”.
“Deep Blue” was written in 1970 for his mother who was ill with cancer in the hospital, and reflected his feelings of hopelessness when he visited her. It was released as the B-side to “Bangla Desh” in 1971 and was soon out of print. (The song was finally re-released in September 2006 as a bonus track on the reissue of Harrison’s Living in the Material World album.)
Derek Taylor confesses in the end that George’s “embarrassment” restrained Derek’s ability to compliment the man properly: “It was less trouble to call him grumpy than generous…” Derek ends with, “He is in truth, quite the boldest man I have ever met.”
George casually offers his intimate and personal memories off the top of his head about subjects that he is most fond, and that is refreshing. It is incredibly peaceful to discover the true George Harrison underneath his huge, famous persona. He was just a regular guy who would rather talk about a uke, a Hoagie Carmichael song, particular tree or favorite race car, than his fame.
You can order a copy of I Me Mine: The Extended Edition at this link
Shelley Germeaux is the former John Lennon Examiner and former National Music columnist for Examiner.com, and a contributor to Daytrippin’ Magazine. She can be reached here.