Strawberry Field Is Real
I was reflecting, hmm, on the unanticipated and curious effect that the City of Liverpool had on me. It wasn’t really a choice destination but, merely, a 24 hour stop-over on my U.K. itinerary. Why not, I decided, explore the city while there? Previously, I’d considered Liverpool as the economically and culturally depressed city, much like the East End London depicted in the classic film "To Sir with Love" in which “Sir” (played by Sidney Poitier) triumphed each day over disrespect, prejudice and unsophistication. Instead, I learned about a bustling British seaport, distinguished by a deep architectural and cultural legacy and civic pride. In contemporary Liverpool, I was encouraged by the city’s vivaciousness, my own imagination and, I gave into the urge to live it up! The day was cemented as a perfect one when I discovered that Strawberry Field is real.
Cavern Quarter is where my morning began. Anchored by the legendary Mathews Street, this vibrant area is renowned for its nightlife, but most remarkably, for the history the Beatles made here. Their images are everywhere: Statues, polls, photos and posters. Their names are on streets, bars, hotels and other venues: John Lennon Drive; Paul McCartney Way, George Harrison Close; Ringo Star Close, Hard Day Night Hotel. Their sound blares from the speakers being controlled from the underground Cavern Club, where the group performed more than 274 times. Effortlessly and spontaneously, I sang along with their tunes as I explored the club, itself, the Cavern Pub, Cavern Walk and the Liverpool Hall of Fame, which features 54 Liverpool Number One Chart Hits since 1952. There is so much to absorb- music history, stage settings and wardrobes, memorabilia and authentic Beatles’ instruments. Cavern Design Shopping is just a few steps away but, I didn’t dare!
On to Albert Dock for another astonishing experience: Restored warehouse space houses “The Beatles Story,” the world’s largest and most impressive permanent Beatles exhibition, which depicts the group’s career and performance highlights, personal lives, and even, the “Fab Four” break-up. Being transported in time, I traced the band’s formation and rise and fall; visited the “Casbash” where the band first performed; read the Mersey Beat News; stopped by NEMS Records and Abby Road Studio; watched performances and, navigated adoring and crazed fans. The Beatles became bona fide music icons in my eyes.
As Liverpool continued to unveil itself, my buoyancy persisted. I was impressed by Liverpool’s celebrated attractions: The new Museum of Liverpool, The Merseyside Maritime Museum, Pier Head (departure point for ferries and cruise lines and Cunard’s headquarter location), the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, Unity and Everyman Theater and Liverpool Cathedral, where Paul McCartney was rejected as a choir member for lack of talent!
Yes, 20 Fortlin Road and Penny Lane exist- the first, Paul McCartney’s childhood home and, the second, the neighborhood where Paul, John and George walked to school. In Penny Lane, there is still the barber shop, the corner bank and the shelter in the middle of the roundabout referenced in a stanza of the song, Penny Lane.
Erroneously, I had categorized Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze, the Temptations’ Psychedelic Shack and, the Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever together. My mistake! My enlivened spirit dissipated into fascination as I approached the strawberry colored gates to Strawberry Fields. “Let me take you down, cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields… Living is easy with eyes closed… It’s getting hard to be someone, but it all works out… Strawberry Fields Forever.” Written in homage to his safe haven- a place where fun, dreams and imagination flourished, John Lennon described Strawberry Fields Forever as one of the “truest” songs he ever wrote and, it continued to be his favorite until his death.
In reality, Strawberry Field was owned and operated by the Salvation Army as a children’s home, surrounded by a spectacular wooded area and gardens where John loved to frequent. Closed in 2005, it was of great significance in the Beatles’ hearts. Standing at the secured gate while peering through the over grown foliage, my fascination yielded to illusion: Carefree living in place of responsibility; clarity versus confusion; trust rather than fear and, humanity instead of selfishness. When I closed my eyes, living became easy. I’m going back to Liverpool one day, where Strawberry Field is real!
Note: On February 17, 2017, the Salvation Army announced that Strawberry Fields will undergo a major redevelopment and reopen as a “training and work placement hub for young people with learning disabilities.” Strawberry Fields Forever!