- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

NEW YORK Don't ever count the Fabs out.

It's a lesson that bears repeating as George Harrison waits patiently for a computer system he has overwhelmed to come back to life. The former Beatle is participating in his first on-line chat, which has crashed temporarily under the weight of some 300,000 participants.

"They should call it more of a Web type because you don't actually chat," he says wryly in a telephone interview before it begins. "Somebody here at Capitol Records is doing it. I'll just answer the questions, and they'll type them in."

If Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake were on line, you could understand the crush, but this is a 58-year-old man who has been silent musically for more than a decade and is appearing just to promote the re-release of a 30-year-old record.

Yet there evidently is a bottomless reservoir of good will toward the men who changed music during a brief, happy stretch of the 1960s. The stunning success of the Beatles' greatest-hits CD, "1," over the past few months made that plain.

The Beatles' reappearance at the top of the music charts is "very nice," Mr. Harrison says.

"The thing that pleases me the most about it is that young people like it," he says. "It's given kids from 6 to 16 an alternate view of music to what's been available for the past 20 years.

"I think the popular music has gone truly weird," he says. "It's either cutesy-wutesy or it's hard, nasty stuff. It's good that this has life again with the youth."

The guitarist for the world's most famous rock 'n' roll band is semiretired and spends most of his time at his mansion 25 miles west of London. He's an avid gardener who seems most animated on the Web chat when a fan asks about some of his favorite plants.

He listens mostly to music from the 1920s and 1930s these days and admits he feels "more fragile when it comes to music."

"If a car comes past me in a traffic jam with a boombox going, I jump out of my skin," he says. "Those big booming basses. I'm just more sensitive to noise these days."

It was Mr. Harrison, always the most private Beatle, who took note of the toll Beatlemania took on the four members' nervous systems. It became darkly ironic when a crazed man broke into Mr. Harrison's home on Dec. 30, 1999, and almost killed him with a knife wound to the chest.

Mr. Harrison's family reacted angrily late last year when the man, Michael Abram, was found innocent of attempted murder by reason of insanity.

The round of interviews to promote "All Things Must Pass" represents Mr. Harrison's public re-emergence since the attack.

"I feel pretty good," he says. "You know, it's a difficult thing to get over. But I feel like I've gotten over it physically. My breathing is a little bit less percentage than it used to be. Other than that, I'm pretty cool."

A stab wound to the chest and a bout with throat cancer it's hard to think of two tougher handicaps for a singer. Mr. Harrison, though, offers a newly recorded song in the album repackage by updating his hit single "My Sweet Lord." The weakness in his voice is evident, but his cool guitar licks and new arrangement make the song musically more interesting than the original.

He resisted the temptation to rerecord a lot more of the album since its production, with Phil Spector's Wall of Sound and heavy echo on the voice, sounds dated today.

"At the time, it seemed right," he says.

"All Things Must Pass," a triple album compacted into two CDs, was Mr. Harrison's jailbreak record. He stockpiled most of the songs during the final few years of the Beatles, when competition with the Lennon-McCartney song-writing team allowed him to get only a few recorded.

The album is notable for a song-writing collaboration with Bob Dylan predating the Traveling Wilburys and the then-uncredited work of Eric Clapton. Mr. Harrison says the pre-famous Phil Collins also appears, playing congas on "The Art of Dying."

The reissue has a handful of extra tracks, including the outtake "I Live for You" and an acoustic version of "Beware of Darkness," recorded by Mr. Spector during a rehearsal without Mr. Harrison's knowledge.

Does Mr. Harrison consider it his best sustained work?

"No, not really," he says. "It was the biggest thrill in a way that it was my first record. To be able to do all my own songs on one record was a novelty at that point, you know."

"My Sweet Lord" gave Mr. Harrison the distinction of being the first solo Beatle to have a No. 1 single, and the album spent almost two months at the top of the charts.

"Only the fact that people have written about the reissue have I realized that it spent seven weeks at No. 1," he says. "At the time I did it, I can't remember even taking any notice of it."

The top of the charts being, of course, a position to which a Beatle is accustomed.

Later, on his Web chat, Mr. Harrison is alternately funny, serious and spiritual sometimes all three, as when a fan asks whether Mr. McCartney still angers him sometimes.

"Tell us the truth," the fan implores.

Mr. Harrison replies: " 'Scan not a friend with a microscopic glass you know his faults then let his foibles pass.' Old Victorian proverb. I'm sure there's enough about me that [annoys him], but I think we have now grown old enough to realize that we're both pretty … cute."

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