Penny Lane to Patterson Drive and back

November 14, 2019

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A moment where art and life could finally meet
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes
There beneath the blue suburban skies
“In Penny Lane, there is a barber showing photographs…”

We’d hopped aboard the #82 bus near our Liverpool accommodations for a view of the city the way the locals see it. We rode it down a leafy suburban street to the end of the line, where the bus driver told us we had to get off. When I asked where we could catch the same bus to get back, he pointed to another area of the terminal. We walked there, but then saw our driver change his bus to #86A, which I knew would get us down to Liverpool’s dockside area. We got back on his bus, which I think annoyed him. Very strange. But that’s how the magic happened.

At the stops coming back on this route, we kept seeing signs that said “busses toward Penny Lane.” All of a sudden, we are rumbling through a roundabout, and we’re in the middle of Paul McCartney’s nostalgic look back at his childhood. There’s the barber shop where the banker sits waiting for a trim; there’s the shelter in the middle of the roundabout; there’s the bank where the children laugh behind the banker’s back. And now I am a teenager again, listening to Beatlerama on my black Emerson desktop on Patterson Drive in Chalmette, letting the lyrics to Penny Lane and other Beatles hits transport me to a place I never was and far away from a place I wished I never were.

“Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout…”

I was turning 19 when Penny Lane was released, and only three years from discovering that wanderlust and escaping Chalmette were not idle pipe dreams. McCartney, as well as John Lennon in his own paen to his growing up, “Strawberry Fields,” wrote about their childhoods from the perspective of unimaginable commercial success as adults. The key, though, is to embrace childhood as having been a critical element to who you are, regardless of financial success.

When I returned with Carol to a post-Katrina Chalmette, much was missing and gone for good. But some things remained. Rocky and Carlo’s was again churning out gut-exploding roast beef po-boys; my elementary school was still inculcating good grammar and spelling in its reluctant pupils; the Chalmette Court House was alive and well, no doubt still fixing parking tickets and rigging elections with the same cheerful corruption I remember somewhat fondly now. Fondly, because I’m so far gone from its grasp.

The pleasant, leafy suburban street where Paul spent his teen years.

For me, Penny Lane is a song about order, belonging securely to a place and a changeless stability, written at a time in McCartney’s life when it was anything but orderly, stable and with any sense of belonging. Nostalgia is a tricky thing, especially when it tricks you into believing something existed that never did.

That today’s real life Penny Lane can still reflect the lyrics written about it nearly 50 years ago is a testament to a songwriter’s longing for a time, a place and an order of things that actually did exist, because it still does. That’s a nostalgia worth embracing.

Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout

The pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray

And though she feels as if she’s in a play

She is anyway

She’s in McCartney’s play, one that continues to ring true for him and for me, because it’s a nostalgia seen without rose colored glasses..


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