Geoff Berner

Geoff Berner
Geoff Berner has flowered some on his latest, thanks specifically to a firsthand immersion into the domain of Romanian Klezmer music and a less actor-ish approach to songwriting. Titles found here like "Lucky God Damn Jew” and "Unlistenable Song” might make you think again, but Berner shows increasing maturity and reserve while still being catchy. For example, he sings that "boredom is the true enemy,” blaming all the evils of the world from Pontius Pilate to Osama Bin Laden to Vancouver cops pounding on protestors on ennui. Like his far-distant relation Dan Bern, Berner too claims to be a messiah of sorts, though in a much less jock-ish way. The album, built almost entirely on fiddles, accordions and aggressive lyrics, still manages to be a lot of fun, albeit dark fun. The drumming is notably native, too. It is a tribal statement of a sort, but Berner also erases pigeonholing by recording the words of a radical Palestinian poet as a Klezmer song. An international album, as opposed to one with universal appeal — especially thanks to liberal use of the f- and c-words. But we don’t only read novels to find out about our little corner of the world, right? Above all, I like the lessons Berner teaches us about being himself.

What happened to make you mature so much? I really found my true calling. I’ve concluded a journey that I’ve been on; I was moving in search of who I am and then I arrived. I went to rural Romania and found out where Klezmer music really came from and how much less different from my own punk roots it is than I thought. There’s that same aggression — it’s about an emotional expression rather than any technical perfection. I’m more than just a musician now, I’m a religious figure.

You delved into something more personal to find a universal truth? It’s not any different than what Neko Case did by searching out her Virginian grandmother’s music.

Your inclusion of Palestinian prose could be seen as brave. You’re playing with interesting fire… I think there’s a Jewish ethical tenet that goes a lot like that, that you have to keep fighting the good fight, whether or not you win. Making progress is immaterial — you just keep going because that’s who you are, not for results. I hope people are offended. I did it so people would be offended.