George Harrison: 1943-2001

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George Harrison is shown in this 1976 file photo

The devil took the first Beatle, and now God has taken another. When John Lennon was murdered in 1980, it was a sad anomaly, the impossible-to- predict act of a madman. The death of George Harrison, 58, of cancer in Los Angeles this week is something different. It's the sadly natural passing of a guiding spirit of the 60s and a prince of classic rock. "All Things Must Pass," was the title of Harrison's post-Beatles solo album in 1970. It could also be his epitaph.

"In the big picture it doesn't really matter if we never made a record or we never sang a song," Harrison once said. "That isn't important. At death, you're going to be needing some spiritual guidance and some kind of inner knowledge that extends beyond the boundaries of the physical world...it's what's inside that counts. Some of the best songs that I know are the ones I haven't written yet and it doesn't even matter if I don't ever write them, because it's only small potatoes compared with the big picture."

Harrison, first and foremost, will always be thought of as a member of the Beatles. He was their lead guitarist, "the quiet Beatle," and a sometimes frustrated songwriter suffering under the shadow of the great team of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Still, Harrison produced his share of classic Beatle tunes, including "Taxman," "Here Comes the Sun," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and "Something." Any single one of those songs would guarantee an artist immortality on VH1 and classic radio stations worldwide. "I wouldn't say that my songs are autobiographical," Harrison said. "‘Taxman' is perhaps. Some of them were later on, after the Beatles. The early ones were just any words I could think of."

Harrison, besides being a member of the Beatles, was also a godfather of world music. By studying with Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and playing the sitar himself on songs like "Norwegian Wood" and "Within You Without You," he helped bring the sounds of the East into Western pop. Since Harrison, pop musicians ranging from Sting to David Byrne to Marc Anthony have felt free to sample from music from around the world in their pop and it's partly because of the barriers that Harrison broke down. For Harrison, combining musical cultures came naturally. Said Harrison: "When I first consciously heard Indian music, it was as if I already knew it."

Harrison was also a godfather of the charity rock megaconcert. In 1971, he sponsored and hosted two major concerts at Madison Square Garden to help raise money for the the people of Bangladesh (the events later became a documentary film and a Grammy-winning three-record set). The "Concert for Bangla Desh" was the spiritual precursor to 1985's Live Aid, the various 911 relief concerts that have been staged recently and many other charity megaconcerts that have been held over the years. Harrison helped popularize the melding of charity, global awareness and rock music. He may have been the quiet Beatle, but he was never afraid to sound off on social issues that concerned him. His take on gun control? "If everybody who had a gun just shot themselves there wouldn't be a problem."

Harrison's greatest accomplishment, however, was showing the world how to be part of a band. Lead guitarists are often judged by their solos and their flashy onstage antics. The Beatles were a real band, with each contributing to the whole. Harrison, between "All Things Must Pass," his work with the Traveling Wilburys and his work as a film producer ("Time Bandits" and "Monty Python's Life of Brian") had a solid solo career, but his best work was still was the Beatles. The same is true of John Lennon, Paul McCartney — they were good, sometimes even great, solo, but they were best when they were all together (and Ringo, of course, was definitely more interesting as a Beatle). And isn't that what being in a band is all about? Heck, isn't that what living in a society is all about? There's something inspiring in the fact that even great artists can find new inspiration in other people, that creativity isn't just an individual act but a collective expression.

There's something else inspiring in the fact that, as Harrison once said, the Beatles never really left us, so, following that reasoning, Harrison will never really leave us either. "The Beatles can't ever really split up because as we said at the time we did split up, it doesn't really make any difference," Harrison once said. "The music is there, the films are all there. Whatever we did is still there and always will be." All things must pass, but they don't pass completely away. The quiet Beatle, in one way or another, will always make himself heard.

TIME Music critic Christopher John Farley is the author of the forthcoming book "Aaliyah: More Than a Woman"

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