Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about
Strawberry Fields forever
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Strawberry Field Gate
Since John Lennon was so fond of leaving intellectual riddles in his lyrics for fans to puzzle out, it is quite unusual that we can be afforded such a straightforward interpretation of "Strawberry Fields Forever." Yes, Strawberry Field is a real place: it's an orphanage in Liverpool, England, specifically in the suburb Woolton. It is not the home itself, which Lennon never attended, but the surrounding area, on which the song dwells. Lennon's actual childhood home was 251 Menlove Avenue, only a short distance away.
This area was prominent in John Lennon's childhood. The Salvation Army, which ran the orphanage, had a band that would play at the Calderstones Park garden party every summer, right next door to the orphanage. The young John, having played in the gardens of the area with his childhood friends, would beg his aunt to go to the party every year as soon as he heard the band playing.
It is no coincidence that this song was released as a double-A single paired with "Penny Lane" on the other side; both songs are nostalgic for times and places past. Both Lennon and McCartney had fond memories of Penny Lane, while Strawberry Fields was Lennon's memory, exclusively.
It is small wonder that Lennon had such idyllic memories of Woolton. It is a prestigious middle class suburb, incorporated into the rest of Liverpool in 1931. The average dwelling is a single-family home. The whole area is a cozy glen of old British charm, churches, inns, and pubs, feeling more like a small town than part of a larger one.
As for the song itself, it is a splendid example of the Beatles at their peak, with all of the characteristic trademarks: a complex, winding melody, obscure instruments, quirky lyrics, psychedelic style, and an overall feeling of impressionism.
The sign for Strawberry Field, Liverpool, England
In the opening verse, it is indeed only John Lennon who can "take us down" to this hazy dream, because it's more important when viewed from inside his head. Lennon explains how the song is self-analysis set to music; with the verse "no one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low," he was saying that he'd noticed that he was an unusual child and had concluded that he must be either a genius or a madman. Like all fiercely creative legends, it turned out to be a touch of both. "Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see" is likewise a commentary on seeing your childhood home through the eyes of your former self, in stark contrast to how you view it as an adult. If we return to our childhood homes, we will find the place very different from how we remembered it, but when we close our eyes and remember, it's all there again.
The closing phrases, after the chorus repeats thrice and fades out, expands into a muddle of scattered drums, twanging strings, aimless woodwind notes flying around like dandelion puffs, and John chanting "cranberry sauce." Are these the last fading pieces of memories left, wafting their way through his consciousness and yet too obscure to even put to words? Have we at last entered a trance state, where we stay playing with our childhood friends in our memory garden forever, never again to accept the reality of the present day?
Only John, and his most empathic fans, know for sure.
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