NEW YORK (AP) – The first line of Olivia Harrison’s book of poetry captures a universal feeling for all who have lost a loved one. “All I wanted was another spring,” she writes. “Was that to ask?”
Through the verses that follow that question, the widow of former Beatle George Harrison talks about her husband and mourning after he died of lung cancer on November 29, 2001, at the age of 58.
Twenty poems for 20 years, a number which is not a coincidence.
“Come the Lightning,” a collection published Tuesday, is a first and a surprise for 74-year-old Harrison. She has carefully crafted George’s work with the help of her son, Dhani, but the couple maintains secrecy during the wedding.
She was inspired to write Edna St. Vincent Mill’s work about the “wound that never heals” and her own line about wanting another spring was a turning point. She changed her mind after initially deciding not to release it publicly.
“It was because he was a nice guy,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. “A nice guy. And I thought, ‘I want people to… know these things.’ So many people think they know who George is, I thought he deserved, on my part, to tell people something more personal.”
She writes about the mundane moments of a wedding that become all the more special when they can’t be replicated – late night dancing in a jukebox in their living room, how her cold feet beat her on a winter’s night. Looked for his warmth under the covers.
George Harrison met former Olivia Arias in the 1970s when he worked at his record company in Los Angeles. One poem recounts her nervousness at welcoming her to the humble home of her Mexican immigrant parents. “He said, ‘This is a mansion compared to my youth,'” she wrote.
She remembers the first time he welcomed her at their Friar Park estate in the west of London, saying in the gentle words, “Olivia, welcome home.”
They drive into “John and Yoko’s long white car”. This was another sign that she was not married to anyone, along with the description of the day “the great Slowhand moved in with ex-Mrs.
That would be Eric Clapton with George’s ex-wife Patti.
“It looked like it was love triangle legend,” Harrison said. “I thought I’d try to end it in three verses.”
Her husband never spoke publicly about the loss of his first wife to Clapton, and Harrison’s poem indicates that it did not go well. “Estimated exchanges and yes, they ended badly,” she wrote.
Harrison also writes, to a lesser extent, of the traumatic night of December 30, 1999, when a troubled man broke into Fryer Park with a knife. He begged George to hide in the bedroom, but instead he went downstairs to confront her and was stabbed to death in the ensuing struggle. Olivia attacks the intruder with a fireplace poker and, despite the odds, they both escape.
“I wouldn’t say it was a defining moment, but it was such a profound experience that I still can’t believe it,” she said. “George almost died and you think, no, he’s not going to die like this. He was a very defiant person in that sense – I’m not going to die like that. He was thinking that at the time, really. After all I’ve suffered, I’m going to die like this?”
Nineteen years ago, she called at midnight that John Lennon had died, and they remained under his blanket for hours.
Even though George did not die two years after the Friar Park attack, he considered it “a victory, not a defeat.
“It was a win because he went out the way he wanted on his own terms,” she said. “It was something he regretted that John Lennon didn’t have the chance to do.”
Harrison writes tenderly about the day her husband died: “I wanted you to leave unhindered, to swim like you had always imagined and prepared. I can’t help myself.” Could and poked your ear, and whispered the last word so that you could leave with my voice.
His son was 23 years old at the time of George’s death. Harrison said that she constantly surprises him by talking about things she didn’t know her father had told her.
“Whether it is something for history, or a mantra, or some lesson, I thought, he (Dhani) didn’t wait till 30 or 40,” she said. “That’s also a real lesson. Why do we hold back? Why are we so constrained by time? George didn’t live like that. Maybe he was wise. Maybe he knew.”
In the book, she also writes about the final journeys of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to say goodbye to their former Beatles partner.
Now, he and Dhani sit at the boardroom table with McCartney, Starr and Yoko Ono while discussing the business of the Beatles. It is in many ways an ongoing venture, like the “Get Back” project produced by Peter Jackson last year.
“Rich and I are really there to look after George’s legacy,” she said. “On some things, we tend to have more opinions. But on other things, I’m like, ‘It’s their music, it’s their images … They know what they want to hear and see.’ And it’s great to provide and help them in every way possible.”
Plus, she said, it’s a lot of fun.
It wasn’t until the anthology project in the 1990s that George became more comfortable with the Beatles’ legacy, she said.
“He said, ‘I think it’s not going away.’ I said not like that. He was very funny. I said no, not that and he said, ‘Well, maybe I get some respect here,'” he said with a laugh.
Harrison still lives at the Friar Park Estate. She’s too old to walk, she said, and too much stuff has accumulated. She and her husband were both ardent gardeners, and an allusion to why she lived comes in a poem that talks about the trees there: “My constant source of comfort, my oldest, longest friend,” She writes.
She also writes about “another meeting I wrote the scene where I get one last thing off my chest.”
How could that meeting happen?
“It’ll probably be in the garden,” she said. “Just sitting in the garden, (where he used to say) ‘Aren’t you glad I planted that tree there?'”