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Bit o' Bern
a few questions for
an interview by Andrew Elias
HE IS AN ACCLAIMED SONGWRITER, a singer, a novelist, a childrens book author, a storyteller, a painter. Dan Bern is one creative guy, with a lot to say. Hes released more than 20 albums; contributed songs for several films, including Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Get Him to the Greek; written a few books; and tours relentlessly, both solo and with a band.
Dan will be participating in the songwriting panel, with Craig Finn and Johnny Temple, at Florida Gulf Coast Universitys Sanibel Island Writers Conference, November 8. Bern will perform that evening.
I asked Dan a few questions about his work.
How did you get involved with Florida Gulf Coast Universitys Sanibel Island Writers Conference?
Your songs are successful because theres a nice balance between a reverence for your influences (most notably Bob Dylan) and a satirical take of their mythical sound, between serious subjects and humorous attitudes towards them, between being a teacher of sorts and a wise-guy, and between being an artist and an entertainer. Do you see yourself more as an artist or as an entertainer?
Many of your songs are topical, even overtly political, which can sometimes be a problem. Have you ever received any blowback from fans or audiences about your political views?
Some writers approach the craft systematically, writing regularly or having a certain routine, while others, such as Keith Richards, talk about being lucky to be in the room when the song arrives. What is your creative process when songwriting or writing prose?
One of your most popular songs is Estelle. Can you tell me about writing that song?
You wrote some of the songs John C. Reilly sings in the hilarious film, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Youve also written songs for other films, including Get Him to the Greek. How is writing for films different than writing for your own albums?
Your recent album, Doubleheader is a compilation of songs about baseball. How did that album come about?
On another recent album, Drifter, you sing Swing Set, a duet with the legendary Emmylou Harris. How did that come about and what was that experience like?
In addition to songwriting and performing you have also written two books Quitting Science, under the pseudonym Cunliffe Merriweather, and a childrens book, Cleaver the Gronk under your real name, which you also illustrated. Why did you choose to write Quitting Science under a pseudonym?
Any advice to writers?