A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.
Left-right: The American-Canadian Jewish-funk supergroup Abraham Inc. and iconoclastic author Michael Wex both make return appearances at this year's biennial Ashkenaz Festival.
The Eastern European Jewish festival returns with a 500-year old exhibit on Venice’s Jewish Ghetto and a Yiddish version of the Arthur Miller classic, Death of a Salesman
Ashkenaz 2016 Preview
The biennial Ashkenaz Festival of that is everything from the Judaic diaspora of Eastern Europe and beyond is back at Harbourfront Centre for the Labour Day long weekend (August 30-September 5, 235 Queen’s Quay West) has a full plate of entertainment of theatre, dance, cinema, literature, food and music that has a few surprises, new and familiar; in store for the whole family and those seeking something different on a cultural scale in ticketed and mostly free events.
One of the major events involved is Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning opus magnum Death of a Salesman (Toyt Fun A Seylsman), all done in Yiddish with English surtitles at North York’s Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts (1040 Yonge Street) August 31-September 10. Performing in the role that he’s recreating from the acclaimed off-Broadway production for Ashkenaz is veteran actor Avi Hoffman as Wally Loman, the epitome everyman of endlessly and unsuccessfully pursuing the elusive American Dream.
Hoffman is also part of the fest’s literature line-up with his acting career memoir Life of a Seylsman: Five Decades in the Yiddish Theatre (September 5), along with musicologist/klezmer music pioneer Walter Zev Feldman’s latest on the genre, Klezmer: Music, History and Memory (September 4); local restaurateur Zane Caplansky and his smoked-meats empire Save the Deli (September 4); Galeet Dardashti on Israeli rock music, From Pulpit to Pop Charts: Contemporary Mizrachi Music (September 5); Katka Reszke with her book, The Meshugene Effect of the rediscovery of Polish Jewish roots since the end of communism twenty-five years ago (September 4); Born to Kvetch author Michael Wex is back with his newest poke at Jewish culture Rhapsody in Schmaltz (September 5); Ester Reiter’s examination of the secular Jewish left Zingen far Sholem, Zingen far Broyt: Culture and Political Activism in the Jewish left in Canada ; Italian historian Shaul Bassi talks about the nearly-forgotten five hundred-year history of Italian Jewry for The Venice Ghetto, 1516-2016 and a discussion on the iconic Theodore Bikel led by the Theodore Bikel Artist-in-residency expert Daniel Kahn and Bikel’s widow Aimee Ginsburg Bikel (September 4).
As the Venice Jewish Ghetto marks its half-millennium this year, it will get a special presence in the visual arts program in the photo exhibit The Venice Ghetto at 500 at the Artsport’s Marilyn Brewer Community Gallery space; Montréal musician and DJ Socalled makes his debut as a visual artist with 18 Years in the Yiddish Revival: A Socalled Photography Exhibit at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre (750 Spadina Avenue; through September 6), including the Ontario Jewish Archives’ Mandel’s Dreamery about a 24/7 window gallery installation celebrating the food history of one of Toronto’s first Jewish neighbourhoods at Fentster at Makom (402 College Street; through October 30).
The musician will also be part of the dance section with his own Socalled’s Retro Dance Party spinning the sacred and the sacrilegious together on September 3 and 4 at the Brigantine Room; master dance classes from contemporary Misnagdic Jewish dancer Zev Feldman (September 4) as well as Avia Moore’s Yiddish dance workshop (September 3-5) and a late night Shtiler Tants concert on September 4 at 11 p.m.
For the film component, the Studio Theatre will screen a series of documentaries, Sholom Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness on the legendary American Jewish author (September 5) and Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem on both the author and his mentor Aleichem’s similar philosophies (September 4); Leo Spellman’s Lost Rhapsody: A Documentary Film-in-Progress (September 4) about the late Toronto musician’s “Rhapsody 1939-1945” that he composed during his internment at a concentration camp he survived from and Chava Rosenfarb: That Bubble of Being on the noted Holocaust literary figure and survivor (September 5).
Foodies will delight with the culinary skills of locals Zane Caplansky (September 4) and culinary tour guide Bonnie Stern (September 5); Brooklynite Liz Alpern, the co-owner of The Gefilteria, an Ashkenazi Jewish restaurant that re-imagines the cuisine itself and co-author of The Gefilte Manifesto (September 4) and Baltimore food writer and convert Michael Twitty doing his hybrid Judaic-soul food demo “Kosher Soul” (September 4); and a series of family-related events like the Caravan Puppets’ Sholom and Motl about Jewish immigration in the 20th century in Europe and America (September 4-5) and Avi Hoffman reading Dr. Suess stories in Yiddish (September 4).
Then the music section ranges from the collaborative Israeli-Iranian Music Initiative (September 4), Zev Feldman Trio’s neo-traditionalist klezmer (September 5), Winnipeg folk-classical chamber music sibling act The Mayors of Sambor (September 4), Istanbul Ladino group Janet and Jak Esim Quartet (September 4), Ukraine’s Zhenya Lopatnik (September 3), Torontonian acts Beyond the Pale (September 5) and Lemon Bucket Orkestra (September 3),returning Jewish-funk supergroup Abraham Inc. (September 3), the Tokyo-based world music ensemble Jinta La-Mvta (September 3) and the ever-popular Ashkenaz Parade that will close out the fest on September 5.
Ticketed events now on sale. For information, call 416-973-4000 or harbourfrontcentre.com (Harbourfront events), 416-250-3708 (Toronto Centre for the Arts box office) or 1-855-985-2787/ticketmaster.ca (Death of A Salesman) or ashkenaz.ca.
The Tragically Hip’s farewell concert was a momentous event in Canadian music history. But was the over-saturated media coverage necessary?
As the hometown crowd roared its encore for their rock gods made good, The Tragically Hip ended their Man Machine Poem tour and possibly their touring days in Kingston on August 20th that was broadcast on radio, television, online and broadcast parties across Canada and for their fans around the world, as a chance to say goodbye and thanks to the band and its headman Gord Downie, who announced this past May of being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer; who gave so much to the national character in their thirty-plus year history and fourteen studio albums, five of them all number one in a row.
In its wake, I had to wonder to myself to the mass media consumption that had been building up to that apex since Downie’s cancer became known and the nationwide farewell tour that followed to which I’ve observed with scrutiny from musicologists, commentators and fans alike: did it really had to go, as one of the Hip’s classic hits would say, to the hundredth meridian?
Before I get a massive hate-on from this, just hear me out first. I’ll admit I’ve never been a huge or casual fan of the Hip and never seen a concert or bought any of their albums, yet I’ve heard them in passing and pretty much enjoyed songs like “Ahead By a Century,” “Bobcaygeon” and the aforementioned “At the Hundredth Meridian” (and still do). They definitely deserved to be our answer to R.E.M. and their contributions to the Canadiana songbook sit right up there with the likes of Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Buffy Sainte-Marie.
And never, ever would I knock on all this recent attention drawn to the Hip because of the malady Downie is now facing with such bravery and conviction, although the odds are very much stacked against him at this point.
It’s not the way this genuinely heartfelt tribute to the Hip is being done. It’s how it was being done.
The media has swarmed all over this story and the tour in a manner that smacks of an American-style consumption to the point of obsession that any particular subject must be attached to it unfortunately, like talking to Downie’s doctor on tour to make sure he’s okay to perform (and being a Hip fan himself). Or culture critics telling their personal stories of when they first got turned on by the Hip’s lyrical content that spoke to them ranging from the frustrations of teenage angst to coping with the postmodern existence in one’s young adult lives. I get it. Don’t believe for a moment that I don’t.
But when it starts becoming almost 24/7, one has to stop to think and say: “Wait…how this is get all out of control?”
Does it have to get to a point when there’s some online petition to have Downie invested in an deserved Order of Canada before he eventually dies (Terry Fox got his months before his death)? Or getting over-analytical on what Hip guitarist Gord Sinclair had stated on tour that this may not be the last hurrah for the Hip as of yet from one fan’s Twitter feed, sending the Twitterverse – and fans’ hopes – all aflutter? Or that it brings Prime Minister Justin Trudeau onstage at the final concert not just only to praise the Hip’s contribution to the nation, but as a fan?
This reminds me of that time in 2009 when Michael Jackson died and the whole world went into a collective mourning. Some weeks after his memorial and the media buzz still hadn’t died down, an aunt of mine commented on how fatigued she got every time the TV or press mentioned some Jackson-related story that she had to get away from it for a little while. I knew what she meant then, and it still holds resonance with me now on this.
I have nothing but complete respect for the Hip, their fans and the music that spoke of us, by us and for us all. Yet even the most diehard of diehard fans must be feeling the weariness and overexposure from the media so caught up in all of this and maybe the band members themselves, especially Downie. We Canadians are proud of our musical heroes, from Oscar Peterson to The Guess Who to Bryan Adams to Drake and they’ve earned out attention. It doesn’t necessarily have to get to out of hand to show how much we love them like this.
When the Beatles Rocked Toronto: Metropolitan life and music in the mid-60s
Venue: Market Gallery, St. Lawrence Market, 95 Front Street East, 2nd Floor
Dates/Times: Through November 12; Tuesdays-Thursdays 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Fridays 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sundays 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Mondays and statutory holidays
Admission/Information: Adult $10, Seniors (65+)/Youth (13-18)/Child (6-12) $5, Child (under 5) FREE; Call 416-392-7604 or toronto.ca/beatles50
Has a half-century really gone by since four Liverpudians lads last taught Toronto how to play? The city of Toronto has jumped on that bandwagon (no pun intended) in commemorating their last performance here on August 17, 1966 at the long-defunct but not forgotten Maple Leaf Gardens (now the refurbished Ryerson Mattamy Athletic Centre at the Gardens) before they decided to quit doing live performances with When the Beatles Rocked Toronto at the well-hidden St. Lawrence Market Gallery space touches on a lot of nostalgia and a intriguing peek not only at the changing music scene of the day, but also of the city as well.
Broken into three sections, the first one How We Lived focuses on the growing demographics of the postwar baby boomer generation of a town dusting off the conformities of the 1950s with a detailed timeline of how the social, political and cultural mores were changing from urban renewal to the birth of Canadian Tire money to the blossoming of hippie culture in the Yorkville area, almost culminating with the first airplay of the Fab Four in 1963 with a Canada-only album release and five singles.
It also comes with a slight reproduction of a typical rec room of the day with the modernist designs by local furniture makers like Spanner Products Ltd. with a biomorphic sofa, a throw blanket and a Beatles print curtains adds a certain kitsch to it, teak furniture, vinyl albums, a uniquely handmade Beatles knit sweater that still holds up years later and has actually aged good.
Where We Played looks at the Yorkville area, long before it became the glossy high-end shopping enclave of today, when coffee shop poets and balladeers would make their names like Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot at the Penny Farthing to long faded-out legends The Dirty Shames and The Ugly Ducklings at the Riverboat. Some artwork captures that period like Clark McDougall’s 1964 “View of Yonge Street” depicting the busy street life through roughhewn brushstrokes in vibrant oils, a cartoon-like map of the area by Joseph Sherman in 1997 but neatly updated for this exhibit of where all the coffee (and head) shops existed, plus surviving relics of a Colonial Tavern swizzle stick and the rescued Riverboat entrance sign.
Various Beatles memorabilia includes almost everything you could think of to capitalize on the Beatlemania, including a cheap (50 cents!) pulp novelization of their second film Help! to a unopened package of black micromesh nylon hosiery depicting their images and guitars. An interesting piece here is two covers of the Yesterday and Today album with the original “butcher” version of dismembered mannequin parts and slabs of meat are posed with them as Paul McCartney’s “warped joke” commentary on the Vietnam War. Controversial at the time but a popular cover in Europe, it was pulled out of circulation by Capitol Records’ North American division and was replaced by the suitable “trunk” version, is a rare find indeed to which the original cover was in the collection of a van driver working for Capitol for years given to him secretly as a gift.
When the Beatles Rocked Us gives the documented events in question of the band’s only three tour stops in that era when Beatlemania was at its height from 1964 to 1966, the clean-cut moptop hairdos that drove fans nuts and older people to distress before their later psychedelic period further immortalized them. Through known shots by local photo-journo legends Boris Spremo, Lynn Ball and John Rowlands are honest and straightforward; two slideshows feature rarely-seen photos – a couple of them in rarer colour print – from official media coverage to fan POVs of them are a surprise to the phenomenon they created, including three photos of a female Beatles tribute band to the line-up premiere screening of A Hard Day’s Night.
The things that are constant in all these photos are the police presence in riot gear outside Maple Leaf Gardens, the throng of teenyboppers, medics helping out frenzied passed-out fans (catalogues included have the numbers of each concert breakdown, set lists, opening acts, etc.) and a armoured truck transport to move them back and forth to the venue is stupendous and still shocking to view again, even now. You wouldn’t see this kind of thing much at a Justin Bieber or Beyoncé concert tour today.
Small and humble as it may be in stature, When the Beatles Rocked Toronto looms greatly in how much it packs the counterculture of the time when rock’s first boy band managed to capture the hearts, souls and sounds of millions worldwide and how the Toronto music landscape and mosaic had changed with them. Rustically charming, this exhibit will make new and old fans twist and shout over it, yeah-yeah-yeah!
©2014-2017 Julian Bynoe/Snow Leopard ArtsEntertainment. All rights reserved.