Today is not a good day for Art Bergmann. His hearing, damaged by a lifetime of standing in front of cranked amps, is acting up, and he's having a hard time making sense of my questions. I'm in trouble, too: the near-legendary singer-guitarist has somehow gotten hold of a defective phone, and he sounds like a chorus of cartoon chipmunks. After a few shouted queries and indecipherable answers, our interview is rapidly sliding sideways—until Ray Fulber rides to the rescue.
Bergmann's staying at his long-time friend and bassist's Sunshine Coast recording studio, where he, Fulber, keyboardist Susanne Richter, and drummer Taylor Nelson Little are rehearsing for the much-anticipated reunion of their band Poisoned. The occasion is the release of Lost Art, a collection of unissued recordings that Bergmann and his quartet made in 1986. Notable both for the ferocity of the songwriting and the presence of superstar knob-twiddlers Bob Rock and Mike Fraser, the sessions are further evidence that Bergmann's more like the rock god who never was than a has-been on the comeback trail.
Bergmann's lyrics are rich in deception and betrayal; songs like “Junkie Don't Care”, “Our Little Secret”, and “My Empty House” are populated by faithless lovers, predatory addicts, hapless suicides, and brokenhearted incest survivors.
“They're just good stories,” says their author, once Fulber locates a functioning phone. “Good stories, and a lot of them just happen to be true.”
As for tales of the Expo-era sessions that produced Lost Art, Bergmann is pointedly vague. “We just lucked out,” he explains. “I mean, Bob Rock was a fan, and he just happened to mix it. It was just a fortunate time for us—and although we were really quite hammered at the time, it worked in spite of that.”
Bergmann's living a much more sober life these days. After a lengthy sojourn in Toronto, the Vancouver-born musician now resides on a farm outside of Calgary, where he's working on a book of memoirs that he promises will be “more vicious than my songs ever were”.
The upcoming Poisoned reunion, he adds, is probably a one-off—especially as he's just made the chilling discovery that his health doesn't permit him to sing and play guitar at the same time.
“It's fucking horrible, because I just love playing guitar,” he says with genuine, and painful, frustration. “I love kind of rocking out, and I can't now. My hands stiffen up, and I just can't play. So I'm just going to be singing—in a wheelchair or something.”
It's more likely that Bergmann will find a way to stalk the stage with the same smouldering intensity that marked his work with Poisoned, the Young Canadians, Los Popularos, and his own bands, and he's already made plans to bring in punk veteran Tony “Balony” Walker to handle his six-string parts.
Whether the Lost Art launch proves to be the last Art concert lies, quite literally, in Bergmann's hands. But if you want to pay tribute to one of the most talented performers this city has ever produced, don't miss it.
Art Bergmann and Poisoned play Richard's on Richards tonight (March 26).