From Ben Rayner's Art Bergmann interview:
Bergmann plays the Great Hall on Friday night with an all-star band that includes Blue Rodeo’s Glenn Milchem, ex-Blue Peter members Chris Wardman and Jason Sniderman, and bassist John Dinsmore.
Also playing This Ain't Hollywood on Thursday Oct 23 and Wakefield QUE on Saturday Oct 25. C'mon out.
By: Ben Rayner
Pop Music Critic, Published on Wed Oct 22 2014
You might think leading a quiet country life in rural Alberta for the better part of a decade would have mellowed Art Bergmann a little bit, but quite the opposite has happened.
Being idle on a farm in Airdrie with nothing much to do but read voraciously, watch cable news and wander the fields pondering where the world went wrong has only left the famously irascible CanCon-underground icon more outraged and defiant than ever on his vicious new EP, Songs for the Underclass.
Released in early September on sturdy Toronto indie label Weewerk, it’s the 61-year-old Bergmann’s first new recording since the late 1990s. A combination of disgust with his ongoing treatment at the hands of a music industry that’s never really had a clue what to do with him, and debilitating arthritis in his spine and hands compelled him to chuck it all at the time, but he’s been gigging on and off for the past year or so and is now threatening a full-length album at some point in the near future — not to mention some potential reissues of early punk material dating back to his days with Vancouver’s Young Canadians. Yes, please.
In the meantime, Bergmann plays the Great Hall on Friday night with an all-star band that includes Blue Rodeo’s Glenn Milchem, ex-Blue Peter members Chris Wardman and Jason Sniderman, and bassist John Dinsmore. The Star had a catch-up coffee with the legend:
Q: What exactly have you been doing all these years?
A: I’ve been in Alberta since 2007, I guess. My wife, Sherri (Decembrini), her daughter lives out there in Red Deer and she had a baby so we wanted to watch her grow up. So that’s what we’ve kinda been doing the last few years. We’ve been living on a dilapidated old farm in the belly of the economic beast of Canada 20 minutes north of Calgary, so if I want weird city life I can zip into Calgary, where I’ve found a band now. I kind of ignored the music business for all that time. And if you want to know why I did that, read that Robert Fripp story in the Financial Times two years about why he quit the music business. I just ran into that yesterday and it’s a beautiful piece. As soon as you approach success, whoever you’re dealing with want you to repeat yourself. And that’s not his or my modus operandi.
Q: Respect rarely pays the bills, does it?
A: No, no. But it’s about artistry. And artistry has nothing to with finances, really. I mean, you wanna make a living. But did Jimi Hendrix do it for money? I don’t think so.
Q: So what got you writing again?
A: I do a lot of reading and investigation into the human condition. I’ve been reading books on sexual evolution. We deny the animality in ourselves. We’ve destroyed 50 per cent of the species on the planet since the ’70s. It’s like we’re heading over a cliff and nobody cares. What are we gonna go up to? Ten billion people? I think human rights should be replaced by all animal rights, really. That’s just one of the things bugging me. And the brutality of the current freedom of the marketplace is just unbelievable. In 2008, Goldman Sachs manipulated the commodities market to such an extent that people starved to death, you know? That sorta stuff.
Q: I often think we might be better off wiping the slate clean and giving another species a chance.
A: I think that, too. I had a joke a couple of years ago: “Save the planet. Off yourself.” I’ll be the first to go. People really didn’t like it, though.
Q: Was there a catalytic moment that propelled you toward the new EP?
A: The basic, simple little nut or germ that started it was Sherri’s biological father, who she found in prison in the ’90s — that’s a whole other story — we thought he was dying, so we wanted to go to Vancouver. Well, how do we get back? Maybe I could do a show, a little show to raise some cash and get home again. And I had a sell-out show at a folk hall in Vancouver, the WISE Club. I had a great band: Steven Drake, Adam Drake, Kevin Lucks. And we followed that up with an October show and there were twice as many people, so I thought, “Oh, why not?” All these years, I’ve always been writing and taking notes while I slaughter one history book after another, so I had tons of ideas and they just started to gel so I finally picked up a guitar again and just started playing it non-stop for the last 18 months now.
Q: Which song came first?
A: “Drones of Democracy” was the first thing that I started working on. It took me a year to hone it down to what it is, lyrically. I tried to keep it un-polemical and just set the scene and kind of say to the audience: “What would you do? What kind of anger would you feel if you had to pick up your son or daughter in a plastic bag?” I listen to that song “Cortez the Killer” by Neil Young all the time . . . and I just started playing it live on July 1 of last year. That song is so awesome it makes me weep every time I hear it or sing it. I wanted to cover it, but I looked it up and saw that about 50 major artists were playing that one. So I had to write one. I added a chord and basically it’s my own “Cortez.” And the chorus is almost like the chorus in “Ohio.”
Q: It’s comforting to see that you still have the same old bile, volatility and anger at 61. It’s pretty punk rock.
A: You think? I hope so. I told Chris Wardman the other day: “There’s no point in not playing.” You do what you do, just do it. Every four or five years I used to go through whole circles of friends, people who gave up art or music and got sucked in by their f---ing mortgage and family and the career or job thing. It’s so sad. People just melt into society at large. You’ve gotta live your life to the fullest. You get one life. Why do you wanna get sucked into this brutal system? It’s just unbelievable to me.