Sunday, 23 May 2010

Abbey Road Forever

Pilgrimages are not limited to cathedrals or cities. All of us have somewhere we long to visit, a place with purely personal meaning. We made just such a journey this morning to see the famous crosswalk where John, Paul, George and Ringo walked from the EMI studio into pop history. Sue and I got off the Underground at St. John's Wood station and stood for a minute, blinking in the sun and wondering which direction to take to reach the Abbey Road on our map.

True to form, a thirty-something Londoner stopped almost immediately with his family, including an infant in a stroller and asked, "Are you looking for Abbey Road?"

"Yes," we replied, somewhat sheepishly, thinking that our age and gender had betrayed this guilty pleasure. Both of us came of age with the Beatles. Despite our years, we retain real affection for that long-ago time and incredible music. Just as half-forgotten smells, like the scent of new-mown grass, can bring back a childhood summer, "Yesterday" or "Michelle" or "Norweigan Wood" all have the ability to transport me to another era and another, younger self.

We needn't have worred. The iconic, zebra-striped crossing is a shrine for more than two, aging Beatlemaniacs. Almost as soon as we had repeated the Fab Four's Album cover pose, snapping photos of each other in turn to memorialize the occasion, other communicants arrived. A Japanese man strod across, holding his hands stiffly out as though doing a version of the dance performed by Little Egypt, giggling wildly. When we smiled widely at him, he nodded vigorously, saying in strongly accented English, "I know, I know."

During the next forty-five minutes, we watched a dozen people perform this act of homage in nearly as many languages. A Frenchman broke out into a heary, "Vive le quatre!" A mother patiently photographed her peace-symbol bedecked pre-teen daughter for nearly twenty minutes, directing her in an eastern European language as the girl tried to express her vision of the event.

A shy college student from Indiana, studying abroad, diffidently handed me his camera to film his somewhat stilted walk. "I hope it comes out all right," I said afterward.

"I'm sure it will be," he replied, a grin splitting his somewhat pudgy face. "It's my first weekend in England," he confided. For just a moment, happiness made him look quite handsome. Four boisterous Brazilians arrived, including a psuedo-McMartney with bare feet and holding an unlit cigarette for verisimilitude. None of them were born when "Abbey Road" first came out. Old and young, fat and thin, hip and hopeless, the pilgrims came.

Other supplicants had been there before us. The walls outside the recording studio had been whitewashed and were covered with graffitti. Most of the writing was composed of lyrics, more or less correctly quoted, with a few personal comments thrown in.

"Ringo Starr is more snoggable than Stephen Hawkiing," read one.

"Gracias por me nombre--thanks for my name," was signed by "Michelle".

Sauntering back to the Tube, I pondered the phenomenon of four, working-class musicians, who had touched so many lives, forty years after they had disbanded. A verse from Abbey Road came back to me:

"And in the end, the love you take,
is equal to the love you make."

"Gracias por mi nombre --thanks for my name," wrote "Michelle".

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