Leave it to George Harrison to affix a title to his memoirs as sardonic as the man himself. Not usually given to open-ended discourse, much less personal revelations, the late Beatle’s autobiography, I Me Mine, is replete with deceptively casual aphorisms about life and art. As such, the book depicts his unique personality almost as vividly as the range of songs he composed and played on during the course of his lifetime.
In a ten-by-thirteen hardcover format(itself a representation of long-term collaboration between Genesis Publications and the guitarist and humanitarian), the six hundred and thirty pages of The Extended Edition ‘reads’ more like a scrapbook than a formal autobiography and, in some respects, not all that easily. No doubt the photo section contains a wealth of vivid pictures. illustrating various stages of the late Beatle’s life as well as his most enduring personal relationships, but the logic is elusive with the captions in a wholly separate section (even though a ‘real’ scrapbook might not even have explanatory text at all explaining the significance of the entries).
On the other hand, the choice of photos says more than their captions can communicate, precisely because so many illustrate the hearty sense of Humor in Harrison often camouflaged by the sanctity (some would say sanctimony) off his eastern religious beliefs. Ultimately, it is worth going back and forth to witness his selections, marvel at some and ponder others, then match with their captions. Oft-seen and used photos become more specifically identified in this context, such as a shot of George, John and Paul from 1959 where they played a wedding, while what’s most telling is the sense of pride Harrison radiates when pictured with his good friend Ravi Shankar and others of a spiritual persuasion: such stances are marked to Georges’ eyes and body language when depicted on the grounds of his beloved Friar Park.
Still, the photo layout of the book’s design does lend itself to the more casual perusal of the content. Particularly in this version expanded from the initial 1980 publication, I Me Mine is not necessarily a book to be read from beginning to end to fully appreciate it. For one thing, it’s difficult not to repeatedly admire the cover portrait of a young George, an artist’s rendition by Shepard Fairey, that captures both the thoughtful and the restless aspects of the man’s character, not to mention the tranquility he radiated later in life. Leaving the publication on display has its own rewards.
The seventy-plus pages of pure text in I Me Mine is largely comprised of Beatles reminiscences or observations on that epochal period of George Harrison’s life, with the bulk of the book comprised, as it should be, of the man’s song lyrics. In her ‘introduction,’ Harrison’s wife Olivia sounds profoundly moving without being sentimental, and while George may be self-effacing to a fault in his ever-so-brief ‘Foreward,’ Derek Taylor’s input falls somewhere in-between: the offhanded banter of the former Beatles’ PR man and Apple Corps figure is deceptively insightful as his commentary elucidates and frames Harrison’s own first-person narrative. This contrast makes for the ideal reading experience because the book is hard to put down, but compelling to pick up again.
Maintaining a cosmetic, but nonetheless pleasing continuity, many of the sets of song lyrics are simply printed out, but most appear in replications of the man’s own handwriting, scrawled and adorned with doodles or ornate font styles, on everything from generic notepaper to business stationary, the combination of which may or may not match the words in question (or lend themselves to interpretation(, but nonetheless illuminate this particular creative process, especially since the entries appear in chronological order: George’s personal growth thus becomes as evident as his creative growth.
Harrison’s commentary ranges from matter of fact explanations of how a song fell together, such as a collaboration between George, Jeff Lynne (ELO, Tom Petty solo and Traveling Wilburys) and Gary Wright (of Spooky Tooth and “Dream Weaver” fame) to more involved explications, such as that devoted to a number which was purportedly a tipping point for Harrison’s solo career, “The Art of Dying,” These observations are less interesting in illuminating what the song in question (”That Which I Have Lost,” “Rising Sun”) may be about, but instead quite telling as Harrison himself is tries to discern the meaning. Nevertheless, both approaches carry a sense of wonder about the creative process and, specifically, how the melodic and rhythm choices for a specific song correlate.
I Me Mine – The Extended Edition is not a book to read and file on the shelf, but instead to leave out at close hand to pick up on a whim as a means of grasping how the various themes of George Harrison’s life intertwine. As such, it is far more enlightening than the usual transcribed diary or journal of events, people and places, despite the fact its timeline doesn’t include any account of Harrison’s battle with cancer, the break-in and attack at his English home or his subsidies of Monty Python projects (that would, in short order, become Handmade Films, home of the Life of Brian movie and Time Bandits, among others),. Still, there may be no more vivid example of this man’ struggle for transcendence than his strained rationale regarding his fondness or car racing; the man’s love for gardening later in life traces directly back to his father and in and of itself offers the tranquility so dear to Harrison’s heart and soul, not to mention the ultimate goal of his spiritual search.
If Martin Scorcese’s biopic Living in the Material World, equal parts entertaining and informative, doesn’t intimidate prospective authors, we will most assuredly get further third-party scholarship devoted to ‘The Quiet Beatle’ as we have with John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Even if we do though, any such work may inevitably pale in comparison to I Me Mine: the personal stamp on the original publication in 1980 becomes indelible with the similarly loving care applied to The Extended Edition.