My wife and I rolled up to the Beatles Magical History Tour in Rochester tonight. I am not the type of bloke who can very often be told things about the Beatles that he didn’t already know. But this exhibit did just that.
The main thing I learned that I didn’t already know was that those thousands of fans who were waiting at the airport for the Beatles when they arrived in America in 1964 were paid to scream and wear Beatles shirts. I mean it’s not like a myth has been shattered or anything. I think a part of me knew that must have been the case.
And though I know that Beatles marketing went berserk in the spring of 1964, I was still really amused to see exactly how nuts it got. For instance, did you know there were Beatles nylons…for some reason? Among the thousands and thousands of trinkets, toys and snacks with the Beatles name and likeness on it, that has to be the weirdest one for me. None of this stuff was endorsed by the Beatles. Well, very little of it. At this point it was a commercialized free-for-all beyond anyone’s control.
Did you know that the band that became the Beatles existed longer before the “Ed Sullivan Show” appearance than it did after the show? It’s true. And I would have liked it if the exhibit included more from the very early days of the band variously known as the Quarrymen, Johnny and the Moondogs and other monikers until they settled on “Beatles.” But it was nice to see a section featuring some of early Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe’s artwork. I think he would have been well-known in the art world even if he had not been a Beatle, if he’d lived beyond the age of 21.
Being a super Beatles fan that I am, in some ways the exhibit was underwhelming. There are too many things to name that I would have liked to see that weren’t included. But they only had so much space, and let’s face it, some of the things that I would have liked to see probably should stay wherever they are. Besides, I know that for anyone who is at least a little more casual about their fandom than I am, the exhibit will be fascinating.
It was fun to listen to some of the songs that inspired each of the Beatles growing up. That interactive experience, coupled with the 1950’s era radios installed in the exhibit allowed one to imagine they were a teen in Liverpool listening to Radio Luxembourg just like John, Paul, George and Ringo did.
Speaking of music, though…
I was feeling good vibes hearing songs like “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” near the beginning. But the farther you get into the exhibit, each segment has different Beatles songs playing, and the further you go, the more songs layer on top of one another until it feels like, to reference Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s bio, “a cellarful of noise.” Midway through the one song that stood out to me among all the simultaneously playing songs was “Tomorrow Never Knows” which is already a cacophony of sound by itself. So it, layered with songs from every Beatles era, it got to be a bit much. You wanted to celebrate their music. It’s indispensable for such an exhibit, obviously. But I couldn’t help thinking a better way may have been having the tour scheduled on the hour or something so that everyone going through was at the same section at the same time. That way once you’re past the “I Saw Her Standing There” section they could switch that off and turn on “Help!” or whatever it was. But you don’t want something like this to be so strictly regimented, so it is what it is.
Speaking of “Tomorrow Never Knows”, there is one whole open section draped with psychedelic colors wherein “Tomorrow Never Knows” plays, and it is there that you know beyond a doubt that you are about to walk into a new phase of Beatledom. It’s a trip.
The exhibit really had everything though. I laughed at the witty letters written by or about the Beatles, at the Beatles mop-top inspired comb and bobble heads, and at the pieces of John and Paul’s hair, and the piece of carpet that had been cut up from a hotel room because the Beatles had stayed there. I awed at the spot-on reconstruction – graffiti and all – of the Cavern Club stage, the venue where the band played hundreds of shows in 1961-62, and at the original drum kit of Colin Hanton, the Quarrymen’s drummer from 1957-58. I sat in silent reverie for a moment in front of the actual Double Fantasy album that John Lennon autographed for Mark David Chapman just hours before Chapman murdered Lennon.
Given that the exhibit was otherwise a joyous affair, it deflated the experience a bit seeing Lennon’s signature there, picturing him signing it, assuming he thought he was signing an album for another fan who loved him and his music.
That was the polar opposite experience from the series of guitars on display that had been used by the Beatles. There were signs telling what albums, songs or promo films the instruments were played on, and by which Beatle. You could take yourself back to that time and imagine what was going on in the studio while they worked on those projects. They even brought in Beatles producer George Martin’s clavichord which was used on the album “Revolver”, a set of chimes used on various Beatles songs which you could play with a stick, and even a sitar which I assume was George’s that you could “play”, sort of. So, you know…happy thoughts.
At the end of the exhibit there is a life-sized poster of the Abbey Road crossing where you can get your picture taken, and of course a ton of merchandise to peruse. Some unique Beatles t-shirts, hats and bags, and even some wicked expensive replica guitars. If you know me, you may not believe that I’ve never been big on Beatles memorabilia. For me, it’s just the music and the history of the band, and you get a load of each with the Magical History Tour. Check it out. Today and for the next few Mondays it is free, but even at the every day admission price of $15, it would be worth seeing. It is family-friendly, and wheelchair accessible.
When we got home I told my wife “You know if we ever went to Liverpool, I’d get out of my wheelchair and drag myself down all those stone steps to see the basement of the Cavern Club right?…But we’ll probably never go there.”
To which she replied “Not with that attitude.”