Saturday, June 24, 2006

It’s All in the Music

The world may seize upon the June 30 opening of the Cirque du Soleil-Beatles collaboration “Love” in Las Vegas as a chance to re-examine the Beatles legacy in all its glory and gossip, but for George Harrison’s widow, it will be a much more personal event. The $150 million surrealist spectacle, scored with an extensive remix of newly digitized Fab Four recordings, was Harrison’s last great idea, so seeing it through has been a bittersweet mission for Olivia since his death in 2001.
Harrison is due to attend the gala opening at the Mirage Hotel-Casino along with the two surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, in a rare reassemblage of the extended, and sometimes dissonant, Beatles family. Harrison, 58, spoke to Steve Friess this week via phone from London about the show and her husband’s legacy. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: “Love” came about because your husband befriended Cirque founder Guy Laliberte. How did it all come to pass?
Olivia Harrison: George and Guy met in the 1990s on the Formula One circuit. Guy hosts a party after the Montreal Grand Prix, so George went. George came home and said, “You know, there was a man and a woman sitting in a lake. She had a tuxedo on and he had a ball gown on and they sat at a table all night long having a candlelit dinner with water up to their waist. There were people in feather costumes swinging in the trees like birds.” This really was right up George’s alley. Guy was the visionary and so was George. They had a lot of excited conversations. George instigated a meeting with Paul, George, Yoko, Ringo and Guy. Everyone wanted to have fun, be creative and have someone else be the vehicle for that.

Have you seen the show yet?
I saw one of the first run-throughs and I’m really excited about the whole thing. It’s a big sensory overload. I think it’s a lot to take in. I’d like to see it several more times.

Well, I’m sure there’s always a seat for you.
[Laughs.] Well, it’s funny, because I haven’t even been able to sit with the music yet. I want to listen to the music over and over again quietly, and I haven’t had a chance to do that. They were very careful not letting the music out of Abbey Road [Studios], so we haven’t even had our own copies to listen to.

What parts of the show moved you?
I’m not sure I can be that specific. I tried not to be so personal about it. All of us are so emotionally involved. I tend to look at George’s music, see what they’re doing with that; somebody else might look at some of their songs. I wanted to just see how I felt about the whole thing and I came away feeling that it feels good. You can dissect any show and there will be parts of it you may have had a different vision. That’s the case with this. I might have had a different vision of certain characters that you have in your mind. Everyone has a different concept of what they think something is. That’s how it is with music. [But] I always love to see [George’s] face. I thought it was beautiful.

Was it hard to watch?
Well, yes. I often think, “Would he like it? Is it what he thought it was going to be?” I don’t know. The music is great, and for me, the minute I hear those harmonies at the beginning, it’s so pure right there. It has fantastic moments, it has moments that will probably be improved. Overall, it’s meant to uplift. It’s meant to make people happy, and it does that.

Along with Yoko, Paul and Ringo, you had to approve what producers George and Giles Martin were doing with the music. [Sir George Martin produced most of the Beatles' albums; Giles, his son, is also a noted producer.] The other three were veteran musicians. What guided you?
I have ultimate respect for Ringo and Paul, and I would obviously trust their judgment. I just felt what was up to me was making sure [George] was well represented. From the very first sampling that they did, the one that we all heard in the studio, we loved it. I found it amazing that each one of those elements of the music—the harmony, the guitar part, the drum part—you can pull them apart and put it on something else and each part carried as much character as the whole song.

Since your husband’s death, you’ve become tasked with handling an important legacy. Is it awkward to find yourself his proxy to the world now?
Yes and no. "The Concert for Bangladesh" [album rerelease in 2005], the Cirque thing, some of George’s albums that we’re remastering now for rerelease, are all things he started. So I don’t feel like I’ve yet created anything that doesn’t have his approval. I just feel very privileged. It would be hard for me to see anyone else doing it.

Which song of George’s is your favorite? He must have written songs for you, right?
Yeah, I’m not going to go down that road. I love a song called “Be Here Now.” He wrote songs while he was in the Beatles that didn’t come out until “All Things Must Pass.” I was just listening to one actually today, one line I was saying to Giles, "Why couldn’t you use this," and it was from a song called “It’s All Too Much.” The line is, “Floating down the stream of time from life to life with me.” I find that very comforting.

You’re scheduled to appear at the premiere with Paul, Ringo and Yoko. Do you all get along these days?
Yes, we do. Well, I do. I see all of them. They’ve all been really supportive and I consider them all good friends.

Yoko and Paul. Is it true?
That they have issues? They never, ever talk about each other in a way that’s negative to me.

Las Vegas wasn’t the first choice to host this show, was it?
No. When George was alive, there was a plan to create it here in London. That didn’t happen, and then it was going to be in New York, and of course September 11 happened, and that was a very difficult time. So it wasn’t always the idea, but I think it’s a good place and it’ll be fun.

Did you and George like Las Vegas? Did you go on vacations there?
No. Never. It’s not really our sort of place, to be honest. George and Paul and Heather [McCartney’s now-estranged wife] and I flew in to see [Cirque du Soleil’s] “O” [early in the development of “Love”]. That was the first time I was ever in Vegas.

Has your impression of the city changed since you’ve visited?
I’d rather be in my garden, let’s put it that way.

Why do you think the world is still so fascinated by the Beatles all these years later?
I don’t know the answer to that; they don’t know the answer to that. We all keep asking that question. Maybe it’s just the obvious thing that there’s something in the music that’s very pure that somehow, it is communicating something. It must be. Why else would people still be feeling it like that?

Since this show brings a lot of attention back to the Beatles and their legacy, what was George Harrison like and what do you want people to know about him?
I don’t want them to know anything. And he didn’t really want them to know anything. Everything he was or had to say was in his music. That was it, really. People used to ask him how he wanted to be remembered, and he said he didn’t really care. If they remembered him, fine. If they don’t, that’s fine. But I think they will when they listen to his music.


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