You begin noticing Beatleness everywhere. You develop a chronic case of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Take, for instance, “All You Need Is Love.” Once cosmic love anthem, now setup for extreme Basicness. You know: “All You Need Is Pugs/Wine/Chai/Baby Yoda, etc.”
My favorite instance of found Beatleness: a gay porn DVD a college roommate left lying out one day. Its cover featured two intertwined Nordic studs who looked, um, happy to see me. It’s title?
Summer, 2006. Preparing to start grad school in the fall, I spend the summer living with my parents, waiting tables, saving money. Having left New York for suburban Baltimore, everything is lightness and ease, a breezy sense of lost time. One day I borrow my sister’s car. She has Abbey Road cued up in the CD player. I give it a listen.
Late as ever to the party, I quickly conclude:
This Is A Good Album.
Its presence here at the prelude to this next phase of my life seems nothing short of divine providence. As with everything Beatles, there is some alien shit at play. It quickly becomes the soundtrack to my commute and my brain, but I often skip Track 9 (significant, I know!), “You Never Give Me Your Money.” Starts too slow, and I wanna rock. One night, while driving home, I let it play through…
…I sit in my parents’ driveway, stunned, yet oddly validated.
Some loop has closed in my mind–such is the elemental, otherworldly power of The Beatles’ music. Of course it’s this good.
What a fool I am! Ignorant of beautiful things!
Next, I buy The White Album and start listening with the obsessive devotion of a young Charlie Manson. I meet a foreign exchange student and we start a summer romance. She has no wheels, and since I am always driving, she has no choice but to become a White Album devotee, as well. It never occurs to me that a teenager from the other side of the world might not totally dig tripping out to 40 year-old classic rock.
At the end of the summer, we take a road trip to the beach. As I start the car and reach for the CD player, she asks, sweetly, in her adorably accented English:
“Can we listen to the radio?”
That fall I return to New York and start grad school. Full of trepidation, I fortify myself with a 1968-’69 Beatles-loaded iPod.
Protected by a silver spoon.
Early on, I meet the girl I will marry. I am immediately drawn to her striking blue eyes and goofy sense of humor. One day I walk into class, unconsciously singing, “You never give me your money–” I hear her unconsciously, quietly, answer me back, “You only give me your funny papers–”
Liverpool is one of the great city names, eccentric and dirty-sounding. To the American ear, it strikes a particularly British note–a Dickensian villain, perhaps, or an unappetizing stew.
To dream of The Beatles is to dream of this name–silly and sacred, fantastical and familiar.
Over more than a decade together, my wife has endured, indulged, and occasionally shared my many obsessions. So when she books a professional conference in the UK, I hold my tongue, briefly, before suggesting the inevitable.
We arrive in Liverpool 6 months, 2 books, 3 documentaries and many, many podcast episodes later.
Exhausted after a week in London, we wander blearily from Lime St. Station down to the Royal Albert Docks. Beatleness is apparent immediately. As in other musical cities like New Orleans and Memphis, authenticity and pandering tourism seem to live symbiotically, and I resolve to neither seek out nor deny either. We have two days in the city, one of which will be spent on a taxicab Beatles tour. This will be the extent of my Beatles experience in Liverpool, authentic or otherwise.
We end up having dinner at a Tex-Mex place on Bold St. Having come 6,000 miles from Los Angeles, we now eat hipster tacos and sip artisanal margaritas on the banks of the Mersey, which, in 2019, is as authentic an experience as any.
The next morning (Good Day Sunshine!) our tour guide, a laconic older Liverpudlian, picks us up in his cab. His air is one of warmth and charming understatement. Beatles-esque, if you will.
I have unknowingly spent the better part of the past year preparing for this tour by reading Mark Lewisohn’s Tune In, the most exhaustive account on record of The Beatles’ early years in Liverpool (also the best–an incredibly detailed work that is nearly 1,000 pages long yet supremely readable). Having read the book, the tour is enhanced, though many of its sites–the municipal office where John and Cynthia were married, George’s parents’ house–are, by definition, rather quotidian. One feels mildly ridiculous standing in front of them for a photo.
But then again, isn’t that the point of a tour like this? I resolve to stop taking the things I take seriously so seriously.
We start in the city center and eventually make our way to the suburbs of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields–out of the old world and into the new.
We stop at all the notable sites: the shelter in the middle of the roundabout, Forthlin Road, Menlove Avenue, even Eleanor Rigby’s grave (forgive us our trespasses, Eleanor). There is the utilitarian plainness that so colors The Beatles’ lore (“I came out of the fuckin ‘sticks to take over the fuckin’ world”) and is familiar to any American who grew up on the East Coast or the in the Midwest, but also plenty of British charm and a quaintness that pleasantly confirms all those from-humble-beginnings origin stories. The brick architecture and profuse greenery are balm to my dried out Southern California soul.
By the time we finish with the Casbah Club I am exhausted. There is a danger in overdoing it, in sapping what magic remains in these places. The Casbah Club is a cool historical site, but one feels to have overstepped slightly. This is someone’s home. The peripheral figures seem suddenly, discomfitingly, like real people.
Along the way, I notice a young man traveling solo, making many of our same destinations on foot. He seems to be on a pilgrimage, having his own private experience with Beatledom.
Ten years ago, that would have been me. Looking for ghosts. Divining sacred meaning at every turn. But these things are not mine to know, nor do I want to know them. Not anymore. The Beatles gave me the journey and it’s enough. It’s enough just to be with this woman, who came along and made my life a song (sentiments by J.P. McCartney), a little tired, a little hungry, a little underwhelmed by the suburban blandness all around me.
Like all things Beatles, its apparent simplicity seems to wink at me:
All you need is…
Well, you know.