George Harrison was quoting ancient spiritual wisdom when he titled his 1970 solo album “All Things Must Pass,” never suspecting the proverb would one day apply to the fate of a pine tree planted in his memory in Griffith Park.
But a Los Angeles City Council member, a longtime fan and other Harrison admirers are doing their part Wednesday, on what would have been the former Beatle’s 72nd birthday, to right a wrong committed last year when an insect infestation — yes, they were beetles — killed what was known as the George Harrison Tree.
A new tree of a different species — a yew pine, chosen by Harrison’s family — is slated to replace the original Canary Island pine tree in a small-scale ceremony near Griffith Observatory.
When word went out last year that the original tree had been felled by tree beetles, news quickly shot around the world and the story made international headlines.
Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose Fourth District includes Griffith Park, helped plant the original tree in 2002, not long after Harrison died Nov. 29, 2001, in Los Angeles, from cancer at age 58.
“We had a tribute on the steps of the observatory,” recalled LaBonge, now in his final term of office, “and several hundred people wrote notes, which we’ve collected in a book ‘We Remember George.’ ”
Two years later, the City Council proclaimed “George Harrison Day” in Los Angeles, and the tree was commemorated with a bronze plaque, saluting him as “a great humanitarian who touched the world as an artist, a musician and gardener.”
One of the organizers of the first tree planting, the plaque and the current replanting project, Paula Greenfield, said she thinks he would have mourned the loss of life of the original tree but would have appreciated the irony of the cause.
Harrison once said his biggest break in life was getting into the Beatles, and that his second biggest break was getting out.
Harrison’s widow, Olivia, and their son, musician Dhani Harrison, are both out of town and are not scheduled to attend.
“I was very hesitant to even approach Olivia with any of these public tributes that we did,” Greenfield said. “We all know how private George was. But she understands that it’s the public that wants this. We need it, we want it: a public place to think of George. That’s how it all started. He loved nature, and he loved Griffith Park.”
Harrison famously bought a rundown English estate in 1970, just as the Beatles were breaking up, and spent years rejuvenating its extensive gardens. The estate once belonged to an English lord named Sir Frankie Crisp, whom Harrison acknowledged in the title of “Let It Roll (The Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp), one of the songs on “All Things Must Pass.”
Greenfield said the real culprit in the death of the first tree honoring Harrison was California’s drought. “It’s because of the drought that beetles are able to get into the trees to begin with. I’ve had neighbors who’ve lost trees during this drought — when they take them down they’re totally hollowed out.”
The yew tree that’s been chosen to replace the original, LaBonge said, is far less susceptible to insects.
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