About the Author

Geoff Berner

Geoff Berner is the author of two novels, Festival Man and The Fiddler Is a Good Woman, and a graphic novel, We Are Going To Bremen To Be Musicians. He is also a touring singer/songwriter/accordion player who has released 6 albums and played in 17 countries. He is a graduate of the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia. He lives in Vancouver.

Books by this Author
The Fiddler Is a Good Woman

Beginning of rejected forty-page article, submitted to BC Musician Magazine, 2015 (postmarked Macedonia)

Of course I’m not dead. Reports of my demise have been horseshit. As was that whole book, Festival Man, that Berner wrote, claiming that he was “deciphering” my handwriting from my report on the Calgary Folk Festival. Pretty fucking creative deciphering. There’s tons of shit in there that I never wrote in a million years. Now I hear he’s out there trying to write something about that little gap-toothed fiddler, the one they call “DD.” Well, I wish her luck, because he sure did a hatchet job on me.
Well I don’t know where to begin. For example, he’s got me calling him a “lying Jew bastard,” as if I would be stupid enough, in this day and age, knowing what I know about how this world actually runs, to write something like that for public consumption. Although in essence, when it comes to the reality of what he did to my reputation with that book, what can you say? If the little black dress shoe fits …
Among the many lies the book tells that I want to go on record about are:

  • I never said that the Artistic Director of the Calgary Folk Festival, Leslie Stark, was “semi-autistic” in her insensitivity. She is a rugged individualist, much like Yours Truly. She pulls no punches. As per same. That’s not autism, that’s Albertanism.
  • I did not know for sure that Athena Amarok was not going to fulfill the contracts we had made with the festivals in the summer of ’03. When I spent the advance for Calgary and the other advances (on perfectly legitimate expenses, I might add), it was in full expectation that she would be holding up her end of the bargain.
  • There’s no way I would have run from a conflict with Big Dave McLean in 2003. Because by 2003, Big Dave had quit drinking. Sure, when he was in full liquor mode, in the old days, I once saw him jump on the roof of a Winnipeg cop cruiser outside the Royal Albert Hotel and rip the sirens off it with his bare hands. But by 2001 he was sober. A non-violent, Gandhian pussycat. So that proves I would not have been intimidated by him.

Also I did not spit on Stan Rogers’s widow at the Stan Rogers Festival. Although I do despise the song “Amazing Grace,” which she had chosen as the Grand Finale number for the festival, where everybody gets onstage and sings Kumbaya-style together. I truly despise “Amazing Grace.” People say Christianity is a Slave Religion, but I’d say it’s more like an Overseer’s Religion, and that nasty little ditty is like a manual for the whole Christian Empire — do a ton of horrible shit, grab the goodies, keep ’em, ask God for Forgiveness, and then, you know, just call it even and no hard feelings all around, right? So in a way, it’s a perfect song to sing as the Grand Finale on the mainstage at the end of the Stan Rogers Festival, now that I think of it. But I never spat on Stan Rogers’s widow. He was a phony-baloney manufacturer of fake “Canadian” culture that got overplayed on the national radio station for Imperial purposes. But I never spat on his widow.
Plus there’s a whole shit-ton of stuff Berner got wrong about my exploits during the Siege of Sarajevo, and he probably put some people in grave danger because of that. There’s just a whole shit-ton of stuff that you can check against the historical record, and the chain of events he describes just don’t add up. I’m not going to go into it. It’s just horseshit. That’s all. After a book like that, it’s pretty clear nobody in their right mind ought to trust Geoff Berner, ever again.
Who would have thunk that a book like that would be such a success? Bestseller lists in Europe, sale of film rights, etc. I’m pretty much certain that Berner’s holding out on me for some of the royalties, although I can’t prove it. The man has a lawyer’s mind. And I don’t mean that as a compliment. He’s got a weird way about dough. It was always difficult getting him to pony up front for my grant writing and other services. Yet he never seemed to get evicted or have to pawn his instruments, like a lot of my clients over the years. Frankly, I suspect there’s some sort of family money there. I can smell it. I see him and his soft hands, and his suspicious tendency to never look you in the eye, and I think, There’s a man who’s never had to really work for a living. Now he’s getting all these accolades, he’s getting a big head, but let’s face it, as a prose writer, he’s not much more than a two-bit Canuck Kinky Friedman.
Anyway, as you can see, I have not expired, and I never contemplated throwing myself in the river or whatever. Berner just left the story “open-ended” for the sake of pretentious drama, I’m sure. He’s threatening to become one of those “I don’t provide answers, I just ask questions” Artiste types that I despise. If he hadn’t written one or two decent songs, I would never have dealt with him at all.
I just needed to clear out of Dodge for a little bit, to let things cool down for a while. I called Dugg Simpson, artistic director of the Vancouver Folk Festival before the ungrateful board of directors shitcanned him (don’t get me started about boards of directors). I called Dugg before I left town. I asked him how bad the fallout had been from everything that happened that summer, and he said — I’ll never forget this — “You could not see the sky for smoke from bridges burning.” So, yeah, I figured it was time to give Canada a break from Cam Ouiniette. So people could remember how much they missed me.
In case you people don’t already know, Berner is out there looking for DD. He’s written to me via snail mail here. I can’t say exactly where I am, for several reasons, but I’ll go so far as to reveal that I’m somewhere in the Balkan Peninsula. Berner found me somehow and sent one of his grotesquely twee little missives, full of five-dollar words and hyperbolized mock-politeness, like a Chinese gangster in a 1920s private-eye story.
He wants my help looking for DD, because, in his words, he reckons that I have “the deepest working experience of anyone I know at effectively going to ground.” How do you like that? Cheeky sonofabitch.
Well if he wants my help, he can fucking whistle for it, as far as I’m concerned.
It’s funny, when DD was just another pointy-toothed vagabond rounder, for years she was well and truly lost, but nobody was trying to find her. Like most poor people in this world. Then she writes a hit song by accident, and suddenly she’s a mysterious recluse.
Well fuck that. If she wants to be left alone, I say leave her the fuck alone. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
But I will say, if you’re looking for a fiddler, you have to think like a fiddler. Berner knows what that means. Or he ought to.
Erratic. Psychologically wounded. Let’s just say it straight: crazy. They all are, fiddlers. Instruments select for certain personality types. That’s a scientific fact. Violins are tiny wooden boxes stretched by cat guts till they almost break. Then you drag the hair from a horse’s tail back and forth over it, and you’re supposed to make music with that. Beautiful music is expected, and there’s no hiding in the background, like with a bass, which determines the groove of a band, but which no one actively listens to besides bass players and strippers. Here’s a riddle: How many bass players were at the party? Answer: Who cares? The fiddle is the opposite. It keens away in the high mid-frequencies, like a mother’s voice, so everybody who ever had a mother is biologically attuned to listening for it.
And of course there’s no markings on a violin to tell you where the hell the note is supposed to be. No frets. You’re just supposed to feel where your fingers should go. With your ears, mind you. Fuck. If you’re not insane when you take up an instrument like that, you will be soon enough, and history proves me right on that score. Think of Nero, just as a for-instance.
Like the sound of the violin itself, fiddlers’ mental health statuses skidder all over the place on their way up and down and around the intended note. And have you seen how much fucking sugar a fiddler puts in her coffee? Jebus.
So like I say, if you’re looking for a fiddler, think like a fiddler. Which of course Berner can’t do because he’s another breed of fish entirely. Singer-songwriter, which is hardly even a musician at all, mostly. You think Berner could get hired as a sideman accordionist? No way. Not good enough. Singer-songwriters have a whole other type of being. Absent-minded, self-absorbed, sensitive, but not to the right things that might help them get along in this world. Most of them are relatively genial people, unless they’re in the presence of somebody who might help their careers, in which case they all turn into terminally grumpy dickheads, determined to show their fierce in dependent-mindedness, but just coming off as surprisingly ignorant assholes.
I say most, because of course there are exceptions, like Cole Dixon, still my favourite country guy, who’s a very astute businessman, but Berner’s not one of those. He’s a garden-variety, daydreaming, self-sabotaging singer-songwriter. Good luck catching a fiddler with a screwy mind like that. For all we know, she’s been leaving him clues left, right, and centre and he’s just been too obtuse to notice. That’s a very real possibility.
Of course, DD is not your ordinary fiddler. That’s true.
Anyway, getting to the main subject, the state of folk music festivals in Canada today …

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