On November 29, 2001, George Harrison lost his battle with cancer. The news of Harrison’s passing was hardly a surprise to those following the news. His illness was often reported and his final few days were accompanied by wild speculation on the internet but it did leave fans to question how a Beatle, with all the resources in the world at his disposal, can succumb to cancer.
15 years later, the passing of a guitar legend still feels fresh. 2001 wasn’t like 2016 where beloved musicians are on a seemingly endless departure flight to eternal rest. It was said, at the time, that George Harrison’s passing was the saddest day since 9/11 and, for some, the mourning period has lasted much longer.
Part of what makes music an important and powerful force in life is the personal connection each person has with a song or an artist. For those who picked up guitars, pursued a life in music, or started a band because of Harrison’s music, this was a sad day. For those who played his records on road trips, danced to his songs at weddings, or quoted his lyrics in eulogies, this was a sad day. The music and genius of George Harrison touched millions of people in deep and profound ways and despite being a celebrity very few knew personally, the stages of grief were very real and present in many of our lives.
As a musician who has studied every note of Harrison’s catalog, it was difficult for me to listen to any music in the days following his passing. I drove to work in silence every day. I received condolences from friends as if Harrison were a family member of mine. I let my guitar sit unplayed.
It wasn’t until a week or so later that I finally felt like hearing music again. I sat in my car and put All Things Must Pass into the CD player. The gentle first sounds of that album filled my car and then he sang.
Let me in here. I know I’ve been here. Let me into your heart.
I immediately knew that I had made the right decision to play this album. There is something beautiful about the fact that an artist, particularly a musician, can help someone navigate the sorrow of their own passing through the work they leave behind.
I listened to the entirety of the album, driving aimlessly by myself, and by the end of the final track I had developed an even deeper appreciation for the work Harrison left the world.
He would be a legend if only judged by his guitar playing. A master craftsman with impeccable technique, Harrison always seemed to know what the song needed and never underplayed or overplayed his role. His ability to effortlessly transition from rockabilly, to slide, to blues, to jazz, sometimes in a single song, is virtually without compare among guitar players. As great as Clapton, Hendrix, and Page are, they cannot compare to the versatility of Harrison’s ability.
Harrison would be a legend if only judged by his songwriting. The man who wrote While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Something, Here Comes The Sun, My Sweet Lord, All Those Years Ago, Give Me Love, Blow Away, and dozens of other classics would stand as a God among mortals had he not been forever linked to those other songwriting gods. His use of unconventional chords, Indian inspired time signatures, syncopated melodies, and stunning harmonic structure makes his one of the most difficult songbooks to replicate. There is a reason that cover versions usually pale in comparison; Harrison gets it right the first time.
The fact that Harrison had legend caliber chops in guitar playing and songwriting is precisely what makes him a hero to generations of music lovers. Throw into the mix a distinctive and emotional singing voice, a wicked sense of humor, and a compassion for others and it’s easy to hold George Harrison in the highest of regards.
15 years after his passing, Harrison’s music has remained a constant in my life. I long for the day an archival release is gifted to fans from the Harrison estate and there are still moments when his guitar can bring a tear to my eye. His music remains fresh and relevant in my life and his influence can be heard on every note of music I’ve ever played.
15 years on, fans around the world still miss George Harrison because, contrary to his own words, all things mustn’t pass. The deep, personal connection we all have to his music will never pass. A sunrise never lasts all morning but our love for his work will endure for all of our lives.