What's In Your Fridge: Geoff Berner

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      What’s in Your Fridge is where the Straight asks interesting Vancouverites about their life-changing concerts, favourite albums, and, most importantly, what’s sitting beside the Heinz Ketchup in their custom-made Big Chill Retropolitan 20.6-cubic-foot refrigerators.

      On the grill

      Geoff Berner

      Who are you

      Accordionist, novelist, father of four people. Born and raised in Fortress Kerrisdale, lives in East Van. New album, We Are Going to Bremen to Be Musicians, out October 16 in Canada on Coax Records, worldwide on Oriente Musik.

      First concert

      When I was about 11, my parents took me to the Arts Club Theatre see the musical revue Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, with Anne Mortifee, Leon Bibb, and another guy who I forget the name of. When I hit adolescence, I was slow to “get” teenage pop culture. I think it was partly because the words were always so dumb compared to Jacques Brel.

      Life-changing concert

      Some friends and I snuck into the Vancouver Folk Fest in the late '80s. I saw Billy Bragg play a workshop and he sang Leon Rosselson’s “The World Turned Upside Down”, aka “The Diggers’ Song”. The line “The sin of Property, we do disdain/No man has any right to buy or sell the Earth for private gain”—that was a lightning bolt. That one lyric changed my mind about the world and I became a leftist. And Billy Bragg’s intense solo performance showed me what I wanted to do for a living.  Billy Bragg was cool. He was sharp, he interrupted his own songs to crack jokes about local politics, he was conscious of his own work as being just a part of a centuries-long tradition of resistance. And he was right. No, really. No man has any right to buy or sell the Earth for private gain.

      Top three records

      The Pogues Rum, Sodomy & the Lash The Pogues spawned a thousand terrible Celtic-rock bands. But this album is perfect. It’s a terribly serious Concept Album disguised as a fun drunken party record. Every song builds the portrait of life when your body and your brain have been colonized by an implacable military empire.  Damaged to the point of a desperate need for cheap anaesthetic, but alive and cheerfully, psychotically defiant nonetheless. The light of true human civilization lives in this album, because it shows how musical tradition isn’t a doily to be cherished, but a tool for insisting on your own humanity despite how you’re being treated.

      Carolyn Mark Nothing Is Free “You never really knew me, which is what I liked best/We just took the parts you liked, and coloured in the rest.” Carolyn Mark writes the great lyrics. It’s hard to pick a “best” Carolyn Mark album, but this is my favourite, for the warm sounds and the Pauls—Rigby and Pigat—guitars and the Diona Davies violin. I knew of Carolyn when I was a worshipping fan, and then I got to tour and make recordings with her, and I’m still a worshipping fan. She’s like a one-woman Pogues. Tougher and capable of more shocking conversation than G.G. Allin. People see her play and say “Gosh! Why isn’t she more famous?” as if the world was a fair place where talent and hard work is rewarded. People should write fewer songs and record more of hers.

      De Naye Kapelye De Naye Kapelye I was looking for a klezmer band that truly spoke to me, and I found it. De Naye Kapelye means “The New Band” because Bob Cohen founded it with his pal Yankl after leaving the Budapest Klezmer Ensemble in disgust. He’s a rebel. He’s been going to the Ozarks of Romania since the early '70s, when he smuggled medicine past the infamous Securitat and came back with palinka moonshine and the rawest dirt-floor Jewish trad music there is.

      All-time favourite video

      Nina Simone "Mississippi Goddamn" (on Dutch Television, 1965) "You just watch the perfectly focused anger in this performance. It makes all of punk rock look like, well, a bunch of punks." 

      What’s in your fridge

      Beer from a Vancouver Island micro-brewery that isn’t micro anymore.  I made an album called Whiskey Rabbi and that was kind of how my music was marketed for quite a while and now there’s people who act surprised if I drink beer and not whiskey. They say “What? You drink beer?” as if I was an action figure that only has a slot in the hand part to hold a whiskey bottle. So I guess that was effective marketing.

      Black, pitted olives. My youngest daughter, who is almost two, loves olives. She DEMANDS olives. If there are no olives, the gist of her message is: “No olives? I want nothing to do with this world and I despise everyone in it. A terrible sadness overtakes me.”

      Six pounds of butter. I’m very absent-minded in the grocery store. I never remember whether or not there is butter at home. But the thought of having no butter is such a terrible thing to contemplate that I wind up buying another pound of it, just in case.

      Watch for We Are Going To Bremen To Be Musicians this October 16. In the meantime check out the video the album's "Swing a Chicken 3 Times Over Your Head".