Late Stage Order of Canada Potentia: Art Bergmann comes out singing at the face of injustice

In 2017, when now newly appointed Order of Canada member and long-time sweet disorderer of lives, songwriter Art Bergmann, spoke with theSCENE in advance of his Ironwood gig supporting the re-release of Polygram’s Art Bergmann album, repatriated with its creator as Remember Her Name, he ended with, “I am just going to be a shoe gazing old folkie.”

Fat chance. Four years later, Bergmann’s back with his eight-song album, Late Stage Empire Dementia, to be released May 21 by Weewerk Records in digital format only (of not having CDs, Bergmann comments: “Who needs more garbage?”), which, with songs about refugees, border walls, plastic in animals, and crumbling despots/empires north and south of the 49th Parallel, is the perfect soundtrack to Noam Chomsky’s morning fair-trade cup of coffee. 

Bergmann casts piercing x-ray vision over history and the globe, with nary a close up of a shoe in sight. Well, maybe one pair of shoes – those on the feet of three-year-old Syrian refugee Alan Kurdi lying dead on the Turkish shore. Bergmann chronicles the photograph wept over round the world, then forgotten in the blink of a hot new Netflix show, with precision in opening song Entrophy: “There’s a baby on the beach we refuse to reach.”

Note what English teachers refer to as matters of choice in writing here. It’s not a baby we couldn’t reach; it’s a baby we refuse to reach. A collective decision. Present tense. It isn’t history, it’s happening. Now.

“The weirdest part of this whole business is this part of it,” Bergmann says from the farmhouse he shares with wife Sherri Decembrini just west of Airdrie, regarding being interviewed about music that speaks for itself. “I’m way past narcissism now, the rock and roll narcissism, right? And how fucking shitty and stupid it is. It’s all just a distraction from what I’m writing about. It’s just, ‘Hey! Look at me! Blah blah blah!’ And I’m not going to be doing that anymore.

“So, I’m trying to, you know, throw in my lyrics. I’ve fucking outlived my fucking fan club, whoever they were. So, It’s kind of a hopeless cause.”


Or not. When he was announced as a member of the Order of Canada for his indelible contributions to the Canadian punk music scene, and thought-provoking discourse on social, gender and racial inequalities in late December, 2020, Bergmann’s fans erupted from the crypt and other places, swelling with love and pride in the fact they’d embraced his blunt musical insights regarding addiction’s gritty underbelly, sexual exigency, domestic violence, and yes, even incest — not generally written about in popular culture since Edgar Lee Masters – for over four decades.

With artists like Great Lake Swimmers, Odds’ Craig Northey, Toronto’s John Borra, and Calgary’s Nico & Jeff covering Bergmann’s classics, perhaps the cause is not so hopeless. It seems attention spans might not be as short as Bergmann claims his is. “Social media has shredded my attention span. I’m going back to reading.” However, it has one quality Bergmann admires. “I love it when the protesters all hold their phones up and wave them at the cops.”

As for that reading, Bergmann is deep back into cheerful tomes for pandemics. “I’m reading Dostoevsky, The Possessed, (also titled) The Devils. It’s a scathing indictment of the noblisse oblige, and what idiots they are. His observations of people’s behavior are acute.”

In contrast to said social media. “It’s vapid nothingness. I was kind of knocking some anarcho-tankies the other day. For Christ sakes, man, you’re all on social media and you think you’re not going to be arrested if you’re actually a socialist tankie? Which, do you know what that is?”

Nope. “It’s people that say Stalin made no mistakes, or Mao made no mistakes, and, uh, all good. Yeah, nutty.” And speaking of calling people on something, once again Bergmann offers his time-worn interview battle cry: “Are you going to call me on something? You should!”

Sure, Art. As Trudeau fops while Canada burns, why so many songs referencing the USA, especially in light of their gargantuan influence on our culture already? Why beat the US BS drum? “Because we’re United States light. We’re Canada Fucking Limited and we’re ruled by gangsters. And it’s the same all over. They’re our biggest trading partner and we’ll do anything to fucking suck up to them.”

Changing gears, we talk about the 2020 episode with Calgary’s late Mike Bezzeg for the YouTube series InnerView (“I haven’t watched it yet, and I don’t watch interviews, but, it’s OK. I was not forthcoming I don’t think if I remember, and then the poor man fucking died in a fucking horrifying accident. My God!”) and his As It Happens interview from December regarding the Order of Canada (which he’s also never heard), during which a few eyes might have been leaking when Bergmann was asked about where his desire for activism, honesty and equality came from and he answered from his parents, especially his father who escaped the Russian civil war in the Ukraine. His father makes an appearance in the first lines of Entrophy, contrasting Kurdi and inspiring a line that applies to many of us: “We’re lucky to die in our sleep.”

And all of this begs the question about why no one is writing about these things. “I don’t know. Like I said, I’ve outlived my fan base so I have no influence, unless they play my great fucking songs which are written in pop mode with hooks and shit. I don’t know what else I can do. If I’m deemed any influence at all, I beg these people to raise their voices about what’s going on.

“We’re going off the fucking cliff.”

Which invokes a polite inquiry: If you go to Ottawa to collect your Order of Canada, are you going to speak about these things or are you going to do the diplomatic peace/piece?

Bergmann cackles hysterically. We both do for a good half minute. “In my thirty seconds I will hold them to account,” he replies, still laughing. “That’s the only reason I would go. I mean, God, who paid who to give me a deal? Meanwhile the astronaut who is a bossy woman apparently (former Governor General Julie Payette, who resigned amidst allegations of workplace bullying a few weeks after she announced Bergmann’s award), what’s happening with that story? My God! The governor general who left in disgrace. Yeah. Fuck. Jesus.

“It’s like a pseudo knighthood. It’s fucking pathetic. It’s like part of the crown. Oh, yuck.”

(Photo courtesy David Kotsibie.)

Late Stage Empire Dementia is released May 21 and is available here from Weewerk Records.