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Seems like everywhere I go, everybody wants to know: how'd someone like me "...get so lucky, you little jerk?" Well, the questions of these idiots are really quite inconvenient, especially when I'm trying to forget that luck had anything to do with it. It was all hard work. And clean living. NOW GET ME A DRINK!—Good Luck Now
A Jewish-Canadian singer-songwriter on the accordion and part of the klezmer revivalist movement, Berner has gained a cult following by way of his politically charged and inflammatory lyrics, as well as his satirical sense of thought-provoking humor.
Originally trained on the piano, Berner picked up the accordion on a whim when it was suggested to him, and went on to form the eclectic punk band Terror of Tiny Town. Berner's political views occasionally appeared in that group's material; eventually, Terror of Tiny Town became the victim of financial troubles and was forced to disband. Berner released his first solo recording in 2000, an EP containing some re-recordings of Terror of Tiny Town material, and a studio album in the same style was released in 2003.
Not long after, Berner shifted his attention to klezmer and was determined to aid in restoring the dying music style to its former glory, if not further. He studied under the Romanian masters of the craft (where he nearly died from alcohol poisoning, as chronicled in "Song Written in a Romanian Hospital") and released his first klezmer album, Whiskey Rabbi, in 2005. This album would be the first in a trilogy of klezmer albums.
He has served as a support act for Kaizers Orchestra on several occasions, and was in fact one of the first people to ever witness a live performance by them, as he had been deported to Norway for a short time in 2000. Has written an instructional booklet on how to be an accordion player.
Albums Geoff Berner has released:
- We Shall Not Flag or Fail, We Shall Go On to the End (2003)
- Live in Oslo (2004)
- Whiskey Rabbi (2005)
- The Wedding Dance of the Widow Bride (2007)
- Klezmer Mongrels (2008)
- Victory Party (2011)
The music of Geoff Berner provides examples of
- Album Title Drop: "Widow Bride". Not only that, three more songs on the album have the word "bride" in the title.
- Audience Participation Song: Plenty of the songs in his repertoire, perhaps most notably "Daloy Polizei", which requires that the audience shout "FUCK THE POLICE!" at the top of their lungs.
- Author Appeal: Many, many, MANY songs about, or referencing, whiskey.
- Author Tract: Every now and then (with parodic intent), but most obviously "Rabbi Berner Finally Reveals His True Religious Agenda", in which he reveals his true religious agenda and his interpretation of the purpose of the Bible.
- Bald of Awesome: Who are you to deny it?
- Big Rock Ending: Used frequently live. Not as much on record, but "Weep, Bride, Weep" is an example.
- Big Screwed-Up Family: "Song to Reconcile". Two of them, actually.
- Call-and-Response Song: "Rabbi Berner Finally Reveals His True Religious Agenda". (Are you ready? YES WE'RE READY!)
- Car Song: Averted; "Songs about cars and angels and the rain" are just some of the things Berner claims promote boredom in "The True Enemy".
- Careful with That Axe / Scatting: A whole lot, particularly live. And his voice lends itself more to this purpose as the years go by, and the whiskey bottles are emptied. A particularly nasty shock for those who went from We Shall Not Flag or Fail... to Whiskey Rabbi. For a specific song example, there's "Queen Victoria".
- Cluster F-Bomb: Mild example, but the coda to "Lucky Goddamn Jew" becomes this.
- Cover Version:
- Has recorded one for a majority of his albums (the exception being Whiskey Rabbi), by artists such as Leonard Cohen and Slutarded. In concert, he covered American singer-songwriter Carmaig de Forest constantly for several years (even recording his song "In the Year 2020" for his first album), but his focus has since shifted to Kris Demeanor (whose song "One Shoe" he recorded for Klezmer Mongrels).
- Conversely, Berner has himself been covered: the Be Good Tanyas' version of "Light Enough to Travel" became a hit for them in Canada.
- Darker and Edgier: Whiskey Rabbi. Although his lyrics were darkly humorous from the very beginning of his career, this was the first time the instruments sounded the part.
- And The Wedding Dance of the Widow Bride goes even further.
- Double Entendre: "Fukher". He even explains in the song that it means "hand fan", but as the song progresses, the increasingly suggestive contexts in which he uses it has us all wondering...
- Dystopia / Real Life Writes the Plot: "The Victory Party", about the end of World War Two depicts an anything but cheerful search for some sort of victory party in a German town.
- Educational Song: "Maginot Line" tells everything worth knowing about the subject.
- Epic Riff: "Song Written in a Romanian Hospital", "And Promises to Break Before I Sleep", "Wealthy Poet", the list goes on. Though keep in mind these are all violin riffs.
- Four More Measures: "Whiskey Rabbi".
- Golem: "OH! MY! GOLEM!"
- He Also Did: Was a screenwriter for Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy. No joke.
- Heavy Meta: "Authentic Klezmer Wedding Band".
- Hidden Track: "High School Cruiser" from the Light Enough to Travel EP.
- I Call It Vera / Iconic Item: His accordion, "Estella".
- Idiosyncratic Album Theming: Songs about luck.
- Instrumentals: "A Blimp Made of Human Skin" from his Light Enough to Travel EP. Also, the instrumental version of "Weep, Bride, Weep".
- Keep Circulating the Tapes: Good luck finding a copy of Live in Oslo.
- Long List / Listing Cities: "Shut In".
Geoff Berner: This next verse is just a list of bars that I have drunken, some are dead and some are living, in my life I've loved them all.
- Lullaby: "That's What Keeps the Rent Down, Baby": an impoverished parental figure explains to their child that they should be grateful for all the terrible things (murder, prostitutes, thievery, etc.) that goes in in their neighborhood, as that's what keeps the rent down. Baby.
- Lyrical Dissonance: A favorite of Berner's. "Laughing Jackie the Pimp", being a children's song about an abusive pimp, and his chipper delivery of the "Official Theme for the 2010 Vancouver / Whistler Olympic Games" (described below).
- Murder Ballad: "Traitor Bride".
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: Victory Party features some instances of this.
- New Sound Album: Victory Party, after a trilogy of albums with mostly the same musical approach, includes plenty of different genres and eclectic musical instruments.
- No-Hit Wonder: Nothing even close to one.
- Obligatory Bondage Song: "Queen Victoria".
- Obsession Song: "Iron Grey", whose protagonist is a wanted criminal deeply in love with a spot welder.
- Ode to Intoxication: "The Way That Girl Drinks Beer" is basically the Gospel of Intoxication. They don't call him the "Whiskey Rabbi" for nothin'.
- One-Man Band: When touring without his klezmer backing band, which is a majority of the time.
- Rearrange the Song: "Volcano God" went from a sparsely-embellished acoustic accordion version to a full-fledged klezmer trio version from his first album to his second.
- Also, "The Rich Are Going to Move to the High Ground", a rather upbeat song about social standings (originally a free download from his official website) was rerecorded as a stark and sparse song in a completely different key on Klezmer Mongrels.
- Refuge in Audacity: His entire act, but most notably his "Official Theme for the 2010 Vancouver / Whistler Olympic Games", in which he accuses the Olympic committee of shutting down departments investigating children's deaths to pay for the event.
- Also made remarks about Volkswagen and their ties to Nazi Germany at an event which they sponsored.
- Rule of Three: His "Klezmer Trilogy": Whiskey Rabbi, The Wedding Dance of the Widow Bride, and Klezmer Mongrels. Furthermore, all three albums contain a song with the word "luck" in their title. Berner has confirmed "Good Luck Now" to be a sequel to "Lucky Goddamn Jew"; the third, "Luck in Exile" appears to share no connection with the others besides the title.
- Sampling: "Public Relations", specifically the Terror of Tiny Town version, incorporates snippets of Richard E. Grant's dialogue from How to Get Ahead in Advertising, a British black comedy film. The film deals with the same subject as the song; namely, the apparently amoral and deceptive advertising industry.
- Screw the War, We're Partying: "The Victory Party", although technically it's a post-war party. The way to the Victory Party is crowded with horrors.
- Sequel Song: As mentioned before, "Good Luck Now" is a sequel to "Lucky Goddamn Jew".
- Soprano and Gravel: "Mayn Rue Platz (My Resting Place)", in which Berner is joined by a female duo singing in Mandarin.
- Step Up to the Microphone: Lead vocal duties are handed to Diona Davies, usually Berner's violinist, for "Drunk All Day" and "Jail". She also sings "In Spite of Ourselves" (a cover of the John Prine song recorded for the Live in Oslo album) as a duet with Berner.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: One on each album.
- Take That: "Phoney Drawl", in which Berner implies that fellow Canadian artist Fred Eaglesmith's rural accent is not genuine, remarking on how it "disappears like magic when Revenue Canada is on the line."
- Also, bears a grudge against the Vancouver police (any police force at all, seems like), which surfaces in at least five songs he has recorded.
- Teenage Death Songs: "Special Death Town", written and recorded for Terror of Tiny Town.
- Three Chords and the Truth: A klezmer progression found throughout his career.
- Trademark Favorite Drink: Whiskey. He has written more songs about, or containing references to the stuff, than can be counted on both hands. The subject of the song "The Whiskey" (which may or may not be autobiographical) is a person whose very conception he owes to whiskey.
- Vocal Evolution: Berner's voice has gotten progressively rougher and grainier. Whiskey has nothing to do with it.
- Yiddish as a Second Language: Surfaces in his material every now and then.