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article imageOp-Ed: 'Yonge Street: Toronto Rock and Roll Stories' debuts tonight Special

By Bryen Dunn     Mar 21, 2011 in Entertainment
Toronto - From hipsters to historians, all eyes will be focused on the television over the next three nights, just as if it were the pre-internet 1950’s and 60’s again, as Yonge Street: Toronto Rock and Roll Stories premieres on Bravo this evening.
The title maybe somewhat misleading, as the spectrum of music covered in this series is more than just rock and roll. This decade depicted a mix of soul, rockabilly, swing, folk, blues, and jazz that made the music scene in Toronto one of the greatest in North America at the time. Musicians from across the United States would make their way up to Toronto to perform in one of the juke joints that lined Canada’s most famous street. Some, like Ronnie Hawkins, would elect not to return and has made Canada is home since first setting foot here.
It’s quite strange watching a historical documentary on one’s home city, as many take it for granted that we know our own turf. There’s much to be discovered, such as the fact there were a few years (1971 – 1974) that sections of Yonge Street were closed to vehicles, and people strolled along listening to musicians jamming on the streets during the hazy days of summer. It may just be coincidence that a current City Councillor is tabling a motion to once again make parts of the downtown section of Yonge Street a pedestrian only zone.
Throughout the documentary there are tales from Canadian legends of the era, such as Robbie Robertson, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young, but there’s also mention of lesser known musicians that were also ripping up the scene. One such individual, the outlandish Jackie Shane, was quite the flamboyant personality that can best be described as our version of Little Richard.
These years were quite transitional not only in terms of the music scene, but the redevelopment of Yonge Street, the beginning of tourism in the city, and the start of what we now call cosmopolitan Toronto. Although this transition included porn shops, head shops, and massage shops (some of which still exist), Yonge Street became the focal point of the city for youth. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the city began to ‘clean up the strip’, leaving it in a state of influx for the next decade, until the most recent gentrification attempts that have illuminated the Dundas Square area.
It was a time when burlesque was still at its height, before the much different strip-club scene of today. Musicians would mix and mingle with the underbelly of the city, creating an eclectic mix of cabaret style evenings where almost everything was embraced. Thanks to a few entrepreneurial individuals Toronto is once again the hotbed of burlesque, with groups such as Skin Tight Outta Site leading the way, and there are hundreds of party promoters making sure things remain eclectic.
The 1960’s decade of music was quite unique at the time, but it has been repeated consistently ever since. The 1970’s brought about arena-rock bands, while the 1980’s were all about punk and new-wave, and the 1990’s showcased the rap and hip hop influences. Today, Toronto is still front and centre on the world stage of music, in what is known as the indie-scene. It’s interesting to think about how things would have developed without the musical predecessors of the 50’s and 60’s who paved the way of The Toronto Sound.
Directed by Canada’s own music-aficionado filmmaker himself, Bruce McDonald, this series is a must-see for anyone interested in Toronto history. Although music is the central focus, there is a nice mix of politics and other counter-culture activities to show that this era was the beginning of change in this city. Keep your eyes open for infamous landmarks Sam The Record Man and A&A records, as well as the still thriving iconic Zanzibar Tavern. It’s definitely three nights worth of tube time.
WORLD PREMIERE: MARCH 21, 22 and 23 at 10et/7pt
YONGE STREET - Toronto Rock & Roll Stories
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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