“I hate the term ‘punk veteran’ – it’s anathema to me, and I’m trying to get the word ‘icon’ changed to ‘iconoclast." Art Bergmann
Truly great musicians defy categorization. They often defy adjectives as well, which makes them difficult to write about. That is where Art Bergmann lies: between the facts and the superlatives.
One of the first of this country's artists to adopt a punk ethos - Art was in seminal Vancouver-based bands Los Populalros and Young Canadians in the late 70s - he made his mark as a solo aritst in the late 80s and early 90s with albums Crawl With Me, Sexual Roulette, Art Bergmann, What Fresh Hell Is This? (Juno winner for Best Alternative Album), Design Flaw and Vultura Highway. Art then took a break but resurfaced in 2014 with Songs For The Underclass and his latest, The Apostate was released at the end of 2016. His classic third album - Art Bergmann - has just been remastered and rereleased as Remember Her Name.
"If you’ve never heard Sexual Roulette—Bergmann’s masterful 1990 exploration of drugs, depression, death, and redemption—you’ve missed out on one of the greatest records this country has ever produced." The Georgia Straight
"He is widely compared to Paul Westerberg when he only needs to be compared to himself." BeatRoute
“Quite simply the best damn songwriter this country has unleashed upon an unsuspecting world since Leonard Cohen.” James Muretich Calgary Herald
Thanks to health issues, geography and the state of the music business, Art hasn't played in eastern Canada this century and that's a crying shame. We still consider his Marquee show, with the Sons of Freedom as his backing band, one of the best rock shows ever seen in this city. It is only thanks to HUFF sponsors and Art's will to get out here that we'll have the opportunity to see him again, so it's one you shouldn't pass up. He's been trying to hang up the rock'n'roll cleats but we've convinced him to do one last bash with the help of the Halifax All Star band. It'll be epic and it will be 100% Art.
"Company Store [is] the track that fully realizes and best articulates the anti-establishment stance that both his beginnings in punk and current situation in folk are built upon --- compelling you to tap your toe and shake your fist." EarShot
"Legendary punk troubadour Art Bergmann has returned in a big way with The Apostate, an eight song LP that is so far removed from anything Bergmann has released that it’s exactly like everything he’s ever released – unexpected, fun, meaningful, cool as shit and real as fuck." Jaded&Elated
Raised in south Surrey, Bergmann’s recalls it being “a very, very wild place. I lived around White Rock, which was on the US border. Nearby a little town called Cloverdale, population maybe 2,000, was the drug capital of Surrey. They’d be cutting up drugs in the old pool hall, right on the counter. And there was everything from marijuana to heroin. It was unbelievable.”
Bergmann has been writing songs and playing since he was in high school. But in the mid-70s there was no place a band could gig in the Fraser Valley unless you had four sets of covers that you did six nights a week.
“You had to play the hits. And this was the era,” says Bergmann, with the disgust rising in his voice, “of bloated, stinking, rotten bands like the Eagles and Steve Miller, just absolute crap. All these cover bands wore satin bell-bottoms. But we just dressed outrageously from the word go, however we wanted with whatever we had.”
Then things opened up with what Bergman calls 'the godsend' of the Sex Pistols: “I thought, ‘OK, here’s some kindred minds screaming through the darkness. The Pistols ripped off the Dadaists, which I had read quite a lot about. Critical thinking was part of my education, but is it for many people anymore? We’re taught to forget, not remember. And we repeat histories and all of its stupidities. So here was this band that said, ‘We respect nothing, we create our own music.’”
Pursing the origins of his cynical nature, Bergmann also cites the radicalism of Albert Camus and Louis-Ferdinand Céline along with the barroom philosophies of Charles Bukowski and the brash, young blood of the Yardbirds and early Stones.
By the mid-80s, Bergmann was writing, recording and performing as a solo artist, prolific and potent. Up to and including 1995’s What Fresh Hell Is This?, which won a Juno for Best Alternative Record, Bergmann had released a series of albums that unquestionably rank him as this country’s fiercest, punk poet laureate. Singing the same dirty street serenade as Lou Reed, David Bowie and Iggy Pop, Bergmann was a lot lower to the ground. His first person accounts far more blunt, raw and direct—he just spat out the details, sandblasted off the glamour and any of its romantic inflections.
Bergmann reveals, “Yes, well I took part of certain experiences to further my art, shall we say. To my own detriment, I must add, and was addicted for awhile.”
Despite a bad patch with substances and never being fully embraced by the music industry or the media, Bergman reigns and remains his healthy cynical self. Cynicism is not a bad thing.
“I see it as realism,” concurs Bergmann. “People don’t want to hear the truth. But, you know, there’s no compromise. You’ve got to stand up for it.”
Very little of his solo music can be described as 'punk', though that's where his roots lie. He was 'alternative' when that actually meant something, back before it became just another commercial category. And those terms are the closest you'll get to genre-fying him. You can't even say there's an 'Art Bergmann' sound, because each of his albums sounds different from the next. HIs latest - The Apostate is his most-different yet.