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George Harrison: Behind the Locked Door [Graeme Thomson]
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26 June 2015
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PeterWeatherby
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Just finished up this lovely book, and I can't recommend it enough. I was prepared to give it high marks just for its existence -- for being one of only a small handful of George Harrison biographies out there. But it's incredibly good. Easily the best and most thorough book on the subject, very readable, very well written (the author has a great knack for clever turns of phrase), and very well researched.

The book covers all of George's life in 16 chapters (a little over 400 pages of text), with the first half covering his involvement with The Beatles, and the last half covering his solo career up to his death. The coverage of the Beatles era is a bit cursory, focusing mostly (as it should) on how this period of time impacted George. It's the first time I've read a recounting of the Beatles Mythology that is strictly from George's point of view, as opposed to most other accounts that focus on the powerhouse duo of Lennon and McCartney, and I found it a very fresh and refreshing approach to the story.

The author spoke personally with many major players in the story (including Olivia, Dhani, Pattie, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, etc.) so there is a lot of "new" material in this book that can't be found elsewhere, outside of maybe Martin Scorsese's documentary Living in the Material World.

Absolutely loved the book. Actually, I'm really sorry that it's over now. It's definitely one that I'll go back to and re-read multiple times.

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Not a bit like Cagney.

26 June 2015
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Beatlebug
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Oooh.... you've really got my interest piqued. I may just have to check this out. You know I'm always open to more George... a-hard-days-night-george-9 

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26 June 2015
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meanmistermustard
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It truly is a fantastic book which thankfully doesnt just regurgitate the Beatles story but gives you an insight of how George saw it all - and the outcome is all the better for doing so. A lot of Beatles books simply cover the same periods with the same information and you never feel your time is being spent wisely; this has a ton of new information is in it so you will learn new details of George so once you've started you'll want to keep going and wont want it to end.

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"I told you everything I could about me, Told you everything I could" ('Before Believing' - Emmylou Harris) 

"Don't make your love suffer insecurities; Trade the baggage of 'self' to set another one free" ('Paper Skin' - Kendall Payne)

29 June 2015
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Zig
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PeterWeatherby said

Just finished up this lovely book, and I can't recommend it enough.

...The coverage of the Beatles era is a bit cursory, focusing mostly (as it should) on how this period of time impacted George.

meanmistermustard said

It...doesnt just regurgitate the Beatles story but gives you an insight of how George saw it all - and the outcome is all the better for doing so.

Thanks for the recommendation, gents. mal-evans

The new Ringo biog does the same - makes it very enjoyable to read about the individual.
This book will be my next order.

To the fountain of perpetual mirth, let it roll for all its worth. And all the children boogie.

29 June 2015
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meanmistermustard
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a-hard-days-night-ringo-8 I'm reading 'Tune In' when i can. i think my next book will be started in Christmas 2017 but that Ringo book sure sounds good.

"I told you everything I could about me, Told you everything I could" ('Before Believing' - Emmylou Harris) 

"Don't make your love suffer insecurities; Trade the baggage of 'self' to set another one free" ('Paper Skin' - Kendall Payne)

30 June 2015
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It's going to be required reading for me…...

5 July 2015
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bewareofchairs
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I wasn't a fan of this book. It was great to read new interviews, and some parts like the section on the Concert for Bangladesh were great, but to me it was like the opposite extreme of Scorsese's doc. Thomson focused so much on the negatives and at times it got too gossipy and subjective for my taste. For example, there's a part which says George embarrassed himself when he did the Rockline interview in 1988, where fans called in to ask questions. If you actually listen to it, that's not the case at all, and in fact, when the host was asked who his favourite Rockline guest ever was, he said George.

I'd just really like to see a biography on George which can give a balanced view of him, but also makes an effort to go deeper and actually understand why he was the way he was. There was something about Thomson's tone which came across as very judgmental to me.

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5 July 2015
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meanmistermustard
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I thought George was great on 'Rockline'. He'd had a bit to drink but was clearly enjoying himself and the callers took his remarks in very good humour as did the host (cant remember his name).   

"I told you everything I could about me, Told you everything I could" ('Before Believing' - Emmylou Harris) 

"Don't make your love suffer insecurities; Trade the baggage of 'self' to set another one free" ('Paper Skin' - Kendall Payne)

30 July 2015
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Have been wanting to read a biography about George for a good while now, thanks for the suggestion! I was about to create a topic and ask for recommendations until I saw this.

Cheers. a-hard-days-night-george-10 

30 July 2015
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Zig
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bewareofchairs said

I wasn't a fan of this book.

Thomson focused so much on the negatives and at times it got too gossipy and subjective for my taste.

I'd just really like to see a biography on George which can give a balanced view of him, but also makes an effort to go deeper and actually understand why he was the way he was. There was something about Thomson's tone which came across as very judgmental to me.

I am about 1/3 of the way into it and am getting similar vibes. This is the second book that leaves me thinking, "If you don't like the subject you are writing about, why do it?". The first was Ian MacDonald's Revolution In The Head. I'm not asking for a George Love Fest book, but one that continuously puts him down is no fun either. Like @bewareofchairs , I was hoping for a balanced view.

Similar to the recent Ringo book, it is nice to see the events of The Beatles captured through George's eyes. I just have to keep ignoring the imaginary air quotes that seem to surround everything Thomson writes about George's "talents (wink, wink)". It gets really annoying after a while. Maybe if the author had made an effort to go deeper and actually understand why (George) was the way he was, it would be a much more enjoyable read.

To the fountain of perpetual mirth, let it roll for all its worth. And all the children boogie.

30 July 2015
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meanmistermustard
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Strange how we read books and the vibes we get as i didnt get any of that when reading it.

"I told you everything I could about me, Told you everything I could" ('Before Believing' - Emmylou Harris) 

"Don't make your love suffer insecurities; Trade the baggage of 'self' to set another one free" ('Paper Skin' - Kendall Payne)

20 August 2015
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CrossingAbbeyRoad
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I think this book would have been a lot better if Graeme Thomson checked his opinions at the door before writing this book. I got the impression he was almost going out of his way to put down George.

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Beatlebug
21 August 2015
4.35pm
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Zig
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My feeling as well. And when the author wrote of George's successes, it was as if George just got lucky. I did enjoy the book a lot more once I started ignoring the author's ignorance.

To the fountain of perpetual mirth, let it roll for all its worth. And all the children boogie.

17 March 2017
8.21pm
GarryJ
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Just started reading "Behind That Locked Door ". Read the prologue and perused the book; not impressed so far. The author is putting what seems to be his "impressions" of George. One glaring fault of this book is the omission of an important part of the spiritual part of George, Paramhansa Yogananda. It is on film his stating that Yogananda "zapped" him with his eyes, and he gave out copies of "Autobiography of a Yogi". I'm not too sure I will finish the book as it has not impressed me so far. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'

20 March 2017
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ewe2
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Um this is a bit of a rant I'm afraid. Beatles biographies need to get better than this.

This is a lazy music journalist's book, and it shows. He doesn't know who he's writing for and I'm not sure he knows who he's writing about. He leans a lot on verbatim quotes from sources, and while some like Olivia and Patti are genuinely insightful and generous, he tends to phone in whole sections this way, sometimes repeating slabs of quotes later on in the book. Thompson is endlessly cynical about his subject, and just as endlessly concerned about the music matching the times. Only music journalists care about this sort of thing but usually its over with in a magazine article. Thompson flogs this particular dead horse all the way through the book and it's as grating as it is shallow.

For me this was a wasted opportunity. There are many examples throughout that demonstrate that Thompson is content to lean on previous criticism and conventional wisdom about George's outlook and talent as compared to his peers. And this is simply lazy if not unfair when you're supposedly writing from a singular biographical point of view. I'm tempted to think he wanted to write a Beatle book because it would get attention and George is conveniently dead.

Here's just one inexcusable example:

It also exposed his unwillingness, or inability, to write what McCartney called “fantasy songs”. There are precious few whimsical flights of fancy, shifting perspectives or fictional characters in Harrison’s oeuvre. His work tends to be anchored much closer to home. “I remember George once said to me, ‘I could never write songs like that’,” said McCartney. “‘You just make ‘em up, they don’t mean anything to you’.” The irony is that a story-song such as McCartney and Lennon’s ‘She’s Leaving Home’ carries a weight of humanity and empathy which is almost entirely absent from Harrison’s work.

At this point, we're at the Sgt Peppers era, and George wasn't into it and his contributions were sparse and those that were, like Only A Northern Song were disliked by Lennon, McCartney and Martin. That is fair reporting, but Thompson agrees with them. You cannot write a biography like this, its the kind of lazy character assassination we got from Ian MacDonald as already pointed out. In one sentence, he dismisses Harrison as an artist, well before he even gets to the solo work. He then does a 180 degree turn and praises Within You, Without You as brilliant, George's first solo recording. The tone is so inconsistent and careless, that it cannot have been carefully proof-read or even edited. And indeed in the copy I have there are many typographical and grammatical errors. Otherwise, Thompson sticks so firmly to a narrative of inevitable musical decline over the 70's into the 80's that he may as well have imported Rolling Stones reviews and be done with it.

One telling fault is that George's love for the ukulele as an instrument and his passion for passing it on is only brought up in the context of quotes from Joe Brown. On the one hand, the 90's were a period where George rediscovered his love of George Formby, but on the other, that love was never mentioned to begin with. 

Time and again Thompson harps on the disconnectedness of George's musical journey to the musical tastes and events of the time, as some kind of failing. I think by now most people recognise that music isn't the cultural touchstone it used to be, and when I was younger I would have agreed with Thompson. Now I recognise the worth of George's work without needing context, but I still think there is a context to portray here and Thompson does a pretty shoddy job of it. To sum up, this is a slight and disappointing overview of a biography, done with such fake objectivity and contempt for the generosity of its sources that is breathtaking. You read the list of books consulted and you wonder how he could cite Doggett for example with a straight face.

Having said all this, there's enough base material here for a good biographer to start from. But it had better happen soon because most of the sources aren't getting any younger. We, and George, deserve much better.

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20 March 2017
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Thanks for your input, forumpudlians.  After reading the negative reviews here, I'll give it a pass.  I'm a prolific reader and when I stray from my usual murder mystery/thriller/suspense/police procedural, etc. genres, I love autobiographies and biographies.  I've read many a Beatles book in my time, but none recently.  If there is just biased-view negativism from the author, especially about George's talents and preferences, then it will just bring me down, get me angry and upset.  I heart ahdn_george_08!

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6 March 2018
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As @sir walter raleigh requested here is a few of my thoughts on this:

Overall, it was a pretty interesting biography of George's life. It didn't reveal anything new for me alas and I did manage to spot an error in it (to do with how the Wilbury's got their name, Thomson said it came from some studio equipment, when it actually comes from hiding errors made while recording Cloud Nine, 'we'll bury it in the mix'). 

Unfortunately, the author comes across as someone who doesn't actually like George very much- as a person or his music. I don't particularly care what your opinions on George are- I agree he could be a massive jerk at times but I don't think the author's bias should come into, what is a biography of another person. He practically admits to disliking all of George albums after All Things Must Pass and mentions often how "dated" his music has become- which isn't particularly relevant to George's life (I don't care what you think Thomson I'm not reading about you). He is also constantly commenting on how 'limited' George was as a singer, songwriter, musician, basically the only thing he ever properly complemented George on was his slide-guitar skills. 

The writing style overall was alright, bar the author's bias, the pace was well-maintained and not too much time was spent on the Beatle years which made me happy. 

It's a decent enough biography, I don't know if I'd recommend it to completely new George fans as Thomson goes in expecting you know all of George's solo material already as he refers to songs and their subject matter throughout the book. 

 

George really needs a good biography, no one has done him proper justice bar perhaps Joshua M. Greene and he still had a very 'Hare Krishna is great woooo' bias in his biography. 

Overall: 3/5 stars, if you see it for cheap get it but I wouldn't recommend paying over €5/$6/£4.50 for it. 

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6 March 2018
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meanmistermustard said
I thought George was great on 'Rockline'. He'd had a bit to drink but was clearly enjoying himself and the callers took his remarks in very good humour as did the host (cant remember his name).     

I love the Rockline performance. 

Thanks for the review ASJ. Admittedly I know less than you about the man, so i’ll give it a read purely for the info. I do get annoyed when authors project biases, especially about the music. When an author of a biography says “This song falls flat” or “an unremarkable tune” I frankly don’t give a damn. I’m not reading bios on my favorite musicians for recommendations. 

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13 March 2018
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I really liked the book, although it's been almost 5 years since I last read it. Here's the review I wrote for it then --> http://rnrchemist.blogspot.com.....ehind.html

 

What I remember liking was that the author didn't try to sweep aside George's faults, and he also did what I thought was a good job pointing out the dichotomy between GH's spirituality and his succumbing to temptations of the flesh or chemical type. Also, for as bitter as he was about the whole Beatle experience, he was never afraid to throw out a "do you know who I am?" when it benefited him. Interesting guy and interesting book. I'm probably due for a re-reading of it.

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