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True North
Cover of True North
True North
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One of the all-time greats in Canadian music recounts his life and times in the business from the 1960s to the present. Whether acting as a producer, record label owner, or manager of great singer/songwriters and bands, Bernie Finkelstein, recipient of the 2006 Juno Special Achievement Award, has played a pivotal role in bringing great Canadian music to the rest of the world.

Bernie Finkelstein has been a prominent figure in the Canadian music industry for nearly five decades. Now, a couple years after selling his beloved True North label and only recently stepping down from his role at MuchFACT, which has given out more than $63 million in grants to Grammy-winning acts like Sarah McLachlan, Nelly Furtado and Arcade Fire, Bernie is finally ready to talk. In this wildly entertaining and outspoken memoir, the producer, label owner, and artist manager opens up about his childhood, breaking into the Greenwich Village scene with The Paupers at age 19, discovering Bruce Cockburn, producing the "loudest band in the world," Kensington Market, managing and producing Murray McLauchlan, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, and Rough Trade, winning 40 Junos, and much more.
One of the all-time greats in Canadian music recounts his life and times in the business from the 1960s to the present. Whether acting as a producer, record label owner, or manager of great singer/songwriters and bands, Bernie Finkelstein, recipient of the 2006 Juno Special Achievement Award, has played a pivotal role in bringing great Canadian music to the rest of the world.

Bernie Finkelstein has been a prominent figure in the Canadian music industry for nearly five decades. Now, a couple years after selling his beloved True North label and only recently stepping down from his role at MuchFACT, which has given out more than $63 million in grants to Grammy-winning acts like Sarah McLachlan, Nelly Furtado and Arcade Fire, Bernie is finally ready to talk. In this wildly entertaining and outspoken memoir, the producer, label owner, and artist manager opens up about his childhood, breaking into the Greenwich Village scene with The Paupers at age 19, discovering Bruce Cockburn, producing the "loudest band in the world," Kensington Market, managing and producing Murray McLauchlan, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, and Rough Trade, winning 40 Junos, and much more.
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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    I'd been watching the birds hopping around on the ground and eating at the feeders I'd put up. Grosbeaks, blue jays, and the occasional brilliant red cardinal. They were strikingly beautiful against the snow. It was easy to get lost in watching them, and why not? I'd sold True North about eighteen months earlier and had gone from being involved in twenty-one acts to only working hands-on with one, Bruce Cockburn.

    Luckily for me, Bruce had decided to take off some time just around the period I had made the sale. So I had time on my hands, and I was spending a whole lot of it looking out this window, and a few others in the County, and I was loving it. I knew it was just a matter of time till things started to happen again, but I also knew it would never be the same.

    When I picked up the phone, it was Michael Cohl on the other line. Michael Cohl. If I could be considered successful at all then Michael was Croesus himself.

    Was it really forty years ago that we had casually smoked a joint together in Yorkville? Things were different then. We both were getting started in Toronto's Yorkville district. While I had already been managing two bands, the Paupers and Kensington Market, there was no question that Michael was going to become someone special. And he certainly did. In 1989, he bought the rights to, and produced, the Rolling Stones' Silver Wheels tour, which went on to become the world's most successful tour to that date.

    Receiving Michael's call startled me. As much as I'd liked him, we hadn't stayed in touch. He told me he was going to produce a show at New York's Madison Square Garden to celebrate Pete Seeger's ninetieth birthday on May 3 and wanted to know if Bruce would like to participate. The only other act he'd booked at the time of the call was the other Bruce -- Springsteen -- but he was now working on the lineup and it promised to be a good one. After a quick call to Cockburn, who was more than happy to do the show, I called Michael back and confirmed.

    Of course we would do the show. It was a no-brainer. What a great way to start things rolling again, and the concert was a natural fit. This would not be the first show we had done to celebrate the great Peter Seeger. Bruce had done a concert in Philadelphia on May15, 2005, to acknowledge Pete's fifty years of writing the "Appleseeds" column in the venerable folk magazine Sing Out! That concert, at the 1,400-seat Keswick Theatre, included Judy Collins, Natalie Merchant, Janis Ian, and Pete himself. But now that Michael had become involved, the event had moved to the 18,000-seat Madison Square Garden. When I mentioned this to Michael his modest response was, "That's what happens when you have Bruce Springsteen involved."

    The show ended up with more than fifty artists on the bill, including Dave Matthews, John Mellencamp, Joan Baez, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, and Ani DiFranco, just to name a few. PBS signed on to broadcast the concert across the United States and then to release it on DVD. Because of the number of acts on the show, various artist pairings and ensemble numbers were going to be set up.

    Everyone was to do one or two Pete Seeger numbers, or at least songs associated with Pete over the years. We had requested that Bruce do "Turn, Turn, Turn," a song he had recorded on a Pete Seeger tribute album, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, in 1998. But when Roger McGuinn from the Byrds was added to the show, naturally he was given the song that the group had taken all the way to number 1 in 1965.

    But all's well that ends well. Bruce was paired up with his friend Ani DiFranco to do the old union working song, "Which Side Are You On?" His...

About the Author-
  • BERNIE FINKELSTEIN has been a prominent figure in the Canadian music industry for over 40 years. In 1969, Bernie founded True North Records (now Canada's oldest and longest running indie record label) and The Finkelstein Management Company. Since its inception, the label has sold more than 40 gold and platinum records and received more than 40 Junos. Throughout his career, Bernie has been known for nurturing and managing career artists including Murray McLauchlan, Barney Bentall, Dan Hill, and Blackie & the Rodeo Kings. Bernie is also still active as the manager of legendary Canadian artist Bruce Cockburn. In 1984, Bernie co-founded MuchFACT, a fund backed by MuchMusic and MuchMore that provides grants to Canadian artists like Arcade Fire, Sarah McLachlan, Nelly Furtado and k-os. He is a member of the Order of Canada, and an inductee of the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame.

Reviews-
  • Robert Charles Wilson, Hugo Award-winning author of Spin

    "A fast-paced, fascinating tour of the tumultuous birth of the Canadian music industry, by an insider who knows the business and the personalities better than anyone else. Gripping, gritty and gracefully written -- it doesn't get better than this."

  • Dave Bidini, author of On a Cold Road "Bernie Finkelstein is an able and charming guide through the beginnings of a music scene that most of us now take for granted. In this book, he moves Zelig-like through some of the most salient moments in modern pop history; never invasive, but never impersonal. A wild and true read."
  • Bruce Cockburn "From the very beginnings of the music industry in Canada to the unfolding present, Bernie Finkelstein has been at the centre of the goings on. His unique perspective provides the framework for this book. On that frame hangs a wondrous array of stories both personal and public; encounters with figures known and unknown whose presence has shaped the music scene as we know it. This is must-read for anybody who wants an inside view of how we got where we are. Pour yourself a glass of wine and listen to Bernie tell his tale..."
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