Sunday, February 19, 2006

Come Together

New works about George, Paul, and the Fab Four's cultural echoes fill holes in the Beatles' lives and music.

Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison By Joshua M. GreeneWiley, 307 pp., illustrated, $25.95

McCartney By Christopher SandfordCarroll & Graf, 430 pp., illustrated, $26.95

Reading the Beatles: Cultural Studies, Literary Criticism, and the Fab Four Edited by Kenneth Womack and Todd F. DavisState University of New York, 288 pp., $24.95

It has always seemed to me a convincing proof of the greatness of the Beatles that the bulk of ''The White Album" -- that voluptuous crack-up of a record, full of smut and lunacy -- was written at a meditation camp in the Himalayas. Geniuses that they were, at Rishikesh, India, the Beatles answered the pull of the transcendental with an equivalent downward thrust of their own; commanded by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to focus on bliss, nothingness, and the white light of eternity, they came up with ''Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" and ''Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey." Apart from George Harrison, that is. While John and Paul strummed and swapped their ribaldries, and Ringo went home early with tummy trouble (too much spicy food), George was rigorous, sober, down with the program. It had been his idea to go there, after all. His best Rishikesh songs are solemn and beautiful: the devotional murmur of ''Long, Long, Long" and the elegiac ''While My Guitar Gently Weeps." And according to Joshua Greene's ''Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison," in his solemnity the heavy-browed young guitarist would remonstrate with his fellow Beatles: ''Too much time spent writing . . . struck George as a distraction from their purpose in coming to India, and he said as much. 'We're not here to talk music. We're here to meditate.' 'Calm down, man,' Paul said. 'Sense of humor needed here, you know.' "


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