decurtis

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George and Olivia Harrison, with Dhani and Beth Earl, Goodwood Cartier Lunch, 26 June 2000

Photos: Richard Young/www.richardyoungonline.com/Rex Features

“[George Harrison] was cutting up veggies and cooking lunch [in the kitchen]… I’ll never forget the atmosphere of graciousness that surrounded us in the kitchen that day.” - Ken Mansfield, The White Book [x]

“Rather than go to restaurants, he did a lot of the cooking during our holiday. Using Indian spices brought from home, he cooked up some very tasty Indian meals. At any given evening at sunset, you could smell incense wafting from our villa, along with spicy aromas of Indian vegetarian delicacies, mixing with Indian ragas played on the sound system from his large collection of music. Pure magic.” - Gary Wright on vacationing in Portugal with George Harrison in the early 1970’s, Dream Weaver: Music, Meditation And My Friendship With George Harrison [x]

“There was a serene and calming presence that George and Olivia gave off. George had fresh flowers placed in the home and there was incense burning, pictures of holy men, the smell of curried rice dishes - long-grain rice - wafting in from the kitchen. They’re both health food eaters.” - A “friend” on George and Olivia in 1976, from a 1977 publication [x]

“At the Lodge - much smaller than the main house [at Friar Park] but still a mansion in itself - [George] Harrison prepared a pot of coffee, and [Olivia] Arias stopped by with a plate of cookies - ’American cookies,’ she emphasized, her years in California coming to the fore.” - Anthony DeCurtis, Rolling Stone, 17 January 2002 [x]

“‘I want to show you something,’ a gleeful [George] Harrison told his guest [Timothy White] at Friar Park one radiant June afternoon in 1999, the soil-covered singer taking a break from his gardening chores to lure the visitor off the splendid expanse of frant lawn seen stretching out behind Harrison in Barry Feinstein’s famous photo on the cover of All Things Must Pass. Leading the way across the veranda and through a glass door into the large kitchen on the right side of the Victorian Gothic house, Harrison stopped beside a handsome, oven-fresh spice cake cooling on the counter.
‘Olivia and the cook just put the yogurt icing on this,’ he whispered, his eyes twinkling. 'It’s really meant to be for dessert after dinner tonight, but teatime is in a half-hour, and I think we can each have a piece then.’
For all he had gained or stood to lose in his remarkable life, Harrison never failed to exhibit either the common touch or the ordinary enthusiasms that enriched it. He saw love, eternity, and God-decreed fragility of the human experience in every flower bed he weeded and every sweet that emerged from the family stove. And he had the wisdom to bow with a full heart before all that was good.” - Billboard, 15 December 2001 [x]

The first time I met George Harrison, he appeared behind me as if he were a ghost. It was 1987, and I was coming to his home in Henley-on-Thames, a leafy London suburb, to interview him for the 20th anniversary issue of Rolling Stone. I got off the commuter train and, because Harrison’s wife Olivia had told me that someone would be there to pick me up, I was looking around for my ride.

Everyone else on the train had gone to their cars, and I was standing alone. Then I heard a voice remark, “You look like the only person here who might be from New York.” I turned around to see a smiling George Harrison. Partly because he had always been such a reclusive, mysterious figure, it was a little shocking to see him in the flesh. He hadn’t spoken to Rolling Stone in thirteen years; really, he’d done very few interviews of any kind during that period.

Just getting in touch with him had been problematic. I had left messages and FAXes with everyone that I thought might be able to reach him. I heard nothing back for weeks, until one afternoon Olivia called me to find out why I was trying to contact George. She and I talked for about half an hour that day and, because of that conversation, I was able to break the news that Harrison was working on a new album, which eventually became Cloud Nine, to be released later that year. Olivia and I talked on the phone a number of times after that, but, even after I’d flown to London, Harrison had not agreed to do the interview. Just that morning, a Saturday in June, Olivia had called me at my London hotel to tell me that “George will be around this afternoon,” and if I could make my way out to Henley, he would speak to me.

Now I was lying in the low passenger seat of Harrison’s black Ferrari 275 GTB, as he drove me to his Friar Park estate. As he drove – unnecessarily fast, his fondness for racing cars much in evidence – he glanced over at me. “So, I understand you spoke to Paul yesterday. How is he doing?” So this is what’s become of the Beatles, I instantly thought to myself: George Harrison has to ask me how Paul McCartney is doing.

I explained that Paul seemed to be doing pretty well. I’d interviewed him the day before for the same anniversary issue of Rolling Stone. I told Harrison that, while McCartney had been friendly, it was hard for me to get control of the interview. I had to really assert myself to get to ask the questions I wanted to ask. Harrison was quiet, and then looked over and flashed a sly smile. I thought of the scene in Let It Be, where George bridles at Paul’s bossiness as Harrison is attempting to play a guitar part on one of Paul’s songs. It was as if Harrison was saying to me, “Well, that’s what it was like – and that’s why I’m asking you how he’s doing.”

Harrison and I talked for two hours that day in a guesthouse on his property. He set the tone of the interview at the start when, after some casual chat in the kitchen as he prepared coffee, he tossed a pack of cigarettes down on the table, and said, “Well, what would you like to talk about?” That interview is the most distinct in my mind of any that I have done in more than twenty years of music journalism. The Beatles, after all, had changed my life. More than any other single factor, they are the reason why I do the work I do. Being able to speak with Harrison was a rare enough opportunity in itself. But being able to ask him everything I wanted to about his experiences in the Beatles and afterwards was almost too much for me to handle.

I’ve met plenty of famous people in the course of doing my job, but when you meet the ones who got under your skin when you were a kid, it’s a whole different story. As we sat there talking, so many images flooded my mind: seeing the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show, seeing the amazing videos they made for “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane,” seeing Harrison’s dark eyes staring out of so many album covers and photographs. It seemed impossible that, at one time in my life, I was sitting in my living room watching the Beatles on television, and he was one of those four people on the screen, and now we were sitting at a table talking.

It was that day that, out of pure necessity, I created the internal mantra that I repeat to myself whenever I’m interviewing someone and I’m in danger of losing my focus because my emotions are threatening to overwhelm me. “Get excited later,” I tell myself. Meaning, get excited when the story is in the magazine. For now, concentrate and do your work.

As the afternoon progressed, the room darkened and filled with the smoke from our cigarettes. As he spoke, Harrison conveyed in the most compelling terms how strange it was to be in the Beatles, and be constantly besieged. “That year – I mean, you could say any year, really, from, say, 1965 up to the Seventies – it was, like, I can’t believe we did so much, you know?” he said. “But those years did seem to be a thousand years long. Time got elongated… . I mean, sometimes I felt like a thousand years old.”

The major impression Harrison left with me that day was the depth of his spiritual conviction. Speaking of his feelings about John Lennon in the wake of Lennon’s death, Harrison told me that their closeness continued. “That’s there permanently, whether he’s in a physical body or not,” he said. “I mean, this is the goal anyway: to realize the spiritual side. If you can’t feel the spirit of some friend who’s been that close, then what chance have you got of feeling the spirit of Christ or Buddha or whoever else you may be interested in? ‘If your memory serves you well, we’re going to meet again.’ I believe that.”

I hope he’s right.

—  Anthony Decurtis, Rolling Stone (Nov. 30, 2001)
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Scans - George Harrison, Abbey Road Studios, 25 February 1964, and c. August 1969

Photo 2: copyright Harrison Family

“George was the best guitarist in the group. I mean, we were all pretty good, but George was lead guitar. John would take turns because John was good too. He had a more primitive style, but George was more technical, more practical, and we all thought he was a great guitar player. The nice thing was that he didn’t really emulate anyone. There wasn’t the Jimi Hendrixes and the Claptons to emulate, there was just a lot of people. Eddie Cochran was great, we loved Eddie; Buddy Holly was great; so we had a few heroes. But George built his own style out of that.” - Paul McCartney, Living in the Material World


“I think a lot of his solos were very distinctive and made the records. He didn’t sound like any other guitarist. […] I think George always brought something to all the songs.” - Paul McCartney, Mojo, November 2011 


"George was the best guitarist in Britain when the Beatles started in 1962. It’s time he was recognised for his playing instead of just being put down as the quietest Beatle.” - What Beatles fans would like to see the band do in 1969, The Beatles Book, December 1968

“[George] was clearly an innovator. George, to me, was taking certain elements of R&B and rock and rockabilly and creating something unique.” - Eric Clapton, Living in the Material World


“George’s style of playing - his tone, his phrasing, his ability to articulate the very small parts - is very difficult to replicate. And because that’s so much a part of the fabric of the song, if you don’t get it right, you don’t get it at all.” - Anthony DeCurtis, Acoustic Guitar, February 2003


“Put on anything The Beatles did, and you’ll hear in George a willingness to work within the possibilities of the song - to really find a way to make a fresh statement. In a sense, much of what George did was so good that you can easily miss it. But the second you start paying attention, you become aware of what he was doing in each song. To me, that’s been the most powerful aspect of George’s role in the band.” - Anthony DeCurtis, Acoustic Guitar, February 2003

The danger is when you become too attached too possessively to each other, even to your own body, or to your wealth, your motorcars, your fame, your fortune. The idea is to be unattached to it but still experience it. It’s all part of life’s experiences. The only God we need is within ourselves.
—  George Harrison to Anthony DeCurtis, quoted in Rolling Stone, 17 January 2002
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Janet Jackson - Nasty

Janet Jackson’s video “Nasty” (1986) reads like a feminist film theorist’s programmatic deconstruction of the male gaze. The video begins with a taxonomy of male sexist affronts within the gender dynamic of male as owner of the gaze and female as object, males as intrusive of female space, males as verbally aggressive and females silently passive. Jackson and two women friends are ogled by young men as they enter a movie theater; the ticket taker runs the beam of his flashlight up Jackson’s body. She is annoyed, but says nothing. The men follow the women into the theater and sit next to them. One says to Jackson, “Come on baby, you know you want me,” and strokes her thigh.

Jackson yells “Stop!” freezing both the men in the audience and the men on the screen. She jumps onto the stage, calls for a “beat” and begins dancing, and then backflips into the screen, becoming part of the movie image. This avant-garde rupture of the cinematic illusion destroys the traditional relation between spectator and film image, the posture that presents the image to be watched but not entered (or resisted, or reconfigured). Jackson’s penetration of the space of the male characters on the screen reverses the penetration of the young women’s space by the men in the theater, and it also stops the flow of the on-screen narrative, a flow feminist critics have seen as inevitably Oedipal, inevitably reproducing traditional gender categories.

Jackson imposes her own text onto the film, attacking “nasty boys” and “nasty talk,” asserting that “I’m not a prude, I just want some respect.” Jackson’s demeanor is one of controlled anger; her sharp, staccato dance movements look like karate blows. She is dressed completely in black, with a jacket and tight turtleneck and pants, revealing a full figure emphasized in several angry pelvic grinds.

Her anger is tempered by moments of pleasure from the music (“a nasty groove”) and the dancing (“I could get to like this”). Toward the end of the video, the camera shifts back to the audience to show Jackson’s girlfriends watching and singing along, an image of female spectatorship as active and participatory. The video ends with all the men (from the movie and the theater) trapped inside the screen, and Jackson and her two friends outside, looking at them, a final reversal of the gaze.

But if “Nasty” is primarily an assault on the male gaze within terms structured by Mulvey’s analysis, Jackson’s allusions to female pleasure and spectatorship raise issues from the second generation of feminist film critics. Carol Vance has argued that feminism “must put forward a politics that resists deprivation and supports pleasure. It must understand pleasure as life-affirming, empowering, desirous of human connection and the future, not fear it as destructive, enfeebling, or corrupt.” And Teresa de Lauretis contends that Mulvey’s agenda for a feminist cinema stripped of narrative, closure, and visual pleasure resulted in a cinema that was unwatchable by anyone not steeped in theory. In particular, as Gaines points out, the Mulvey approach has not been attractive to black women filmmakers, who tend to be interested in remaining in touch with popular audiences.

In this context, Jackson’s videos in The Rhythm Nation Compilation (A&M Video, 1990) represent a fascinating exploration of the possibilities of constructing a “new language of desire” and a new female spectator. The compilation begins with a prologue of comments by the different directors of the seven videos, stressing Jackson’s role as creative force. It ends with an epilogue in which Jackson presents two girls who, she says, returned to high school and graduated because of the song “The Knowledge” on Rhythm Nation. However literally one takes this, it’s clear that Jackson wants to present herself as a professional, as the creative intelligence behind a product that has as one of its aims the betterment of black people and the creation of role models for black women.

Anthony DeCurtis, Present Tense: Rock & Roll and Culture

“Don’t you want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone?”

The somewhat incomplete story, as published in George Harrison: Behind The Locked Door by Graeme Thomson:

“George Harrison is back in business. His first album in five years is complete and will shortly be released to critical acclaim and platinum sales. A number one single is just around the corner. The scent of rejuvenation and success hangs over his career once more.

He is back in demand. Following the disappearing act of the past few years, Harrison consents to play his part in the promotional game. Today Rolling Stone magazine are at Friar Park to talk to him for a major feature. The interview with writer Anthony DeCurtis over, Harrison is now going through the rigmarole of being photographed for the cover. Senseing that he is not entirely entering into the spirit of the shoot - ‘I’m 44-years-old,’ he grumbles - the photographer’s wife says playfully, ‘Don’t you want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone?’

Harrison freezes. The camera shutter abruptly stops and the room falls into awkward silence. ‘Can I possibly tell you how little that means to me?’ he says to everyone, including himself. ‘I’ve been on every magazine cover there is. I’ve been all over the world, and met every political and religious leader there is to meet, and none of them impressed me - let alone the world of pop music. The first person who ever impressed me was Ravi Shankar, because he helped show me a way beyond all that.’

He pauses as if to digest the full ramifications of the question, and repeats is slowly. ‘Don’t I want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone?’ I couldn’t care less.’”

In Rolling Stone’s January 17, 2002 issue [x], this is the full episode, as written by Anthony DeCurtis:

“There were limits, needless to say, to what Harrison would put up with. At the photo shoot for ‘Rolling Stone’ cover story pegged to ‘Cloud Nine,’ the photographer encouraged Harrison to move around a bit. Harrison, who was feeling tired and grumpy, made a few halfhearted efforts to twirl his arms and smile. When the photographer pushed him to do more, Harrison looked at him coolly and simply said, ‘I’m forty-four years old.’ In an effort to get him pumped up, the photographer’s wife said, ‘Don’t you want to be on the cover of "Rolling Stone”?’

That was a mistake. Harrison stopped the shoot, stood completely still and glared. The room was stone silent. All of Harrison’s casual downplaying of the Beatles evaporated, and he was now standing there, unmistakably, as one of the most famous men in the world. ‘Can I possibly tell you how little that means to me?’ Harrison then said, speaking very deliberately. ‘I’ve been on every magazine cover there is. I’ve been all over the world, and met every political and religious leader there is to meet, and none of them impressed me - let alone the world of pop music. The first person who ever impressed me was Ravi Shankar, because he helped show me a way beyond all that.’ “Don’t I want to be on the cover of ‘Rolling Stone’?” I couldn’t care less.’

The shoot wrapped up rather soon after those remarks, and everyone bolted out of that room as fast as they could. As the nearest representative of this magazine, I was moving down the corridor at a pretty brisk pace myself. Then Harrison called my name and came up to walk beside me. He took my arm and said, ‘I hope you weren’t offended by that.’ He broke into a smile. ‘That was for their benefit.’”

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George Harrison, 1987

Photos © William Coupon/Corbis

“The danger is when you become too attached too possessively to each other, even to your own body, or to your wealth, your motorcars, your fame, your fortune. The idea is to be unattached to it but still experience it. It’s all part of life’s experiences. The only God we need is within ourselves.” - George Harrison to Anthony DeCurtis, quoted in Rolling Stone, 17 January 2002 [x]

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Finalists for the 2014 Bisexual Book Awards:

(listed alphabetically by title)

Bi Writer of the Year

  • Barriers to Love: Embracing a Bisexual Identity by Marina Peralta with Penelope James, Barriers Press
  • Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution, Shiri Eisner, Seal Press
  • The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella by Jean Roberta, Lethe Press
  • The Soundtrack of My Life by Clive Davis with Anthony DeCurtis, Simon & Schuster
  • Twice the Pleasure: Bisexual Women’s Erotica by Rachel Kramer Bussell, Cleis Press
  • A Wind of Knives by Ed Kurtz, Snubnose Press