Nostalgia being what it is, it sometimes limits our views and creates mythology to fill the gaps. In a sense, we paint pictures that are brighter than reality was at the time. Toronto in the 1960’s was a city in major transition and, from a historical point of view, it was looking to become the premiere Canadian metropolis, overtaking Montreal in size just a few years later. With that in mind, Beatles 50 T.O.: When the Beatles Rocked Toronto is more of a curated time-capsule that uses the Fab-Four as a reference point for this change.
Rather than simply putting out memorabilia, the organizers have contextualized snap shots that view the influence the Beatles had on the people of our city within an already changing time. Referencing the construction of the Gardiner Expressway, the TD Tower, the subways and Yorkdale Mall along with an instillation of some upper-middle income living space, we see how some people may have enjoyed gathering for a night of listening to some tunes. What gets more interesting is when you start to look a little more closely at the depth of the exhibit.
Prior to the Beatles’ arrival in Toronto there was already a thriving music scene which, to their credit, the exhibit does a great job of establishing. This makes the arrival of the band in T.O. a stark reminder of the difference between generations. History depicts the Beatles as an important rock ‘n’ roll band that transcended genres and created lasting artistic masterpieces. However, the video footage containing their Toronto interviews gives us a glimpse of a society viewing this ‘pop-act’ with ridiculous fascination. The press, in one case, is asking asinine questions about the effect they may have on children seeing them smoking and a particularly sardonic reply comes from John Lennon about ‘not existing to set examples’ as he lights his cigarette.
In another case, there is an article reacting to the original ‘butcher’ cover of Yesterday and Today that contradicts the image of ‘everyone’s favourite band’. Paul McCartney had intended the cover to be a commentary on Vietnam, but one mainstream press article of the time accused the band of promoting “infanticide.” Of course, the whole idea is as ridiculous as the original cover, but it emphasizes the divide that existed between the stiff “Greatest Generation” and the “Baby Boomers” they sired.
If you happen to find yourself near St. Lawrence Market, Beatles 50 T.O. is an interesting glimpse into a time period that has been depicted on a mythological level in pop culture, but actually has a more interesting story based in reality.
Exhibit runs until November 12th.