HISTORY

George Harrison and the Concert for Bangladesh

“The only real wealth comes from helping others.” — Cesar Chavez

This summer a friend loaned me his copy of the Concert for Bangladesh DVD, which I wasted no time consuming.

This 1971 concert had profound impact on many people, and became a prototype of similar socially conscious efforts by performers who realized they could leverage their “star power” to make a difference in the broader world.

The tragedy of Bangladesh was two-fold. The first was a destructive cyclone of historic proportions that devastated the country and left as many as 500,000 dead in its wake. Because East Pakistan was located 1000 miles from Pakistan there had been an ongoing move for liberation even before this tragedy. The Pakistani government, however, did not send aid or help East Pakistan/Bangladesh.

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Ironically, the United States could have provided aid but instead chose to turn its back on the matter because Pakistan was an ally in the Cold War. Our leaders, this being the Nixon era, did not wish to “embarrass” an ally.

Instead of helping the needy, the Pakistan army — with armaments provided by the U.S. — went in and committed even greater atrocities. One U.S. journalist described the scene at a university after the Pakistan army incursion. He wrote that the roof of one of the buildings was covered with the chopped off heads of protesters and resisters.

This all took place during the Vietnam War and the media wasn’t giving much insight to all that was going on in Bangladesh. Ravi Shankar, who had famously become known here in the States by recording with the Beatles, who ultimately became good friends with George, had relations in Bangladesh. He was fully cognizant of what was happening there, and shared the peoples’ plight with George.

Moved by the indifference of the world, George Harrison called upon his circle of friends to do a concert that would raise money to help alleviate suffering and raise awareness for the plight. Familiar names included Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Bob Dylan, and the buzz going into the concert was electric.

There were many aspects of the concert that made it a big deal. It was George Harrison’s first live appearance since the Beatles tour in 1966, the same year Dylan stopped touring after his motorcycle crash in Woodstock. (Dylan did perform at the Isle of Wight in 1969, a quieter set more in alignment with his short set in the Madison Square Garden concert here.)

The concert made a quarter of a million dollars for the cause, which wasn’t much of a dent in the need. The album and DVD sales, however, helped immensely.

Rolling Stone journalist Jon Landau began his review of the album with these words: “The Concert for Bangla Desh is rock reaching for its manhood. Under the leadership of George Harrison, a group of rock musicians recognized, in a deliberate, self-conscious, and professional way, that they have responsibilities.”

Harrison went out of his way to downplay the star power so as to put the human need in the foreground. When you watch the DVD of the concert, you’ll see that no one is out their to strut. The objective was to give a great concert to those who came to experience the moment and to give.

Harrison’s emotion-drenched song “Bangladesh” became the concert’s encore. Nowadays we here so much about the importance of storytelling in sales. There’s a sense in which singers have been storytelling since the beginning of time, and “Bangladesh” the song is George’s story.

Bangladesh

My friend came to me
With sadness in his eyes
He told me that he wanted help
Before his country dies

Although I couldn’t feel the pain
I knew I had to try
Now I’m asking all of you
To help us save some lives

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Where so many people are dying fast
And it sure looks like a mess
I’ve never seen such distress

Now won’t you lend your hand and understand?
Relieve the people of Bangladesh

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Such a great disaster, I don’t understand
But it sure looks like a mess
I’ve never known such distress

Now please don’t turn away
I want to hear you say
Relieve the people of Bangladesh
Relieve Bangladesh

I’m especially moved by the manner in which George Harrison sang the song, and then personalizes it here at the end. “It’s something we cant neglect. It’s something I can’t neglect.”

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Now it may seem so far from where we all are

It’s something we can’t neglect
It’s something I can’t neglect

Now won’t you give some bread to get the starving fed?
We’ve got to relieve Bangladesh
Relieve the people of Bangladesh
We’ve got to relieve Bangladesh
Relieve the people of Bangladesh

We live in a world full of need. Is there an area of need that you’re aware of that sometimes pains you in private way? Do you sometime think you should give more, but then you allow the thought to flit off and you fail to act?

Whether close to home or on the other side of the globe, there is much need. Maybe today you can follow through and take action.

Written by

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj