Yes, I will admit it, I’m a “baby boomer,” born during the post-war years when there was “bumper crop” of kids. Fast forward to 1963 when, as a shy 15-year-old, I found myself sharing the T-bar in Morin Heights with a very attractive ski-bunny. “So,” she said. “Who do you like the best – the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?” It was the question teenagers used to gauge each other’s level of “coolness.” If I answered, “the Stones,” I might have been considered one of these rougher, surly guys who smoked and drove motorcycles. As I definitely did neither, I answered tentatively, “Uh… the Beatles.” She then asked, “So, who’s your favourite Beatle?” Since I didn’t even own a record player, I had no idea! I hesitated, pretending to be seriously contemplating a difficult question. “Well, I absolutely adore Ringo!”, she said somewhat dismissively and, without waiting for my reply, she skied off. Alas, I never spoke to her again.
Approximately a year later, the Fab Four hit Montreal like a tornado. Two concerts were scheduled for the same day – September 8th, 1964 – with seats going for the astronomical sums of $4.50 and $5.50 each! By that time, I had a fairly good idea who the Beatles were. After all, I did own a radio, and their songs were on the air constantly! I could even hum a few of their #1 hits, especially “She loves You, Ya, Ya, Ya.” I had also become somewhat more sophisticated since I was now “going steady.” My girlfriend related how her teenybopper sisters had waited in line for hours to buy tickets for the Montreal concert.
By 1967, a mere four years later, the Beatles had revolutionized the music industry all over the world. It was common knowledge that they were brilliant musicians, but also wrote hundreds of songs that everyone could relate to. Their innovative Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band album converted me into becoming an avid fan and, when they announced their break-up in 1970, it was devastating.
Last year, while traveling in England, I re-kindled my admiration for the Beatles by making a pilgrimage to the Beatles Museum in Liverpool. It was the proverbial “trip down memory lane.” As I toured the numerous exhibits, examined the artifacts, and listened to their old tunes again, I remembered my adolescence with bittersweet nostalgia. I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t resist buying an array of souvenirs in the shop – mugs, CDs, books, you name it, all of which, by the way, were very difficult to cram into my luggage!
This March, much to the delight of Montrealers–especially the baby boomers–the Pointe-à-Callière Museum opened its modern new building, the Mariner’s House with a special exhibit: The Beatles in Montreal, which continues until March 2014. I recently made my way there to view how Beatlemania invaded our city back on September 8, 1964. What struck me immediately was the wildly painted Rolls Royce Phantom V, the car (or should I say, luxury vehicle) that John Lennon purchased in 1965. It holds the record for the costliest car ever when it sold at Sotheby’s for $2,229,999 in 1985. Complete with telephone, fridge, and a back seat that converts into a double-bed, the Phantom was used by the Beatles until John and Yoko had it shipped to the States in 1970. Its permanent home is now the Royal British Columbia Museum.
The exhibit ranges over two floors and is packed with memorabilia. Beside the background history and how they started in the music business, the main focus is on their concert at the Montreal Forum in 1964. They performed two shows of only 28 minutes each and managed to sandwich a press conference between the performances. Amazingly, the first show was not a sell-out, although the second one was. According to film footage, the audience was primarily composed of screaming teenage girls, and no-one could hear a thing. “Twelve teenagers were treated for hysteria, cuts or bruises,” reads one poster, “and one policeman for a bitten thumb.”
Although Paul, George, and Ringo returned to Montreal over the years to give concerts with their own bands, the Beatles never returned to Montreal as a group, even though they played Toronto in 1966 and 1967. Was it because of a sinister threat made against Ringo in ’64? Apparently, it’s a mystery.
While perusing the exhibits that day, I noticed that many of my fellow visitors were “baby boomers” - like me! Certainly, the Liverpool lads appealed directly to our generation. I particularly enjoyed the reminiscences of a trio of other Montrealers who were around back in ‘64. For example, “Buddy Gee” Morris, a former Montreal disc-jockey, remembered being tapped on the back by Paul McCartney. Janette Bertrand, a young reporter who attended the mid-concert press conference, recalled that the Beatles appeared to be very tired that day. She related that John spoke to her in broken French and explained they didn’t know “where” they were, and had no idea that they were singing to a largely French-speaking crowd. Michèle Richard, a young songstress at the time, who later did numerous covers of Beatle hits, recalls being completely enthralled. “When they came on stage, I thought I was alone with them!” It was a highlight of her life.
And, speaking of being on stage, if you’re brave enough, one of the exhibits is set up like a stage where you can grab a microphone and sing along, karaoke-style, with life-size cardboard cutouts of George, Paul, John, and Ringo. There are many songs to choose from. How cool is that? Unfortunately, the nervous 15-yearold in me reappeared and I didn’t have the courage to attempt it! I’m older and wiser now, but still shy, “ya, ya, ya….”