What will a die-hard Beatles fan think?
I have been a devoted Beatles fan since I was about 10 years old. Neither of my parents were particular fans, but their lack of interest didn't quell my passion for learning everything possible about the group. No doubt the library staff was greatly bemused by the sudden and unrelenting demand for Beatles biographies. Years later, when I finally had a chance to visit Liverpool for the first time, I stunned my veteran tour guide by clarifying many of the facts he presented.
Therefore, it was with great interest and anticipation that I made my way to Montréal’s Museum of Archaeology and History to see The Beatles in Montréal exhibit, detailing the 2 concerts the band put on in the city on September 8, 1964.
Montréal’s story of The Beatles is in many ways the story every city around the world at the height of Beatlemania. The hysterical fans, traffic at a standstill - every city had a similar experience. This exhibit attempts to share the impact of The Beatles 1964 visit to Montréal and explain what their legacy means to the city. While many interesting stories and unique pieces of memorabilia are showcased, the poor curation obscures the real stars of the show.
I nearly missed a rare Beatles vignette hidden among the hyperbolic tales of how many girls fainted at the Forum concerns. I had never before heard that Ringo Star had received serious death threats prior to the concert. Some residents mistakenly believed Ringo to be Jewish and anti-Semitic individuals made serious threats. The Beatles took these threats seriously enough that they didn't spend the night in the city but instead left the same day and, during the concerts, Ringo’s drum set was re-positioned to hide his body.
This incident would have been a great jumping off point to discuss other controversies and difficulties the Beatles encountered while on tour, but there was no further mention of the threats or security concerns experienced in other cities. This seemed especially strange as there were wall-sized portraits from other risky concerts, such as Manila, displayed without any relevant accompanying commentary.
Additional discrepancies are evident in a room dedicated to the Beatles music, where many award winning discs and memorabilia are on display. Sgt Pepper gets an extensive showcase, as does the controversial "Butcher Cover". But an object of interest to hardcore Beatles fans is almost entirely obscured in a hallway. An incredibly uncommon first disc of My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean - recorded with original drummer Pete Best - as well as a Pete Best autographed litho of the original Beatles was buried in a corner.
Further inconsistencies were evident in a display concerning the solo careers of the Beatles and their visits to Montréal. One of the greatest moments in Beatles history has to be the John Lennon - Yoko Ono bed-in and the recording of Give Peace a Chance at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montréal. Fans all over the world remember this pivotal moment in musical history, yet here in this exhibit, it is surprisingly completely glossed over, with only two small photographs on display.
This is a curiously curated exhibit, to say the least. While there is an interesting assortment of Beatles history and artifacts in display, there is a distinct feel of basing the narrative around available memorabilia instead of telling the most compelling story. The two most gripping stories of the Beatles in Montréal have to be the John Lennon bed-in and the serious deaths threats against Ringo Star. Yet the exhibit focuses on the very typical story of screaming girls and lots of excitement- a charming walk down memory lane for those who were there but not a story worthy of a museum.
There is one curious aspect of the exhibit, however, that does make it very much in the Montréal spirit - a display of the Québécois bands and musicians who were influenced by the Beatles. We are also treated to a small but fine display of the best of 60s inspired psychedelic Québécois clothing. However, while this part of the exhibit is no doubt there to show the influence of the Beatles on up and coming talent, and to impart the impression of a real legacy from the Montréal concerts, it comes across as merely a Francophone counterpart to an Anglophone story, and the Québécois bands deserved better treatment.
I would recommend this exhibit to any moderate music fan and to anyone who is interested in searching out some rare records and pieces of Beatles memorabilia. But the exhibit is best viewed with a grain of salt, as just a loose collection of Beatles stories, with no persuasive narrative explaining the most interesting aspects of the Beatles-Montréal relationship.
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. Have you ever traveled with a musical motivation?
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