All Things Must Pass 

With Harrison's death we lost more than a Beatle

A lot has been made lately about Frank Sinatra's comment that George Harrison's "Something" was one of the best love songs ever written, (although he erroneously credited it to Lennon and McCartney at the time). Clearly, there came a point when even Sinatra realized that he was gonna have to do a Beatles song, as his domination of the market started to flicker in the wee small hours of the '60s. "Jesus!" he probably exclaimed. "Just give me something by those long-haired bums!" Okay, his handlers probably thought; "Something" coming up. Perhaps Sinatra told people that he was legitimizing the Beatles (or, more specifically, the songwriting talents of Krishna's crooner, George Harrison). But in fact, by the time Sinatra got around to singing that song, the '60s were unstoppable: The rest of us were already there.

Now, George Harrison is dead. The quiet (read: boring) Beatle. The boring Beatle who found fame empty. The boring Beatle who still hung out with Ravi Shankar even after the '60s. The boring Beatle who apparently smoked a lot. Invariably, the world is mourning, although he went out with more of a whisper than Lennon, perhaps because the fast charge of a bullet outshocks the slow tragedy of cancer. That and the fact that Lennon was the best Beatle, natch.

While his music plays every hour on the radio -- including "Something," and, unfortunately, that dumb-ass ditty "I've Got My Mind Set on You" -- journalists have attempted to give meaning to Harrison's death, just as they tried to contextualize September 11. What do these events mean for us? What do they foreshadow? What era are we leaving, what era are we entering?

"The death of Harrison signifies the end of the 20th century," one fan said in one of the event's more portentous sound bites. The same has been said of the World Trade Center's collapse. The funny thing is, finally the media might be onto something. It really does feel like the 20th century is now over.

All this scrambling to define our times has been going on for nearly a decade, while we busied ourselves in heaping retro this upon retro that instead of moving forward. Toasters were starting to look like Airstream trailers. The Betty Page look was definitely off tha hizzy for about six months. It was fun though, collecting lunch boxes. And who could forget those Sid & Marty Kroft parties?

But back to that fan's observation, that the death of the quiet Beatle underlines the end of an era. Is the death of Harrison really more of a semaphor for the end of the 20th century than the World Trade Center's collapse? Yes. Maybe it's because as a group the Beatles represented something -- at least for a time, they looked to the outside world like a snuggly family that we wanted to be part of -- four goofy older brothers we wouldn't mind introducing us to pot. But now the Beatles are a skeleton crew. Now they are only two, and it's no longer even possible to imagine them using recording-studio sleight of hand to "reunite." September 11 may have marked the beginning of something -- something awful -- but Harrison's death unquestionably marked an end.

His passing underlines the fact that people from his era are starting to die of nonaccidental deaths. Lennon was shot but Harrison went on his own. This is truly a first for the '60s generation. Now the Beatles have left the building, along with most of the rest of its entourage -- psychy drugs, Eastern spirituality, hairy armpits, liberal social policy. Disco, a Flock of Seagulls, grunge, and Juan Esquavel have come and gone, but thirty years later the '60s still loomed larger than any other decade in our lifetimes. Even for people who don't really care about the Beatles -- and there are plenty of us out there, believe it or not -- the death of George Harrison is sad. Now that the Group really is gone, so too is our connection to the '60s. The last trickles of the 20th century are over. All things must pass.


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