A light, speculative piece, done for The Word on the 50th anniversary of Lennon and McCartney's first encounter.
It's a wonderful life. The world, as we know, is extraordinarily happy these days. There are peace and prosperity everywhere we look. That is why it's sometimes necessary to invent entirely fictitious problems to worry over. The one that's buzzing around my head at the moment is this. July of 2007 sees the 50th anniversary of that fateful day when the 15-year-old Paul McCartney cycled over to Woolton and met an older teenager called John Lennon, who was playing in a skiffle band at the Summer Fête. So I ask myself: What would have happened if they never met?
Suppose the Fête was rained off, or Paul had decided to go to the pictures instead? How different might the last half-century of human history have been? And would our world be a poorer place, or a better one? Let us try to picture it. In old black-and-white movies the screen would go all shimmery at this point. We can't do that here, obviously, but if you drink a quart of Jägermeister while flapping the magazine the effect is reasonably similar.
I see George Harrison, who has become a bus driver like his father before him. Twice a day he takes the Ribble route 311 from Liverpool Skelhorne Street to Blackburn, Lancashire. 'Bloody road,' he moans. 'Must be four thousand holes in it.' Yet he is a philosophical cove. 'The farther one travels,' he says to Big-Nose Ritchie the bus conductor, 'the less one knows.' The stolid Ritchie nods, and drums a paradiddle on the canteen table. Life has been a mild disappointment for him since Rory Storm & The Hurricanes played their last Butlins Summer Season in1966.
Americans grew morbid after the killing of President Kennedy in 1963, and nothing arrived out of the skies at JFK to cheer them up. Fatally introspective, depressed, they withdrew from the brewing conflict in Vietnam, which now settled into decades of sleepy communist poverty. America's enemies, the Russians, took down the Berlin Wall. 'Our young people visit the West,' said a Soviet spokesman, 'but it's so boring they always come home again.' The USSR is currently celebrating its 90th anniversary.
Elvis Presley, the King of Rock'n'Roll, was never deposed. Famously abstemious, he lives contentedly in Memphis to this day. His British counterpart, Cliff Richard, enjoyed a similar monopoly in his own market. No youngbloods would ever usurp his power; it simply grew and grew, and Cliff's name became a by-word for pagan excess of Caligula-like enormity. Rock fizzled out on both sides of the Atlantic, but there was a new golden era for professional song-writers: where would New York's Brill Building be without Simon & Zimmerman?
Up the road, in a bar on West 72nd Street, a drunken Scouse seaman called Johnny Lennon swears contemptuously when the flickering TV shows images of the ever-popular Paul McCartney Dance Orchestra. He gets into a fight with a moody guy from the New Jersey haulage firm of Springsteen & Son, and both are evicted. 'We coulda been contenders,' they mope at one another, on the pavement. Lennon has broken his Buddy Holly glasses. A flyer in the gutter promotes the one-woman show by an obscure Japanese performance artist.
In London one David Jones, the odd-eyed chief of a Soho advertising agency, wishes he'd kept up his saxophone lessons. Who knows, he might have won a place in the Reg Dwight Big Band. What was it the Reverend Jagger said at Evensong last Sunday? 'You can't always get what you want.' How true that was. The fact is that British pop culture had never really taken off. The country's last surviving music magazine, the New Musical Express (Incorporating Accordion Weekly) closed down in 1965. Music journalists were re-trained to become useful members of society, with only limited success.
If you were in the know there was always imported black music from the States. Soul, R&B and hip hop were the only vibrant sounds to be heard after 1963. But even in America their appeal was limited by race. Nobody knew how to interest the white mass market in records from Detroit, Memphis or Compton. An ambitious young tycoon named Branson - clean-shaven, sober-suited - had tried to re-launch the London music industry. How sad that a glamour model turned him upside down and threw him under a train. England's dreaming was undisturbed for 50 years, and Elizabeth still reigned. 'Monarchy In The UK!' said the patriotic window display at McLaren's High Class Haberdashers, 430 King's Road.
Except, of course, that this is not what happened at all. (Could we have the shimmering thing again, for a moment?) Paul McCartney did meet John Lennon at that Woolton Summer Fête, 50 years ago. The butterfly flapped its wings and a mountain toppled over. You know what? It's a wonderful life.
See a complete index of Paul Du Noyer's Beatle articles here.