This is Part 2 of 3. Read Part 1 here.
Looking Through a Glass Onion:
It is late fall, 2001 and I am at a hospital in New York, waiting for a sick friend.
9/11 happened mere weeks before and the hospital is in downtown Manhattan, not far from Ground Zero. There is a palpable feeling of bewilderment and loss all around; death is in the air.
I sit in the waiting room for an entire dreary day, with nothing to do but observe the sick people all around me. To pass time, I flip through the 2001 version of a smartphone: a copy of the New York Post left on the seat next to mine.
The front page announces the death of former Beatle George Harrison. Though I am, at this point, a neophyte Beatles fan, the import is not lost on me. But with so much sadness already present in this room, these streets, this city, there is a grim lack of surprise.
We know now: great things fall.
I read the paper over and over as I wait for my sick friend. I feel sad for my parents. Why? They are not Beatles fans, barely music fans.
It must remind them, I think, that they’re going to die someday.
It never occurs to me that I might someday, too.
Twenty years later, it’s on my mind a little more.
Like today: New Year’s Day, 2020. Now married and entering middle age, I am thousands of miles, physically at least, from post-9/11 New York. In fact, I am in the grooviest of all places: Southern California, whose endless summer can leave you wondering if any time has passed at all. On this quiet holiday morning, I walk my dogs beneath the ever-present sun and listen to yet another podcast–one of countless self-prescribed distractions, aimed at quelling mortal thoughts. This one is about George Harrison’s near-death by stabbing in 1999.
Like all Beatles fans, I know the story well. It is an incident less familiar but actually more gory than John Lennon’s murder: a deranged fan breaks into George’s home, attacking him with a knife. George is stabbed repeatedly, suffering multiple wounds including a collapsed lung. He and his wife fight the attacker off (with the aid of a fireplace poker) and he survives, but the injuries hasten the spread of the cancer that will eventually kill him.
And here, standing on the corner, urging my dog to poop, I suddenly find myself crying what are perhaps the first adult tears of my life–not tears of terror or even compassion; not for a long-dead rock star I don’t know.
More like tears of understanding–of the stories so commonly shared in Beatledom by now-middle aged adults, of parents and teachers, seemingly invulnerable grown-ups, crying over John Lennon’s death.
It’s this: you reach a certain stage and the idea of waste becomes intolerable to the point of heartbreak. What with so little time.
Quietly and for no one, I voice that most hoary, most pathetic, yet most dreadfully unanswerable question:
“Why would someone do a thing like that?”
Next Time: Into a Dream: Chasing The Beatles (6-9)
7 thoughts on “Into a Dream: Chasing The Beatles (5)”
You tied together big moments of the last 20ish years in a really nice way. Great piece!
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Thank you! The Beatles kind of tie life’s big moments together for a lot of us obsessives lol
It is always interesting to hear people’s thoughts about death and mortality. When people ask my opinion on the subject, they are often surprised that I don’t fear it at all, as I don’t view death as any kind of ‘end.’ Having mortally died twice, I can tell you that it’s actually beautiful. So beautiful there are no words to describe it. Here in LA, Kobe Bryant’s death seemed a powerful reminder to people that even celebrities who ‘have it all’ can still die. George Harrison, John Lennon… everyone comes here on a finite human journey. Buddhism is the practice of preparing for your ‘death’ or transition as early as possible, so you aren’t scared to move into a new phase of life. If people realized that their stay here is finite, beautifully finite, they would have a very different perspective from their short-sighted, lack mentality- most likely a more caring, giving, loving perspective. John Lennon understood this loving perspective, akin to Jesus and Buddha, and the enlightened folk. One of the greatest reasons to fall in love with the Beatles: they understood love. They really understood it.
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James I did not know that you held those Buddhist views on life and death. I have flirted with “eastern” religious practices on and off for several years, but that was mostly to try and mitigate anxiety, self-consciousness, etc. Only as I have gotten older have I started to look more at the spiritual side of it. George Harrison was somewhat unique among his 60s peers in that he was a serious Hindu and remained one his entire life. His interest didn’t fade with the 60s. I recommend Martin Scorsese’s Harrison doc “Living In The Material World” if you want to know more about him, his times and his spiritual pursuits. He was a hell of a guy!
And yes, agree: The Beatles are about love. Pure and simple. Not just in their lyrics or the vibe of their times. Love emanates from their music and their essence as a group. I think this is partly because they were a true group (as opposed to a singer with a backing band) and were true friends who grew up together. They reinforce the truth that we are better when we work together; we need each other.
Ummm also I didn’t know you died…twice?! I will be asking you about that today!
Thank you for your thoughts!
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Oh and may I also recommend to you George’s final album, Brainwashed. It is (imho) a beautiful, majestic, spiritual end to his life and career. It’s an album where I think his spirituality, his songwriting and the production (by Jeff Lynne and George’s son Dhani) all meet in perfect proportion. It’s a great, fun listen that manages to also be deep, profound, heartfelt, speaking to themes as vast and mysterious as the universe.