January 16, 2008

Art History....

Some come for the fun. Some come for the fashion. Please come for the passion. And some just come numb. The sky was overcast; the cast were assembled. The roles were handed out: one by one by one/ Get too blasted in the past. Blast them Blast them Cast them in plastic.
And the heavens thundered and ripped the plastic blue asunder, laying waste to that which was already gone, putting the pretty vacants out to pasture bedtime, showing the sheep the gate, giving the proverbial lamb the provincial chop.....and Lo a voice of reason ( was it Neil Harrison, Tom Hall, or Les O' Day) issued forth the proclamation of post-punk patronage. And we were sore afraid. Let Art be put on High/ fi to all who mock the Rock and fail to heed our newfound heir to the airwaves. Art Bergmann has paid his dues, drunk from the cup, done the ten year prerequisite for overnight success and now, this was it, the knight of nights. Since the release of his demo tape to CITR and emergence of POISONED, the local rock hounds have been falling over themselves in attempts to grease the wheels of industry and to confirm his success. Let me not be the odd man out, the vile and bitter cynic bent on bursting the bubble of provincial enrapture. "Oh, what a lovely sound world", indeed.
I first saw Art Bergmann in the mid-seventies out in Surrey with the Schmorgs, a great garage band in the classic white thrash mold. Their cross to bear was playing raw, driving rock at a time when the popular taste sucked wind. The next time I saw Art was at one of the first punk gigs in Vancouver, at the Japanese Hall with the Schmorgs and the Monitors. The Monitors later evolved into Active Dog, which spunoff the Modernettes, and much later provided the bulk of Los Popularos.
This group of crazed individuals included Buck Cherry, Bill Shirt, Gord Nicholl, and Art Bergmann. In the history of Vancouver punk, they are known as the White Rock connection.
It is hard for me to describe the excitement of those early punk days. There was a special camaraderie, wildness, spontaneity, and humour which can never be repeated. All these bored and boring white kids moving in from the vacuous suburbs, attempting to create their own culture. And this happened all over the western world in different degrees of success, and on different schedules.
In those days, when you walked down the streets with coloured hair, torn clothes, leather or whatever gear you were into, that was a statement whether you knew it or not. A political statement as well as a fashion statement. There was real danger in dress, which of course seems ridiculous now. It seemed ridiculous then, but when your concerts were always being invaded by bike gangs, thugs, greaseballs intent on smashing your head, you thought a bit before leaving the house. The media was not helpful in trying to explain this scene to the mainstream; sensationalism, as usual, dominated with the more bizarre incidents blown out of proportion, always accentuating the negative angle. People began to pick up on these nihilistic elements, seeking to emulate. The fun shoving of the early gigs became increasingly violent and stupid; while the bands became more concerned with success and getting out of town. Punk and new wave was now serious business, already affecting the fashion styles and buying habits. Some inventive pop had made it to the airwaves, but the real stuff from the bottom stayed there.
Which brings me to the Young Canadians, or K-tels. The YCs were probably Vancouver's best all round band in their day. They combined the best of raw power, wild melodicism and cynical humour. Along with Jim Bescott and Barry Taylor, Art Bergmann should have received more attention from the Mainstream press. But the Vancouver press is conservative to the core, and more importantly, lazy. The powers that be found it easier to print tabloid wire service pablum than to pay attention to homegrown culture. In this environment of stagnation, it's not hard to see why a band would break up.
Los Popularos, originally a fuck band in the best Vancouver tradition of Luxfordism, made their move to be taken seriously. This band had no lack of character (s); what it did lack was consistency. There were too many gigs marred with bad sound, drunk performances, bad publicity, lack of management; just too many really funny guys for one band. You couldn't help but love them.
Bill Shirt was a great frontman, one of the best this city has had. Buck Cherry had so much ability that we knew it was a marriage which would never last, and soon he was back with the Modernettes in a re-vamped lineup. Gord Nicholl was always that funny little guy with the twisted smile from Active Dog and Pointed Sticks. Tony Bardach first played in Private School, then the Pointed Sticks, was all class or chaos depending on when you caught him. And Zippy....all heart and personality. No other band could play so bad and still have a following. And while this is what attracted me to them, it also proved their greatest liability, because the times had changed and raw, expressive pop was no longer popular, if it had ever been.
Synthesizers, disco and shiny young entrepreneurs with expensive briefcases and $60 haircuts were the 'new order' of the day. Backed with good sound, money, promotion, money, management, money and parents who were willing to invest in their future, these young drips were the new wave.
Even CITR, our bastion of alternatives on the putrid face of radio, shunned local product in favour of Anglo-synth pap. People were not surprised with Los Popularos finally called it quits; we were only surprised that their friendship had kept them together as long as it did.
I had heard much about the new band POISONED. I had read all the hype, and most of what I heard was positive if not raving. There was some criticism from the taste police that guilt was evident in the use of heavy guitars and some had detected 70's influences. But after seeing these guys, I must say I was impressed with the tight, professional sound and strong ensemble approach. There is an obvious bid for mainstream acceptance here, but the 70's connection is simply roots talking.
Fortunately, Art has taste in how he shapes these influences into songs. His raw expressive singing and insightful lyrical content gives this stuff its guts. This guy is no ego headed rock monster; neither is he a wimpy sythetic popstart. He is Art Bergmann and he's paid dues. He was "there" before all of us. I'm not mourning the past, what should have been or what could have happened. But I won't forget my roots, and neither will Art Bergmann. From the generation with NO FUTURE, here's to you Berg. Good Luck.
(First published in Issue Magazine, an independent art magazine from the early 1980's edited by Jim Carrico. I had forgotten some of the details in the article, but it still stands up today. Viva the K-tels, Young Canadians, Los Popularos and Poisoned!!! Art, we still love you. Stay well. ) Dennis Mills Jan 2008

1 comment:

  1. Hey Dennis:
    Thanks for posting that article about Art.
    It's always intriguing delving back into his career.
    He is still one of the most important figures ever to emerge in the local music scene.
    I, unfortunately, missed his early days with the Canadians and Popularos ,but, from the late 80's onward, I've a huge Bergmann fan.
    I air the odd Bergmann track on my Radio Bandcouver show, Thursdays 2:30-4pm on Co-op Radio 102.7 FM. It's heard and archived on line as well: www.coopradio.org.
    I too agree with your comments on CiTR. As valuable a station as they still are to Vantown, I feel they cave in too much to trends with whom they support.
    I tend to air bands I enjoy, not what I think I should play.
    I'm also presenting an Art Bergmann
    tribute show at The Railway Club on Thursday, April 24th, 2008 at The Railway Club.
    Yep, I know Art's still alive and living in a small town outside of Calgary. But, we should still have a tribute for him. He more than deserves it.
    Mark Bignell