As my son and heir and I knew we would be at a loose end today, I booked us on the tour of Lennon and McCartney’s childhood homes in Liverpool. It’s the sort of thing I’d been half-meaning to do for years and never got around to doing; you don’t sometimes when these things are on your doorstep. Fifteen of us shuffled onto a minibus headed for the Liverpool suburb of Woolton for John Lennon’s childhood home, where he lived with Aunt Mimi until 1963 and then to Paul McCartney’s home in Allerton.
The tours were great, the two guides were brilliant and the emphasis at both houses was on the houses as homes, rather than either being a Beatles museum*, both houses having been restored to the condition they were in 1963. What the guides did very well was to put the childhood’s of both Beatles into a social, historical and class context – the latter point being a little lost on the few Americans on our tour, who were, very understandably, not so aware how issues of class and relationships of class had such a strait-jacketing effect on British lives then. The point being made that Lennon grew up in a much more aspirational middle-class context then McCartney did. It was great and there was a tangible thrill in standing with my son in Lennon’s bedroom and knowing that he and Paul had sat there and entirely unknowingly rolled that first stone that not only started their own landslide, but a generational one.
I’m a history geek and I spend chunks of my time going to see sites of historical interest. But being there in a group of fifteen people from around the world, standing outside a modest council house on Forthlin Road in Liverpool**, I thought that this was such an arbitrary thing. Here we all were happily snapping away at the outside of #20 because Paul had lived there, totally ignoring #18, identical (if rather modernised now) architecturally, simply because Paul hadn’t lived there.
It made me ruminate about why we do these things, far more so than when I visit a castle, or some nobleman’s stately home. Why do we pay our money and truck off to see these places, stand where these greats have stood – trying to catch a long-gone echo of a strummed chord? trying to assimilate something of them through their surroundings maybe? or even trying to just be close to the legend, chasing a certain proximity, because unlike some castle building monarch, or a great 18th century industrialist there is a certain democracy to their greatness; not many of us are born as scions to nobility, but any of us could do what they did^.
Highfalutin dialecticism aside, again it was a genuine thrill to sit in the McCartney living room where the band had practiced so much, looking at Mike McCartney’s photographs of the band writing, 1537 fave, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ in that same room. It seemed a much warmer home than John’s due to the descriptions of the family music nights there and the closeness of the McCartneys, but of course both boys suffered the death of their mothers in those homes too; Julia being knocked down and killed only yards from the house on Menlove Avenue.
The lasting impressions though are of two lovingly-curated homes, which just happen to have been witness to the embryonic stages of a full-on musical revolution which changed the world. A damn fine way to spend a few hours in Liverpool too.
430 (How can you laugh? When you know I’m) Down.
*this was a condition under which Yoko Ono gave Mendips to the National Trust, that it was shown as a home because it was somewhere that had such fond memories for Lennon – he took her there once, stopped outside and told her his stories of playing in the gardens dressed as a red Indian and re-enacting the Just William stories with his own band of outlaws.
**Translation note: Council House = social housing; rented by families from the local borough.
^as long as we were granted a perfect alignment of socio-cultural-politico-economic factors, sky-scrapingly vast and entirely complimentary talents and a catchy group name – so it is an, almost entirely, illusory democracy then.