Back in those days, you could get discovered by people like Bernie, and have your life and musical career take off!
In 1969, I was far too young to hang out at Yorkville, Toronto, the mecca of the bohemian Canadian music scene. Heck, I didn’t live in Toronto until 1984. But my spirit and heart must have been there even at 8 years or age because the music that came out of that period made me feel more alive than any dogma or social conditioning my parents were trying to instill in me.
Artist such as Bruce Cockburn, Murray McLaughlin, The Paupers, Kensington Market and Rough Trade were…. so fresh and progressive compared to mainstream music and my Mom’s (bless her heart) endless playing of Roger Whittaker. Their songs helped to shaped how I felt about myself, opened my eyes to what music could be, and changed my perspective on life. They inspired me with their words, their boldness, rawness, honesty, and unique sounds. They not only inspired me, they inspired a whole generation. So, when I had a chance to chat with Bernie Finkelstein, in person, I grabbed it.
Bernie was in town for the Ottawa release of his memoirs, True North. It was held at The Elmdale Tavern, the perfect venue for the occasion; rustic and unscathed by stylized trends, and filled with photos of bands and memorabilia going back decades. And for those of us who were present for Bernie’s meet and greet, it was an experience of stepping back in time.
Harvey Glatt was in attendance, and Ken Rockburn was on hand as moderator… some fairly big names in Canadian broadcasting. I met and interviewed Ken a couple years back for a radio feature series I produced for CKCU’s 35th anniversary. So, I was delighted to catch up with him.
As I pulled out my recorder, I noticed the batteries were low. I had been at WestFest just a mere 2 hours before interviewing The Cooper Brothers and Al Wood (Al Wood and The Woodsmen). And now, when I wanted to capture a moment of Canadian music history, I prayed the batteries would hold out. (I’m not the most technically savvy person on the planet… But holy shit, girl! Extra batteries in the purse would have come in handy). Disappointed and embarrassed, I faked it… praying and hoping the batteries would hold up. And they did!
The recording isn’t the best with the all the background noise in the tavern, but it’s quite endearing. Unrefined and unplanned; two people just chatting in a bar…. (and yah, my ‘gaga’ little girl came out rather than the composed media professional). But it was all okay just being me and Bernie Finkelstein being, well… Bernie Finkelstein! That’s what I wanted… the person behind the success. And the icing on the cake despite all my fumbling? He leaned over, and with genuine warmth said, “I quite enjoyed our chat.”
When it came time for him to take centre stage in front of the crowd, he was just as endearing, gentle, humourous and candid. With his wife, Elizabeth, sitting next to me at the back of the room, he took eager ears back to his beginnings, his perspective on the times, the reason for his success, and his great adventure he called, True North Records.
His next big adventure? Retirement … whatever that means or entails. A little of this and a little bit of that… catching up on some reading in his backyard… and of course, after years of promoting others, now sharing his journey through his True North memoirs.
I can’t say enough on how much of a treat this experience was for me. And if I can get my act together, I’ll post the audio for your listening pleasure!