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Finkelstein’s Life Inside the Music Business highlights PEC Authors’ Festival

Bernie Finkelstein - Daniel Keebler photo

Bernie Finkelstein, one of the all-time greats in Canadian music, will launch a memoir of his life in the business during this week’s Prince Edward County Author’s Festival.

As a producer, record label owner and manager of great singer/songwriters and bands, Finkelstein has played a pivotal role in bringing great Canadian music to the rest of the world.

However, he opens his book ‘True North (A Life in the Music Business)’ explaining that it is not a history of the Canadian music business.
“It’s my story, the world of music through my eyes and experiences,” Finkelstein says.

He wrote his book over the past few years from his farm house in Ameliasburgh. How the Toronto resident landed here in the County was purely happenstance.

“We were visiting my wife’s family near Kingston,” Finkelstein recounts. “We had always wanted a country home and that day we happened to take the ferry back and drove through Picton. We had never been here before but ended up stopping at the Royal LePage office… and for the last four years, we have been living in the farm house.”

“I have to say I’m enamoured with all the wine here in Prince Edward County, so it’s fitting that Richard Johnston, owner of By Chadsey’s Cairns, will interview me at the Author’s Festival event Friday night (April 13).”

Enhancing his memories from more than five decades in the business are many photographs from his own archive.

“The cover picture is of me receiving Murray McLauchlan’s first gold album – Boulevard. We were having a swell old time,” he laughs. “My first choice for the cover was way more conservative, but I was thrilled they offered that photo as one to choose from. It is perfect.”

A couple years after selling his beloved True North record label, and just recently stepping down from his role at MuchFACT, (which provided more than $63 million in grants for videos by Grammy-winning acts such as Sarah McLachlan, Nelly Furtado and Arcade Fire), Finkelstein was ready to tell his stories.

He opens up about his childhood, breaking into the Greenwich Village scene with The Paupers at the age of 20, discovering Bruce Cockburn, producing what might have been 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.

“It was for the joy of writing,” said Finkelstein. “It’s not a book where I dish on anybody, but you could read the book very carefully and add two and two together to come to your own conclusions.”

Bernie is still active as the manager of legendary Canadian artist Bruce Cockburn.

“We just have this easy going thing. We never had a contract. We haven’t been doing much lately. He just had a new baby at the age of 66 so he may be begging me to do some work in about six months or so,” Finkelstein laughs.

“We made 10 albums before he got his first hit. The tendency today is to be famous immediately then anonymous for 10 years… It’s so easy to make records now. It used to be a mystery. You used to need money, studios and hi-fidelity was really important. People would spend $50,000, $100,000 or even a million dollars and now, people can make a record in their basement for a few thousand dollars. It’s a transfer of power to the artist, not a bad thing, just different. People used to rely on people like me, now artists do it themselves or hire on a contract basis.”

He wrote of successes and failures, but doesn’t specifically identify them as such.

“The book,” he says, “is more about the journey than it is about any goal.”

One of the highlights for him, was writing about life in the 60s.
“I lived in Yorkville and was pretty stoned all of the time. I don’t know if I was enamoured with the era or enamoured with my youth, but the 60s was like an entire flip-over of the culture, something we haven’t seen since. Everything changed in the 60s. I enjoyed writing that part of the book, it was an opportunity to re look at it.”

Finkelstein also talks fondly of the late Walt Greslis who, with Stan Lees, co-founded Canada’s national music honours, the Juno Awards.  In 2006 Finkelstein received the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at the awards ceremony in Halifax. This is the highest honour given to a non-musician by the music industry. He received the Order of Canada in 2007.

What music does a music industry man listen to while writing?

“Jazz. Jazz with no lyrics because as soon as I hear somebody singing, I want to hear what they’re saying, so I enhanced my jazz collection.”

Meet Bernie Finkelstein Friday, April 13 at 8 p.m. at Books & Company. (no charge event) Mix & Mingle Cocktail Hour from 7-8 p.m. is $10.

True North by Bernie Finkelstein
Hardcover | 302 pages | McClelland & Stewart | 978-0-7710-4793-0| $32.99 | Biography & Autobiography

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