two of us —
📍 liverpool, england
you and i have memories / longer than the road that stretches out ahead
a lot of people ask me why i chose a study abroad program in england, as opposed to one in a more “romantic” location like france, spain, or italy.
my answer is always simple. the beatles.
(okay, it’s probably not entirely that simple. for one thing, sussex offers a rock and roll class that counts toward my major — oh wait…)
so i guess we’re back to the first thing.
a couple of weeks ago, i was hanging out at night with two friends i met at the beginning of the program. eventually, the hours grew later and the conversation topics grew deeper until one of them asked:
“what was one of the defining moments of your life?”
immediately, my other friend had an answer, choosing to tell the story of the moment she knew she wanted to become a teacher.
i, however, was silent.
but after a short period of self-contemplation (and intense urging from the others), i came up with: “the first time i heard — really heard — the beatles.”
yeah, seriously. but let me explain.
i still remember the exact moment. it was 8th grade english class with one of my favorite teachers ever (shoutout to mr. cheney for being awesome). he had a really old, beat-up stereo in the corner of his classroom and one day, while we were completing a writing prompt, he decided to play us a song.
it was “dear prudence.”
and i can’t explain why, but somehow, it was exactly what 8th grade me needed to hear. even today, it’s my favorite beatles song and contains one of my favorite lyrics: the sun is up / the sky is blue / it’s beautiful / and so are you. and it sparked an obsession; from that day forward, i wanted to know everything about the band, from their music to their history to their lives.
to quote my favorite misty day from american horror story, “stevie didn’t really find her voice until she and lindsey joined fleetwood mac. that’s the thing — you can’t be your best self until you find your tribe.”
i think that was the moment i found mine. previously, i’d always been a fan of what everyone else liked; my favorite bands at the time were relient k and switchfoot because my christian friend had burned me a mix with them on it. but for the first time, i felt like the beatles were something i’d found, a fraction of an identity that i chose. it was empowering for me to finally have opinions that i believed in and could support with facts i was passionate to seek out on my own (i.e. i could write pages and pages on why george is my favorite beatle). the beatles also opened up new worlds for me to explore, becoming a gateway of sorts to learning about other decades and places.
since then, i’ve cultivated many other life obsessions (i.e. stevie nicks, glee, tumblr, sushirrito) but the beatles will forever remain my first. they were the ones that taught me to focus on celebrating the things i love rather than putting down what i don’t, and i am forever grateful. and as paul said so eloquently, in the end, the love you take / is equal to the love you make.
so long story short (and emotional outburst aside), the beatles are very important to me and i was beyond excited to explore their hometown. since the journey to liverpool from sussex by train takes 4–5 hours total (~3 from london), i was unfortunately only able to spend around 6 hours there, with most of that time taken up by the beatles story museum and the magical mystery bus tour. nevertheless, i had an incredible time (shoutout to taylor for accompanying me) and hope someday to return for even longer!
disclaimer: from here on out, the post will mostly be a photo dump (you’re welcome) because i’m honestly still in the midst of emotionally processing the entire experience. if you’re still interested though, roll up and step right this way, because the magical mystery tour is dying to take you away! (:
as soon as taylor and i arrived to liverpool, we immediately made our way toward albert dock on the river mersey, apparently the most visited multi-use attraction in the united kingdom outside of london! it’s also the home to the beatles story museum, a plethora of love locks on chains, and a white ferris wheel (that looks like an exact replica of the one in brighton).
while there, we caught a glimpse of the museum of liverpool.
we continued our walk along the river, eventually arriving at the pier head, which encompasses one of the two sites of the beatles story museum.
once we got there, literally everything was beatles and nothing hurt. there was a store stocked with endless band merch and even a fab four themed cafe, where i ordered a hot chocolate and a delicious breakfast burrito.
after a snack, we started on our first exhibit of the day — entitled “the british invasion” (and co-curated with the grammy museum in LA), it depicted a brief timeline of the british invasion as a whole, going beyond the singular influence of the beatles to include other influential 60s artists. the exhibit also showcased previously unseen images of the rolling stones, and items owned by members of the hollies, the beach boys, and the who.
- a depiction of a 60s teen girl’s bedroom (beatles posters = #same)
- a pet sounds and sgt. pepper vinyl signed by brian wilson & paul mccartney to each other (with each writing how much they loved the others’ work)
- the actual drum set of keith moon (the who)
next, we walked through “the beatles hidden gallery,” a curated collection of previously unseen photos of the band during their 1963–4 tour, taken by 16 year old newspaper boy paul berriff. shot all in black and white (obviously), the photos were a stunning testament to the fact that the greatest band in the world was just a bunch of silly teenage boys who liked to have fun.
sadly, the fab4D experience at the pier head wasn’t working that day, so after completing the first two exhibits, we headed back toward albert dock for the main museum attractions. on the way there, we passed by a statue commemorating the early british invasion sensation billy fury, so named and managed to near perfection by larry parnes. (shoutout to johnny and his rock and roll class for the background context on this cool dude).
when we came upon the museum entrance, i was so excited that i could hardly wait to enter. however, i made sure to snap some pictures first.
the beatles story museum was a walk-through arranged in chronological order, launching with the simple (yet entirely necessary) phrase:
welcome to the story of the best band in the world, ever.
underneath that powerful declaration, the exhibit also displayed a list of tantalizing questions about the band that it promised the answers to (my personal favorite being “who famously said, ‘those in the cheap seats clap your hands, the others rattle your jewelry’?” — *cough cough* john lennon).
appropriately, the first room was dedicated to the start of the quarrymen, the skiffle band that a teenage john lennon started in 1956 with a few of his school friends; eventually, he also added paul and george to the lineup. the exhibit then continued to run through the group’s influential early gigs, at liverpool’s casbah coffee club (1959) and the star club in hamburg (1962).
- george harrison’s first guitar
- instruments (originals and replicas) of the quarrymen
- reconstructions of the casbah coffee club and the star club
the museum even spent a moment highlighting the significance of the mersey beat magazine on the pop culture of 1960s britain. founded by bill harry, one of lennon’s classmates at the liverpool art college, the paper carried the first news of all local rising artists, including the beatles.
one of the museum’s coolest features was its painstakingly accurate replica of liverpool’s mathew street in its 60s heyday and the cavern club, a world famous nightclub where the beatles played many of their earliest shows in the united kingdom (some just months before beatlemania hit the US).
shortly afterward, the beatles were hit with a stroke of luck when brian epstein, the owner of the popular liverpudlian record store NEMS, attended one of their shows at the cavern in 1961. impressed by their talent (and sense of humor), he immediately asked to be their manager.
epstein made many tenacious efforts to secure the band a record deal, but many rejected him (most notoriously, decca records, who dismissed them with the phrase “guitar groups are on their way out, mr. epstein”). however, he was eventually able to sign them to EMI’s small parlophone label, which gave them the opportunity to record in abbey road studios. their debut album, please please me, was recorded in thirteen hours of a single day and by its end, drummer pete best was replaced by the charismatic ringo starr.
and the rest, they say, is history.
the beatles story exhibit also did an amazing job recreating the insanity, or more accurately, the MANIA, of the group’s sudden success in america. everywhere i looked, there were flashing lights of red, white, and blue, and the sounds of pre-recorded screaming girls to drown out whatever i was trying to think about in the moment. there was even a spot where you could sit in the seats of the pan am plane and imagine disembarking to this chaos.
as incredible as the first half of the exhibit was (the room built entirely of TV screens of screaming girls, especially), i must say that my favorite parts were the ones illustrating the beatles’ later career. this was at least partially due to the fact that at this time, the band’s projects had never been more visually and sonically cohesive. each release (sgt. pepper, magical mystery tour, yellow submarine) had a distinct sound and an even more distinct graphic palette, drawing from the drug-fueled psychedelia of the late 60s. fittingly, then, the story exhibit mashed these three moments together in one continuous explosion of sound, color, and light, instantly enveloping the viewer into the emotional turmoil and heightened pressure of the time.
- the iconic sgt. pepper album cover
- reconstructions of the grave of eleanor rigby and strawberry field gate
- the visuals and background of yellow submarine
- the visuals of magical mystery tour (and ringo’s suit from pepper!)
- a literal yellow submarine — the windows even had real fish!
then, after that schizophrenic array of stimulation, the exhibit took on a more somber tone, addressing the band’s tense relations during the abbey road and let it be sessions, which led to their break-up on april 10, 1970.
however, we were also left with the brightest silver lining, as the band’s legacy has endured and continued to influence the entire world.
the last portion of the exhibit was dedicated to each band member’s life after the beatles — detailing their solo releases and work in an out of the spotlight. this part really touched me, as it showed just how different each of these four people were and only further cemented their cultural and historical significance, both in and out of the group. as george is my personal favorite, i spent the longest time in his section, reading over his accomplishments and appreciating the sound of his beautiful music.
pictured: ringo starr, paul mccartney, john lennon, george harrison
you may say i’m a dreamer but i’m not the only one
i hope someday you’ll join us and the world will live as one
— john winston ono lennon (1940–1980)
after rushing through the last bits of the museum (and gift shop), we quickly hopped on a bus for our two hour magical mystery tour of the city. our guide was a proud liverpudlian born and raised (awesome accent included) and, interestingly, was the younger brother of a band member of frankie goes to hollywood (i say “interesting” because 1) i didn’t even know that group was british let alone from liverpool and 2) it reminded me that i am beyond excited to watch zoolander 2 — anyone else????? #frankiesaysrelax)
the tour started at the albert docks and finished off at the cavern club, but in between (i mean, here, there, and everywhere), we saw some pretty great stuff.
10 admiral grove
the childhood home of ringo starr // a local pub pictured on his debut album
the iconic street sign // the barber shop mentioned in the titular song
12 arnold grove
the birthplace and childhood home of george harrison
st. peter’s church
the church hall where john and paul met / graveyard with eleanor rigby grave
the iconic gate at the entrance of the salvation army children’s home
251 menlove avenue
the childhood home of john lennon
20 forthlin road
the childhood home of paul mccartney (origin of many early beatles tunes)
10 mathew street
liverpool’s cavern club (the beatles played here nearly 300 times)
“you’ll be lucky to find a job on the docks because you’re going nowhere. here at quarry bank generally nowhere.”
“is nowhere full of geniuses, sir? because then i do probably belong there.”
— john lennon, nowhere boy