On the date of John Lennon’s assassination this year, here’s the follow-up post from writer, music fan, and world-traveler Geoff Moore, who’s treated us most kindly to the fruits of a bona fide musical pilgrimage. Here is part 2 of his tales of adventures in the magical city of Liverpool, home of favourite sons the Beatles, and the cradle of a whole industry; Beatle worship.
It’s of no surprise that the city has become a shining beacon to musical pilgrims, seeking to visit the location where their heroes sprung from obscurity, and delivering the whole city along with them. Heck, I’ve made the trip myself! But, is there a line between devotion and exploitation? At what point does a celebration of history become a means of kitchify-ing that history?
Let’s find out, in this second part in a series set in the great northern city where heroes have emerged …
Like Elvis, the Beatles live on as a corporate entity. Following the release last year of the mono and stereo boxes, it seemed there was one certainty all across the universe: there was no way Apple Corps could possibly get ahold of any more of your money.
Excepting alarmed fire exits, there’s only one way out of The Beatles Story and that’s through the Fab 4 Store. T-shirts, hoodies, caps, coasters, coffee mugs, shot glasses, tumblers, lighters, pens, key chains, tote bags, magnets, playing cards, badges, CDs, DVDs, books, bookmarks, posters, prints, postcards and die-cast Corgi toys greet you, everything arrayed and displayed with love.
The urge to be a major consumer in this environment is almost primal because there is the tacit implication that the location of the transaction, Liverpool, somehow makes all these made-in-China Beatles baubles more authentic. There is also a symbiotic and synchronous stream of solo John merchandise available for purchase. Imagine that; Yoko’s as canny as Priscilla.
The Beatles Story occupies a second space in the ferry terminal at the Pier Head. The current exhibition is entitled ‘White Feather: The Spirit of Lennon.’ It has been mounted with the full co-operation and participation of Cynthia and Julian Lennon. And maybe that’s why this portion doesn’t feel quite right. Although the displays are fascinating, a sheet of typed and then hand-annotated ‘Yer Blues’ lyrics for instance, the air seems heavy with reclamation and the tension created by the factional curation of a manufactured messianic legacy that may yet prove to be bigger than Christ’s. Give it 2000 years; meanwhile, buy the fridge magnet.
Stranger still is the shelf devoted to Rolling Stones collectibles in the Fab 4 Store’s sister location. Perhaps a new hire confused Brian Epstein with Brian Jones.
The Magical Mystery Tour which departs the Albert Dock at least once a day is positively Seussian: ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go!’ The two-hour coach ride differs significantly from the television film in a couple of crucial ways: Ringo’s Auntie is not present and the tour guide has memorized a script and pretty much sticks to it.
The bus looks just as you’d picture it, a Corgi toy in the Fab 4 Store, bright yellow with shooting stars and rainbow lettering. The locals can see you coming for miles. Boy, do they ever. As the bus slows outside the Empress pub, housed in a building you may recognize from the cover of Ringo’s Sentimental Journey’ (1970), a smoking regular spills out into the lane and performs jumping jacks for your benefit. Not a single speck of foam flies from his pint glass.
George was born in a similar neighbourhood, in a narrow, dead end street of terraced brick houses, chimney pots and aerials beneath a suburban sky; 12 Arnold Grove. Somebody lives there now, somebody average just like us. A lived life is rife with petty humiliations and embarrassments; exiting a gaudy tour bus to gawp at a complete stranger’s home in the company of a crowd of shuffling, like-minded sad sacks ruefully ranks right up there.
Mendips, 251 Menlove Avenue, where John grew up and 20 Forthlin Road, which the McCartneys moved into in 1955, are both possessions of the National Trust. The Magical Mystery Tour will take you to them, but if you wish to knock about inside either residence you must arrange other, separate tours.
The Magical Mystery Tour is owned and operated by the same company that runs the Cavern Club and Pub. The bus drops you downtown on North John Street. Walking the short distance back to Mathew Street to drink it all in again because you’re a long way from home and you may never return to Liverpool, you pass the Hard Days Night Hotel, a slice of Vegas schlock albeit in a restored, listed building: boutique and Beatles-themed, four stars, one missing apostrophe and, naturally, a gift shop.
A pair of songs on side two of the Capitol Magical Mystery Tour LP resonate more vividly than ever. That structure in the middle of the roundabout? It used to be the shelter where John and Paul would meet up to catch a bus downtown to the Cavern Club. There’s the bank. There’s the barber shop. Penny Lane looks exactly as you’d expect because you’ve been visiting it for decades.
Over time, Paul’s nostalgia has somehow become your own memory. The Strawberry Field orphanage closed in 2005. The grounds are lush and a little overgrown. The stone gateposts and the red iron gates still stand, but ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ was never about a specific place so much as a state of mind. But here is the source material. Two local landmarks created and immortalized by the Beatles records, two vastly different sonic renderings, there’s no simpler or more profound way to contrast the styles of two extraordinarily gifted songwriters.
Geoff Moore is a writer who lives in Calgary. Since he left Liverpool, the beer supply has slowly returned to normal levels.
RIP, John. ((°j°))