The New York Times

December 1, 2001


A Place Evoking Reprises of Pivotal Memories


LONDON, Nov. 30 For a moment, the news that George Harrison had died sent Mark Allan, 39, right back to his childhood. Suddenly he was a boy again in Nottingham with little in the way of money or musical sense, hearing a classmate say, "You've got to hear this album `Abbey Road' it'll blow your mind."

That moment changed Mr. Allan's life and turned him into a passionate Beatles fan, the kind who hunted down obscure solo albums from secondhand record stores and argued endlessly and fruitlessly into the night about which Beatle was better and why. It brought him today to the real-life Abbey Road, in St. John's Wood in north London, where the Beatles recorded their music and which they immortalized when they crossed the street for the iconic photograph on the cover of the "Abbey Road" album.

"I never met George Harrison, but I've known him since I was 10 years old," said Mr. Allan, an engineering draftsman. "This is the end of something."

It was sad and emotional and festive and quiet all at once, as Beatles lovers from around London converged here in front of the Abbey Road Studios to leave flowers, light candles and discuss Mr. Harrison's life and death with others who seemed to understand.

Day turned to night and rain fell sporadically, but still they kept coming, as music by Mr. Harrison the songs he'd written for the Beatles, and songs he'd recorded on his own poured out of the studio building and into the street.

Mr. Harrison meant a lot to people all over Britain, of course, and tributes to him flooded in today from everyone from Queen Elizabeth "the queen was saddened by the news of George Harrison's death," Buckingham Palace said to John Chambers, a spokesman for the Liverpool Beatles Appreciation Society, who said he was "absolutely heartbroken."

Fans gathered outside the gates of Mr. Harrison's enormous, eccentric mansion in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, and they gathered at various spots in Liverpool, where he grew up and where his meeting with Paul McCartney on a school bus one day became the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

In Liverpool, the Union Jack flew at half-staff over City Hall. "George Harrison was one of the great Liverpudlians," said Liverpool's lord mayor, Gerry Scott. "He was a warm, peace-loving man who was more than just a talented musician. He was a deeply thoughtful and caring human being."

Here on Abbey Road, Jeff Khurgel, a 23-year-old law student from Irvine, Calif., recalled growing up to the sounds of Beatles music wafting from his father's stereo. The song "Back in the U.S.S.R." had particular meaning to them, because they were originally from Russia.

"George Harrison was part of the most influential group of people in my life," Mr. Khurgel said. "That's not an overstatement. My parents, of course, that goes without saying. But then the Beatles."

Like many other fans drawn to this spot, which has been the center of Beatles worship in London for years, and where the wall in front of the studio is constantly being repainted only to be covered again in Beatles-related graffiti Mr. Khurgel was reluctant to talk too much about Mr. Harrison as anything other than a Beatle.

For all his solo work and the uneasiness that the group brought him, Mr. Harrison was first and foremost part of a four-man team, he said, something bigger than any of its parts. Now, with John Lennon murdered all those years ago, the four are down to just two.

"It's a shock to the world to have George gone," said Laurence Moore, 23, who had brought along an orange rose, a tribute, he said, to the orange outfit Mr. Harrison wore on the cover of the "Sgt. Pepper" album. "They say he was the quiet one and that he took a back seat to the others, but he was a Beatle, and if it wasn't for George then they wouldn't have been the success that they were."

It was a success felt all over Britain, because the Beatles were the most famous exports Britain has ever had, at least in modern times. "It's kind of difficult to put it into words, but I feel really sad as a British person and fan," said Steve Pafford, a 32-year-old music writer who became aware of the Beatles in grade school, when he sang Mr. Harrison's sweet love song "Something" along with the rest of the school choir.

"In this country we're incredibly proud of the Beatles, that they were our own homegrown band, and such a massive success," he said. "They were a British band and the world's most popular band, and when you consider what the British music scene was like pre-Beatles so derivative you realize how much they shook things up, big time."

On Abbey Road today, memories were flooding back memories of childhoods, adolescences, late wakeful nights and sleepy early mornings first dances and first kisses, all the stops and starts and yearnings and aches of growing up. The one constant was the Beatles music that became everyone's personal soundtrack.

"For me being in my mid-40's, they were integral to my life from a young age, with all those early singles that my brother and I used to collect," said Peter Laskie, 45, a television production manager. "What this shows is that we're all getting older. It's the progression toward the end time moving on."

Alicia and Rick Benbough, lately of California, were thinking a lot about the passage of time, too, and how it can feel like the sand in an hourglass, quietly but inexorably running out. "It's like an era is slowly slipping away," said Mr. Benbough, 54.

His wife, Alicia, 42, thinks so too. She remembers when she first heard about the Beatles "everyone was freaking out about the White Album" and has always thought of the three band members that remained after Mr. Lennon's death as rock-solid constants in her life.

"It's a somber time a lot of things are changing in the world," Mrs. Benbough said. "You never really thought in terms of seeing this change, and then all of a sudden, wow. The Beatles were endless, but you realize that they are human too, just like everyone else."

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company