Sunday, December 2, 2001
He was the youngest Beatle, dubbed the "quiet one," his lean countenance eclipsed by the gregarious Paul, the sharp-witted John and the goofy Ringo. Yet the iconic rock group would not have been the same entity if it had not included George Harrison. For as the Beatles redefined pop music and culture so did Harrison's presence transform the group through its six-year existence.
A hugely respected guitarist among his peers, his musical power was distilled by restraint and refinement, baring the beauty of a song through understatement. During the Beatles "yeah-yeah-yeah" stage, Harrison's guitar -- often tinted with country-western colors or the gilt of rhythm and blues -- animated adolescent love ditties. His exploration of instruments and sound, of religion and philosophy, ushered the Beatles from Fab Four chirpings to music of symphonic proportions.
While John and Paul wrote most of the A-side hits, Harrison's songs fused later albums. Imagine "Abbey Road" without "Something" or the so-called "white album" absent the mournful strains of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Harrison died Thursday, John Lennon preceding him by 21 years. They had Hawaii connections, Harrison's in life with a home on Maui, Lennon's in death through the Kaneohe man who shot him.
Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney survive, but with Harrison's passing there will be no Beatles reunion, which is just as well. They were the Beatles, melded for a brief part of their lives, alternately at odds and enthralled with the reach of their artistry.
As individuals, each sparkled with talent. Together, their whole was luminous and Harrison's hushed genius shone brightly from the shadows.