Penny Lane isn’t even my favorite Beatles song, but I found myself having some hard to describe emotions as I traveled down Penny Lane in Liverpool a couple of days ago. Yes, there is a roundabout with a barber shop on one side and a bank on the other. (The barber shaves another customer, we see the banker sitting waiting for a trim….) The shelter at the roundabout (where a pretty nurse sells poppies from a tray) was the bus transfer center for that part of Liverpool, and John Lennon, George Harrison and Paul McCartney would have met there most every day traveling to school. George’s dad (with the wonderful name Harry Harrison) was a bus driver, and they probably rode downtown often on his bus. Paul and George’s houses were down one main street leading toward that place, while John lived down another. Around the corner from John’s house, almost in his backyard, were the grounds of a Salvation Army home called Strawberry Field.
Monday afternoon I was on a bus called “The Magical Mystery Tour” sitting next to my son Jesse with Amanda and Gretchen sitting behind us, seeing these places and lots of others – like the house Ringo was born in, the house George was born in, Paul’s house where John and Paul wrote over one hundred songs and practiced them in the bathroom because the acoustics were great in there, and even the church hall where on a summer day in 1957 Paul was introduced to John at a performance by John’s group “The Quarrymen.” (There is a cemetery behind the church and yes, there is a gravestone there for a woman named “Eleanor Rigby.”) You could throw a stone from the church to Strawberry Field and pick it up and throw it again and hit John’s house.
One of my earliest memories is watching The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in February, 1964. My parents were scandalized by their long hair and loud music, and my brothers and I loved them. I remember seeing the movie “Help” in its first run in our local theater in Sharonville, Ohio, and being in awe of my older brother who saw The Beatles live at Crosley Field in Cincinnati in 1966. We bought every Beatles album when it came out, and I still have them all on CD. I saw Paul when I was a senior in high school on his Wings Over America tour and I remember learning of John’s murder while watching a Monday Night Football game in 1980. The Beatles and their music wove in and out of my childhood in powerful ways.
So let’s get back to my feelings as we were driving down Penny Lane. I felt a very strong emotional surge – maybe the best word for it is nostalgia, and I know I am not the first person to feel it or to be led to Liverpool because of it. The city has real problems keeping the street signs for Penny Lane in place, and this Monday, on a non-descript February afternoon, there was a bus load of pilgrims from all over the world on the tour. What is it we all were seeking? Some sort of understanding of our childhoods? Some sort of connection to our idols? I’m not sure. Maybe it is just the same feeling that caused Lennon and McCartney to write songs about Liverpool.
So, if Penny Lane isn’t my favorite Beatles song, what is? It all depends on what day it is and what sort of mood I’m in. There are way too many possibilities. Today, my favorite isn’t even technically a Beatles song, but a song by a Beatle, the song “Beautiful Boy” by John, written for his son Sean. Yesterday, sitting in the legendary “Cavern Club,” listening to a very talented John Lennon impersonator, we requested “Beautiful Boy” and enjoyed it very much. One line sticks with me: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Fatherly advice for all of us.