The Beatles as Place Makers: Narrated Landscapes in Liverpool, England

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Forty years after their rise to international fame, the Beatles continue to be a presence on the cultural landscape. More than any other place, Liverpool remains intrinsically linked with the Beatles' legacy. This paper explores the ways in which the Beatles continue to affect the meaning of places in Liverpool. Framed by both commercial and governmental agencies as a tourist landscape, the places associated with the Beatles are represented to visitors through narratives that selectively employ particular discourses related to the Beatles. The fieldwork for this research suggests that the landscape of Beatles places in Liverpool is composed of a patchwork of authentic, replicated or historically unrelated commercial and vernacular places. Narratives forwarded by the local tourism industry weave the places together as a unified landscape and locate visitors in relation to it. This research draws from and expands upon literatures of music geographies, and the commodification of experience through heritage tourism. Drawing upon post-structural conceptualizations of discourse and the lack of fixity of cultural texts, the following account is an analysis and discussion of the relationships between representations of the Beatles and representations of places in Liverpool with which they are associated.

INTRODUCTION

For the past 40 years the Beatles have been a part of the cultural landscapes in the United Kingdom, the United States, and nearly anywhere within the influence of Western popular culture. In addition to the effect that their music continues to have, the Beatles as a group, as well as surviving members Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, continue to appear regularly in the mass media. For example, in February of 2004, there was considerable mainstream media coverage celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Beatles arrival in the United States. As arguably the most influential phenomenon of popular music, the influence of the Beatles extends far beyond their music. In this paper I examine the influence that the Beatles' legacy continues to exert on the cultural landscape of Liverpool, England. Through a narrative derived from my fieldwork in that city, I provide a description and analysis of places that form part of a blatantly marketed commercial landscape as well as those vernacular places where the Beatles lived in the years predating their international fame. In so doing, I discuss the ways in which the meaning of places is negotiated through their association with the Beatles.

The geographical work regarding rock music and rock musicians falls roughly into five approaches. There are studies that focus upon regional and place specific music (Carney 1999; Curtis and Rose 1994), diffusion of rock music (Ford 1971; Glasgow 1994), globalization and the music industry (Lovering 1998; Kong 1997), geographies of music production and consumption (Leyshon, Matless and Revill 1998), spatialized identities (Valentine 1995), and place and particular music artists (Bowen 1997; Alderman 2002; Connell and Gibson 2003; Kruse 2003). Part of a larger project that interweaves the themes listed above, this paper explores the effect the Beatles as a phenomenon of popular culture continue to have on the representation of particular places. Related to, though diverging from themes common to geographies of music, this paper addresses the Beatles through diverse multimedia image texts (Rose 2001) and approaches the relationship between places and the Beatles--each affecting how the other is represented and ascribed with meaning. In addition to discussing the literature on geographies of music, this paper also relates to research pertaining to the commodification of experience (Fjellman 1992; Goss 1999) and the presentation of artistic and literary places as tourist attractions (Herbert 1996). In the case of the Beatles, what becomes evident is that as a phenomenon of popular culture they are understood through a variety of discourses forwarded through tourist agencies, the city of Liverpool, local residents, and visitors. …