By Keith Sharp
Talk to any musicologist about the history of Punk rock music in Canada and one name is bound to be mentioned front and centre in the conversation – Vancouver’s Art Bergmann.
Since bounding into the spotlight in the late 1970’s as frontman for seminal punks, The Young Canadians and later with Los Popularos and Poisoned, Bergmann has been pegged as a leading figure in Canada’s burgeoning punk and indie movement even though none of his band’s or his later solo records would be construed as hit records under normal standards. Yes he sparked other Vancouver indie bands like DOA, The Pointed Sticks and The Dead Kennedys and his influence spread eastwards to connect with the likes of The Viletones, Cardboard Brains and Teenage Head.
And even when drug addiction and ill health took its toll on Bergmann, he still loomed as a cult figure appearing in two Bruce MacDonald movies; “Highway 61” and “Hard Core Logo” before seemingly becoming a recluse. Yet despite not recording a studio album in 14 years, Art Bergmann is back, supporting a new studio release `The Apostate’ with a brief tour itinerary of Vancouver and Victoria area dates plus a mini tour of Ontario in late June.
“I don’t know about all this Godfather of Punk stuff,” laughs Bergmann. “I suppose I’m flattered by the attention but I am just trying to progress through my music. With my new album, “The Apostate”, I am trying to go beyond any specific genre. I want my songs to sound as contemporary as possible, I wanted them to sound like you couldn’t tell what era they are from.
Citing an investigative nature to the lyrics, the eight tracks featured on “The Apostate” are vintage Bergmann in that they each have a story to tell which are totally in tune with today’s current events.
With all the controversy surrounding the Jian Ghomeshi trial, Bergmann says “. “I had written that song awhile ago but my wife said I had to put it out now,” confirmed Bergmann. “It’s a paign to all women who’s stories of abuse don’t get taken seriously. “Cassandra is a modern rewrite on the myth of Cassandra. Apollo spit in her mouth to make her unbelieved after she spurned him.”
“The Legend Of Bobby Bird” is about kids who vanished or ran away from residential schools. Bobby ran in 1969 , more than 8,000 kids did this,” explained Bergmann. “His bones were not identified until just a few months ago.”It’s an epidemic that these kids are vanishing and running away and nothing is being done about it.”
“A Town Called Mean” is a reflection on Corporate America, how decisions on Wall Street can literally murder thousands of people yet they get away with it,” noted Bergmann. “It’s a double entendre, you can be a hired thug or you can work for Goldman Sachs, bidding on commodities that indirectly kill thousands of people. I tried to turn this into a murder/ballad set around 1955 which illustrated this double entendre”. I just watched a documentary on what happened on Wall Street in 2008 and those guys got the biggest bail-out, welfare cheque ever, it’s unbelievable what happened.”
“Pioneers”, clocking in at just over 12 minutes, is the album’s most ambitious track. “It was a hard track to get down, I play differently every verse and it tells the story about how the west was won by a bunch of conquering cannibals,” Bergmann reflected.
If you note a sense of cynicism in Bergmann’s lyrics you’d be right on the money and this is never more evident on “The Atheist’s Prayer “You look at what’s happening globally, all this racial hatred, all this hatred against gays, it’s like a crazy addiction so I wanted to make a statement about just how crazy things are.”
The album title, “The Apostate” also makes it’s statement against religion in general, the cover image reflecting Bergmann as a Dali Llama character, wearing a robe over his shoulder. “A photographer friend of mine took photos of all sorts of people wearing this robe and I thought it was appropriate for the cover. And Bergmann admits to being an Apostate (a religious disbeliever).
which means that in certain Islamic countries, he wouldn’t be wearing a head!
A need to raise money to visit his wife’s sick father brought Bergmann out of seclusion to perform a few low-key concerts in Vancouver and the rapturous response he receive encouraged him to release a 2014 EP; “Songs For The Underclass”.
With the creative juices flowing again, Bergmann felt it was time to make another lyrical statement and so he set about recording The Apostate. Aware that the attention span most people give to listening to records these days is miniscule, he set about going against the grain by writing the eight songs like chapters in a book.
“I don’t know how I can reach these people,” confessed Bergmann. “The majority of people seem to lack imaginations. They are addicted to their screens. I don’t have money to fund videos, I funded this record by crowd sharing (and people were very generous) but I do want to make a statement. I can’t imagine not wanting to be creative, I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t creative.”
However, this being 2016, it means that Bergmann has to hit the road to tour this release, although ill health (exacerbated by a chronic bad back) will restrict his touring activities to a few select dates around Vancouver and Vancouver Island before he heads east to play a string of dates with noted band members Chris Wardman on guitar (a former producer of his), Jason Sniderman on keyboards, former Blue Rodeo drummer Glen Milchem and bassist John Dinsmore, key dates being Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern June 23rd, London Office June 24, Hamilton’s The Casbah June 25th and Wakefield, Quebec June 26th.
“I am reluctant to tour, I certainly can’t play 100 mph anymore” concluded Bergmann. “But for a few hours on stage, all the pain goes away and that’s pretty amazing so I at least can look forward to that.”
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