Geoff Berner (born in Vancouver 1971) is a Canadian singer-songwriter and accordion player from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Due to his insightful humour, politically inflammatory compositions and showmanship, Berner has gained a cult following over the years, especially in Canada and Norway, where he recorded his first live album, Live in Oslo (2004).
Berner, in his youth, studied the piano. At a party, somebody asked him why he did not play the accordion. As a result, he began learning how to play the accordion.
Following several years fronting the punk band Terror of Tiny Town (its name borrowed from the 1938 film), Berner released his first solo EP, Light Enough to Travel (2000) on the Sudden Death Records label. Light Enough to Travel contained some of the songs he wrote while part of The Terror of Tiny Town. The Vancouver band The Be Good Tanyas covered the title track, and had some chart success with their version in England, which helped to kickstart Berner's career. In 2000, Berner was deported to Norway, where he discovered the Norwegian band Kaizers Orchestra, for whom he would later become a support act. His first full-length album, We Shall Not Flag or Fail, We Shall Go On to the End (2003) featured the track "We All Gotta Be a Prostitute Sometimes", which has been covered by a surprising number of artists, considering Berner's relative obscurity.
In the years between We Shall Not Flag or Fail, We Shall Go On to the End and 2005, Berner travelled to Romania, to study the traditional musical style klezmer, from the many talented masters in Romania. In Romania, he suffered a severe gastrointestinal infection and was rushed to a Romanian hospital, which inspired him to write "Song Written in a Romanian Hospital". After his return, Berner released his second studio album, Whiskey Rabbi (2005) on Black Hen Music, with the help of Diona Davies of Po' Girl, on the violin, and Wayne Adams of Zolty Cracker, percussion. They would later join him occasionally on tour. Whiskey Rabbi is the first of a trilogy of klezmer-themed records.
Berner released a humorous instructional booklet called How to be an Accordion Player in 2006. In 2007, Berner released The Wedding Dance of the Widow Bride, a concept album with the theme of marriage, and second in his planned trilogy of klezmer records. He also collaborated with the Norwegian band "Girl from Saskatoon" on their 2007 album.
In 2008, he released "Official Theme Song for the 2010 Vancouver / Whistler Olympic Games (The Dead Children Were Worth It!)", a satirical song he promoted as the official theme song for the 2010 Winter Olympics, as an mp3 on February 19, 2008. The song asserts that the government of British Columbia closed a provincial coroner's office which investigated the deaths of children to help pay for the games.
He later attracted controversy at the Winnipeg Folk Festival in July when he opened his set with a performance of "The Dead Children Were Worth It!", followed by a joke which linked the festival's corporate sponsor, Volkswagen, to Nazi Germany.
In 2008 he released Klezmer Mongrels, the third album in his klezmer trilogy. Later in the year, Berner and colleague Bob Wiseman were given the Key to the City of Bruno, Saskatchewan.
Berner is the stepfather of actress Genevieve Buechner, and father of Margot Berner and Joseph Zeidler-Berner. He is also close friends with American ukulele player Carmaig de Forest, and covers his compositions regularly on tour, and recorded his song "In the Year 2020" on his We Shall Not Flag or Fail, We Shall Go On to the End album. In 2008, he began covering songwriter Kris Demeanor instead of de Forest, and Demeanor's song "One Shoe" appears on the Klezmer Mongrels album. Additionally, Berner also often collaborates with fellow Canadian Carolyn Mark, and recorded a duet with her, for her Just Married: An Album of Duets album in 2005.
Berner is Jewish, which is reflected in his klezmer song "Lucky God Damn Jew".
Between 1988 and 2001, Berner was active in the Green Party of British Columbia and was a member of former leader Stuart Parker's inner circle. He ran as a candidate at the federal and provincial levels in the general elections of 1991, 1993, 1996 and 1997.
His most high-profile campaign, however, was as a candidate for the satirical Rhinoceros Party of Canada in the 2001 provincial general election against future premier Gordon Campbell. His main campaign promise in that election was to offer "cocaine and whores to potential investors."
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license