Watch George Harrison’s Final Interview and Performance (1997)

Before John Fugel­sang was a well-known polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor reg­u­lar­ly opin­ing at Huff­in­g­ton Post, MSNBC, and CNN, he caught a big break as a host on VH1 in the 90s, where he was, in his own words, “their de fac­to clas­sic rock guy.” Inter­view­ing the illus­tri­ous likes of Paul McCart­ney, Pete Town­shend, Eric Clap­ton, Rob­bie Robert­son, and Willie Nel­son, Fugel­sang had the chance to host “the most incred­i­ble all-star con­certs that nobody would watch.” At least one of those con­certs became tremen­dous­ly sig­nif­i­cant in hindsight—on July 24, 1997, George Har­ri­son came by the stu­dio, talked at length about the Bea­t­les, his own music, and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, giv­ing what would turn out to be his very last pub­lic inter­view and per­for­mance. Watch it above in a re-broad­cast. That same year, Har­ri­son was diag­nosed with throat can­cer. He died in 2001.

Har­ri­son appeared with his old friend Ravi Shankar—he had just pro­duced Shankar’s Chants of India—and had only planned to stop by, Fugel­sang says, and “give us a lit­tle 10-minute sound byte.” Instead they talked for twice that long and Har­ri­son played, among oth­er things, his clas­sic “All Things Must Pass” from his 1970 solo record of the same name (above). The inter­view was, of course, a high point for the show’s host, who did every­thing he could to keep Har­ri­son talk­ing, con­nect­ing with him over their shared inter­est in reli­gious faith. For Har­ri­son, there was no sep­a­rat­ing music and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Reflect­ing on Shankar’s album, he says

And that’s real­ly why for me this record’s impor­tant, because it’s anoth­er lit­tle key to open up the with­in. For each indi­vid­ual to be able to sit and turn off, um…“turn off your mind relax and float down­stream” and lis­ten to some­thing that has its root in a tran­scen­den­tal, because real­ly even all the words of these songs, they car­ry with it a very sub­tle spir­i­tu­al vibra­tion. And it goes beyond intel­lect real­ly. So if you let your­self be free to let that have an effect on you, it can have an effect, a pos­i­tive effect.

Har­ri­son and Fugel­sang also dis­cussed the 1970 Con­cert for Bangladesh, which was part­ly set in motion by Shankar. In a life that includ­ed play­ing in the most famous band in the world then sus­tain­ing one of the most pro­duc­tive and suc­cess­ful solo careers in rock, 1970 was a water­shed year for Har­ri­son. The Bangladesh ben­e­fit marked the live debut of many of Har­rison’s first solo com­po­si­tions; and for a great many George Har­ri­son fans, the Phil Spec­tor-pro­duced All Things Must Pass is the purest expres­sion of the soft-spo­ken musician’s genius.

I only speak for myself in point­ing to the haunt­ing, hyp­not­ic “The Bal­lad of Sir Frankie Crisp” (above) as the most beau­ti­ful and mys­te­ri­ous song on that album. Last night—it being George Har­ri­son week on Conan O’Brien—Harrison’s son Dhani came on the show to play that song and “Let It Down,” also from All Things Must Pass. His appear­ance fol­lows Paul Simon’s Tues­day night ren­di­tion of “Here Comes the Sun” and Beck’s cov­er of Harrison’s “Wah Wah” on Mon­day. These per­for­mances mark the release of a new Har­ri­son box set, which has also occa­sioned a Sep­tem­ber 28th all-star trib­ute con­cert at L.A.’s Fon­da The­ater. Learn more about that event and oth­er Har­ri­son trib­utes and hap­pen­ings at Con­se­quence of Sound.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Har­ri­son Explains Why Every­one Should Play the Ukulele, With Words and Music

Phil Spector’s Gen­tle Pro­duc­tion Notes to George Har­ri­son Dur­ing the Record­ing of All Things Must Pass

Ravi Shankar Gives George Har­ri­son a Sitar Les­son … and Oth­er Vin­tage Footage

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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