LONDON -- The sidewalk in front of the Abbey Road recording studio was packed ... with journalists.
The word had come two hours earlier that George Harrison had died. Newspeople stood waiting to grab mourners who had come to salute the passing of the Quiet Beatle.
Joe Whitehead, 25, of London came with flowers and his good friend Donald. The two got on television in Germany and the United States -- in fact, on "practically every network," as desperate reporters grabbed the two men in succession. He noted, "To be honest, I thought there would be loads of people here." Instead, he found more cameras than mourners.
Chilean Cynthia Davila, 23, had planned on making a pilgrimage to Abbey Road, the spot of a band so beloved by her parents that she was named for John Lennon's first wife and her sister, Barbara, was named for Ringo's second wife. Davila had planned on making that famous trek across the famous street -- a favorite spot for tourists to have their picture taken. Perhaps she would have scrawled graffiti on the studio fence to join missives such as:
"Nessa & Danny got engaged here. 22/09/01."
"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."
The fence is repainted every three months.
It wouldn't feel right now, she said, to mug for a photo in front of Abbey Road. Instead, Davila came to say goodbye.
Three mourners under the age of 30 (too young to understand the unmatched fame and phenomenon of the Fab Four) and a small army of journalists mostly over 30 came to mourn because in their lifetimes no four men were more happily famous than the Beatles.
We knew growing up that the Beatles were supposed to grow old. Our elders chuckled as they speculated on how John, Paul, George and Ringo would age. How they would handle it when their fame ebbed and they were returned to mere mortal status, when their words no longer were considered pronouncements from on high?
They surprised their critics as they faded from the absolute pinnacle of fame to being simply enormously famous; they seemed glad for the opportunity to breathe freely away from the limelight. Each man set out to establish his own creative locus outside the group. George Harrison did so, even as he worked with other stars -- Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and others.
Now the youngest Beatle is the first to die a natural death. His death means something different to those of my generation, the Boomer generation. We think of his passing as the passing of our vanished youth.
When I arrived at Abbey Road, reporters were eager to build a story about the mass mourning of George Harrison set against a backdrop of one lonely bouquet of roses tied to Abbey Road studio's wrought iron.
The young mourn George Harrison for his music. The middle-age mourn George Harrison for ourselves. As the man said, "All things must pass."