There will come a time when the Beatles will be no more. When of the four, zero will remain. How will the world cope when the greatest band it has ever known is completely gone? Will the first generation that never lived with a Beatle appreciate them?

Paul Wong
AP Photo

George Harrison”s death Thursday afternoon was so much more than the passing of a legend, more than the passing of the “quiet Beatle,” the “spiritual Beatle,” it was the passing of a man. A man, who more than a legend, was a Beatle, father and husband.

Harrison died at 1:30 p.m. in a friend”s Los Angeles home. His wife Olivia and 23-year-old son Dhani were both present for his death. The Harrison”s held a private ceremony and there is no official word whether or not a public funeral will occur.

Harrison”s death reminds the world that legends have ends. Legends don”t live forever, despite the fact that they may be deified by the masses gods they are not. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, are the last living links to the Beatles now.

Eventually, they will die. Eventually we will be living in a Beatle-less world. And I look forward to it. I look forward to a world where an aging singer doesn”t release a single based on a national tragedy. Or a world where a slightly above average drummer tarries around the country every summer with a band called the “All-Starrs.” A world where only a legacy lives, and the creators of that legacy do not.

That is not in any way to undermine the life of George Harrison, or eulogize him in death. Harrison”s passing is undoubtedly a tragedy, the death of an icon always is, moreover, the death of a person always is.

Unlike the other living ex-Beatles, Harrison was flying under pop culture”s radar. In December of 1999, that changed when an intruder broke into his home on London”s outskirts and stabbed him four times. Musically, Harrison had faded out in the late-“80s with Shine. He respectfully stepped out of the limelight and made way for the youngsters. His ability to step aside was always one of his finer traits.

He never overplayed and never underplayed, Harrison always knew the right notes to play and more importantly when not to play. That, more than anything else, is what distinguishes him from Paul and Ringo, who despite their aging musicianship, continue to tour and release music.

Harrison”s death silences optimists who have hoped for the chance to see a “quasi-Beatles reunion” with Julian Lennon stepping in for his father. It wouldn”t have been the same. It would”ve been little more than a feeble attempt to grope at nostalgia, if only for an escaping moment. The whispers of reunion fell silent with Harrison”s death.

And I breathe a heavy sigh of relief. The Beatles (and their legacy) don”t deserve to be cheapened by imitation or mimicry. They should stand alone on their shelf overlooking music and what they did to it.

There is a conflict manifesting itself as we look ahead towards a Beatle-less world. It involves getting to a world where the Beatles don”t live in any form but through their music. When the only time Paul can touch us is through the car speakers, and the only time we can hear a message from John is in our headphones. The conflict here is death, the death of legends, the death of a band and the death of fathers, sons and husbands. Death is inherently tragic, inherently upsetting and inherently inevitable.

Will the day when the final Beatle heart beats its last be sadder than when John Lennon was cruelly stolen from the world in the streets of Manhattan?

I don”t know, I was in diapers when Lennon was murdered and although I can”t recall Lennon”s death, part of me is pained by it. The part of me that thinks about family, Lennon”s children and his wife, is frustrated by Lennon”s death. That same part of me breaks for Harrison”s wife Olivia and his son Dhani.

That part of me is different than the part of me waiting for a Beatle-less world. The “Beatle-less” part of me is sure that when that world is finally upon us, the world will truly take note of the Beatles” importance. It is an importance that cannot be summed up in a series of VH1 specials. The world can finally mourn and appreciate each Beatle in his own respect, treating them as both men and members, and finally, mourn the death of the Beatles as a whole.

The Beatles didn”t die when Lennon was killed.

Paul and Ringo are all the public can touch of the Beatles, fortunately, the Beatles can still touch us. Tunes like “A Hard Day”s Night” and “When I”m Sixty-Four” will long outlive the tears we shed for the men who made up the greatest rock “n” roll band history will ever know.

Luke Smith can be reached at lukems@umich.edu.

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