LIVERPOOL, THE PLACE WHERE IT ALL STARTED

“All these places have their moments, with lovers and friends I still can recall; some are dead and some are living, in my life I’ve loved them all”. In My Life, The Beatles.

Down a flight of stairs, in the basement of a dark narrow warehouse, is a barely illuminated stage with just enough space for a few amps, two guitars, one bass guitar and a small platform which supports a very basic drum set.

Behind it, on the brick wall, written on asymmetric colored shapes, are the names of the bands who once played on the stage of this legendary venue known as The Cavern Club.

Names such as The Kinks and The Rolling Stones are alongside some others from other generations, such as The Arctic Monkeys, yet no name drawn on this wall is as highly appreciated as the one found right in the center of it.

Standing out, the name of The Beatles is written on a green square, with the number “292” atop, which refers to the number of times that the band played in this venue, from 1961 to 1964, before Beatlemania spread throughout the world.

After that year, the band’s name became the indisputable emblem of The Cavern Club and a cultural reference point for the city of Liverpool, England.

Outside this small storehouse located at 10 Mathew Street, modern-day Liverpool could be best described as an urban city with wide avenues and modern buildings, raised alongside some historic constructions, many of which survived two World Wars.

Walking the streets, while feeling the cold ocean breeze, is a very revealing experience, because I realize that instead of finding the grey and cloudy city that I was expecting to run across, I am discovering a charming modern city, with bright skies above the deep blue ocean; and without a doubt, with a lot of stories to tell.

For Beatles fans, though, many of those stories are related to the iconic band; but in contrast to what many would assume –including me before visiting the town; Beatlemania is not ever-present in the city, Beatles songs are not heard with every step, and Ringo Starr’s face isn’t plastered on souvenirs in shops on every corner. Rather, the quartet and their legacy are celebrated in small yet extremely meaningful places.

I grew up listening to my dad’s Beatles cassettes, back in Mexico city. When I was eight years old, one of my favorite hobbies was translating the Beatles song lyrics into the Spanish; obviously, I enjoyed the melodies very much, but also I knew there was some meaning behind the words, and I just wanted to know what it was.

Back then, it never crossed my mind that someday I would be traveling thousands of miles to be in a living room in Liverpool, sitting on the same old couch in which many years ago, 14-year-old Paul McCartney was laying down when he got the inspiration to compose one of the songs I used to listen recorded on those tapes, named “I’ll Follow The Sun”, which by the way was and still is my favorite Beatles song.

The National Trust is a British organization that looks after preserving places of historic interest in the United Kingdom; they organize a tour called ‘Beatles childhood homes’, in which visitors are allowed to go inside Paul McCartney’s childhood home located at 20 Forthlin Road, as well as John Lennon’s placed at 251 Menlove Avenue.

In 1995, the house that once belonged to the McCartney family was bought from a private owner and with the financial help of The Heritage Lottery Fund, it was restored to look exactly like when Paul, his parents, and his younger brother Michael, lived there in the 50s.

From the outside, the McCartney’s house looks quite small. In the front view, it has only two windows and a little but well-maintained garden. However, right after entering through the white narrow front door, I get the vibrant and immediate sensation that a happy family used to live here.

The parlor is the first room we enter. Next to the brown couch where I sat, is an old television set, specifically bought by Jim McCartney to watch Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, which happened on June the 2nd of 1953. On the other side of the room, is the piano which Paul’s dad used to play.

I imagine they spent very pleasant family moments in that room; the coziness that I feel inside the McCartney’s home gives me the perception that despite the fact that it was a very modest house, it was a very good place to be.

Hanging on the walls of the living-room, there are several photographs made by Michael McCartney; mostly showing three teenage boys having fun, who were not others but Paul and his mates John Lennon and George Harrison, hanging out long before they became the world-famous Beatles.

20 Forthlin Road was also the spot where the trio had their early rehearsals as The Quarrymen, as the boys were known at first. Here, “I Saw Her Standing There” and some other of the first Lennon-McCartney compositions were put together. Essentially, rock ’n’ roll as we know it today, could have been born in 20 Forthlin Road.

Nowadays, the house is under the care of a guardian who is a very nice woman, that seems to really enjoy giving the tour to the tourist and especially telling them stories that occurred when Paul lived here with his family, more than 50 years ago.

—”Paul could enter the house anytime, so be aware of that door!”—she said at one point—”Michael recently was here and he told me that Paul was looking for some time off to visit the house very soon”—. Obviously, what she said was a line, but I am sure that all the visitors, including me, were hoping to see Paul going through that door.

After exploring the kitchen and the back little garden, I wander upstairs and find three bedrooms, one of which belonged to “the kid”, as the family used to lovingly call Paul.

Inside, I find a small, tightly-made bed, and in front of it, placed horizontally a little closet. The window looking over the street was used by the McCartney brothers when they wanted to sneak in without waking their dad up, which I was thrilled to know.

Essentially, Paul’s bedroom was a simple and neat; very decent, maybe an allusion of his personality; one could easily imagine him singing and writing songs in this little spot.

After looking around all the other rooms, I go downstairs and just before leaving the house, I see above the front door an inscription in memory of James and Mary McCartney, Paul’s parents.

The guide tells us that it was recently added by the McCartney brothers, as a loving act to remember their parents, which makes me feel a little bit brokenhearted but mainly, makes me leave Paul’s childhood home, with a very positive feeling.

Nearby Forthlin Road, a friend of Paul used to live; one with whom he would go down in music history forever. It was at 251 Menlove Avenue –or “Mendips” as it is entitled, where John Lennon spent his childhood and adolescence, under the guardianship of his strict aunt Mimi; after being abandoned by his father Arthur and left to build up a new family, by his mother Julia.

At first glimpse I notice a very embellished residence, with several windows and a medium-size garden, all surrounded by a low fence. The Art Nouveau-style stained glass decorating the front door definitely provides the house a very ostentatious appearance; John’s was the wealthiest of the Beatles’ childhood neighborhoods.

Looking closely, above the main entrance I notice a blue plaque that reads: ”John Lennon 1942-1980, musician and songwriter“. This makes my heart ache because, in the United Kingdom, a blue inscription indicates that a past resident of the house, achieved some level of fame and success, however, it also means that this person is dead. From the beginning, a melancholic atmosphere overwhelms me.

When friends visited John, they were requested to use the back entrance, because of aunt Mimi’s plea; so to fulfill her wishes, we enter the house by the kitchen entrance.

I have always considered John as my favorite Beatle; so on my bookcase, I have a few books about his music and his personal life, some of them I got myself and some were handed to me as presents. I practically feel, as if I knew already the house, therefore I can not help to feel great melancholy once again.

Some of the most tragic events in John’s life, happened in or near Mendips, like the abandonment of his parents, or the death of Julia, his mother, after being run over by a policeman out of duty; just by the time when they were building up a brand new mother-son relationship.

However, I try to overcome the feeling and to focus on imagining the afternoons that he probably spent in aunt Mimi’s tidy house, having fun with his friends or maybe with his uncle George.

And so, as we are moving forward the house, I try to imagine John in every pleasant situation I can, like at the morning room listening to the radio, –of which one of the speakers, was taken up to his bedroom, to listen to his beloved rock ’n’ roll music, despite Mimi’s disapproval.

Also imagine him at the lounge room enjoying the nice heat by the fireplace on a cold winter night, drawing the comic books he used to hand to his friends at school, or maybe writing the poetry that was published later on when he became a famous Beatle.

In contrast with the whole conservative style of the house, posters of pop personalities of the 50s, such as Elvis Presley and Brigitte Bardot, cover the walls of John’s tiny bedroom. In his adolescence, he also played the role of a fan.

The bed is stuck to the wall; above it rests an acoustic guitar, several drawings and gazettes, and a thank-you letter for a red jumper he got as a present when he was a little child.

Definitely, in Lennon and McCartney’s music, there are two different styles; and I notice that the difference of personalities, can be perceived also in their dormitories. I get the impression that John’s was sort of a refuge, whereas Paul’s was a place to hang out.

Paul’s sleeping room is conservative, neat and luminous, on the other hand, John’s didn’t look that tidy, but it detached a rebellious feeling in contrast with the rest of the house, and even that it has a window, the room looks kind of dark.

It all gets clear to me now, as I hear in my head the tunes of “We Can Work It Out” and “A Day In The Life”, songs in which they both take part, and in which the difference of styles can be perfectly appreciated. Essentially, two personalities, which seemed to perfectly fit and complement each other artistically.

Nonetheless, being in the intimacy of their bedrooms, makes me realize that before the world-fame came along, they were just two regular kids, like every other kid; maybe dreaming about music or the future; and also realize what some people seem to forget: That they were just two human beings with joys and sufferings, like each one of us.

I have to admit that actual tears are coming out of my eyes, while I listen to the first chords of the song “Magical Mystery Tour”. This song had never made me cry before, but now I am experiencing mixed feelings because I am listening to the song inside a yellow psychedelic bus; that looks like the one from the Beatles’ movie.

The Cavern Club organizes this tour, which takes fans to some points of interest within the city. The man with the charming Liverpudlian accent, who guides the tour, seems familiar to me; he played the role of Pete Shotton, who was one of John’s childhood friends, in the tribute movie named “In his life: The story of John Lennon”.

I wish I could visit George Harrison and Ringo Starr’s childhood homes as well, but nowadays those are private properties. However, the bus drives nearby, and we get off to take a look and discreetly, take some pictures, which I assume, the current owners do not appreciate. The only relevant thing I could write about it is that both houses look very humble.

After taking a quick look at The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, which was the place where Paul and George met when it was named The Liverpool Institute for Boys; the tour drives by the Strawberry Field garden, in which John was inspired to write the song “Strawberry Fields Forever”. We get off to take some pictures of the red grills and brick walls, now completely covered by Beatles-related messages.

The contrast of colors seem to have intensified because of the rain; the grass and the grills appear to be shining. Suddenly, I understand the meaning of the song; for me, it is about finding an incredibly peaceful place to hang out, and Strawberry Field was that for John Lennon.

On the other hand, Paul’s tribute song to the city was “Penny Lane”; which is the name of the street where the bus is taking us. As we go further, I notice the deep blue sky, that Paul describes in the chorus of the song. Indeed, I do love the color of the sky above this city.

Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane were both ‘A’ sides of the same single album. Just charming.

Back in the Cavern Club, the dark stage is subtly lit and a cover of a Beatles’ song is being played. The musicians on stage are probably around 19 or 20 years old, which is the same age that the Beatles were when they started playing in this foggy club.

The audience is made up by people of a wide range of ages; some are foreign visitors like me and my friends, and some are locals. After a few songs, I stand up and dance Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”; a song that back in the days was covered by four Liverpudlian kids, who dreamt becoming as famous as Elvis Presley, but instead became George, Paul, John, and Ringo.

Outside the club, in Mathew Street alley, there is a life-size statue of John Lennon; he looks young and carefree, kind of like a leather-dressed teenage rebel. I wonder if he was that tall. While walking away, I decide to look back to take one last glance; then I see a small plaque above the big bright “Cavern Club” sign, which I had not seen before. it reads: “The place where it all started”.

Alejandra Peña-Rios’ final project for the course “Creative Writing: Being Pitch Perfect”, awarded by Stanford University. This piece was published in Spanish, on April 5th, 2016, by Revista Marvin.