It was more than forty years ago that John, Paul, George and Ringo sang about Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields. And the young fans who first flocked to those legendary Liverpool spots have grown up. But with the digital remastering of the band's 14 albums and the video game "The Beatles: Rock Band" about to be released, a new generation will soon be visiting the Penny Lane barbershop where the banker and fireman once had trims.
“What the Beatles stood for: peace, love, antiwar—it still resonates,” says Richard Porter, a tour guide with London Walks. Porter has made his living for the past 21 years by taking fans across Abbey Road, along Savile Row and through the Marylebone train station in London. He says that interest in Beatles’ tourism has remained strong over the years. The fans come from all over the world and are all ages, and, says Porter, “some weren’t even born when John died.”
Porter says the favorite tour stops are the ones that look the same as they did 40 years ago. “The Abbey Road crossing hasn’t been turned into a tourist attraction. It’s a normal street. “ (It is, however, a street that sees an estimated 125,000 visitors each year.) It also has its dangers: “People will take off their shoes and socks to cross, the way Paul did—but they’ll forget to look for cars.”
As Beatlemania swept the world, wherever the band went, cameras and fans followed. When they decided to become disciples of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and traveled to Rishikesh, India, to study Transcendental Meditation, thousands of young hippies set off on their own paths of spiritual enlightenment.
Joanne Papineau, from The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, thinks that somewhere along their journey the Beatles started to understand their power: “They were the first mega-celebrities to become political,” she says. John and Yoko’s bed-in honeymoon, which traveled from Amsterdam to Montreal, focused the world’s attention on peace. “They used what was a personal moment to bring attention to a bigger cause.”
When John and Yoko occupied suite #1742 of The Queen Elizabeth from May 26 to June 2, 1969, they had the furniture removed and they placed the bed in the middle of the living room floor. From there, they gave up to 150 interviews a day. The hotel’s security log was filled with complaints from other guests who were concerned about the number of beatniks in the lobby. Today Papineau says the room, which is decorated as a symbolic monument to the couple’s quest for peace, attracts guests from all over the world: “People say they feel John’s presence when they visit—that there’s something special about the room.”
Perhaps the strongest sense of John’s presence can be felt in Central Park, New York City, where a small patch of land and memorial is now Strawberry Fields. Designed by landscape architect Bruce Kelly, the 2.5-acre knoll is a living memorial to John. In 1984, Yoko Ono contributed $500,000 to the establishment of the garden, as well as an equivalent amount for its ongoing maintenance. It has become the tranquil meeting point for fans the world over, many of whom sing Beatles and Lennon songs on summer afternoons.