Marking the twentieth anniversary of George Harrison’s death last week, I recalled a line from an obituary I read at the time—something that’s stuck with me for years. I knew it had the word “subtract” in it, so I went to the source, and searched for the term. And there it was, in all its brutality, and slightly more bitter than I remembered:
Harrison’s death, however premature, feels different [from John Lennon’s]. 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 [Lennon’s assassin] began, subtracting the Beatles from the world.
The author goes on to say that Harrison’s death occurred in a season of loss, in the midst of mourning and war. “We have seen things pass,” he says. “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.”