At some point in the early 90s I was persuaded to go to a religious ‘discussion group’ set up by a liberal Anglican friend of my mother’s. These were frustrating affairs – mostly I remember being told repeatedly that doubts and questions were GOOD things that made people STRONGER on their JOURNEY into FAITH, even though it seemed that actually resolving any of these doubts was completely off the agenda. Meanwhile me and my friends were trying to get across the point that there is quite a large gap between ‘riddled with spiritual angst’ and ‘not believing any of it, where’s the free beer please?’. The experience let me evolve an adolescent critique of mainstream Anglicanism, one I’ve not really moved on from – a religion hooked on doubt and impotence.*
Turns out I’m a good Anglican after all, though, cos the bit of “My Sweet Lord” I like best is its searching, yearning, sad first minute or two, before the drums fully come in, before “Hallelujah” elides into “Hare Krishna”** and George starts to resolve his issues. The strummed opening takes us back to the dread we heard in “Woodstock”, though of course Harrison makes the spirituality explicit – the most important thing in the universe, and it’s slipping horribly away. Luckily, George has some really gorgeous, liquid guitar playing on his side to bolster his faith, and the song soon turns into an orange-clad knees-up. The power of that intro does dissipate into soft-rock prettiness, but then prettiness is always welcome.***
*Later on I would recognise the same kind of addictive defeatism in the indie music I loved. Reading back over my – simplistic – summary of my mother’s friend’s position, it looks more sympathetic than it did then, but I never got the feeling that they were making their doubts and questions work for them at all, more using them as a comforter, if that makes any sense.
**This is a pretty clunky move and I don’t think Harrison makes it work, but it’s still a good deal more subtle than, say, “Imagine” or “All You Need Is Love”.
***Especially when it’s the Chiffons.