Grant from L.A. e-mailed me to connect with Elisa to hook up with Kevin Wall in T.O.

I’m not used to that many handlers.

I agreed to meet in the Royal Suite at 3:30.  Right after my panel with Tony Wilson and right before Kevin gave his speech.  I figured the Royal Suite was a conference room on the mezzanine level, an alternative green room.  But then, in the flurry of e-mails I was told it was on the sixteenth floor.  Network Live had a suite.

The Royal York is so fucking big, that even when I got to the sixteenth floor, I couldn’t find the suite.  Odd numbers in this direction, even in the other, annex both.  But finally, I found the right number and knocked.  And a door down the hall cracked.  This was Elisa.

Maybe it’s because my father never worked for the man.  I just don’t understand bureaucracy.  I just don’t understand an enterprise.  A team of people joined together to effect something that will shake off MILLIONS of dollars, paying everybody’s salary and returning profits to the investors.  I mean while Kevin’s pacing the floor on his cell in this space taking up a whole end of the hotel, I’m thinking that he and Elisa didn’t fly here in the back of the plane.  No, he’s too important.  And he has to have his right-hand person with him at all times in first class.  Because something truly important might occur over Des Moines, or Gary.

And when that conversation ended, when Kevin put down the phone, he clued me in on Network Live, the enterprise conceived not quite a year ago that was interrupted by his work producing Live 8, and has now launched, doing 75 concerts a year.

Oh, Kevin’s speaking the lingo.  Bytes and pull and on demand.  And I’m sitting there thinking whether I should remind him of meeting him at Raleigh Studios twenty-odd years ago, when he was just getting started in the radio business.  I figured not.  I’d only lose points.

And Kevin had it all down.  He analyzed what was wrong with MTV.  He told me what was right about Network Live.  That it was truly live, no fixes after the fact.  And that you could hear their material on XM, see it on, he has a whole bevy of partners.  And he’s nimble.  He knows that distribution probably won’t look the same in only a couple of years.

And I’m sitting there wondering what I’m supposed to do.  I’ve been doing this long enough to know that they’re not going to offer me a job, they just want me to be as excited about their venture as they are.  And to tell you the truth, I’m not that excited about today’s mainstream music.  Oh, I applaud the delivery method, but what’s going to go THROUGH those pipes?  I want something that’s going to change my life.  Kevin agreed that was coming, with artists now in control of production and distribution.  But I couldn’t keep from wondering how this guy had gotten so rich he could retire years ago and decide to come BACK and I don’t even own my own home.  Made me wonder what chip I was missing.  And why I was working for him.

Yes, that’s what I was doing.  He figured I’d write about Network Live.  And, I have.  I’m convinced.  It’s a winner.  This is a cutting edge guy.  But my main reactions were twofold.  One, a feeling of discomfort, believing I was out of my element, at the nexus where cash was coined.  Two, a feeling of being ripped off.  That I was being played for a chump.  That I could be bought for a few compliments.  It wasn’t so much money I felt I was losing, but TIME!  This was my life.  I could have been listening to a record.  I could have been talking to my girlfriend.  I could have been LIVING instead of being sold someone else’s dream.  I mean if you want to sell me your dream, PAY ME!  Make it worth my while.  And know that if you pay me, I can’t write about it, because that would be unethical.  Yup, just pay me to listen to you.  Because otherwise there’s not much in it for me.  I’m not a pawn in your game of setting the world on fire.  I don’t need to be made uncomfortable, wondering what in the hell I’m supposed to say in response, since you’re not really asking me anything, only telling me.  And I’m not a silent kind of guy.

So, don’t corral me to tell me about your new project.  Don’t try to get ahead unless there’s something in it for ME!  Not that it has to be money.  No, you can show me something cool, give me insight into life.  But don’t step on me in your grand effort to dominate the world.  You think those of us not as rich or connected as you are losers.  But we’re here on the planet too.  Awake every day.  Experiencing.  The guy on the street’s emotions, opinions, are just as valid as yours.  You can choose to set the world on fire, I’d rather listen to a great record.


In the States, everything happens behind closed doors, like in the Royal Suite.  But in Canada, everything plays out in the open.  Just hang in the lobby, sit in the bar, and you can meet every single player in the landscape.  And, they’re less interested in selling you than getting to know you.  Maybe because there’s just not that much money available.  Canada is the record business of yore.  It’s not about stars, it’s about music.  You sign an act you believe in, and you nurture it, the ultimate satisfaction coming in reaching an audience, not selling millions of records, because that’s literally impossible.

So, I’m sitting in the bar, fielding friends, being introduced to new players, and a familiar face comes up.  It’s Bernie Finkelstein.

I probably wouldn’t have recognized him, except for the video the night before.  You see Bernie looks healthy.  He’s lost a lot of weight, a hundred pounds he ultimately told me.  It’s changed him.  He’s gone from wizened old pro to rejuvenated sprite.  And he wanted to sit down and talk about it.

I’m cracking up.  It’s not like we’re best friends.  But one serious connection, thirteen years back in Vancouver at the Music West convention, was enough to cement the bond.  He considers us friends.  Whereas I’ve spent entire nights with people in the U.S. who’ve forgotten they know me a week later.

After criss-crossing the globe like a terror, Bernie had to stop three times in his journey from the plane to the baggage carousel.  Still, it wasn’t until the next day that he decided to phone his doctor.  Who saw him and immediately hospitalized him.  For four months.  Where he had bypass surgery.  And a new heart valve installed.

Oh, Bernie’s gotten religion.  He goes for rehab.  He works out every day.  He takes courses in nutrition, he can now read the table on packaged foods.  It was so funny to interact.  It’s like Bernie got a whole new lease on life.  Pulling up just shy of the cliff, Bernie decided, unlike the major labels, to take a new tack.

Not that he’s running True North any differently.

Bernie’s not like an American.  He’s not a MOTHERFUCKER!  You wouldn’t want to talk deal with Irving Azoff unless your attorney was present.  And that STILL might not be enough to protect you.  I love Irving, but Irving’s a winner.  Bernie’s just a player on the landscape, the little engine that could.

Not that Bernie doesn’t have balls.  Hell, it takes cojones to depart T.O. for New York City when you’re not quite twenty, getting into business with Albert Grossman on the Paupers.

But eventually, Bernie came back to the Great White North and got into business with Bruce Cockburn.

Oh, Bernie’s put out hundreds of records on his label.  And managed hit acts.  But they’re frosting, the cake is Bruce Cockburn.  How can a man who never really had a hit survive?  Bruce isn’t like Benny Mardones, someone who had a smash and then was never heard from again.  Rather, MOST people haven’t heard of Bruce Cockburn.  But those who have, have never forgotten him.  Because he touches them.

Bruce Cockburn business is good.  Elbow just put one of his songs on a b-side, Barenaked Ladies’ cover of "Lovers In A Dangerous Time" is on their greatest hits record.  His songs are his and Bernie’s annuity.  They’re paying dividends all these years later.  When nobody wants the records Clive Davis made just a few years ago, those manufactured slick pop masterpieces.  No, a true masterpiece is like the Mona Lisa, it’s imperfect, it’s rough around the edges, it has heart.  And Bruce Cockburn’s music has heart.  And soul.  As does his partner Bernie.

After hearing about how he’s now an Asian eater, partaking of Japanese and Thai on a regular basis, we covered the next generation, Bernie’s kids.  One’s a deejay in London.  The other just moved to Brooklyn, to make it in the hip-hop world.  Bernie’s worried.  His younger son moved into a terrible neighborhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant.  Then again, who is he to challenge him, tell him what to do, he did the exact same thing at even a younger age.  In an era where parents would prefer their kids wear helmets to bed, and get MBAs to insure future comfort, this was a breath of fresh air.  You’ve got to let your kids grow, like your acts.  Which may be why Bruce Cockburn has stayed with Bernie all these years, from the beginning to this point where they’ve both come to the end of their fifties.  Bruce doesn’t like to do what doesn’t feel right.  And to play the major label fame game, you’ve always got to compromise yourself.  And contrary to what the bigwigs tell you, you’re not the only one who knows, the audience can tell, they need to believe, and when they don’t, they move on.

God, normally the acts jump ship.  Following the buck.  A great offer trumps loyalty seemingly every day.  But not with Bernie Finkelstein.  He’s haimish.

And acts like he’s still beginning.  Never missing a day of work.  Making new deals.  Still young and hungry.  Maybe not as rich as Tommy Mottola, but once you have a roof over your head and food on the table the rest is superfluous.  It’s not about acquisitions, it’s about experiences.  And there’s no experience like music.

Go to: Bruce Cockburn – Gallery Click on "Last Night Of The World".  And when the video comes up, feel free to turn away, it’s about the music, videos are just afterthoughts, marketing tools.

I’m sipping Flor De Cana and lime juice, it’s three a.m.
Blow a fruit fly off the rim of my glass
The radio’s playing Superchunk and the friends of Dean Martinez

There’s nobody you can rely on at 3 a.m. but yourself.  Unless you’re literally dying, you don’t have the balls to dial someone and wake them up.  Doesn’t matter how rich you are, what you own, now it’s just you and your thoughts.

The bigwigs will tell you to make it UNIVERSAL!  In other words, make it BLAND!  But it’s the obscure personalizations that entrance people.  I’ve got no idea what Flor De Cana is.  But the fact that it’ s not Jack Daniel’s shows me the story is true.  Because nobody would make this up.

And the fact that life is slow enough that you can WORRY about the fruit fly on your glass.  Do you ever slow down enough to think?  Many people don’t.  It’s too scary.  They’ll freak.  But unless you can throw off the shackles of commitment, unless you can remove yourself from the endeavor, you’ve got no idea what life is about.

I certainly know who Superchunk is.  But the first time I heard this song, I thought the Friends of Dean Martinez were literally the friends of some GUY, not a BAND!  But I too listen to stuff that most people don’t.  That’s what true fans do.  They don’t need to be a member of the crowd, their own identity is strong enough.

If this were the last night of the world
What would I do?
What would I do that was different
Unless it was champagne with you?

The end is coming.  You can get your facelift, inject your botox, but you’re gonna die.  Sooner than you want to.  And then, the question arises, how did you live your life, did you waste it?

Life is about freedom, not control.  Those who try to control have got it all wrong.  You’ve got to let GO!  You’ve got to be OPEN!  To new experiences!

Now maybe you regret not setting the world on fire financially.  But although money makes the world go round, it’s relationships that count.

I want people I can trust.  Who are interested in me.

And in the times when I lack this, I look to music to get me by, help me make it through.  To soothe and inspire me.

I know I can count on Bernie Finkelstein.  Not for a check, but for enchanting conversation.

I’ve been listening to "Last Night Of The World" incessantly since first hearing it on Mike Marrone’s XM channel not quite two years back.  This deejay excavated a track from the late nineties that most people have never heard and made me a fan of Bruce Cockburn all over again.

A great song connects on both levels.  Musically and lyrically.  It’s the music of "Last Night Of The World" that enraptures me.  But it’s the lyrics I sing in my head.  The song is a companion.  That I play whenever I’m in one of those "Risky Business" what the fuck modes.  I’m not sure what I’m doing is right, whether I’m making the right choice, but stasis brings no rewards, you’ve got to take risks.  I’ll be getting ready to go out, I’ll be in a group of people.  I’ll be enveloped in my own little personality bubble.  Where it’s just me, and my thoughts.  And then I’ll hear it, playing in my brain.  Superchunk and the Friends of Dean Martinez are keeping me company, they’re going to keep me on an even keel, they’re going to get me through.

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