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How George Harrison tried to help Pete Townshend find himself


Musicians and artists have plenty of methods of self-discovery and finding themselves, even if they swing towards the unconventional. Pete Townshend, the co-founder of The Who, spoke with The New York Times about some of the ways that this has manifested in his life, including a particular instance involving Beatle George Harrison.

George Harrison has been known for some interesting spiritual choices, so it makes sense that in the realm of finding oneself, he might be somebody with a lot to say. However, the story doesn’t start off with George Harrison. Instead, as these things do, Pete Townshend’s comments circle around some personal soul searching.

His reflection began with him saying, “I don’t want to go into this too deeply. I’ve been thinking about it. Last year I took a sabbatical, and during that time I did some quite special therapy. One of the things that I’ve realized looking back — I have photographs of myself as a child. I was so beautiful. I know all children are beautiful, but I was uniquely beautiful. My mother at some point made this huge mistake, which was to dump me into darkness. I came out of it — and I’m sorry to say this, but I came out ugly.”

As to how this impacted his thought process, he explained, “So with the question of identity, my work has been about trying to recover innocence and real beauty too. And if I can’t be beautiful, then I’ll create beauty, and if I can’t create it, I’ll get your attention by being angry, by being violent, by apparently not giving a ****.”

So, where does Harrison come in with this? “I think a lot of people went through the 1960s not trying to find themselves. I think a lot of us thought we already knew. I remember having a conversation with George Harrison about how he could reconcile following Krishna with his having to lay out lines of coke in order to talk about Krishna with me.”

While coke might be a party drug of choice in Hollywood, it’s usually not the first thing people jump to for a spiritual experience, making the story even more curious. However, like Harrison seemed to think, it’s about reconciling sometimes. Townshend continues, “I can’t remember [what he said], but I do remember being convinced by his incredibly elegant answer! Anyway, I’d love to have a long conversation with Irvin D. Yalom about who I might be, because I am a man without a psychological backbone. That affects my work. If ‘Tommy,’ for example, is a reflection of that plunging into childhood darkness that I mentioned, then one question that I ask is, Jesus, why did people like it so much?”

Townshend makes it more than clear with his insights, it takes more than a drug trip, or even a meaningful conversation, to help someone find themself. However, it doesn’t mean that they don’t offer interesting stories to tell and reflect back on years later.