Friday is my last day at work.
It’s also, for all intents and purposes, the last day of my life here in Indiana. I’ve been existing in a strange state of incompleteness, surveying everything and everyone around me and reminding myself that this isn’t my life anymore. As one door opens, another closes, unless you strain mightily against it, and after so many temporary lives, I don’t think I have the strength to strain as mightily as once I, perhaps, might have.
It’s only in goodbyes that people truly reveal what you’ve meant to them, and I’ve discovered over the past few days that I’ve meant at least something to quite a decent number of people here. I have, I think, accomplished what has always been the goal wherever I am, by doing more good than harm here. In a few rare instances, I’ve actually helped some people, I think, and when I reflect upon it, I’ve been helped more than once as well.
So I’m thinking about all this, this metaphorical death and rebirth, when I remember that this week is the 23rd anniversary of John Lennon’s death, and I realize that, speaking of dead Beatles, I haven’t talked about George Harrison yet. And it seems oddly, mystically fitting to review Harrison’s final, posthumous album as I’m taking stock of my own (admittedly small) legacy.
A posthumous album like Harrison’s Brainwashed, after all, is little more than a letter composed while you’re here, to be read after you’re gone. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately – writing letters I will only send after I’m gone, expressing important emotions to the friends I’ve made, and to the unattainable girl I’m hopelessly smitten with (as usual) – and while my truths are considerably less universal and impactful than Harrison’s final ones, the whole process leads me to wonder why we don’t just say what we feel when we feel it.
In a group in which each member was assigned a role and a personality by the mass culture, George Harrison got labeled as the Deep One. He was quiet and spiritual, decent and superbly talented, and if he shrunk from the spotlight as he got older, we didn’t mind, because he’d never craved it in the first place. Every Harrison song, every Harrison project, was a worthy investment of time and attention, and that’s partly why there were so few of them. More than a decade and a half has elapsed between Harrison’s last album, Cloud Nine, and this final one.
And again, we don’t mind, because George always had something to say, and each of his recordings feels as important to him as the best ones do to his more prolific bandmates. Harrison just never wasted our time. Brainwashed is another well-spent 45 minutes, and if Harrison was typed as the deep, spiritual one, then it only makes sense that his final album is his deepest, most spiritual statement of all. Brainwashed is almost entirely about ignoring the trappings of the world and giving yourself over to a higher spiritual presence.
Call that presence what you will. Harrison calls it God, repeatedly on the title track, which closes the album. Brainwashed is a record of goodbyes, but none of them are maudlin and depressing. In keeping with his spirit, Harrison has left behind one of his most uplifting and whimsical albums, one that nearly dances with glee at each new way it finds to celebrate spiritual awakening. Harrison was never about religion, as evidenced in his final swipe at the Catholic Church, “P2 Vatican Blues.” Rather, he was about reaching beyond yourself to find the greater beauty that awaits. He spent his whole life reaching for it, reveling in the journey and secure in the destination.
Musically, Brainwashed is about what you’d expect, and that’s a good thing. Harrison’s weary-yet-triumphant vocals sometimes clash against Jeff Lynne’s production, carried out after George passed, but contrary to some reports, Lynne actually is remarkably restrained here. The man for whom the word “posh” would had to have been invented, had it not previously existed, lets a surprising amount of roughness seep through here, and it’s appreciated.
It’s impossible, however, to objectively review this record as a slab of music, apart from the life and grace of its creator. You can’t listen to Brainwashed without thinking to yourself, multiple times, that this is the last George Harrison album, and you won’t be able to separate the emotions that flood in at that thought from the music itself. There are instant classics here, like “Run So Far” and the plaintive, haunting “Looking For My Life,” and the rest is as good as Harrison has ever been. Which is quite good.
For me, though, there is no more hopeful element to this work than the contributions of Harrison’s son Dhani, who completed several of the guitar and keyboard tracks after his father’s death. One can only imagine the difficulty of playing on one’s father’s posthumous record, and the reverence with which anyone else would approach this material, because it’s George, can only be amplified in Dhani’s case, because it’s his dad. The record closes with Dhani and George reciting the Krishna chant “Namah Pavarti,” together, father and son, and both sons to the Father. Whether you believe in Harrison’s more spiritual leanings or not, it’s an aching jewel of a closer because he believed in them, utterly and completely. It’s how I imagine him wanting to be remembered – a simple, peaceful man, praying with his son.
Without doubt, all of this real death puts my own metaphorical death into perspective, but I think Harrison would be pleased that I’ve taken some comfort in his final offering. “If you don’t know where you’re going,” he sings in the zen-like opener, “any road will take you there.” For the first time in a while, I don’t know where I’m going, but instead of choosing a road, I think I’m ready to let the road choose me. I will certainly miss this life, and I have no idea what’s awaiting me in my next one, but I think it’ll all be okay.
I’ve read about this somewhere. I think it’s called faith.
See you in line Tuesday morning.