“I remember, when George died, wanting the clock to stop right there, because I thought, ‘One day I’ll look back, and it’ll be five years.’ and now it’s 20 years,” reflects Olivia Harrison, speaking to Yahoo Entertainment via Zoom from England.
George Harrison’s Widow Is Now Looking Back On The Poetry Collection The Lightning Came: Twenty Poems for Georgeabout her life with the legendary Beatles guitarist, who died of lung cancer on November 29, 2001. She explains, “I think this is so much more personal and intimate than any autobiography I could have written in the traditional way.”
Olivia Trinidad Arias and George Harrison’s poetic love story began in 1974, when they met while Olivia was working as a marketing executive at A&M Records. At the time, George was splitting up with his first wife, model Pattie Boyd, and as Olivia says, “He was having a little too much fun.” She admits she “definitely had some misgivings” about getting romantically involved with a Beatle – “I thought, ‘Wait, wait. I truth want to get into it?’” — and even remembers George’s good friend Eric Clapton warning her. “Eric said, ‘If you’re going to be with George, you better get your socks up.’ Which meant, get ready for the ride,” she laughs. “I don’t think he meant it in a negative way. He just meant there’s a lot going on in this world, you know? And he was right about that. … But George was just a real person.”
On paper, Olivia and George might not seem like a match. She was the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and the daughter of a dry cleaner and seamstress, growing up in “the town of Hawthorne that no one knows” in suburban Los Angeles; he was a famous British rock star. But the two shared an almost instantaneous spiritual connection. And on the paper pages of came the lightning, everything makes sense. Two specific poems, “He” and “She”, detail their respective childhoods and George’s “humble beginnings” in post-war Liverpool.
“I tried to tell how I grew up and how he grew up – that even though they were miles apart, they weren’t This one different,” explains Olivia. Olivia initially remembers being embarrassed to take George home to Hawthorne, to her parents’ “small racing house in a small neighborhood” but laughs: “He came over and said, ‘Oh, you’re kidding! That’s like a mansion compared to where I am from! At least you had a bathroom inside the house! So my apprehensions were more or less quelled by knowing that we had the same values, the same education.” (Adorably, during one of the couple’s first visits to the Arias family home, Olivia took George, a big fan of the Beach Boys, on a sightseeing trip to her old alma mater, Hawthorne High School, which she attended with Dennis Wilson.)
“I always say I wasn’t a ‘Beatle wife’. can you say one ex“Beatle wife,” Olivia notes. “The problem is, when I met George, we kind of changed lanes. We left and had a more normal and peaceful life. it was not also quiet – we had fun! – but we were quite reserved, and the family really made him happy. … He always said, ‘I gave my nervous system to the Beatles.’ I suppose anyone would be a little tired of all those screams in their ears and stuff. He enjoyed himself, no doubt, but then, you know, with [the murder of] John [Lennon]… is enough.”
came the lightning narrates the Harrisons’ international romance in a non-linear fashion, opening eerily with the poem that “kind of sparked” the project, “Another Spring,” which is dated December 2001. Is there much to ask? is the gut-punching opening.) There’s “My Arrival,” about Olivia moving into George’s famous Friar Park estate, very different from Hawthorne, in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, arriving in “The Long White Car.” of John and Yoko.” The book’s twentieth and final poem, “Tree Time (Ode to Friar Park),” imagines the day when Olivia finally “kicks the bucket” (“What if you were taking your last trip through your garden door?”), which Olivia admits with a laugh “looks a little depressing!” But came the lightningThe most harrowing poem is “Heroic Couple,” which revisits the terrifying night when — almost exactly 19 years after John Lennon was gunned down outside his home by a crazed “fan” — a knife-wielding intruder broke in. Friar Park through a window and attacked the sleeping Harrisons, leaving George with five stab wounds and a punctured lung.
“It was hard to distill that into how many words there are, because it’s such a big story. I could write an essay about that and every move that happened,” Olivia says reflectively. “The stats for that kind of attack, at 4:30 in the morning when your body, adrenaline and everything is at its lowest point… the stats on your side are no Good. You usually don’t survive unless you shoot someone. But I’m not going to do that.”
Instead, Olivia instinctively jumped into warrior mode and fought the attacker with a fireplace poker that night. “This is a test you don’t want to take. I guess you never know what kind of person you are until you’re in that situation,” she says. “But I’m kind of an action person. And it was a moment when just something took over me. I couldn’t let George be out there alone. And believe me, he fought for me too. There was a moment when I was under attack and poor George was really hurt… and he jumped on his back and the guy was on top of me and we all went down in a big pile. And so I came out from under because I’m quick and cunning; I left and it started all over again! It was pretty dramatic! However many minutes it was, it was more than a few rounds in a boxing match. … It’s just one of those unfortunate things about a very troubled person.”
This isn’t the first time the Harrisons have experienced this kind of scare; in 1989, Olivia had been the target of hate mail and death threats in her home. But still, she had empathy. “Some people used to write crazy things, and some people were really upset. On a couple of occasions, I called people who were really obsessed with George and talked to them,” she reveals. “I just said, ‘You know, life is very intense, and it’s very easy to get confused. Maybe you should talk to someone, because these imaginings you’re having, they’re not real. You are not in contact with him. But everything is fine.’ And they were like, ‘Oh, thanks.’ You just think, ‘Oh man, somebody help this person! Don’t they have friends or someone to help them?’”
As for George – whom Olivia describes as always being “very sweet and very kind” and “not into drama” – he has retained his sense of humor even after going through his terrifying near-death experience in 1999. [the Friar Park attack] happened, he looked at me – I think we were in the ambulance – and he said, ‘peckinpah‘” Olivia laughs, remembering that her husband was understandably impressed with her action movie-worthy dueling skills that night. “That’s how we communicated, even back then, you know? … And he said, ‘Where was my video camera when I needed it? Gosh, we should have filmed it!’” George died two years after the stabbing incident, under far more peaceful circumstances… and that’s really the core story of “Heroic Couple”.
“The point of writing this poem, and I really don’t to meet the point of it until I got to the end, was that it didn’t take long for death appropriate – not an imposter – it happened,” explains Olivia. “You know, if [the home invasion] would have been his real death, that would have been the worst thing. The fact is, when George died, he did so on his own terms. He was very much in control and in charge that day. And he felt that John Lennon was really tricked. I mean, is it one thing to have your life stolen from you, but also to have stolen the opportunity to leave your body in a way that would be beneficial? If you believe that the way you die matters – and I do, and George did – then being deprived of the chance to go out the way you want to go out is just the thing. worst. And that’s why it was almost like George merited the death he had. If he had died that night [during the knife attack], I don’t know how I would recover from that. It would just have been awful. Got close. But the point of writing that poem was really to say that George no die like that.”
And that brings us to the meaning of the book’s title. came the Whitening, which refers to George’s quiet final moments when he died at age 58. “In a Buddhist sense, there’s a process that can happen, if we’re lucky, where you let yourself let go of everything. I saw Jorge in [the end], and he was so incredibly beautiful and so light, because relief is really relief from the burden – from the anguish, the desire, the past, the future, everything – and just being in the now,” Olivia recalls. “And it was like, ‘Wow. Wow. oh, Wow.’
“Then our son Dhani walked into the room and George said, ‘Dhani!’ — as if I hadn’t seen him in a hundred years. It was the most beautiful moment, pure and absolute joy: ‘Dhani!’ I thought, ‘OK, there’s nothing stopping you. There is nothing else in the way of that essence of who he is. All attachment is gone,’” Olivia continues. “It was almost like a birth, so pure and so beautiful. And it was really something that taught me a big lesson. It really showed me a beautiful possibility. I hope we can all get to that point and not be scared when we’re dying.”
George passed away just two months after 9/11 – Olivia and her mother were flying to the UK that day and landed at Heathrow with a flurry of panicked phone calls from George and Dhani – and one has to imagine that he is an activist-minded man. as George would think if he were around to witness the even greater political, social and environmental chaos that ensued over the next two decades. “He would be mortified. Dhani and I talked a lot about it: ‘Oh man, if Dad were here, he’d be outraged!’” says Olivia. “But I think by now he may have decided, ‘You know what? We will not give energy. Let’s try to be the positive energy.’ He would be writing songs about it – just trying to be part of the solution by being his higher self instead of sinking into the hole.”
And as for Olivia speculating that she and George will be reunited peacefully someday, in some sort of afterlife, when her “tree time” finally arrives, she muses, “I don’t know. I think in the Buddhist way: that your elements dissolve, but you are fine. It’s like that [body] it will fall, but the energy never dies; it just changes shape. So whatever happens, it would be nice to think that you might bump into someone somewhere along the line.”
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