To the editor of The Sun
Snoozing in my Chair
Remembering That First Kiss
Lost to the Clouds
"I'm Old," he said
My Visit with the Director of Lawrence Radiation Lab
Plodding Down the Path
Read To Me
Tax Time
On Being Fully Alive
If I Should Die Before I Wake
Theme Song Nostalgia
Fight or Flight or
Minor Island
Landings II and III
The Sun on Me in the Morning
Missing Pieces
Living Simply
I Had a Brother, Once
The Wild One
The Cost of Health Care
Popular Music
Sleeping Beauty
Full Moon
Are We Connected
Concert for George
Zoe Moon
An Opportunity to Feel
Over the River and Through the Woods
Saving Daylight
Garage Sale
Pushing On
My Little Town
The West Wing
Everything is Impermanent
Emotional Habits
My Shadow
The Power of Eyes
Being a Vegetarian
She Blushed
The Mouse in the Basement
Mind and Matter
Do You Love God
Writer's Lament
Releasing Dreams
Relating to Cats and
Free as a bird
Silk Scarf
Alice at 21
Alice Evelyn King Skiff
Cookies & Milk
Animals in Mountains

Concert for George

A couple of weeks ago Judith and I were watching television, and a commercial appeared for a new DVD video available, “Concert for George,” a performance in England held last year on the first anniversary of the death of George Harrison, a member of the famous Beatles rock group from the 1960s. On the commercial, fragments of several well-known Beatles songs brought back memories from those days, and on impulse, we phoned the number on the screen and ordered our copy. (It isn’t often that we succumb to such offers. The previous time we did, the operator insisted that we had to subscribe to a series to get the “special offer.” We declined.)

When the Beatles first came to the United States in 1964, I paid little attention to them. I was in my mid-thirties, and had turned away from popular music, preferring Ravel and Rachmaninov. I couldn’t stand to listen to Elvis Presley. Rock and Roll was meaningless “noise” to me. (I could remember, however, my father expressing the same thing about the great Harry James twenty years earlier.)

Within a few years, however, I became aware that something was happening in the cultural milieu, something that resonated in me. First it was Simon and Garfunkle, and Peter, Paul and Mary, and then all the folk singers who protested the lack of feeling, the lack of caring for others that our society seemed to embody. The House Un-American Activities Committee, our entrance into the Vietnam War, and official resistance to civil rights demonstrations all served to arouse my awareness of a growing movement mostly among the young, and music was their voice. The Beatles’ music didn’t spearhead the counterculture, but their sentiments, for all their youth, echoed what was becoming to me a major conflict with mainstream values.

It was a romantic time, just as were the early forties, when young people were going off to fight, and the music became sentimental and poignant. This time the enemy was not so easily identified—it seemed, somehow, to be us.

In the thirty years since all that, the world has changed again. Retrospectives and reunion concerts have dotted the musical landscape. Even Simon and Garfunkle have appeared together several times. After another Beatle, John Lennon, was killed a few years ago, a flurry of concerts and reissued albums reminded us of the time when young people were pointing out to us how far we had drifted from the idealism of the War Years. They were the children of the people who had fought to save the world, and they were saying to their parents, “This isn‘t the way you said it would be!”

Nostalgia isn’t planned. It happens to us when our defenses are down, when we pick up an old book and a photograph falls out—that face we loved so much. It happens when we catch an old melody wafting out of a window, the song we sang together around a campfire. It happens when a scent triggers memories, and perhaps a foolish tear.

“Concert for George” sparked that kind of nostalgia. Manufactured? Yes, it probably was, deliberately and skillfully. I hadn’t even remembered that George Harrison had died (although the fall of 2001 was a distracting time). The songs in the commercial that caught my attention had little to do with the Beatles, in my mind. They simply reminded me of “the old days,” and I wanted to hear them again. So when the album arrived in the mail, I browsed through it, skipping to the familiar songs, and then going off to do other things.

That evening, Judith and I sat and listened and watched the whole concert. The songs we remembered were there, of course, or some of them anyway. But the thirty-year-old photographs of George, projected onto a huge screen and dominating the Royal Albert Hall in London , touched me. Most of the music they played was his, and it was as though he were singing the lyrics through the musicians on the stage. They sang to him, as much as to the thousands of people in the audience. They sang his presence, his gift to all of us. Tender, sweet sentiment from forty years ago, one voice from that time, one of those born during the War and asking the same questions about love and feeling and caring about people.

His son was there on the stage with all the fifty-year-old musicians, playing and singing and looking startlingly like the photograph of his father towering over his head. George’s widow was there, too. It was not a memorial service but a celebration, and those of us who remembered his music were caught up in the nostalgia, not just for a man but for a time when it seemed that the world might get better.


Donald Skiff, December 28, 2003

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