In around 1980 a kid named Mike went to his high school gymnasium on a North Vancouver evening to attend an all-ages concert with a band called the Young Canadians. Looking back on it today, nearly forty years later, I asked Mike “Is that when you decided you wanted to play in a rock band?”

“No, I was just scared. There were real punk rockers there.”

In Vancouver in 1977 Art Bergmann, Barry Taylor, and Jim Bescott formed the K-Tels, inspired by punk rock from Britain and 1960s garage rock. But after being threatened with a law suit from K-Tel Records -- the company that released cheap compliations of the "hits of the day" -- they changed their name to the Young Canadians. Along with bands like DOA and the Pointed Sticks, they helped create a thriving Canadian punk rock scene.

Hawaii

The Young Canadians had a hit with their EP release, “Hawaii.” The song opens with a wailing guitar melody that is instantly memorable. Then Bergmann’s raucous voice enters with the words, “let’s go to fucking Hawaii, get drunk in the sun.”

Listening to Bergmann’s lyrics reveals the true depth to their music. Is it a critique of Canadian middle-class desires to act out the lives of the wealthy? Or to spend their hard earned money on something of questionable personal or spiritual value? Either way, you can hear instantly how fun it would have been to see these guys play live.

Let’s go to fuckin’ Hawaii
Get drunk in the sun
I wanna lay on Wai-ki-ki
Get a tan on my butt

Running from the rain
Thousands on the run
Make it like the rich
Headed for the fun

The Young Canadians only lasted about two years. But Art Bergman continued making music, first with Los Popularos and then on his own.

Solo Career

Through his solo career, Bergmann has become an artist so far beyond his punk rock beginnings -— great as that was. To my ears, he fits in the genre some call “singer-songwriter,” but biting, acerbic. Try his album Sexual Roulette, released in 1990, which explores drug addiction, death, HIV/Aids, and depression.

His latest release is The Apostate, which is musically much gentler, and still beautiful. Pedal steel guitar rounds out the sound on some tracks. Some speculate that may be an influence of rural Alberta where he's been living the last 20 or so years. But Bergman has said that it actually goes back to the time he first started learning music. It was folk and country songs he listented to then.

Bergmann is currently touring and I had the priveledge to see him perform in Vancouver last night. According to an interview with the Georgia Straight, his health problems make touring pretty hard on him. But watching them play last night at the Rickshaw you'd almost never know it. The guy still rocks.

After a killer encore, audience members were encouraged to come up on stage and join the band in a percussion based jam. It was a little wild -- exactly as it should be.