Photography

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR

Photos of the Beatles and other Sixties icons give Edmonton a blast from the past

BRIAN BERGMAN November 26 2001
Photography

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR

Photos of the Beatles and other Sixties icons give Edmonton a blast from the past

BRIAN BERGMAN November 26 2001

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR

Photography

Photos of the Beatles and other Sixties icons give Edmonton a blast from the past

BRIAN BERGMAN

All you need is love.

—The Beatles, 1967

Once upon a time, it was that simple. Or was it? When John Lennon first sang those lyrics,

Vietnam was at its bloody zenith and antiwar sentiment on the home front tore America apart. Within a year, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy would fall to assassins’ bullets, feeding a deep sense of fear and uncertainty—not unlike our present times. Back then, the Beatles’ music acted as both a reference point and a balm, binding a generation together in the belief, however naive, that there must be a better way. So where are the Beatles now when we need them?

Well, would you believe in Edmonton? On Nov. 17, the Provincial Museum of Alberta opened Sixties, a multimedia exhibition anchored by two major photo collections. The first, in its premiere Canadian showing, is Linda McCartney’s Sixties— Portrait of an Era, a selection of 50 photographs taken mosdy between 1966 and 1969, including shots of the Beatles and other pop-music icons such as Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. The second is The Beades! Backstage and Behind the Scenes, 71 images recendy discovered in the archives of CBS—65 of them never before exhibited. These black-and-white shots document the Beatles’ first trip to New York City and their inaugural appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show on Feb. 9, 1964.

When the Linda McCartney show finishes its eight-week run in January, it will be replaced by Spirit

of a Generation: Dylan, the Band and Woodstock, an exhibition of the work of Elliott Landy, the official photographer of the 1969 Woodstock festival. The museum is packaging all the displays in a playful manner, with 150 songs, many of them Beades classics, acting as a sound track.

Sixties is the brainchild of Tim Willis, the Provincial Museums British-born assistant director. Willis, 48, a longtime Beades enthusiast, wrote to Sir Paul McCartney in the fall of 1998 asking that the Linda McCartney collection, then touring the United States, have a Canadian showing. Willis promised not j ust to display the photos, but also to tell the story of the era from which they sprang. Four months later, he received the go-ahead. Then, last fall, a staff member with CBS-TV in New York contacted Willis about the recendy discovered photos and asked if he would like to be the first to exhibit them. CBS also put him in touch with Landy. “So it’s all had a lovely evolution,” says Willis, “and grown into something that was meant to be.”

Willis believes Sixties will remind people that the former Linda Eastman, one of the first photographers for Rolling Stone magazine, had a budding career before she met and married the cute Beatle (Linda died of cancer in April, 1998). More important, he thinks the CBS and McCartney photos provide perfect bookends for the turbulent ’60s. Though spanning only a few years, the photos demonstrate how much the Beades and the times changed, as the Fab Four transform from the fresh-faced lads who conquered America in 1964 to the bearded, beleaguered souls who disbanded at the end of the decade. “The Beades,” says Willis, “are a mirror to the 1960s.”

No one of a certain age can look at these images without being engulfed by memories. Although only eight years old at the time, I can clearly recall huddling around the family’s black-and-white TV set—in Edmonton, coincidentally—on that Sunday evening in 1964. Ed Sullivan was a staple in our household, but nothing in the corny antics of Topo Gigio or the croakings of Jimmy Durante could have prepared me for this. Each time Ed announced the group’s imminent appearance, teenage screams erupted. When the Liverpudlians took the stage, the wailing almost drowned out the infectious chords

and lyrics of All My Loving, Till There Was You, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There and I Want to Hold Your Hand.

I could hardly have articulated it at the time, but some part of me knew the ground had shifted and things would never be quite the same. I loved the music, but it was more than that. There was a buzz in the air that, for me at least, never quite dissipated. Over the years, Eve returned time and again to the Beatles music. Sure, part of it is nostalgia. Can anyone really listen to the catchy refrain of I’m Happy Just to Dance with You, from the Hard Day’s Night sound track, without yearning for a time when pleasures were so simply defined, and easily attained? But the Beatles also took us to deeper, darker places, whether it be McCartney’s “all the lonely people” in Eleanor Rigby, or Lennon’s world-weary—and prescient— lament that “the way things are going, they’re going to crucify me” from The Ballad of John and Yoko.

Through it all, though, there was a strong streak of joy and hope, which I think helps

explain the Beades’ enduring appeal. My own children, Daniel, 9, and Julian, 7, are fans. Daniel, who’s learning to play some of the songs on guitar, also features Beatles music on the compilation cassettes he likes to make (another way he mimics his old man). On one recent tape, he included Lennon’s Vietnam-era chant, Give Peace a Chance. It’s a song I always considered amateurish for someone of Lennon’s talent. But right now, it sounds all right. Like most bright children his age, Daniel is vaguely aware of the terror that struck close to home on Sept. 11, and the war raging abroad. There are worse things he could be listening to than “give peace a chance.”

For Willis, the Sixties exhibit is reaffirming how the Beatles’ influence spans not only generations, but cultures. One recent evening he encountered a museum cleaner, a woman from El Salvador, who told him “the hair on her arm” stood up when she heard Beades music at work. In her youth, she explained, she and her friends didn’t understand the lyrics but used to sing along phonetically. It’s proof again, if proof be needed, that not even grasp of English is required to enjoy the Beatles. All you need is love. E3