Thursday, August 25, 2011

Awaiting on you all

Thanks to Sean over at the Kenwood blog, I was lead into my magazine library towards Beatlefan magazine issue #109 (Nov/Dec 1997) where I found a re-written account by Barb Fenick of her summer Beatle adventures. When I read through it, I quickly realized that was the same story I had put on this blog a few days ago. I wasn't going to post it, but then I realized that I personally found it interesting to read the same fan account told 13 years after the original one was written. It is the same story, but much more gentle this time around. Gone is the story of Linda yelling at her, nothing is said about the British fans being noisy at John's house, also gone is her kissing Paul on the cheek among other things. She also makes it sound like when George arrived, they just left his property right away. But in her original story, they stayed around long enough to show George some photographs, plus this photo of George outside his house was taken by Barb.

On July 20, 1969, the first man landed on the moon. On July 21, I finally landed on British soil. And just like the astronauts, we unfurled our flag (next to a BOAC jet). Amazed travelers wondered who were these people as the pilot took our picture. We didn’t mind their looks; we had achieved our first goal. We were in England; we were on our way to meeting The Beatles.

With high hopes and Arthur Frommer’s “England on $5 a day” in hand, we staggered up the steps of our bed-and-breakfast, weighed down with camera, binoculars and 50 copies of the Beatles Monthly. Well, the packing list said you could take “a reasonable amount of reading material!” Our room, the size of my bathroom, was so small the suitcase had to go under the bed and only one person could stand up at a time. But we spent very few moments there anyway. We were, after all, on a quest!

We had no idea when we’d first planned this Beatles odyssey for July 1969 whether The Beatles would even be in the country, let alone accessible. We figured the first logical place to look was at Apple, their offices at 3 Savile Row.

We were very naïve and most presumptuous, so without even knocking, ringing or hesitating we just walked right in. The secretary at the desk was much too “fab” to concern herself with the likes of us. So we made ourselves at home on their couch. Within moments, Neil Aspinall and Mal Evans came in. Neil ignored us. Mal sat down and chatted with us for a few minutes, telling us about his holiday in Portugal.

Then Maureen called and we overheard the secretary’s conversation with her and realized Ringo was inside the building. My friend Susan (ie, “Richie”) was thrilled to hear that, but tried not to let her excitement show too much. We were trying our teenybopper best to appear blasé and not get ourselves thrown out.

But then a group of fans from Holland showed up and began to sing “Give Peace a chance” in Dutch. They were giving an impromptu audition right there in Apple’s main lobby. The secretary finally had to raise an eyebrow at that and threw us all out. We had to wait on the steps like fans are supposed to. Well, it took us a bit to psyche out the rules of the game.

We joined the Apple Scruffs and fans from all over the world – regulars and day-trippers. They explained things: where the rightful places of the fans was, the hierarchy of fandom and much more. We soon realized that we newly arrived vacationing American fans were on the bottom of the totem pole: lower than dirt, and not to be taken seriously. We managed to get in trouble constantly for forgetting those facts. I gave out some buttons that said, “Beatles Rule” (the name of my Beatles fan club) and they crushed them and threw them in the gutter. Did we get the message?

Fortunately, it wasn’t that long before Ringo came out, shaking his head vigorously and saying “no” to all the photographers who wanted him to pose for pictures. As he was getting in his car, Richie told him we’d just come 7,000 miles to see him. He looked at her, eyebrow raised and said, “7,000 miles, eh?” Already he thought we were tetched.

We wondered where he was off to in such a hurry, but not for long. Fans were rushing off after him and we followed along and jumped in a taxi to share a ride. As we zoomed across London we were let in on the good news: The Beatles were all in the country and were all at the recording studio doing some work on a new release. We couldn’t have had better timing!

We spent our first of many evenings on Abbey Road behind the red-barred fence, met all sorts of characters we’d never forget, made many new friends and had the adventure of our lives.

The Beatles had their routine for each working day, so we quickly established ours to match. Paul would be the first to arrive each day between noon and 2 p.m., sometimes driving up in his little green mini, sometimes even walking over form his St. john’s Wood home just a few blocks away.

My first good close-up look at him was the next day, Thursday, July 24, when he arrived in a pink suit. A crowd of at least 50 was on hand already to greet him. They rushed around him, calling his name, taking pictures, jostling him, but he took it all in stride. Someone handed him three pink carnations or rosebuds which he held up against his pink suit, making a nice picture. “I was a bit overwhelmed. But he disappeared inside so quickly. You wanted to say, “Is that all there is?”

For more of a fix, I was drawn to Cavendish Avenue to take a look at his house, his block, even his neighborhood.

A friend of Heather’s was at the gate. She asked if I wanted to come in. The gate opened for her and she turned expecting me to follower. I figured I’d better not tempt fate so I stayed by the gate, took a few pictures and soaked up the atmosphere until one of the British regulars showed up. She took out a flute and began to make an unholy racket with it. I found out that this was just one aspect of their harassment plan that had been going on since Paul, their favorite bachelor Beatle, married Linda, their least favorite American.

A British bobby came down the block , just as Linda was opening the gate to let Heather’s friend out. She saw me and my companion and asked the bobby to escort us away. So he walked us back to the EMI studio. We had quite an informative chat on the way. Not only had “fans” been annoying the neighbors with loud noise, they were constantly defacing the walls on the block with ugly, obscene remarks about Linda. He told us that Paul’s home had even been burgled recently by a “fan’ who broke in through a second story window and made off with some personal items of Paul’s and hundreds of Linda’s slides. He told us Cavendish Avenue was off-limits to fans ever since.

One could only gaze down the block from the corner after that. On one such reconnaissance of the neighborhood, I bumped into Linda out doing her errands. Not knowing what else to say, I blurted out an urgent need for directions to Regents Park – as if I hadn’t been loitering in St. John’s Wood to spy on her and Paul, and was really just lost on my way to the zoo. I even asked her if there were elephants

Linda laughed, but did not treat me like I was abnormal. As I followed her across a street, she had to put out her arm to keep me from walking right into traffic. I told her I had a gift for her and Paul I’d brought from the States and she said I should leave it at Apple office for them and she’d look for it there. She was so nice; I forgave her for having us kicked off the block.

Back at the recording studio, we joined the rest of our friends waiting for Ringo, George and John to arrive. Both Ringo and John came into town from the suburbs each day in the chauffeur-driven white Rolls Royce’s. George had just bought a flashy new navy Ferrari and was quite proud of it. He drove in like a race car driver – so it was get out of his way or be roadkill!!

George had been growing his hair long and often wore it tied back in a ponytail with a ribbon around it. In his jeans and plain long-sleeved shirts, he was usually the most casually attired. But he never spoke to the fans, never communicated and with those dark shades he always wore, who could tell what he even noticed around him.

Ringo was usually just the opposite. He’d arrive in good humor, despite his long trek in form Surrey. He’d graciously accept gifts from the fans, pose for pictures, say a word or two in response to those shouting out his name. At least he noticed and acknowledged those who had come so far and cared so much.

John was held in awe even then by the fans. They idolized him. They parted reverently as he made his way out of his car through the throngs and up the steps, protectively guarding Yoko all the way. She was still recovering from the car accident they had been in not that long before and had scars on her forehead that she was covering with jewelry.

Yoko was so tiny she was nearly swallowed up by the fans and would have been lost, literally, without John’s help. John, with his hair almost golden in the summer sun, gleaming in all-white attire, was definitely the “Sun King”. The fans sensed this and acted like John was above it all; they didn’t pester him for autographs or call his name --- they just watched as he came through and let him pass.

Paul, of course, always created the biggest stir. Fifty to a hundred fans mobbed him every day. Wanting his attention, wanting his photo, waiting to give him gifts, flowers. He held his head high and valiantly made it inside each day. It was frustrating to be so close and yet have him be so distant – lost in distractions complicated by his impending fatherhood, new marriage, fan harassment at his home and the problems with The Beatles’ disintegration over Apple, Allen Klein, Yoko, etc.

So despite seeing The Beatles every day, we were desperate for more personal encounters,. More one on one experience. We thought we’d track them down on the weekends at their homes in the suburbs. Paul’s London home was already off-limits what with those Bobbies patrolling the block with nightsticks. So we’d try to meet Ringo. We knew he’d moved out of his Weybridge home to let John and Yoko use it and had bought Peter Sellers’ old house in Elstead, Surrey. But where in Elstead, Surrey? We discovered the address one day at the studio when we noticed a letter sitting on the dash of Ringo’s Rolls. We copied it down and then asked at a train station that Sunday for a ticket to that town.

Once we got there, of course, we didn’t have a clue how to find his home, address or not. We were aimlessly walking around the centre of this small village (dressed to the hilt in dresses, dress coats, pumps, the works!) looking lost when a local resident came to our rescue. We showed him the address and said we were looking for Ringo’s house. Assuming we were invited guests (probably because we were so overdressed) he took us right to Ringo’s door. When we just stood there in front of his gate, weighing our options, he realized his mistake and drove off in a huff.

Oh well! We had to work up the nerve to push open his front gate and march up to his front door and knock. There were bones in that yard! The remains of fans who had boldly gone before? Finally we did go in, and it was Maureen who answered the door. It was her birthday, Aug. 3, and we wished her well and had a gift for her. We even showed her the new issue of the Beatles Monthly because she was in it a lot and she hadn’t seen it yet. We’d missed seeing the kids; she said they were gone for the day and she and Rich were going out that evening after he’d had a long hot bath and washed his hair.

She stressed the fact that this was his day off, after all. But she didn’t mind if we waited for him to be up though. So we took a few pictures of the house and then went back into town for some lunch. Two hours later, we returned, knocked at the door again and we could see Ringo through the window, getting up from an easy chair. He was only wearing a bathrobe so we figured he’d let Mo open the door again. But there he was, right in front of us. Bright pink bathrobe, wet, slightly mussed hair and all. It’s a miracle my friend didn’t fall over in a dead faint at the very sight. If it had been Paul, I would have been speechless.

Ringo asked whether he could do anything for us. We said we’d only come to wish Mo a “happy birthday” and say hi. He actually did remember my friend Susan from the studio as he recited several of the many gifts she’d already bestowed on him there.

He told us he was taking Mo to the Hank Snow concert in London that evening, which lead to a discussion of country-western music and the aging old-timers like Ernest Tubb. He must be “90 and about to fall over!”

Ringo even demonstrated his idea of an American square dance, then asked us if we know how to polka! Doesn’t everybody from Minnesota? I commented that it must be nice to live out in the country. It seemed so peaceful. But he said it was too long a drive to London and he felt it wasn’t worth wasting so much time in the car commuting. He was going to move back into his old house as soon as John and Yoko moved out. (Lennon had bought the Ascot mansion already, but was waiting for the “old lady to move out,” Ringo said).

We told him we wouldn’t take a picture as he wasn’t really dressed. And he said, “Oh you’ve got thousands from EMI.” Then he said, “Well I’m off.” Guess that means us too and we joked about how hard it had been to get to Elstead on a Sunday. It’s not a major destination. He joked back that if we were still there in the morning he’d give us a lift back to London. We were sure he was kidding, so we thought better than to push our luck, tempting as that offer was! Instead, we got back to London before Ringo and Mo and saw them at the theater that night as they arrived for the Hank Snow concert. Their chauffeur/bodyguard Allen looked at us quizzically like, how did you know he’d be here tonight? And we just smiled back.

The next Sunday, we had the really mad idea we would travel down to Weybridge and try to meet John Lennon. We had the address of Ringo’s old house on St. George’s Hill and we only had ot take the train to the Weybridge station. And, of course, we were immediately lost. We finally hitched a ride and gave the address, but even our driver didn’t seem to know where he was going. It wasn’t until we spotted a group of teenage girls gathered around the gates that we knew we’d found the right place. As we got out, the driver said, “Well, why didn’t you say you wanted HIS house?”

We sat in the driveway (again) too intimidated to knock. We could hear voices inside so we knew someone was home. And looking in the window we could see empty trunks all over. But mostly we stayed way back by his fence so as not to be seen by the security vans who patrolled his neighborhood. We didn’t wan to be carted away for trespassing. Instead, we watched his weeds grow for more than two hours before finally taking the plunge and knocking on the door.

No answer but more sounds of people moving around. I thought maybe they didn’t hear the knock, so I tried again. I thought John or at least Yoko would come to the door. But instead I heard some voices from above. I had to back up and crane my neck to see where it was coming from. But from an open window just above me there was John Lennon leaning out and shouting this immortal words that I’ll always remember him by, “Piss off already, will you!”

I had to look around, was he talking to me? How rude! I had merely come by to say hello and I was really sorry about trampling the weeds in his garden but if he just had a minute there was a lot I wanted to talk to him about.

My friends had to push me out of the yard, reminding me that the security van might be on its way back with our names this time. I said yes, but wasn’t this the John Lennon who had been preaching love and peace and bagsim, etc? Didn’t that includes too? I really thought he’d want to embrace even his fans in the feeling of universal love. Obviously, I didn’t have a clue. Reality? I wasn’t even in the ballpark.

On our way back to London, we made a detour at Esher and thought we’d really top off the day by sneaking a peek at George’s house there. We took a few pictures of his painted house and the pool area, talked to his chauffeur/bodyguard/pal Terry Doran, who was minding the house while George was out. Seems he had gone to the airport to pick up Pattie.

We were just trudging down his driveway to leave when his car came racing up. We didn’t expect him to be overjoyed to find us there but weren’t expecting him to be as ornery as he was. He glared at us and yelled at us to get off his property. We said we were just leaving but he looked at us like that wasn’t happening fast enough. And we made our exit a little quicker. We were really batting a thousand that day! (A friend of ours had bene there earlier in the afternoon and George had been so friendly he’d even invited her inside and gave her a car of soda. I guess it’s all in the timing!)

All in all, that summer of ’69 was quite an education. Quite a wake-up call too. We heard Mal Evans give us his speech that “a fan is a fan is a fan” in the eyes of the Beatles. We also had long soulful talks with Kevin on the steps of EMI late at night. He was their young roadie/gofer and probably because of his own youth identified with the teenage fans more.

And yes, we were there on Aug 8, the day the famous “Abbey Road” cover picture was taken. Of course, we managed to miss this most memorable of moments by a mere two hours. The Beatles tricked us, you know. They had trained us to start arriving each day around noon because that was when they started to arrive. So on that day, they got there at 10am. So now you know why there are no fans in the pictures. They got all their shots done well before any of us even showed up! George even went to Regents Park zoo afterwards (Wonder if he found the elephants). Later, when we got all our pictures developed, we realized we had photos form that day –Paul in his dark blue suit, George in the denim, John in white. So close – but so far off.

Our last day, we ran into Ringo at the Apple offices again just like we’d seen him on the first day of our trip. He did pose for some pictures for us, signed autographs, was very sweet and friendly. My friend Richie was on Cloud Nine with all the chances she’d had to be near him. I was a little more disappointed in the lack of personal contact I could have with Paul that summer. I knew I was lucky to have seen him at all, and certainly it had been much closer than any concert seat could have afforded. But there had been no communication. He was very shut off and guarded emotionally form his fans that summer. I left London hoping that some day I’d be able to come back and really meet him.

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