Travelling and writing about local arts and culture, I didn’t expect to be writing about The Beatles. Liverpool lads. Bit of course, The Beatles are everyone’s culture. They swept the globe, made the world twist and shout, won the love of millions of girls and the longing of millions of boys, as the Beatles in Australia exhibition at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, heading soon to Melbourne’s Art Centre, pays testament to.
Frenzied youth, chart domination – She Loves You was in the Australian Top 40 for 42 weeks – media madness, branding paraphernalia and endless promotion from anyone who could associate themselves: this was confirmation of the musical revolution in Australia. And the effect was not solely musical.
‘It was liberating,’ Glenn Barker, writer and commentator recalls on one of the many interviews, ‘we were isolated, and lived out of the mainstream of the world, we sensed there was something incredibly exciting happening in the top half of the world, the youth had taken over. Until the Beatles arrived…like a skewer to lance the the boil of stifling conservatism. They changed us completely.’
This is the main focus of the exhibition: not just their incredible music, electric presence and phenomenal feel that surrounded them, but their impact upon a generation. Survival suddenly looked so dull. Suburbia wasn’t interesting. There was a world out there and The Beatles revealed it. Their charm and talent was often deemed responsible for fuelling teenage rebellion toppling some of the conservatism that existed. For some this responsibility was a credit, for others a blame.
The Beatles only played one Australian tour, of twenty concerts, the Adelaide date only added later after an 80,000 strong petition by local residents
. Upon arrival the largest crowds ever seen in the city gathered to welcome their idols, an event which has become part of the musical history of Australia. It wasn’t only Adelaide. Throughout 1963 Australia was in the midst of an even more heightened sense of Beatlemania. Everywhere saw celebrations for Beatle Week, or B-Day. The Sunday mirror changed its name to The Sunday Beatle and offered a competition to win an invitation to Paul’s 22nd party.
The exhibition is full of memorabilia of all kinds. (One wonders what museums will do in the future when we don’t collect the physical or make scrapbooks or join fan clubs but show ‘adoration’ via a like or a click. How do we document our enthusiasm and record our lives in a lasting way that can be experienced by others?) Records and posters adorn the walls, and as well as the usual requests for signed records, kissed photos and thrown panties, one girl mailed George a piece of chewing gum with the instructions ‘chew this darling, and send it back to me.’ Women’s magazines featured cakes and goodies for Beatles parties, Paul cupcakes a highlight.
Whilst the music is rightly and loudly lauded, the focus is more about the experience of Australians. How the band and their songs threw so many segments of society into a delightful disarray of emotion and hedonism, joy, passion and mayhem. How they changed Australia, and the world in a way that many other artists, institutions and politicians envy.
As George said ‘Everyone was saying ‘There are more people here than came to see the Queen.’ Well she didn’t have any hit records.’