George Harrison’s Brain
The deep expressions behind this “quiet” Beatles music reveals much about his secret personalities and our own brains.
Recently, I wrote a new song on the guitar, which began on a G chord (7th fret) with a D note at the bottom. It didn’t take long to realize it was a George Harrison-inspired sound. This made me think about brain development, memories, sound recognition, and this most complex Beatles mind.
The Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show was truly a “where were you when” moment for my generation. My mind had been clouded by adults disliking the moment even before it had aired. I could not describe it, then or now, as the brain fumbles when trying to accurately express feelings like these. But clearly, those feelings stirred up by the Beatles were special ones I’d never felt before.
Soon my own brain began recognizing the uniqueness of these four Liverpool lads broadcasting their special auditory-induced feelings as one big sound with many distinct components.
While Harrison was called the quiet one, that was only the case for those who could not feel or experience his distinctive and marvelously mixed sounds. Some fans attempted to do so by allowing the brain to express itself through physical activity like jumping up and down, or, by screaming. Others, like myself, could only sit and focus on those amazing sounds with a brain too busy to move the body very much.
Among my earliest ongoing exercises in using music to improve brain function was mentally pulling out Harrison’s so-called “hidden” voices among all the other instrumental and vocal sounds. Then I’d do this same experiment by mentally pulling out his guitar parts. As this started happening, consciously hearing more of the song produced even more joy, beyond just feeling good.
Taking it further, feeling these sound extractions helps bring out personal creative expressions — something the Beatles were very successful with from the beginning. Harrison was doing the same with himself as well. What was within him were feelings he continued endeavoring to get out as musical sounds. In photos and videos, one could virtually see his body language, his postural reflections of the brain’s strain to reach deep inside to express those feelings.
We all progress on our paths at different paces, and so it was for George Harrison’s brain. He seemed to latch on to certain qualities like singing harmonies and playing riffs triggered from his earliest years but produced uniquely different. He brought spirituality into the music as well as other dimensions. The mass volume of multiple expressions would continue throughout his lifetime, providing all of us with great joy.
The strain from life’s physical, chemical, and mental-emotional stressors can wreak havoc on our brains. Not just on memory, learning, and physical performance, but even more so on creative expression. Long-distance touring and being seemingly always on the run were significant stressors for all the Beatles — especially playing mostly the same songs each night and the continued loud screaming of fans. Boredom became a huge stress too. And when the Beatles eventually ceased all touring, they seemed to suddenly create better than ever, both individually and as a collective.
Looking for sounds that could express specific feelings became a special feature of Harrison’s music. Escaping the restrictions of Western music was part of this process. Creating dissonant chords to express the frustration of touring is but one example: an E7th chord with an F on top, which triggered other musicians, including John Lennon, to follow suit.
In addition to Harrison’s many musical compositions draped inside our brain’s landscape, not to mention the untold numbers of art-inspired creations that evolved in other people from these special good-feeling-sounds, there was an increased understanding of the brain itself. It came in the form of cryptomnesia, a state previously well-known but understood by very few.
Normally, the sensory input of music can be retained as conscious or subconscious memories, which can, of course, influence our feelings. During creative output, we express or translate our feelings. Potentially, anything in our brain could play a part and contribute to this process. We rely on our brains to build a better song — one that’s unique from all others, including our own. These creations reflect our multiple personalities.
Among the many great Harrison songs is My Sweet Lord. But much of this song’s music sounded like another musician’s tune, one he may have heard years earlier in the throes of Beatlemania. In what became a long legal case, the lawyers called foul, and Harrison was accused of copying the music from He’s So Fine by the Chiffons. In the court’s decision, which set precedent for later copyright cases, it was made clear that Harrison did not plagiarize on purpose, but rather it was a subconscious event enlisting old memories. Nonetheless, Harrison was fined. The resulting inquiry made more people aware of this fascinating mind game virtually everyone plays in their own brains.
Cryptomnesia is a brain event, a state of unknowingly, subconsciously, using a past memory and thinking it’s uniquely one of our own. In short, it’s a fascinating brain fart. For me, having spent much of my clinical career helping people improve brain function and performance, the Harrison case remains intriguing. When I became a songwriter, the phenomenon became more fascinating as I would sometimes inadvertently do the same thing with my music. All human brains are influenced by other brains in all fields of endeavor, so this trend is not unusual.
I never personally knew George Harrison. Fortunately, we have come to know him quite well through the deep, secret personalities expressed through volumes of his music.
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