Jewish World Review Dec. 4, 2001 / 19 Kislev, 5762
to be Mr. Blatchford
I don't know if he used that name often, or if it was just something devised on that one rainy morning at that one hotel in Jamaica. I was a very young reporter, probably 22 or 23, which would have made him 26 or 27 that day. He, of course, was one of the most famous people in the world, which came with his job: being a Beatle.
No one is meant to be that famous -- if fame by definition is an unnatural state, Beatle-level fame is a state close to hallucinatory. Humans are not meant to adjust to it, but once in a very great while, humans are asked to do just that. There was George Harrison, still in his 20s, at an outdoor table under a thatched roof at the cafe of a hotel in Kingston, Jamaica, with a woman and one other man.
If he was trying to get away from it all for a few days, he probably already knew that such a thing was impossible. This was at the stage of the Beatles' career, or so I recall, when they had just broken up or were just about to break up; in any event, it was not so much startling to see him without the others, but simply to see him, in a life-sized setting. The cafe was almost empty, and someone at my table went over to his table to say hello.
That's when we were informed -- by the other man at George Harrison's table -- that we were mistaken, that the person was not George Harrison, but Mr. Blatchford. It was George Harrison -- at that particular time in our history, this person had as little chance of being Mr. Blatchford as George W. Bush or Bill Clinton would today: If someone were to introduce them as Mr. Blatchford, you would be tempted to laugh.
The woman at George Harrison's table almost did; she winked as George Harrison was being described as being Mr. Blatchford. Not that anyone could blame him for wanting his privacy (anonymity was out of the question), and I honored it during the other times we would see each other in the hotel. "Hello, Mr. Blatchford," I would say in the elevator, and he would nod hello.
He's dead at 58, and of course there has been much analysis of the music and meaning of the Beatles, and his role in the band. One question I heard asked of an expert on the Beatles was: "What was George's contribution to the group?"
Whatever his contribution may have been, I think the question was not the pertinent one. The lasting question is and was: What was his contribution to us? What was his contribution to those who shared the planet with him during his years of life?
One contribution -- and it stands for the larger contribution those four men and their songs gave to us -- can be seen, in an off-angled but lovely way, in the times in which we are now passing through. The world never really changes, although we tell ourselves that it does, in an effort to believe we can control it. But terrible events -- events that darken our lives -- arrive unannounced now and then. And we instinctively look for light.
One such event occurred on Nov. 22, 1963, and many young people in the United States, who had never faced such bad news before, felt there was no way out of the tunnel. And then, several months later, from England, came something that seemed as far away from bad news and darkness as light can possibly be. They made us smile, those four young men did; in a time when so many people felt it was not possible, they made us brighten up, they made us laugh for joy.
It is intriguing to note that now, for a new generation of young Americans -- some of them very young indeed -- their dark experience also arrived unannounced, on a Tuesday in September, and they also could be excused for fearing that the tunnel would turn out to be neverending. But -- like clockwork, several months later, just like all those years before -- something arrived, from England, to delight them and help them embrace light again. Not a musical group this time, but a fictional character in a movie about a wizard. Emotional rescue, from across the same ocean.
Not to draw too close a comparison between the two -- different pain, different young people, different rescue -- but I doubt that Mr. Blatchford would be offended. It comes back to the question -- what was his, and his band's, contribution?
The contribution was all that lightness, all that happiness, all that release from feeling low. Not just when he and his band first came along -- not just in those months after the murder of an American president -- but all the time their music has sounded, when it was new and now that it's not. His contribution? You can hear it in your head right now.
Which is why this may not be the time for sad thoughts. He and his bandmates certainly had sadness in their own lives, but their gift was that so often they were able to lift it from ours. Think not of death right now, but of that young man leaning into a microphone, his head close to Paul McCartney's; think of them hitting that high harmony. See them smiling, hear their voices: "She loves you . . ."
And you know you should be