Buttkickin’ Holiday Songs: “What Is Life” — George Harrison (1970)

Tell me, what is my life without your love
Tell me, who am I without you, by my side?

Like this song needs any introduction from me, amirite?

And here comes the next question: how in the wide, wide world of sports is the great George Harrison’s What Is Life any measure of a holiday song?

I can only respond with, how is it NOT?

Seriously, the song is a classic on infinitely recursive levels. The lyrics, melody, vocal performance, even the almost always irritating (but not this time) Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” all come together in a magnificent melange of meticulous mastery. This song freakin’ RULES.

But it’s also something wholly other. George was always characterized as the “Spiritual Beatle”, but that’s mildly dismissive at best. He was a Spiritual Being, period. Being a Beatle was just a sliver of a scintilla of an altogether remarkable life and person. But back to the song — “What Is Life” can be construed as a love song to a partner or an uplifting prayer to God, perhaps both. Maybe neither.

I see the song as a conversation, between Man and God. Or perhaps, between Men and God. “What I feel, I can’t say,” begins the song, an attempt to quantify the unquantifiable between Creator and Creation. Love can’t be defined but it’s still there. “But if it’s not love that you need, then I’ll try my best to make everything succeed” — even if Man rejects God’s love, it’s still there on some level, maybe not through prayer or scripture or dogma but in our hearts, in there, somewhere, the promise of peace, the potential of spiritual greatness hidden (but still accessible) deep inside our very souls.

To quote C.S. Lewis:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

There’s a hunger for goodness and love in every being. George knew it as well as anyone, and that our physical world was just the first stop on a bigger journey into something grander, more enchanting, more magical than this existence. He nailed it.

What Is Life is the quintessential holiday song.

Tell me, what is my life without your love
Tell me, who am I without you, by my side
Tell me, what is my life without your love
Tell me, who am I without you, by my side?

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