A Keen Observer

Dan Bern promo photo by Judd Irish Bradley

Published in The Kitchener Waterloo Record, July 24 1997, to advance a performance at Friday, July 25 at the Hillside Festival in Guelph, Ontario




By Nick Krewen

We don’t have a picture of folk singer and songwriter Dan Bern to show you, and perhaps it’s just as well.

The 31-year-old Iowa native, who headlines tomorrow (Friday) night at Guelph’s Hillside Festival, is concerned about retaining his anonymity as his self-titled debut album draws more and more attention around the world.

“The problem with recognition is that it takes away my ability to watch people,” Bern said yesterday, a few hours after landing at Pearson Airport after performing at the Vancouver Folk Festival.

“I’m the type of person who likes to hang out with people, walk and wander. I like being somewhere where nobody knows who I am. If people are aware of you, then they’re aware of being watched, and they act differently.”

Bern’s fly-on-the-wall technique has stood him good stead over the years: his song catalogue numbers over 1000 compositions.

“Choosing which songs to make the album was the most difficult decision I had to make,” confesses the soft-spoken Bern, who makes Los Angeles his home during the 65 days he’s not on the road.

Bearing an uncanny singing resemblance to Bob Dylan, the articulate Bern plays down the comparison.

“The weird thing is, I get asked that a lot. He never does,” Bern says. “I wonder what he would say. ‘You know, you’re singing recalls Dan Bern. What? I don’t sound like him.'”

An astute observer with a healthy dose of sarcasm on songs such as “King Of The World”and “Marilyn,” a fantasy that ponders what would have happened had Hollywood’s leading sex symbol had married novelist Henry Miller instead of playwright Arthur.

“I think our fascination with those people, those icons, is that they represent something within ourselves — I think the turmoil,” Bern notes. “I think in the past, people were looking for a model, and the tendency was to try to emulate the best act that you could, looking for examples of how they had done things.

“More and more though, I feel like I’m going down my own path. It’s come to a point where I say, `Okay, my next step is going to be a Dan Bern step.'”

An avid baseball fan who religiously follows The San Francisco Giants, Bern says he took up the guitar when he was 15 in order to write songs. Did he ever have aspirations of becoming a pro baseball athlete?

“Oh yeah. I had aspirations about being the Pope, too,” laughs Bern. “I don’t think anybody’s going to hand me the uniform.”