30 November 2001 is one of those days I shall remember in exact detail from start to finish forever, indelible ink written upon my heart and soul. That was the day the world found out George Harrison had dropped the body and left the material world. Though he passed on the 29th, the news didn’t break until the morning of the 30th.
Everyone had known for awhile that George was dying of brain cancer, so it wasn’t a huge shock, as it was when people like John Entwistle, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork had passed on. One of the ladies on my estrogen Who lists (as we called the all-female Yahoogroups devoted to The Who, almost all of us in our twenties and teens) even had a dream that he was going to die on the 30th.
I just knew it. Friday, 30 November 2001, I went right to the communal TV in one of the little upstairs lounges of the Hillel House, where I lived my senior year of UMass. And sure enough, the morning news was announcing George’s death.
Very appropriately, it was raining that day. I walked to my first class of the day, second-year Russian. I arrived a bit late, but not unreasonably, inexcusably late. All the while, everything felt so surreal, the kind of feeling that can’t be recreated. It’s just something you intensely sense while it’s happening, a particular feeling that only comes this way once and then never again.
All day I thought about George, but I was unable to cry or even get misty-eyed. His death wasn’t a bolt from out of the blue. Everyone expected it, and knew it would be sooner rather than later. Only when I was in the computer lab in the library in the very late afternoon and reading the lyrics of “I Need You” did I finally begin to tear up a little. But even then, I still was unable to properly cry for George for many years.
Before going home, I went to the Campus Center to buy tickets for the upcoming Hillel Semi-Formal. On a wall near the ticket booth, someone had put up a picture of George, with his years lived, one of his quotes, and a thank-you. Everything still felt so surreal.
That night at services, I said Kaddish for George. Though the traditional custom is to only say Kaddish for immediate relatives, I’ve always said it for special people whom I feel a deep and abiding love for. I also say Yizkor for them, and have never understood the Orthodox custom of only saying Yizkor for parents. There are many people we grieve.
That night, I watched VH1 on the communal TV. They were doing a tribute to George, playing clips from a recent appearance he’d made on one of their shows, playing a new song, “Any Road.” That song became the opening track on his posthumous final album, Brainwashed, and one of his signature songs. As the chorus says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
Afterwards, I went to my room and wrote in my journal Rael. It was my first anniversary with my fourth Who album, Odds and Sods, and in those days, I always did a special journal entry for my album anniversaries. My thoughts about George came first, and the first few lines of that entry were in all caps. Everything still felt so surreal.
When George passed, John was my favorite Beatle. Paul was originally my favorite, for very superficial reasons, but my attachment to John began manifesting in December ’93, and by the spring of ’94, it was obvious he’d become my favorite. For the next few years, I tried to pretend I had two favorites, but in my heart I knew John was my only favorite. It felt so good when I finally admitted that to my journal Rita in the summer of ’97.
I never, ever expected to change favorites again. For quite some time, I’d considered George my favorite solo Beatle, but still saw John as my favorite overall. John was more than just my favorite Beatle, but my hero, the person I admired most, someone whom I talked to during some of the darkest nights of my soul, almost like praying. To this day, I believe down to the very core of my soul that I might have taken my own life in eighth grade if not for my love of The Beatles.
So it was one of the saddest days of my life when I realized John was no longer my favorite Beatle, and that George had replaced him quite a few years ago. I listened much more to George’s solo work than John’s, and I felt George to be more of a kindred spirit because of our similar beliefs and interests. And let’s be honest, I’ve always been a quiet one myself. People tend to gravitate to others like themselves.
Sometimes your heart also knows something before your mind is ready to admit it.
I truly consider George one of my spiritual mentors. His personal relationship with the Divine was so beautiful and inspiring. Because of him, many times when I made personal prayers after the Amidah (the long, central prayer of Jewish services), I addressed God as “My Sweet Lord.”
It’s hard to put into words everything George means to me, what a truly special, beautiful, incredible person he was. But at the heart of it, he just most deeply speaks to the type of person I’ve developed into. He would never have felt right as my favorite Beatle in my teens or twenties.
And maybe I really am slowly turning into my mother as I get older, since George was her favorite too!
I love George so much because:
He was such a deeply spiritual person, but not sectarian or preachy (contrary to what certain people think). His 1981 song “Life Itself” starts out seeming like a love song to his wife Olivia, and then it becomes apparent it’s truly a love song to the Divine, with the beautiful line: “They call you Christ, Vishnu, Buddha, Jehovah, Our Lord, you are Govindam, Bismillah, Creator of all.”
He did all he could to help the starving people of Bangladesh.
He did a lot of good work for UNICEF.
He proved that still waters run very, very deep.
He had such a beautiful personal relationship with the Divine.
All Things Must Pass and Living in the Material World are some of the most beautiful, spiritual albums ever.
He remained interested in Indian music, philosophy, and religion long after it was no longer a trend. His interest was serious and genuine, not based on popular fads.
He had such a beautiful soul and a kind heart.
He didn’t crave the limelight, and was content to live away from the media.
His 1979 eponymous album is so full of joy, happiness, and inner-peace.
He had so much faith in humanity to do the right thing and positively change the world, and ourselves.
He had such a positive, upbeat attitude.
He did not fear Death at all, and was totally surrendered to and peaceful about his approaching end. George once said, “The only difference between the dead and the living is that the dead no longer breathe.” The soul continues on, just in another form.
May you rest in eternal peace with Our Sweet Lord, dear Georgiekins, and may your beautiful memory be for an eternal blessing. The world is a better place because you were in it for 58 years, and I feel so blessed we shared Planet Earth for 21 years and 11 months.