When my friends heard that I was going to England, a lot of them gave me advice on the best Beatles-oriented places of interest to visit. In many ways, it’s like the pilgrimage sites throughout France – back in the day, religious tourists would visit each cathedral and view its holy relic as a means to feel closer to Jesus. There’s a similar amount of hoopla surrounding The Beatles over here – there are guidebooks and ‘Beatles reality tours’, which offer to take rock music pilgrims to various sites around Liverpool and England that were key to The Beatles’ meteoric rise.
Some of my friends mentioned that they visited Abbey Road the other day, and I wondered if traffic could even move on the street or if that crosswalk was so choked with douchebag photo-op tourists that they had to set up some sort of roadblock.
All this resurgent Beatlemania is rather awkward for me because I suffer from a condition known as Not Being A Huge Beatles Fan. No, I’m not one of the four people who doesn’t like The Beatles – “Penny Lane” and “Hey Jude” are great songs, although I could go without ever hearing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” again – I just don’t love them as much as everybody else.
I’m a Pink Floyd man myself, and for Pink Floyd fans, London offers its own set of pilgrimage sites, albeit seedier and more underground than The Beatles’. First among them is Battersea Power Station.
Built as a coal-burning power plant in the 1930s, Battersea embraced the art deco design standards of the day and rapidly gained popularity as one of residents’ and architects’ favorite buildings in the city. It was called a “temple of power,” which is fitting, because it’s the largest brick building in Europe.
If the building looks familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve seen it in movies. In Children of Men, it’s the futuristic ‘Ark of the Arts’, where the British government stores famous artwork as various other nations collapse into chaos. In the MacGyver TV movie The Lost Treasure of Atlantis, Battersea stands in as an Eastern European military base. And in The Beatles’ Help!, Battersea appears briefly onscreen, subtitled as ‘A Famous Power Station.’
For all this notoriety in music and film (a MacGyver TV movie, people!), Battersea is not exactly a tourist-friendly destination. When I arrived in Battersea Park, a once-seedy area smack in the middle of urban renewal, I found the entire power station surrounded by construction fences, preventing me from getting anywhere close to the building.
When you think about it, I suppose that’s a good thing – Battersea has been more or less abandoned since 1975, and knowing Englanders’ penchant for drunken public urination the walls of this place, it would probably have completely eroded by now were it not for the fences.
In one of my attempts to gain access to the site, I ran into a guy sitting on a park bench by the Thames, eating his lunch with his back to the massive landmark behind him.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you know if there’s a way to get closer to the old power station?”
I pointed to it for good measure, and when he turned to look he seemed almost surprised to see the largest brick building in Europe, as though it had snuck up behind him.
“I couldn’t say,” He shrugged, and turned back to his jellied eel and haggis sandwich.
Having grown up in Salem, a town largely bereft of landmarks (save for The World’s Largest Puddle of Standing Water), I have a hard time understanding how people can live among so much beautiful and famous stuff without periodically clutching their heads and yelling, “JESUS CHRIST, GUYS, HAVE YOU SEEN THIS SHIT?” I suppose, living in London, you get desensitized to history and culture after a while.
Au revoir, Battersea – perhaps we’ll meet again someday, when you’ve been converted into luxury condominiums.
Truman Capps blogs about all the other stuff he’s been doing in England on his blog, Hair Guy.