Like any great biography, author Jason Schneider's new book about Art Bergmann unveils the real person behind the public persona.
Art Bergmann is often referred to as "Canada's Lou Reed."
Bergmann is Canada's punk poet laureate, from his days helping to lay the foundation of the Vancouver punk scene with The K-Tels, to his acclaimed solo work in the ’80s and ’90s, and a late career resurgence that has culminated with being named to the Order of Canada.
I knew very little about Bergmann until I read his life story in a new book written by longtime music journalist and Kitchener native Jason Schneider.
Schneider's lastest book is The Longest Suicide: The Authorized Biography of Art Bergmann.
"I could tell there was nothing phony about him, even back in the '80s," Schneider told me when we caught up recently.
“Outlining the book was actually pretty easy because it seemed like his life played out in specific chapters. I tried to write with a narrative arc in mind, so I hope people will find it to be a good read, even if they don’t know Art’s music.”
Schneider’s earliest memories of Art Bergmann was seeing the video for “Crawl with Me” on MuchMusic from Bergmann’s debut solo album back in 1988.
“I remember at first not liking the song, but after hearing it a few times, I suddenly realized it was about incest and that totally changed my view of him,” he said. “Nobody else could have written a song like that. I eventually learned about his work with The Young Canadians through MuchMusic and through Terry David Mulligan’s show and I became a die-hard fan after that.”
Reading The Longest Suicide, I was moved by the story of Bergmann’s relationship with his wife Sherri Decembrini, which plays a big part in Schneider's new book.
“Art and Sherri’s relationship was pure, and in many ways kept him alive,” Jason said. “I couldn’t have written the book without her input, and I was hoping that it would have a relatively happy ending. Sherri’s unexpected death this past March was just a tragedy, and I had no choice but to re-write the ending and try to pay tribute to her as best I could.”
Bergmann himself wrote the book’s epilogue, in the lyrics of “Death of a Siren,” written in the wake of his beloved wife’s passing.
“Art receiving the Order of Canada was originally going to be the ending, before Sherri died,” Schneider said. “But overall, the fact that he’s made some of the best music of his life over the past five years added extra importance to the story as well.”
Schneider said he wanted to include plenty of "crazy stories" in the book to convey the punk rock lifestyle, while also celebrating the "greatness of Art’s entire body of work."
Although Bergmann may not be a household name in Canadian music history, Schneider hopes his book might help turn a long-overdue spotlight on an unsung Canadian music icon.
"I really hope people will, through this book, discover Art as an equal of Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, and other internationally known Canadian songwriters.”
Like any great biography, Schneider's book about Bergmann unveils the real person behind the public persona.
If you love behind-the-scenes tales from the lesser-known corners of Canadian music history, you'll find much to devour in The Longest Suicide.