Last evening, I finished reading Olivia Harrison’s Came the Lightening – Twenty Poems for George.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that my fascination with the Harrisons’ relationship stretches back nearly fifty years now. During the early years of his solo career, I happened on an issue of People magazine with a story about George, and it included a photo of him and Olivia. They looked so incredibly joyful. To my teenage mind, I could not imagine a life more vibrant or exciting than the one I pictured them leading. For quite some time seventeen-year-old me did his best to emulate George’s style and manner, and I was more than a little smitten with this dark eyed beauty who was his new love.
George Harrison was, and is, one of the great heroes of my lifetime. I remain a huge fan of his music, and his philosophy. When the Dark Horse album came out in 1974, I listened to it constantly, fumbling around trying to pick out parts on guitar or bass, singing along “It is He, Jai Sri Krishna!”
I still have that original vinyl record. On the sides of the record itself, the labels with the track listings have a photo of George on side 1 and Olivia on side 2. The smiling eyes are still just as captivating when I look at them today.
Watching the Scorsese documentary Living in the Material World for the first time a few years ago, I was struck by how much deeper and more exciting and vibrant – and tragic and difficult – the Harrisons’ life together had been. Besides George’s musical brilliance, and the incredible balancing act he lived out (maintaining a lifelong dedication to the spiritual path while burning off worldly karmas like Sherman’s march to the sea), what struck me most about the film was Olivia’s grace, poise and intellect. The love they shared shone through every word she spoke.
So I was delighted to find this book. She wrote these poems in part to make sense of their life together, and to make sense of his passing, and her grief. As a result, the book presents a more intimate portrait than a memoir likely could.
Fair warning that it is painful to read some of these poems, particularly Heroic Couple (about the nearly deadly attack on the Harrisons in their home by a crazed intruder) and Came the Lightening (about the moment Harrison left the body).
This is a must read for any George Harrison fan, but it would also be of interest to anyone who is trying to come to grips with loss, the power of love and marriage, the meaning of life itself.
One who is graced to live life (and face departure) on their own terms, as Harrison did, is lucky indeed. We who remain are lucky to find inspiration in his story, and in the loving memories so boldly set to the page in this book.