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The Beatles - Something
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Peter Jelleyman —

George Harrison’s hit song Something (from the Beatles’ album Abbey Road) might well be saying more than it initially appears.[1]

For me, there has always been a charm about this particular song; its melodic simplicity, and phrases which highlight simple gestures or the knowingness of a lover.[2] Nonetheless, behind these words is an indefinable “something,” hinting at far more than sensuality.

“Though a cipher, Harrison will always be recalled for his two-pronged legacy – his remarkable music and his deep spirituality,”[3] writes biographer Gary Tillery. This Beatle hailed “The Quiet One”[4] at last found his own voice in 1969, breaking out from under the McCartney-Lennon song-writing hegemony. As time progressed, the world would hear a lot more from George.[5]

It seems that Lennon and Harrison were both searching for life’s deeper meaning, and they persuaded the band to travel to India as well as to dabble in Eastern Religion. Early influences played their part too, the sound of Indian music in Harrison’s family home in particular. However, it was an LSD “trip” which marked George’s epiphany.[6] From that point on, Harrison says, he was convinced God was real. Doubtful as that might sound, subsequent events would reveal Harrison’s growing interest in the Indian deity Krishna, along with Gnostic Gospels, and a certain reverence for Jesus Christ.

Apparently, a demo tape of James Taylor’s Something in the Way She Moves was the inspiration for this song which took shape within Harrison’s mind while Paul McCartney recorded overdubs in an adjacent recording studio. Both songs share the same first line, reflecting upon a relationship with a girl, but from there, they diverge significantly. Regarding the blatant plagiarism, Taylor remained magnanimous.[7] Harrison’s lyrics specifically celebrate a woman’s grace. Pattie Boyd (his first wife) maintains it was about her,[8] and George may even have told her as much. The legendary Frank Sinatra went as far as claiming that Something was the “greatest love song of the past 50 years.”[9]

This song I believe contains material more transcendent than simply love for another human. Firstly, there is George’s religious zeal. Secondly, is his original intention to use the pronoun he instead of “something in the way she moves.” However, the wording “[he] moves,” besides sounding mysterious, includes problematic associations with homosexuality which caused Harrison to favour the pronoun “she.”[10] Nevertheless, while the phrase “something in the way she moves” is suggestive, it need not necessarily point to the sensual; it could refer to a being who is spiritual as opposed to human.[11] What movement would be instigated by such a being?

This query prompted me to think about how I might connect with the phrase “Something in the way [The Spirit] moves.” I found this an arresting thought because, until recently, I had only considered these lyrics in human terms. The Holy Spirit is manifest variously in Holy Scripture as: tongues of fire, the sound of a mighty wind, the presence of a lover, or the enabler of concord.[12] Today, people experience this Spirit as the source of inspiration, harmony, praise, adoration, beauty, peace, love, and joy – just the sorts of things one might encounter in great music.

Shifting gear from a sixties love song to a private moment of sublimity may sound disingenuous but for the previous two observations – George Harrison was clearly a spiritual seeker and his pivotal decision to drop the masculine gender. Both details hint at Harrison’s deeper thought processes. “If there's a God, I want to see Him,” Harrison once said.[13] George’s zeal was such that he would later alienate listeners by preaching Krishna to them at his concerts! Indian instrumentation was also to emerge on his audio tracks.

David, attributed as the writer of Psalm 27 also wanted to see God, in fact, “to gaze[14] upon the beauty of the Lord” (v. 4). This purposeful action of looking long and lovingly at God leads this psalmist “to sing and make melody,” (v. 6) and to sacrifice “with shouts of joy” (v. 6). Eventually he arrives at “look[ing] upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” (v. 13). He demands, “Hear O Lord, when I cry aloud” (v.7), then in softer tones, he says, “teach me your way” (v. 11).[15]

Essentially, to behold well leads on to acts of exuberant worship. All this underlines the human-divine relationship. It forms the epitome of love and enables fulfilment of the Commandments.[16] While these two songwriters ancient and modern surely have different spiritual entities in view, what captivates me about Something is its articulation of desire. Adoration of God is so much more than lip-service, requiring spiritual, emotional, and even bodily commitment.

Views of the spiritual world are rarely physical ones. More frequently insight is gained from thoughtful and sustained reverence, and if Something promotes insight, it should be approached with that in mind. “God is Spirit,” said Jesus, so we are to worship God “in spirit[17] and truth” (John 4:24). Presupposing that Harrison intended to address a spiritual entity, phrases such as “something in the way she woos,” “the way she knows,” or “the things she shows” would each attempt to ascribe meaning to the human-divine relationship and they are powerfully true of Yahweh who hears and who answers.[18] Words in a spiritual setting act like signposts more than definitions, so we should not expect these lyrics to do more than simply point the way. At this level, a knowing look more than inflects meaning rather it indicates a deeply shared and especially unarticulated understanding – the latter appearing somehow to be more substantial than the former.

The Holy Spirit moves in ways that often challenge our personal vocabularies. Scriptural examples include, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love” (Song 5:8), and “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church”(Eph 5:31, 32).[19] These examples have both face-value meanings and parallel meanings, like the way this Spirit of God is experienced as a presence, a beautiful scent, a quiet inner voice, a numinous light, an impression, or a healing force.

“Somewhere in her smile she knows / That I don't need no other lover” would indicate the kind of devotion many contemporary marriages are in desperate need of. It is the kind of devotion and faithfulness Israel’s prophets emphasized, an intimate knowledge of the God who says “… behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her” (Hos 2:14).

The refrain, “I don’t want to leave her now, you know I believe, and how” is certainly unusual in a love song. Again, David begs, “cast me not off; forsake me not” (v. 9) – an impassioned plea receiving even greater development where David’s greatest fear is that God would abandon him altogether (Ps 51). Harrison’s phrasing suggests a similar sentiment. It probably implies a divine subject rather than a hot date!

My aim is not to assert that George Harrison was writing Christianly. Neither am I about to embrace Krishna consciousness. I would not expect Something to play on Christian radio, because association with the Beatles and their experimental Eastern Religion as well as psychedelic drugs would likely offend many. Nor do I propose, based on a nuance of understanding, that Something be included in Sunday worship! But I do find myself thanking God for Harrison’s gift of music to the world; finding that this song unusually nudges me towards that sanctuary in Psalm 27 and there to “gaze” meditatively in worship.

Having often said, “[e]verything else can wait but the search for God cannot wait,”[20] George Harrison passed away in November 2011. Regardless of his journey into Eastern Mysticism I am inspired by his zealous searching, and though I may have unresolved questions regarding his conclusions, I sincerely hope that somehow, and finally, Harrison managed to see God in all his splendour.

Peter Jelleyman graduated from Laidlaw College in 2012 with a BTheol. He currently works as a Data Analyst for Rhema Media in Auckland. Peter enjoys poetry and music, and is particularly interested in what musicians are saying and how they are saying it. Peter blogs in his spare time and relishes any occasion in which he can explore the sonic world of musical synthesizers.

[1] Video clip: Something, George Harrison https://youtu.be/UelDrZ1aFeY

[2] Lyrics: Something, George Harrison, https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/georgeharrison/something.html.

[3] Gary Tillery, Working Class Mystic: A Spiritual Biography of George Harrison (Wheaton, Ill: Quest Books, 2011), 153.

[4] UDiscoverMusic George Harrison, uDiscover Team, 8 March 2020, UDiscoverMusic.com. https://www.udiscovermusic.com/artist/george-harrison/.

[5] A listening list for the bold – captures the extent of mysticism pervading Harrison’s music: The Inner Light, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, I Me Mine, Within You Without You, All Things Must Pass, My Sweet Lord.

[6] Tillery, Working Class Mystic, 52. “It was not even a question of 'Is there possibly a God?' - I knew absolutely.” “It's just that a big light goes off in your head."

[7] Steve Turner, A Hard Day’s Write (New York: HarperPerennial, 1999) SOMETHING, 189-190 "If George either consciously or unconsciously took a line from one of my songs then I find it very flattering. It's certainly not an unusual thing to happen.”

[8] Pattie Boyd -Talks about The Beatles,George Harrison,Eric Clapton & more, Radio Broadcast 28/09/2019, Something at 22:29–23:48, https://youtu.be/3cxzQZaWRSg?t=1344.

[9] BBC Radio Song Library (archived), BBC Website, https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/soldonsong/songlibrary/something.shtml.

[10] Steyn Online: Something, Steyn’s Song of the Week, https://www.steynonline.com/9633/something.

“According to George, he wrote it for the Hindu deity Krishna:

You know I believe and how...

The first line originally ran "Something in the way he moves". But he was worried how this would be received so he simply feminized the pronouns:

Somewhere in her smile she knows

That I don't need no other lover

Something in her style that shows me...”

[11] Harrison appears to hold gender in tension with spiritual reality here. According to Steyn (see endnote 10 above), Harrison intended Krishna to be the object of this devotion but changed “he”, to “she” in the lyrics. In relating the song to the Holy Spirit of the Judeo-Christian God, I use the conventional “he,” trusting this will not alienate any female readers. New questions then arise as to whether I would be addressing three persons, or just One, and additionally, how much I should focus exclusively on the Holy Spirit. To be fair to Harrison, this is my own problem and part of a much larger Trinitarian topic. However, this writer notes in passing the theophany associated with Jesus’ baptism in (Matt 3:16-17.) Here the Spirit of God alights like a dove upon Jesus and a voice from heaven affirms him as Son. This cameo thus provides a clear focus on Jesus and the complete harmony of three persons all together. Something in the way they move could be more theologically satisfying, even if it feels grammatically awkward!

[12] Luke records the communique from the Jerusalem Council as including the following remark “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials” (Acts 15:28 and pericope). The Council appears to me to have been conducted with deep respect and harmony despite the deeply divisive issues that were at hand.

[13] Tillery, Working Class Mystic, 52.

[14] William D. Mounce (ed.), Mounces Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan: 2006), 622, “SEE.” Mounce describes the Hebrew word häzâ as “to see, observe, gaze” and as broadly covering physical sight, mental perception, or spiritual understanding. “In a few key verses häzâ carries the nuance of ‘gazing’: astrologers foolishly ’gaze at the stars’ (Isa. 47:13), a man longingly gazes at his lover (Song 6:13), and the psalmist longs to ‘gaze upon the beauty of the Lord’ (Ps. 27:4). When prophets ‘see’ visions, häzâ is often used (Isa. 1:1; Amos 1:1; Mic. 1:1; Hab. 1:1).”

[15] Quotes from the ESV.

[16] This is to “love the Lord your God” with all one’s heart, soul, and mind (Mark 12:29). It is a pattern of devotion, perhaps not fully articulated in the lyrics of Something, but at least hinted at.

[17] NASB, TNIV, NLT, NKJV, ESV, NRSV translations all use a lower-case spirit here. The Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (LOGOS Edition) defininition “12.33 πνεῦμαb, τος n: a supernatural non- material being - ‘spirit.’ πνεῦμα ὁ θεός ‘God is spirit’ Jn 4:24; Σαδδουκαῖοι μὲν γὰρ λέγουσιν μὴ εἶναι ἀνάστασιν μήτε ἄγγελον μήτε πνεῦμα ‘for the Sadducees affirm there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit being’ Ac 23:8. πνεῦμα in Jn 4:24 and Ac 23:8 is highly generic.” In the context of John 4 it would appear that the non-human nature of God himself rather than the person of the Holy Spirit is foremost.

[18] See Exodus 3:7-8 (ESV), “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians….”. Also, Psalm 40:1-2 (ESV), “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog.”

[19] This is taken from the ESV Translation. The passage implies the degree or intensity of this mystery is to the highest extent, and this is where human language fails to give adequate meaning because of the spiritual origin of its ideas. I think the phrase Paul uses here gives a sense of his own likely frustration in using a human relationship to describe a spiritual reality. It also seems to be pointing to the church’s spiritual origin and hence the mystery and wonder of that. I get the impression Harrison was possibly grappling with similar ideas in his lyrics.

[20] New York Times, Obituaries, Allan Kozzim, Nov 30, 2001, https://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/30/obituaries/george-harrison-former-beatle-dies-at-58.html.