“Dude,” a friend would ask the following week, “do you remember how amazing it was last Tuesday?”
And of course you do. Even if the day itself was all you’d been given, that would have been gift enough. But the weather was merely an underscoring for the occasion, a gilded and golden opportunity to spend an hour with George Harrison. You’ll forget how to breathe before you forget this. Simply saying the words out loud (actually you’re reduced to mumbling them sotto voce because you’re afraid that anything above a whisper might reduce the reality to mirage) – “I am hanging with a Beatle” – is enough to render you stupid.
Then you start considering the notion that maybe Harrison himself ordered up the perfect day as an interview-ambience backdrop. We all knew that he spoke with God all the time (and if He was going to listen to anybody, He’s going to find a minute or two for a Beatle). So, anyone who recalls a glorious Tuesday back in 1974, somewhere around May or June perhaps, the presence of just a soupcon of magic embedded in the sunrays, you can thank George and God (though not necessarily in that order).Â
The dialogue was to take place at the Warner Bros. Records offices in Burbank, California, a tidy little suburb that was home to the label as well as Disney, television stations, and a multitude of pre-and post-production facilities. The buildings are tucked away on Warner Boulevard, a small side street hidden from prying eyes. Turning up the street, you had to park on one of the smaller residential lanes that stretched out perpendicular from the main drag. I arrived early, anxiously and impatiently early, but still had trouble finding a place to park. California streets are littered with cryptic hieroglyphs acting as posted traffic warning signs. Woe be to the driver who misinterprets said postings. George may have been able to transform June gloom but he held no sway with municipal parking laws. I finally found a spot at the end of a small thoroughfare.
I sat in the car for a minute, attempting to calm a celeritous heartbeat that was certainly going to stroke me out. The fat end of an hour loomed in front of me before the interview, and I took the time to recheck supplies (I’d already gone through this a dozen times before even leaving home). Can anyone say obsessive-compulsive behavior?
1) Blank cassettes (10 x 60 minutes) – one would have been sufficient; two would have presented a failsafe; three and above was Rainman-like; these had been purchased at Grant’s, a forerunner of Wal-Mart, and were priced at 3 @ $1.00 (they were the worst-sounding cassettes ever made – I used them for the first ten years of my career)
2) Batteries (8 x 1.5 volts) – completely superfluous because I used an A/C power cord (don’t even ask)
3) Power cord (1) – standard-issue: the two-pronged end plugs into the wall outlet and the female end receives two mini-prongs from the tape deck
4) Pens (3 x blue; 6 x black; 2 x red)- all Sanford Uni-Ball Micro; I knew I wouldn’t require them but I love pens
5) Pencil (1 x Papermate) – Papermate makes over 50 types of pencils; I don’t like pencils so I only brought one
6) Paper (500 x 8 Â½” x11” single sheets) – I don’t know why I brought along an entire ream of blank/white paper 20 lb./104 brightness (maybe I thought George would write a song for me and might need something to doodle on)
7) Interview questions (8 x single sheet 8 Â½”x11” paper/double-spaced) – I knew I’d never get through even a quarter of these questions but since I’d brought along a more-than-sufficient cache of cassettes, batteries (if our glorious Harrison-conjured day actually turned out to be Armageddon and we had to endure a blackout), paper and writing utensils, there was always the slim chance of being rewarded for my preparedness
8) Cassette recorder (1 x GE) – I made certain to double/triple up on anything I thought I might need, but when it came to the most critical piece in the arsenal, I was a moron; this was a used tape player I’d found out in my family’s garage; the motor did a whining/whirring thing like an asthmatic septuagenarian and every crepitating and crying sound was then picked up by the $2 microphone I’d purchased at the local Radio Shack; it was a top-loading machine and when you hit the Open button, the entire lid would fly off (it once hit me in the face and would have taken out an eye had I not been wearing glasses) – I had to keep my thumb down on this piece because it would intermittently eject a tape even while recording
Note: To this day, the thumb on my right-hand does not bend properly and will often start flopping about in strange fashion whenever “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” or “Something” comes on the radio
9) Aspirin (1 bottle x Anacin) – I didn’t have a headache and aspirin don’t work on my headaches anyway; I heard they did stave off potential stroke so I was ready
I made my way to the main entrance. Warner Bros. is all glass and redwood, a true cynosure of the city’s architecture. I haven’t stroked out, there are no telltale signs of a migraine, but knots forming in my stomach now bring to mind colon cancer. Four mugs of coffee gulped a few hours earlier begin to percolate. This is no ordinary day, no ordinary man, no single-cup-of-coffee morning – this is George Harrison and too much could never be enough for a Beatle. Hence, the arsenal and the carafes of caffeine.
I fight down the urge to be sick all over the obviously expensive and rare fauna and flora surrounding the main building. I enter the lobby and the receptionist at the front desk is a lady I’ve seen many times before. She knows me (she doesn’t know the name, but certainly she recognizes the face) and I know her and I’m grateful for this little bit of familiarity. I approach with a smile, greet her and receive – nothing. No response. Today I am a stranger, a ghost. I am feeling very John Doeful. This woman I’ve encountered at least nine times decides, today, that she does not know me.
”Your name, please?” she inquires. This is OK; standard operating procedure. Still, it comes out sounding more like a demand than a question. Or even worse, as a dare.
”Steven Rosen,” I uttered, straight to the point, and pretty certain I’d answered correctly.
”And you’re here to see?” She leaves the question dangling in the air like a dagger.
She knew whom I was there to see. Everybody in the building that day was there to see the same person.
”I have an interview with George Harrison,” I said, dropping in the “I have an interview with …” bit to show her I wasn’t messing around. This was business.
The lady with no eyes, or so it seems, scans her list. Methodically, painstakingly, deliberately and inexorably slowly, she traces a finger down a column of names, the scratch of her paste-on nail creating a sound that makes my teeth grind.
“Nothing on the first page,” chirps this humorless prison warden. She enjoys the torture, the humiliation being heaped upon me. Postal workers have killed with far less provocation than I am now experiencing.
She turns to the next sheet, breaking up the movements as if this is some type of choreography for the hands.
HAND DANCE ROUTINE
1) With thumb and first finger of right hand (reverse process for lefties), grab top sheet of list at the bottom of the page. Find center.
2) Place pad of thumb on edge of paper and rest four remaining fingers on the sheet.
3) Gently raise sheet (a curling action occurs) approximately 1” above sheets below.
4) As page continues to raise, carefully slide thumb underneath the sheet; apply pressure from top (four fingers) and bottom (thumb).
5) Raise in increments of 2” at a time and at a rate of about six seconds per each elevation.
6) When the sheet beneath is fully exposed, carefully and with precise movements, fold the top sheet over the top of the clipboard and secure this sheet with the left hand (this would be your right hand if you were a lefty).
7) Repeat entire process for page two beginning with Step 1.
I wanted to reach over the desk, grab the clipboard, and knock her unconscious. I could see myself doing it, I could feel the solid thwop of clipboard against cranium, and I could picture her sprawled out on the immaculately polished tile floor. I couldn’t see anything wrong in any of that. None of this bothered me — and that’s what really bothered me. I had to get away from this woman in the next two minutes, and I didn’t care how it happened: Either shaking hands with Harrison or being handcuffed and led away by Burbank police.
I am withering in the air-conditioned confines of the reception area. Climate control is certainly set for 72.3 degrees or whatever the maximal indoor temperature is meant to be, but sweat continues to run down my face. She has performed her finger ballet through three pages now. Perspiration is dropping into my eyes and I can feel myself morphing from confident, young journalist to myopic, insecure schmuck.
All the variations of a theme begin to announce their hideous presence.
REASONS YOU WILL NOT BE MEETING GEORGE
1) The interview has been canceled (and we just didn’t bother to tell you).
2) You were scheduled for 12:30 (it is now 1:30). This is unlikely since I confirmed, re-confirmed, and re-re-confirmed at least once a day for the past week. Which is all well and good unless …
3) …You were scheduled for Monday (it is Tuesday). You had the right hour – you simply missed it by about a day.
4) You murdered the receptionist.
I internally catalog these possibilities and save for #4 (which still holds real appeal if this person if front of me does not locate my name immediately), I attempt to assuage my galloping heart.
With tremendous effort, the stone lady lifts her head, her eyes tiny slits, and smiles.
“I’m sorry, your name is not on my list.”
Not the list, not the Warners list, but my list. My name does not appear on her list. She spits out the two adjectives like poison and all of a sudden she is a cobra, I am a mongoose, and I want to rip her throat out.
Everything now mocks me: The sunshine, my bag full of supplies, and my position in this world as a music writer. None of it is real and none of it is for me. My name on the list, on her list, on his list, on their list, will always be the name that isn’t on any list. I am only a couple of years into this gig as a music journalist and already it is unraveling. My biggest moment is now a permanent stain that will never be erased. My resume will read:
*Conceived, developed and published hundreds of music industry stories and interviews with major artists including:
GEORGE HARRISON – Rosen came as close as anyone possibly could to interviewing Harrison without actually having interviewed Harrison. But he tried …
So, one of two things will happen here: I can wilt like a hothouse flower, fold up shop and retreat like a whipped cur. I can hurl at her every invective and religious incantation I’ve heard or ever will know. Both of these outcomes end with the same result, however – Ms. Schadenfreude wins. And that makes me gag.
Or, I can stand my ground, play the professional, and in stentorian tones, make a simple demand:
“Please check again. My name is on your list.”
We are certainly at war now. She responds to my incoming verbal rounds with a volley of eyeball-rolling, rat-a-tattat pen tapping with her right hand and ceramic nails assaulting sign-in sheet with her left (she has opened both barrels). I’m mildly brushed back but still standing. Gawking wounded. She pulls out a silver blade and I’m waiting for her to fix bayonets. It is a letter opener but I’m still prepared for a hand-to-hand confrontation. She outweighs me by about 50 pounds and even with the letter dagger, I’m pretty sure I can take her.
She places the pointer on the first page and uses it to underscore every name. She checks, again, and there it is, halfway down page one. I can read it upside down and I point to it. She interprets the gesture as a menacing one and brushes my hand away like something distasteful. But I don’t care.
“There it is … Steve Rosen.”
I can’t leave well enough alone; I’m high from the adrenalin rush. This mean-spirited little martinet cannot believe the name is there.
“I wonder how you missed that the first time?”
She is still a barely-contained frenzy, yet saturnine in defeat. She offers no apologies, nothing. Grabbing a little plastic holder with safety pin attached, she writes my name on a cardboard square, slips it in and hands it to me. I pin it on right there, taking my time, and watching her watching me. People wait behind me but I don’t care. I close the pin in its little metal clasp, pick up my bag, and leave.
Two steps away, I turn and in the most sincere voice I can muster, whisper, “Thank you so much for your help.” She turns red, picks up the pointer and fingers the tip. I make a hasty retreat. You can toy with wild animals but not for long.
I walked down the hallway to the publicity offices. There, I met with the publicist and was ushered into one of the larger conference rooms. “George will be right down,” she told me. I plugged in my tape recorder, inserted a cassette, and waited. I felt like I was hyperventilating again and tried to control my breathing. I told myself that this was just another guitar player, another musician with a story to tell. But I wasn’t very convincing. This was George Harrison, the quiet one, the religious one, one of the most inventive guitar players to ever place finger on fret.
I was beyond nervous and past the point of inhabiting my own body.
Several minutes later, George entered. He was beautiful; he was bearded; he was a Beatle. The publicist introduced us: “George, this is Steve Rosen. Steve, George Harrison.” As if I didn’t know. The rest of it really was a blur. He was courteous, funny, insightful, quick, and intelligent. I looked at my list of questions and as I posed them, they felt thick in my mouth, stupid. There was so much more I wanted to ask, so many better questions I could have formulated. But he was gracious with every one.
It wasn’t until I returned home and listened to the tape that I realized the conversation really was pretty hip. I met friends that night and before telling them what had transpired that day, I wanted to see if they saw anything different in me. Did I look wiser? More at peace? Anything? Nobody discerned any change.
I told them who I met that day and they were impressed but not blown away. They took it in stride; they knew I’d been writing for a couple of years now and this was just another day in the life. I didn’t push it; I knew what they were feeling inside. Any one of them would have sacrificed a limb to even sit in the same room with a Beatle. They were jealous beyond words and so I downplayed it.
“He was cool,” I said. “No big deal.”
One of my friends even hinted that it might have been a waste of time talking with an ex-Beatle. I smiled; I knew. They were all going to race home and put on their Beatles’ albums and listen to “Taxman” and “Within You Without You” and listen to his sitar on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” and pretend it was them instead of me who had spoken to him.
I left them their fantasies; I didn’t make fun of them. I had been enlightened. I knew what I’d gone through to spend one momentous hour on that monumental California day. I had been eye-to-eye with the myth, magic, and majesty of Mr. George Harrison. I had made my way through the morass and tangle of red tape and unhappy lower-rung record company employees. I had done my job – and maybe even befriended a Beatle.