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The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: George Harrison Goes Walkabout in New York City

In this excerpt from a vivid fly-on-the-wall piece published in mid-1970, the late Al Aronowitz captures the post-Beatles state of mind of the most serene and enigmatic of all the Fabulous Foursome--Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages

NEW YORK - Come walk with George Harrison in New York's parade, brightening the city's sidewalks as he leaves a trail of double-takes behind him, a long-bearded figure in faded denim while the sun puts a halo through the spray of his flowing hair.

When George smiles, golden palaces materialize on the hillsides of your brain. Poor George, the forgotten Beatle, seeking asylum in our garbage air, a refugee from Paul McCartney's declared war on his brethren.

Why is George in New York? He really has no answer to that question. He awakes before dawn for his first full day in our town, a victim of London's sunrise, only five hours away but still clinging to him like the last few burning words that Paul had spoken into his ear over the telephone. The sparkle in George's eyes blinds you to the jet fatigue on his face. I take him a borrowed guitar and he sings me a song he has written: "... Sunrise doesn't last all morning..." I tell him I feel privileged to hear it.

It has been 18 months since George was allowed in this country, barred because of a marijuana bust of questionable notoriety. Would they have done the same to Princess Margaret? The Beatles are another kind of royalty, and maybe George has come just to celebrate the fact that he is permitted to. "I had to pick up my visa, anyway," he says. Of course he will spend time with Allen Klein, the Beatles' business manager, but on this day Allen is at the funeral of his 74-year-old father. "Allen is the first to really take a personal interest in me." George says. There is no bitterness when he talks of Paul. There is only hurt.

Our first stop is at the cigar store at 54th and Broadway to buy sunglasses. Derek Taylor, the Beatles' press officer, is with us, talking about how unexpected Paul's attack had been. "He was only supposed to write out information explaining how he made his album," Derek says. "Instead he hands us this interview with himself asking questions such as would he miss Ringo. It was entirely gratuitous. Nobody asked him that question. He asked that question of himself."

Outside the cigar store, a black woman with a shaved head is arguing with a white woman who has objected to her appearance. "Stay out of it, wench!" the black woman shouts, walking away. "Well, that's New York for you," Derek says. George is amazed at the city's floor show. "Om Hari Om," he begins chanting, like somebody crossing himself after just seeing something awful. "Gopala Krishna, Om Hari Om..."

At the Underwriters' Trust Co. across the street, a teller refuses to cash one of Derek's traveller's checks. The guard looks at George suspiciously. "How are you today?" he says.

Ah, New York, you give with one hand and pick pockets with the other. At every street corner, George watches the parade.

"If I saw any one of these people in England, I'd think they were sick," he says. "But in New York, they all look like that." He talks about the time he visited here before the Beatles became famous. He stayed at the Pickwick and took a trip to the Statue of Liberty. Is there a city alive with more garbage in the streets? George wonders where Lee Eastman, Paul's father-in-law, lives.

At Kauffman's on E. 24th St., George buys some shirts. Charles Kauffman, one of the owners, also sells him a white denim outfit, saying, "I think I've just revolutionized the music industry." Derek says the whiteness drains all the color out of George and hands him a bright scarf. Kauffman stands there with a tweedy smile. "Just call me Chuck," he says. George asks Chuck if he is any relation to Murray the K. Back in the car, George brushes his long hair out of his face, pinning it behind his cars. He talks about how much Allen Klein has done for Apple Records. "I wish he was our manager nine years ago," he says. For the first year of Apple's existence, Paul ran the company almost single-handedly and Apple lost more than $1 million.

We head down Second Ave. past the theater where Oh! Calcutta is playing. Derek wants tickets but doesn't know if he can cross George's puritanical streak. John Lennon wrote one of the skits for the play, but George remains silent. On the sidewalks, we notice that none of the girls looks very healthy in this part of town. Ah, New York, is this a way to treat such an honored guest? "Om Hari, Om," George chants. According to the figures, the Beatles earned a total of $17,000,000 in their first seven years. Since Allen Klein took over, the Beatles have earned $17,000,000 in seven months. "How could anyone have anything bad to say about Ringo?" George says. I ask him if there's a group he'd like to tour with. "Yes," he says, "the Beatles."

You can see from the way George looks up at the emerald towers that he can feast on New York as well as anyone who comes here just to sit in the audience of the Johnny Carson Show. As a Beatle, the best he could do was to visit the city under house arrest. George dances down the sidewalk like a kid on a field trip but he also knows you can't get to heaven on an express elevator. A member of the parade? They look at him, most of them not even knowing who he is but because his glow tells them he is somebody. The spires of the city point to vanity, but George finds God in the streets.

"Everybody's doing, all the time," he says, "and it's very difficult to stop doing, but that's my ambition. I thought after moving into my new house, I wouldn't do a stroke. Instead, I'm here. If you don't just go out, you don't get in trouble." Trouble? We walk into Hudson's on Third Avenue, where they're always too busy to wait on you if they don't feel like it. George wants a pair of crepe-soled work shoes, but the blond-haired kid in the cellar footwear department refuses to budge until George goes back upstairs, looks in the window and gets the catalogue number of exactly what he wants. "You can't have me pulling out a dozen pair of shoes just to find the right one," the kid says. George hasn't been treated so rudely since the last time Paul McCartney talked to him.

Back in the car, George laughs and wonders if he shouldn't also have bought a baseball bat to carry into the next store he visits. "Om Hari Om," he chants, this time under his breath, "Gopala Krishna..."

George talks about the road he is on, knowing it must lead to God. The Beatles? As a director of Apple, he had to sign a letter which he wrote with John ordering Paul not to release his McCartney album on a day that would conflict with the release of the next Beatles record, Let It Be. When the letter was finished, Ringo had volunteered to deliver it because he didn't want Paul to suffer the indignity of having it handed to him by some impersonal messenger. At Paul's house, he gave the letter to Paul and said, "I agree with it." Then he had to stand there while both Paul and his wife, Linda, screamed at him.

When Ringo returned from delivering the letter, he was so drained his face was white.

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