as long as i gaze on waterloo sunset
Is it possible to be in love with a city you’ve never been to? When I got off the plane in the UK two weeks after graduating college, I had been besotted with London for as long as I could remember. It was the home of the Beatles and the Who and the Stones and Elvis Costello and the Clash and and and — and I swore I was going there as soon as I could manage it.
Coming into London via British Rail, up from Gatwick, I remember seeing the Battersea Power Station in the distance, getting closer, and I felt like I’d reached the fucking promised land. I stared out the window, stunned. It existed. It was REAL. I could get off the train, walk over to the side of the building, and place my hand on it. I could touch it.
The Power Station was the first thing in London I saw that I could identify, and it was more critical to me than seeing Big Ben or the Thames or the Houses of Parliament, all of which rolled into view a few seconds later. Call me shallow, but rock and roll was what brought me there. Seeing the Battersea Power Station, the building I knew from album covers I’d stared at for hours, more than anything else brought home the fact that I was really, truly, in LONDON.
I spent the first few days in a kind of daze. It seemed utterly impossible that I actually had my feet on the ground of the place I had dreamed about, read about, thought about, for so long. Everything was fascinating to me: grocery stores, buying stamps, waiting for the bus, making a phone call. The friends I was staying with were endlessly amused.
I spent that first trip searching out obscure rock and roll landmarks. I didn’t go there for medieval history or great art, although I saw a lot of those things – I went to walk down Wardour Street and go inside the Marquee and close my eyes and think about the Who and the Stones on that stage. I stood in front of the sadly shuttered Finsbury Park Rainbow and thought about all the bands who had played there, from Eric Clapton to the Kinks to the Clash. I walked around Edith Grove, trying to imagine what it was like when Mick and Keith and Brian shared a flat there. Portobello Market and Kingsway and Ladbroke Grove in the steps of the Clash. Muswell Hill just to listen to the Kinks while I walked through the streets.
I have been to London well over a dozen times by now — I even lived there for a few months — and I love it fiercely, all of it, even the things my British friends would lovingly mock me for idealizing. I never thought it was perfect — nowhere is, after all — but there was a spirit and an energy embodied in the city that I have always adored.
Which is why my heart broke Thursday morning. But then, if you’re human, surely it broke a little, even if you’ve never walked the streets of London.
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