True North Records founder and long-time artist manager Bernie Finkelstein addresses his industry peers at the launch of his book, True North: A Life In The Music Business (Photo: Valerie Drinkwalter)
Bernie Finkelstein - who built one of Canada's leading independent record labels and certainly the oldest, True North Records, which he sold in 2007 after 38 years - was feted by his friends and colleagues at the launch of his memoir, True North: A Life In The Music Business, published by McClelland & Stewart.
"I spent almost my whole life somewhere back there, backstage, with my artists and pushing them out onto the stage, going, 'Don't worry it will be great. Get out there,'" Finkelstein said from the stage at Toronto's Supermarket Restaurant. "So I see Murray here and Stephen and Luke and maybe a few others…I just want to say sorry. It's not so easy. But that's as far as I'm going. I'm not giving you your money back."
Finkelstein is, of course, referring to legendary singer-songwriter Murray McLauchlan, who wrote the foreword to the book; solo artist Stephen Fearing and member of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings; and Luke Gibson of 60s group Kensington Market, who all made it out Monday night.
(L to R): Musicians Stephen Fearing, Murray McLauchlan and Tom Wilson hang out at the bar of Toronto's Supermarket Restaurant for Bernie Finkelstein's book launch. (Photo: Heather Holditch)
Also in the crowd were media mogul/ ZoomerMedia founder Moses Znaimer; artist manager Jake Gold; esteemed publicist Richard Flohil; The Agency Group senior vice-president Jack Ross; CMW president Neill Dixon; Polaris Music Prize founder Steve Jordan; music supervisor Michael Perlmutter; long-time record exec and Revolution Recording's co-founder Kim Cooke; media consultant (and McLauchlan's wife) Denise Donlon; and Finkelstein's lawyer and book agent Susan Abramovitch.
Finkelstein chatted a bit about the contents of the memoir and some of the questions and encounters he has had so far at the signings and media events. He revealed how in the book he had boasted of being a great pool player and contemplated becoming a "pool hustler" for a living, but an old school mate approached him and told him he wasn't. The same guy asked him if he started buying his own cigarettes when he moved to Toronto and became a big shot. "Apparently, I was a poor pool playing cigarette moocher," he quipped.
He said he has been asked by the curious why he wrote the book - but true to character he pondered, "It's possible that I got it wrong and they read the book and are going, 'WHY did you write this book?'" - and gives two reasons; that a country must remember its past to know its future and that Canadians have cultural amnesia.
"I'm not suggesting for one moment that people need to remember too much about me, but maybe in the future, somebody is going to look back and they're gonna say, 'I wonder what happened during that time?' and it struck me that there wasn't really too much about it," he explained.
Bernie Finkelstein signs a copy of his book (Photo: Heather Holditch)
"I'll give you an example of what I mean. About two years ago, I was listening to the radio and I heard somebody say, ' Leslie Feist is the first Canadian female artist to get a number one record on an independent label.' By the way, I think she's fantastic, but I thought to myself, 'Hold it. That's not right. What about Sarah McLachlan, which was only five years before that? And if Sarah McLachlan can be forgotten then certainly I know I can be forgotten..."
He added that before McLachlan, Patsy Gallant had No. 1 records.
Finkelstein cautions that the book is just his way of trying to get a few things straight and "is no means a history."
He said the second reason he wrote the book is that before he moved down to Yorkville (the district in Toronto which became a Mecca for the folk scene, where Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot frequently played), he had fancied the idea of becoming a writer. Instead, he got to write the first bios for the artists on True North, such as Rough Trade, Bruce Cockburn (whom Finkelstein continues to manage to this day) and Murray McLauchlan.
He went on to thank a slew of people responsible for making the book happen, with a special nod to McLauchlan. "He wrote a wonderful foreword for me and he did it for nothing and the last time I think he worked for nothing was when I managed him. I'm surprised he takes my calls still," he joked.
He then read part of the memoir's Author's Note, which reiterated "This is not a history of the Canadian music business…
"This book isn't a history; it's my story and although I've attempted to be as honest and accurate as possible it remains the world of music as seen through my eyes and experience. If your favorite band is not in here, it's because I didn't work with them. I'm sure they're great and there's a book coming soon… Now get out there and write your own book."
The first email he received from his editor, Philip Rappaport, he revealed was essentially, "'Hey are you sure you want to start your book by telling your audience to f--- off?' He didn't use the word f---. He's much more delicate… and I said, 'Yeah, yeah, I'm pretty sure.'"
Finkelstein then ended his moment onstage by reading from the Prologue about that day, December 17, 2007, that he sold the record label he started in 1969. He kept his management company and part of his music publishing interests and signed away his business on a snowy day for "seven figures." "The sale represented the end of my direct involvement in the record business," he said.