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All the while we know that they are not immortal in the flesh. The Beatles have been like a great clock. Year after year we have looked at them--at the aging of those faces, at the mellowing of their lives--to see what time it is for all of us. When one of them dies, the hour seems very late. Even so, Harrison's death is not a shot to the heart, as Lennon's was. It was Lennon's murder that truly snuffed out the baby-boomer fantasy of eternal youth. If the presiding imp of the golden 1960s could be snatched away so suddenly, what hope was there for the rest of us? Harrison's death, however premature, feels different. It is more in the ordinary course of things, a reminder that the simple passage of time is all that will be needed to complete the work that Mark David Chapman began, subtracting the Beatles from the world.
All the same, it is much too soon for George Harrison to be gone. All things must pass, he said. O.K., we say back. O.K., we know. We have lived through Sept. 11. We have seen things pass. We listen to his song differently now, cherishing it as a warning against old complacencies and a promise that the darkness of this moment too shall pass. But about some things, we still feel the same way. One of them is this: Long live the Beatles.