George Harrison Said His Initial Inspiration for a Lyric Usually ‘Metamorphosed’ by the End of the Song
George Harrison had tons of inspiration whenever he went to write a song. Whether it was his spirituality (“My Sweet Lord“), race car buddies (“Faster”), or even something as simple as a phrase on a cardboard box (The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care”), both the material and spiritual worlds gave George ideas constantly.
However, it didn’t matter what inspiration George had going into writing a song most of the time. It usually morphed into something else by the time he finished the tune.
George Harrison struggled to find words to describe what he wanted to say in the lyrics of a song
In her introduction to the 2017 reissue of George’s memoir, I Me Mine, George’s wife, Olivia, wrote that her husband’s lyrics were the “most spiritually conscious of our time.” Still, George often had a hard time finding the right words to say.
It was as if there were no words on Earth that could describe what he wanted to say in his songs. Other times, George only added certain lyrics or words simply to help him rhyme.
“For me the essence of this book is the lyrics and I believe they stand the test of time because they are written about man’s eternal quest, dilemmas, joys and sorrows,” Olivia wrote. “George’s lyrics were, in my opinion, the most spiritually conscious of our time, although George, in turn, usually referred to the lyrics of Bob Dylan when trying to make a point or elucidate his own feelings of isolation and frustration brought about by things in and beyond this life.
“Many times he said, ‘I wish I knew more words,’ but perhaps all the words in the world, including the Sanskirt and mantras integral to his vocabulary, could not fully express his depth of feeling and realisation.
“George didn’t give much away when explaining his lyrics. Wasn’t it enough that he laid his emotions and thoughts on the line for everyone to hear? I finally stopped asking George what his songs were about because his answers never seemed to satisfy my questions. ‘Liv, I just needed something to rhyme with ‘love,’ so I used ‘glove.'”
George’s initial inspiration for a lyric changed by the time he finished a song
Often, during the songwriting process, George’s initial inspiration would morph into something else by the time he finished the song.
“We relate music and words to our own personal life experience, but some of George’s songs are truly revealed only through a deeper realisation of meaning and by allowing the melody, the lyrics, intonation and phrasing to seep in to tell the story, unfiltered by our own interpretations,” Olivia continued.
“In the summer of 2001we were discussing his songwriting and he told me that whatever thought or theme inspired a lyric usually metamorphosed by the end of the song, sometimes before the pencil even reached the paper, as in ‘Your Love is Forever.'”
“He began that song by writing about the days we were first immersed in our love affair with Hawaii and each other but the love in the opening verse soon turned into Divine Love. George wrote, ‘My love belongs to who can see it’ and his songs belong to those who can really hear them.
“George’s lyrics often captivated us with one image and then led us to a loftier realm, transcending his initial inspiration.”
Olivia loved watching the birth of a song
Whatever inspired George, and the list was endless, Olivia loved watching the birth of a song. She said it was a privilege watching an idea grow in George’s eyes and expand on paper.
“You could see the creative force of the muse at work,” Olivia explained. “George would be playing guitar, ukulele or piano and suddenly become intently focused as if she had tapped him on the shoulder to warn him it was coming.
“His head would tilt as if listening to something only he could hear and his hand moved as if it was finding its way to the next chords, like a divining rod finding water.
“I would be quiet and try not to interfere with the process, although on occasion I have heard myself on some tape blabbering in the background about what to cook for dinner.
“Oh, I could kick myself when listening to those tapes. George was so patient and concentrated. He just kept playing, whether dinner was happening or not.”
Olivia told Billboard that George didn’t enter a “trance-like state” during the songwriting process. It was more like a light bulb going off. Often, she would be her husband’s amanuensis. She’d write down lyrics or anything else he needed to remember as the creative juices flowed. “Most of the time he’d say go and grab the cassette recorder,” Olivia explained.
Still, whatever became of George’s songs, Olivia was just glad to watch it all unfold. Can you imagine getting to watch someone like George Harrison write a song?