The Big Work - I continue to tell you to listen to Dan Bern Pt. 2 - the EPs

I like EPs. They're always nice quick listens - really good for trying to get a feel for an artist. But the obvious complaint that EPs get is that they are often showcases for one or two really good songs, then a couple tracks of filler, just enough to get a proper release. There are obvious exceptions to the rule but there isn't an artist who releases those exceptions at the rate of Dan Bern. His EPs are mini highlight reels, with song after song after high quality song. Minus one or two minor missteps that we'll discuss here, picking up any of Bern's EPs is sure to reward you with a deep, rich listening experience, inside of a nice compact listening time. For all your feeling needs, on the go!

Dog Boy Van (1997)

Jerusalem is on here. We glossed over it in part 1, but it looms so large in the world of Dan Bern, its inclusion on Dog Boy Van (Released prior to Dan Bern) warrants a little more discussion. It's a beautiful, funny song. It's like the Big Lebowski of songs, rewarding you with something new every time you take it in. I'm sure it's an amazing feeling to have a song that touches so many people, but, Dan Bern fans, I think we should make a pact to stop yelling out requests for it at live shows. In a catalogue of hundreds of songs anyone would be proud to call their own, let us collectively stop asking for the one that the man has undoubtedly played at least two thousand times. *Ahem*

"Hannibal," my second favourite set of Bern lyrics (First belongs to "Fly Away" from Fleeting Days), is thoughtful and vicious. Bern once told me that it's all in the tuning. Some of it might be there in the tuning, but he's hitting the guitar with a very specific kind of righteous violence. I'm desperate to put a sample of the lyrics here but I can't pick a part, so just check the whole thing out. I've heard both "Kurt" and "Live Another Day" countless times and I still feel that lump in my throat every time I hear them. "Oklahoma" is like the great sad movie that you can only watch once or twice. It's the last song and the easiest one to not hear when I put the album on. It's a song of tremendous feeling and power and I skip it every time.

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The Big Work - I try to explain why you should listen to Dan Bern by listening to all of the Dan Bern. Pt.1

“When I tell you that I love you don’t test my love, accept my love, don’t test my love, ‘cause maybe I don’t love you all that much.” – from “Jerusalem” (Dog Boy Van EP, Dan Bern)

That’s a bold way to introduce oneself to the world and with both his first EP and full-length debut, Dan Bern did it twice. If you look at the words long enough or hear them sung enough times you can see it all right there, the lifeline that runs through one of the most consistently strong songwriting careers this side of <BLANK> (You can fill this in with any songwriter you like that was going before 1996). It’s a short simple string of words that is at once audacious, painfully self-aware, slightly nihilistic, dripping with feeling and most importantly (?) very Funny.

I discovered the music of Dan Bern sometime around my last couple of years in high school, when I was just starting to fumble around in the dark, attempting to carve an identity for myself. By this time, Bern had released three full-length records (Dan Bern, Fifty Eggs & Smartie Mine), so there was a lot to devour. A music nerd from my youngest days I was pretty well versed in guys with guitars, but I’d never heard anything like this. Listening to these first few Bern records broke something important in my head, set it free and permanently changed my core temperature. It’s difficult to overstate the importance this man’s music has held in my life and as such, don’t read on looking for scathing criticism (Spoiler: I'm a fan of his work across the board), but rather to remember or learn some stuff about one of the great songwriters of our time and the important connections made between people and art.

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5 Questions with Rags 1 Year Anniversary Spectacular w/ Dan Bern!

Last month Dan Bern released, Hoody, the latest in a neverending string solid-to-classic records. (I am currently attempting to tackle all of said records in one massive review. I'm struggling. But keep an eye out for it soon. You can read my short review of Hoody for exclaim! here.) The album is further proof to my claim that Dan Bern is one of the greatest living songwriters. His albums have come to serve as marking points in my life. They always have something to give me, whether it be a nugget of wisdom to ponder, a few tears to clean out the ducts or a laugh to get me through a day. His music has been a constant source of inspiration, in fact, if you recall, Dan Bern is the main reason this 5 Questions exists as well as the first answerer of the questions. Doing this over the last year has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. With that in mind, I caught up with Bern last month at his stop here in Victoria and asked him if he'd be into coming back for Round 2 to ring in another year. Just like last time, we did it completely unprepared after the show. I wrote frantically as he answered the questions. The meat is here and the trimmings are in my mind. Don't worry about it. 5 wasn't enough, so we did 10. It's a special occasion. Enjoy.

*As this is the 1 Year Anniversary of the 5 Questions, I've taken a "Best of" approach for this Q&A Extravaganza and taken some of the best Guest Questions.

1. When is the last time you did something for the first time? (DJ Murge)

I don’t recall but I know the next thing I’m going to do for the first time is learn to ride a unicycle. I made a pact with a friend that I would learn. I really gotta get on that.

2. If you could spend a day with anyone living or dead who would it be and what would you do? (The Gaff)

I’d spend a day with my dad. Maybe we’d go to the movies. Or I’d spend the day with my family, just doing what we do.

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5 Questions With Rags #1: Dan Bern


Not only am I proud to say that Bern is the first entry into this new (hopefully ongoing) series, Five Questions With Blake, I am overjoyed to say that Bern himself actually helped CONCEIVE this idea in the dark of Hermann’s Jazz Club in my hometown of Victoria, BC, after his show on October 3. The questions come from myself and four other fans that I spent the evening with, including my good friend and screenwriting guy Ben Rollo. In future I'm hoping to include not just musicians, but people from all walks of life and disciplines who might have some interesting things to say. But for now we start where everything seems to start for me, music. So, without further ado, I give you the first of this simple little thing that I hope is going be around a little while.

(Note: This was conceived and executed in the most impromptu of manners. I did not have a recording device of any kind, just a notepad and pen culled from other members of the group. I pieced this back together from hastily and terribly written notes.)"

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I talk to one of my musical heroes, Dan Bern, and can't help gushing with praise.

For over 10 years Dan Bern has been a staple of my listening diet. His music has helped me through more of my life than almost anything else I've heard in my time on this planet. When it became clear that my time as a weekly columnist at the Martlet may be coming to an end (It isn't ending. My column will continue in the fall.) I had to think of someone great to cap off the year with and I'm still so grateful that Dan was so easy to access and willing to talk to me.  The conversation starts a bit slow, but really picks up steam part-way in and we covered some fascinating stuff. There was a lot of fan-boy praise involved and I think it made Bern a tad uncomfortable at times, but it was necessary for me to able to continue with the interview. I've wanted to thank him for years and getting the chance to do it properly is something I will cherish as long as I can remember it. ​

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