Art Bergmann Comin’ In From the Cold With a Vengeance

Cashbox Canada Art Bergmann.png

Submitted by Lenny Stoute
Photos: Lenka Tupá

Just when the fat cats and chill operators think it’s safe to carry on grinding the proles, Art Bergmann’s back to put their greasy asses on notice. Or so it would be in a better world. Instead, one of Canrock’s most enduring iconoclasts must end a decade long self-imposed exile and get back to shaking the foundations. Fearing it’ll all fall on deaf ears. But DNA-driven to do it anyway.

The Vantown-born Bergmann was a seminal figure on the Canpunk scene in the late Seventies, playing in and shaping a number of bands, most notably Young Canadians. Even then though, his version of punk was more sharp, boring tool for getting to the heart of the matter, more Camus than Clockwork Orange. That kind of ‘tude brought him to the attention of avant-garde icon John Cale, who produced Art’s solo debut album Crawl With Me in 1988. Two years later he teamed with producer Chris Wardman to create  Sexual Roulette, his mainstream breakthrough which contained the rock radio hit "Bound for Vegas" and was the springboard to a deal with Polygram Records.

The year 1996 was for Bergmann a microcosm of the music business. Now a rising star at Sony Records, he scooped the Juno for Best Alternative Rock Album with What Fresh Hell Is This? Within months, the album’s sales while steady enough did not impress Sony, who dropped Art like a bad habit. After a year on the low down in Toronto, writing and raging he relocated to a ragtag farm on the outskirts of Calgary.

Art Bergmann at The Great Hall (Jason Snidermann: keys)Art Bergmann at The Great Hall (Jason Snidermann: keys)By then beset by a debilitating arthritis of the spine and hands, Art put aside his axe and gave over to reading voraciusly, soaking up the news channels and contemplating the state of the planet. Thing is, he’s doing all this within half an hour of the most environmentally-unconscious city in the nation.  As a result, rather than rendering him meditative, the years in the wilderness made for a well-stoked fire when the flames finally erupted.

One listen to the searing contents of the ‘Songs for the Underclass’ EP will confirm that. As he tells it though, it was more prosaic happenstance than spark that took him back to making music.

“I was doing a ton of reading, writing down ideas and germs of songs as they came up but with no clear purpose in mind. What got me back into it was a family situation. My wife Cherri’s’ Dad was in a bad way and we decided to go see him. We could get out there but how to get back? I was feeling good and had begun to pick at the guitar so I thought, let’s do a gig and raise the money that way.”

The little gig turned out to be a sold-out show at Vantown’s WISE Club, Bergmann appearing backed by stellar area musos including Steven Drake, Adam Drake, and Kevin Lucks. Enjoying the experience, he repeated it at a larger venue last October and since then has been gigging around as much as his health and inclinations allow  Recently he returned to his Toronto roots, playing Queen West’s Great Hall backed by genre luminaries including Blue Rodeo’s Glenn Milchem, Blue Peter members Chris Wardman and Jason Sniderman, and bassist John Dinsmore.
He’s kept on writing and just in time for Christmas, here’s ‘Songs for the Underclass’, part dire warnings, part rallying cries, part pointed stick in the eye, part swift kick in the ass.  And all Bergmann.

Art Bergmann at The Great Hall (Chris Wardman: guitar)Art Bergmann at The Great Hall (Chris Wardman: guitar)“Because it happened organically, I’ve got no great expectations apart from getting the songs heard. It’s just me doing what I have to do. The song ‘Drones of Democracy’ is yeah, my own Cortez. Not to emulate Neil but it’s what I feel needs doing right now, the kind of song people need to hear. Twenty years later, in spite of it, the conditions Neil was writing about are still mostly still having an affect, I felt I needed to do this.”

“No idea who will even listen to it. Even if they listen, do they care to hear? As to what they can take away from it, that’s all in the lyrics. The lyrics are plain and unvarnished as the subject matter is complex and painted over.”

So here’s Bergmann’s cookdown of his songs Drones of Democracy - The making of a sleeper cell. Drones manufactured in the heart of America. How to explain the use of advanced weapons, cluster-bombs, made to shred tanks. Weapons used on innocents, man, woman, and child alike. If you think Neil Young wrote this, well yeah, I wanted my own Cortez.

Company Store - The hypocritic oath. In the early version of this song, “we sold our souls to the company store”. In an updated take I inject some current events to illustrate the chorus, “we are now all whores at the company store”.

Ballad of the Crooked Man - Ruminations on ‘what is to be done’, suggestions and advice from revolutionary stars of the past, Lenin, the Anarchists of Catalonia, Robespierre, who was right.

Your Cold Appraising Eye - Well, what can you say about people who manipulate the market to such an extreme that people end up starving as a result. That’s murder, folks.

“There’s talk of a full-length album in the new year and maybe reissues of the back catalogue but who knows?  What can I do about it? I can write the songs, voice the dissent, because that’s what I do. Maybe further the understanding that if we can’t pull together, we’re all through together. I fear we are heading into the darkest times we have ever known.”

Vintage Art Bergmann y’all. Good to hear.