To paraphrase a popular quote and/or rhetorical question; “ah, where to begin?” Breath easy, the proverbial response will not be; “at the beginning!” In fact, it will be more at the end than anything.
Yes, I just recently returned from a visit to Abbey Road in London, England. An amazing and surprisingly sentimental visit. Not long ago in my life, such a visit had never occurred to me or even made the “long list” of places I wanted to see. So, what happened?
I was never a “huge” Beatles fan. I was a little young for the initial British Invasion hysteria. I do enjoy some of the music and there are several songs that I really like, but as a whole, I was not “hit over the head” with impulses to buy a guitar, or debate my favorite Beatle, much less “hold her hand.” When the music does catch me, I am more interested to know why she did “come in through the bathroom window” or how did a few awesome choruses of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” wind up in the middle of a Josh Ritter Song.
I seem to know “more” of the Beatles from their post-super-group heyday. Paul McCarthy; his band Wings, and the soundtracks to James Bond movies. I recently saw an article describing a young woman riding in the back of a bus in NYC who had the most charming and down to earth encounter with Paul sitting across from her. Ringo Star; his solo career, and a song about Palma de Mallorca which I once visited. I also read an article about how he used to personally return a letter to everyone who wrote to him. John Lennon; a 2006 documentary called The U.S. vs. John Lennon, which portrayed how he was persecuted for promoting such heinous ideas as peace and love. “For Jesus sake…….look what happened to Jesus for trying to do the same thing!” Rest In Peace John. Never a real fan of his solo music, I was surprisingly fascinated how Tommy Smothers once played guitar on the live “sleep in” of “Give Peace a Chance.” George Harrison; not only his solo career but taking a chance and investing in a movie I loved called Time Bandits. Nobody would finance or touch the project; until he did. The movie budget was 5 million, and it went on to make 40 Million Dollars. His son went to school “down the street” at Brown University, and every once in a while he would slip in and out of Providence.
Out of “nowhere” one day, I saw a picture of my friend Eileen strutting across the “zebra crossing” (as the British call it), and I was suddenly intrigued. A few years later, I saw a picture of Debbie, Pat and their children doing the same thing. Reinforced Intrigue (hahahahahah….. I just made that up!). It was with those pictures (and not really the album cover picture) floating in my head, my nephew and I began my hike to this place so iconic, that even my sister, whom the closest I ever saw display any interest in popular music was the soundtrack to The Sound Of Music, seem to know all about.
Well, to further confuse this blog in ZD45 fashion, I’ll mention those song lyrics; not from the Beatles, but from Paul Simon’s song Graceland which constantly flooded my brain as we hiked through the city streets of London that summer morning.
Graceland; Paul Simon lyrics;
” My traveling companion is nine years old. He is the child of my first marriage”
My traveling companion is 19 years old; He is my nephew from my sister’s marriage.
“I’m going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There’s some part of me wants to see
I’m going to Abby Road, for reasons I cannot explain, there’s some part of me that wants to see Abbey Road.
“Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
I have a reason to believe, we will all be received, at Abbey Road.
Let’s throw in a little history from Wikipedia; Abbey Road is the eleventh studio album by the English rock band The Beatles released on 26 September 1969 by Apple Records. The recording sessions for the album were the last in which all four Beatles participated. Although Let It Be was the final album that the Beatles completed before the band’s dissolution in April 1970, most of the album had been recorded before the Abbey Road sessions began.
Now to the actual trip. “Ah, FINALLY Zulu!!!.” Using my memory from Google Maps and occasional checks on my nephew’s GPS, we hiked up Hall Street and turned left on Grove End Road. Although we weren’t exactly sure of the location of the Zebra Crossing in the middle of the residential neighborhood, I was confident that when we got close, it would be overwhelming evident by the crowd of tourist as to where we were, and which direction to go. “WRONG!!” This block seemed to look exactly like the previous 10 blocks we just walked through. I had hypothesized we would see crowds of tourists, and signs, and souvenir shops; “WRONG!!” In fact, the neighborhood was so unchanged and insignificant looking that, my shoelaces almost reached down and touched the black and white crosswalk of that famed picture as we completely walked by in oblivion. It wasn’t until a few buildings later, when we came upon a white stone wall with writing, scribbles, condolences, and “love letters” all over it, in front of a white building with a very small sign above the main entrance that said Abby Road Studios, that we realized, we “had arrived.”
For a moment, I stood there in front of the wall thinking that this was quite anti-climactic. It was too quiet, and “too empty” and for a split second I was disappointed; and then I began to read the wall. As I read the words from the “musical pilgrims come forth” from all over the world, I could sense how much they loved the Beatles, and the immense joy brought to them from their music.
I walked back to the Zebra Cross Walk I practically tripped over earlier, and a funny thing began to happen. The calm quiet street began to come alive. Suddenly not only did it seem to buzz with tourists who began to show up in the already-too- warm summer morning, but the true nature of the street began to hum with activity. There were cars, and trucks, and even red double-decker transit buses. There were everyday pedestrians, mothers pushing baby carriages and people on their way to work. This was not some modern-day tourist trap, but a “real live” road in London; Abbey Road.
More tourists began to show up as well; not millions, or thousand, or even hundreds, but enough. Enough to bring chatter, and laughter, squeals of delight, and the yell of picture-taking directions. Suddenly it seemed as if time had stopped just for a moment and the present group of 20 of us stood there staring at each other at the crosswalk…….until the moment broke and everyone seemed to have the same idea; a common idea that unites like-minded people and strangers. “Hello, would you take a picture of us? Of Course! Would you hold my jacket? Yes! Would you take another picture with a different camera?” “Absolutely,” we said as the “third woman” in line from Spain suddenly threw off her shoes and jumped into the parade. For a moment, I had no idea what this was all about until I remembered that Paul was third in line and barefoot in the picture; these fans knew their stuff.
As the local working traffic increased, the opportunities to pose in the crosswalk became more difficult, but the people persevered; as if perseverance is something camera and phone slinging tourists actually do. Everyone was so considerate, courteous, and friendly; not only patiently waiting for their turn to get their picture, but helping to facilitate the outright hampering of the onslaught of mechanized rolling machinery along the street; i.e, illegally obstructing traffic so others could get “their shot” as well. Yes, “we’ve all been received.”
The first song on the Beatles Abby Road album is “Come Together.” I have never, ever liked that song; and nothing has changed to this second in time. I have no idea of what the Beatles were thinking during the time writing or recording that song, but I have to hope that they would all be pleased to this day that so many people would gently “Come Together” in peace and kindness; not in the demise of the Beatles, or on the “Long and Winding Road,” but in the middle of the road; Abbey Road.