George Harrison’s widow talks about life, death through poetry

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NEW YORK — The first line of Olivia Harrison’s book of poetry captures a universal sentiment for anyone who has lost a loved one. “All I wanted was another spring,” she wrote. “Was that too much to ask?”

Through the verses that follow this question, the widow of former Beatle George Harrison talks about her husband and his grief after his death from lung cancer at the age of 58 on November 29, 2001.

Twenty poems for 20 years, a number that is no coincidence.

“Came the Lightening,” a collection released Tuesday, is a first for Harrison, 74, and a surprise. She meticulously organized George’s work with the help of their son, Dhani, but otherwise maintained the intimacy the couple maintained throughout their marriage.

She was inspired to write by reading Edna St. Vincent Millay’s work about a “wound that never heals”, and her own line about wanting another spring was a turning point. She changed her mind after initially deciding not to release it publicly.

“It was because he was a good guy,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “A good guy. And I thought, ‘I want people to know…these things.’ So many people think they know who George is, I thought he deserved that, from me, to let people know something a little more personal.

She writes about the mundane moments in a marriage that become more special when they can’t be repeated – the late-night dances to a jukebox in their living room, how her cold feet sought the warmth of hers under the covers one night. of winter.

George Harrison met the former Olivia Arias in the 1970s when she was working at his record company in Los Angeles. A poem recalls his nervousness welcoming him for the first time to the humble home of his Mexican immigrant parents. “He said ‘this is a mansion compared to my youth,'” she wrote.

She remembers him welcoming her to his Friar Park estate in west London for the first time with the sweet words “Olivia, welcome home”.

They arrived in “John and Yoko’s long white car”. It was another hint that she wasn’t just marrying anyone, with her description of the day “the legendary Slowhand moved on with the ex-Mrs.”

That would be Eric Clapton, with George’s ex-wife, Patti.

“It seemed like this love triangle legend,” Harrison said. “I thought I was going to try to end it in three verses.”

Her husband never spoke publicly about the loss of his first wife to Clapton, and Harrison’s poem indicates that it did not go down well. “Predictable exchanges and yes they ended badly,” she wrote.

Harrison also writes, at some length, about the harrowing night of December 30, 1999, when a deranged man with a knife burst into Friar Park. She remembers begging George to stay hidden in the bedroom, but instead he came downstairs to confront him and was stabbed in the ensuing struggle. Olivia attacked the intruder with a poker, and unexpectedly they both survived.

“I wouldn’t say it was a defining moment, but it was such a profound experience that I still can’t believe,” she said. “George almost died and you think, no, he’s not going to die like this. He was a very provocative person in that sense – I’m not going to die like this. He was thinking about it at the time, actually. After everything I’ve been through, am I going to die like this?

Nineteen years earlier, she had taken the phone call in the middle of the night announcing the death of John Lennon, and they huddled under their covers for hours.

Although George died less than two years after the Friar Park attack, she considered it “a victory, not a loss.”

“It was a win because he came out on his own terms the way he wanted,” she said. “It’s something he wished John Lennon had the chance to do.”

Harrison writes fondly of the day of her husband’s death: “I wanted you to leave without any obstacles of care, to float as you always imagined and prepared. I couldn’t help myself and screwed up your ear and whispered the last words to leave you with my sound.

Their son was 23 when George died. Harrison said she was constantly surprised to hear him talk about things she didn’t know her father had told her.

“Whether it was for the story, or a mantra, or a lesson, I thought he didn’t wait until (Dhani) was 30 or 40,” she said. “It’s also a real lesson. Why do we hold back? Why are we so constrained by time? George didn’t live like that. Maybe he was prescient. Maybe he knew.

In the book, she also writes about Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr’s last visits to say goodbye to their former Beatles mate.

Now she and Dhani sit at the board table with McCartney, Starr and Yoko Ono when Beatles business is discussed. It’s in many ways a work in progress, like with the “Get Back” project produced by Peter Jackson last year.

“Dhani and I are truly here to take care of George’s legacy,” she said. “On some things we are more opinionated. But on other things, I say to myself, ‘it’s their music, it’s their images… they know what they want to hear and see’. It’s great to guide and provide George’s material and help them in any way possible.

Plus, she says, it’s a lot of fun.

It wasn’t until the anthology project in the 1990s that George became more comfortable with the Beatles legacy, she said.

“He said, ‘I guess it’s not going to go away.’ I said no. He was so funny. I said, no, he’s not and he said, ‘Well, maybe I’ll get some respect here,'” he said. – she says laughing.

Harrison still lives in the Friar Park estate. She’s too old to move, she says, and too much stuff is piling up. She and her husband were both avid gardeners, and a clue to why she stays comes in a poem that talks about the trees there: “My constant source of comfort, my oldest and greatest friends.” , she wrote.

She also writes about “one more meeting, I wrote the scene, where I unload myself one last thing.”

What could this meeting look like?

“It would probably be in the garden,” she said. “Just sitting in the garden, (where he was saying) ‘aren’t you glad I planted that tree over there?'”

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