In a new biography of Art Bergmann, the wild and wild life of a truly committed rock’n’roller finds its account
Whether or not you know who he is, rest assured that Art Bergmann pretty much tops the list when it comes to Canadian musicians deserving of proper biographical treatment.
If you do knowing who he is and having some knowledge of the deceptive – though not entirely inaccurate – punk-rock legend miasma that follows him everywhere, mind you, the obvious sequel is “Yes, but what poor fool would try to make a real Art Bergmann Biography?” Well, that crazy guy is Jason Schneider. And he did the fucking thing. With Bergmann’s blessing, no less.
“The Longest Suicide: The Authorized Biography of Art Bergmann” hits bookstores this week via Anvil Press. It’s a fast, clear, well-researched rip through the truly wild and wild life of a truly committed rock ‘n’ roller. The one who absorbed the purest teachings of rock ‘n’ roll from an early age and helped pass them on to a small but devoted new generation of miscreants through Vancouver’s first wave punk performers as antisocial and heroically misbehaved as the Shmorgs, the Young Canadians — known as K-Tels until K-tel’s lawyers intervened — and Poisoned. One who has persevered on the fringes as a totally uncompromising solo artist to this day despite having his career chronically derailed by half-hearted industry compromises that came to nothing, self-defeating addictions and a reputation to have a bad attitude. Who is the right attitude, no doubt, if you’re going to play your lifelong role as a legitimate punk.
“It’s the right attitude, yes. I believe him. ‘Yeah, I feel like that’ is the short answer,” laughed Bergmann, 69, on the Vancouver line, where he recently returned from a longtime perch in bucolic Airdrie, Alta., for some tragic reasons to discuss in a moment. “But I stayed alive is a better answer, despite all my weaknesses. And persevered like what? Persevered as a poet and writer? Sure. That’s what I do …
“That’s what it is and who cares? If I had made a lot of money, that would probably have been my end.
This writer has known Bergmann for 20 years, and while he’s a badass, he’s really not that scary. Quite affable, in fact, in his enigmatic and crispy way. Schneider deduced the same after first meeting Bergmann in the late 1990s while working on “Have Not Been the Same,” the meticulous bible of Canadian alternative rock he co-wrote with Michael Barclay and Ian AD Jack in 2001.
Bergmann – who had recently been dumped by Epic Records and Sony Music on the same day he won Best Alternative Album at the 1995 Juno Awards for his solo album ‘What Fresh Hell Is This?’ – was living in Toronto at the time, had long cleansed a bad heroin habit and could occasionally be spotted grabbing tables at Rancho Relaxo on College Street to make ends meet while nursing the next small-scale comeback which would happen with 1998’s “Design Flaw.”
Schneider was “terrified” to find him, he admitted, because “obviously I knew his reputation”. But he “earned Art’s trust” and the two kept in touch for years, so much so that when Bergmann was about to release his scorching 2016 album “The Apostate” on local indie label Weewerk, c t was Schneider who got the call to handle public relations. for the project.
He was therefore cautiously encouraged to suggest the idea of making an entire book on Bergmann’s life and art. And Art agreed.
“Art’s life is one of the great stories in rock ‘n’ roll that has yet to be told. And obviously there are Canadian musicians that we all love and they’re great, but their life stories aren’t that compelling, you know? Their life isn’t that exciting,” said Schneider, who now lives in Kitchener.
“I mean, I love Rush, but when I saw that last documentary, he was just talking about how when they were on tour with KISS, they just went back to the hotel room and watched TV afterwards. every concert. And it’s pretty much Canadian music. But Art’s life is truly rock ‘n’ roll. He dedicated himself to this life and he paid the price for it in some ways, but it’s a story that stands up to the story of any musician you want to name.
Many long nightly telephone conversations between Ontario and rural Alberta ensued over “three or four more years to gain Art’s trust”, while Schneider diligently unearthed enough obscure facts and figures forgotten human beings of the past to impress Bergmann by giving “The Longest Suicide”. the reluctant stamp of “authorized biography.”
“He’s a factual writer. It’s not my favorite style. If I were to write my own book, it would be more mind-blowing, more like my favorite genre of writing, Kerouac or Burroughs. But it’s pretty good for what it does,” Bergmann said, probably paying Schneider a compliment. “If I was making my own book, I would probably sit down and scribble it, but I don’t know if I have enough discipline to write a book. I have enough discipline to write songs, so I’m happy with that.
Getting Bergmann to acquiesce to all of this might have been the hardest part of Schneider’s mission, in fact. It found plenty of willing participants, albeit notorious Bergmann haters like CanCon hippie-era folk Valdy — who penned 1972’s “Rock and Roll Song” after being forever scarred by ill-fated cross-billing with a pre-Shmorgs outfit known as the Mt Lehman Band in Victoria – and John Cale, the utterly disinterested producer of 1988’s ‘Crawl With Me’, didn’t bother to step in.
“The funny thing is, when I first started reaching out to people and doing interviews, I expected at least a few people to say, ‘Oh, yeah, that was a real one. asshole. But everyone – Everybody – I interviewed had nothing but the best glowing things to say about him. It made everything a lot easier,” said Schneider, who agrees Bergmann’s reigning narrative of “missed opportunity after missed opportunity” might be a little out of place. Art Bergmann may be where Art Bergmann should be after around 50 years of kicking pricks (a British phrase for rebelling against authority).
“I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that he came from Canada at a time when the Canadian music industry didn’t know what to do with him,” Schneider said. “And when you’re an artist who doesn’t really have business acumen and doesn’t want to spend your time and energy dealing with it – and Art would admit it himself – you’re kind of at the mercy of it. other people to take care of your business and of course shitty things will happen.
“And the amount of shitty things that happened to him was probably excessive. But let’s not forget the songs themselves. This is why it is important: because these songs are important. Why weren’t they successful? Well, because they contained too much truth and the truth doesn’t get on the radio most of the time.
Bergmann’s surprise appointment to the Order of Canada in 2020 and the release of 2021’s typically fierce “Late Stage Empire Dementia” LP gave “The Longest Suicide” a naturally happy ending but, alas, fate had other ideas. His love of over 30 years, Sherri Decembrini, died suddenly last March.
It therefore fell to Bergmann himself to write the book’s epilogue, in the verses of “Death of a Mermaid” slipped into the last pages in place of additional commentaries. The new song, haunted by the heartbreaking chorus “Heartbreak is the price / If you stay alive” and accompanied by a powerful video that features Bergmann wandering the empty fields around Airdrie and openly crying at his dinner table. cooking, was recently published in tandem with the Biography.
“It was not easy, but necessary,” he said. “The result of endless, sleepless, denial writing. She was still alive for me at that time. I couldn’t write it now. I reduced all my thoughts to four extremely compact verses. Very difficult. Atrocious. I’m very proud of it because it seems to resonate with so many people who have shared their grief with me.
Bergmann is now writing a new album of “all the love songs” which he intends to complete after returning to Vancouver, where it all started, for good.
“I went out for a gathering for Sherri – a funeral – and now I have to go back to Alberta and pack up my material possessions and then move to the west coast,” he said. “It feels like home. Everyone is so wonderful. Old friendships never die.
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