It was a rite of passage for my sister and I growing up in Northern Ontario to make a pilgrimage each summer to the Canadian National Exhibition. The CNE was held a special place in our hearts because it meant we got to go to the big city (translate: my Nana's ground floor apartment in a high-rise in Scarborough), see people we never saw in our small town (translate: grubby ner-do-well carnies who could build and operate complicated attractions whilst smoking AND asking if "I WANTED TO GO FASTER?") and watch my sister projectile vomit onto a metal ramp of The Enterprise after eating too many Tiny Tom donuts. Priceless.
As we slipped into our teenage years, the Ex's allure gave way to another attraction: the Ontario Place Forum, an amphitheater which lay just across the lakeshore. Throughout the summer, this venue would play host to scores of bands, from the most obscure rock outfit to the most popular jazz ensemble. It was six dollars admission to get in and, at night, the park came alive with teens lining up to hear their favorite rock and roll, disco, new wave, or hip hop music. By now, my parents had split up and my sister and I were spending our summers in the city and we would take the streetcar down from my mother's downtown apartment and catch any number of bands: Kool and the Gang one night, Al Green another, Triumph (Why not!), Parachute Club,Wynton Marsalis. The musical genre was irrelevant. We couldn’t wait for nightfall.
I hadn’t thought of the amphitheatre in a long time, until a few nights ago when I was stretched out on the sofa watching the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London. I had appreciated the opening ceremonies and the challenges faced by the host country of presenting such a complex and rich history to a world audience: the opening pastoral scene with a little Shakespeare thrown in, which transformed quickly into the industrial revolution, a parade of the proletariat. I even kinda enjoyed the uncomfortable and overly long celebration of the National Health Service, with some sort of morphine induced Mary Poppins versus Voldemort montage. All interesting.
But this closing stuff was a different business all together.
I guess having dispensed with the entirety of British history in 30 minutes, the only other direction to take the closing was a celebration of pop music from the last thirty years. Really? There was no other way to go then reuniting the Spice Girls and slap them atop some taxis? Okay. And then I realized where I had seen it all before … at the Ontario Place Forum! Except this thing came with bubbly dancers performing overly choreographed moves, singing the same songs I had sung in my youth. All I needed was a glow necklace, a giant pretzel, and a Slurpee to complete the memory. I still enjoyed the evening. I sang along with songs. It was just like being back at the EX and amphitheatre all those years ago. Only they were theme park for kids. London is one of the cultural hubs of Western Civilization. Or was. And so I slapped on my Whatever goggles and went along for the ride.