BEHIND SAD EYES: THE LIFE OF GEORGE HARRISON by Marc Shapiro (St. Martin's), 235 pages, $36.95 cloth. Rating: N Rating: NNNNN
Jimmy McDonough's biography of Neil Young is everything Marc Shapiro's book about George Harrison is not -- passionate, urgent and thorough. Young fans, get ready to bliss out.McDonough talked to 300 people in the reclusive rocker's circles, but, most important, he talked to Young himself -- for over 50 hours over six years. He threads his quotes through a saga that takes us from Young's parents' beginnings through his superstar days in the 70s, to his 80s sag and his resurgence as a grunge idol in the 90s.
Young talks fearlessly -- he apparently has no internal editor -- about his colleagues and friends, his drug habits, his love life and everything that went wrong during his checkered career.
McDonough writes in a compulsively readable style, and the detail is awesome, especially about Young's work, the making of which McDonough chronicles lovingly. The detail is there even when it comes to Young's childhood. This is an author who actually carted himself to Omemee, the Ontario town made famous in the song Helpless, to get a literal sense of where Young is coming from.
Marc Shapiro, on the other hand, appears not to have left his apartment to produce Beyond Sad Eyes. His bio of Harrison, obviously a bid to capitalize quickly on Harrison's death, reads like a quick scan of newspaper clippings.
We get no sense of where the quotes from Harrison come from, and occasionally the narrative thread falls apart completely. At one point Shapiro reports that post-Beatles-breakup, Harrison had to produce material for Apple Records to meet commitments that came out of the Beatles' desperate legal entanglements. Thing is, Shapiro had previously reported exactly zero about the band's wranglings.
He does attempt to challenge the idea that Harrison was a mellow guy who found inner peace through his exploration of all things Eastern. This portrait is of a man made rigid and distant by his religious beliefs. But there's nothing here to give Shapiro the credibility he needs to make the argument.
Note, though, that he does report a 1969 backstage interaction between Delaney Bramlett and Harrison in which Bramlett played Harrison He's So Fine and sang the words to My Sweet Lord over the melody. You wonder how Harrison could have been surprised that the law came calling
SHAKEY: NEIL YOUNG'S BIOGRAPHY by Jimmy McDonough (Random House), 786 pages, $45 cloth. Rating: NNNN