Dan Bern

By Paul Moffett

Howard Stern and Dan Bern were both in town on Tax Day Eve, a Tuesday, normally a day when very few people go out.

Bern filled the back room at the Rudyard; Stern probably managed to draw a crowd as well. Both men are testaments to the endurance of taboos, even in a country awash in entertainers dedicated to finding taboos to violate in the pursuit of attention and money, a.k.a. fame and fortune.

Bern's audience, interestingly, was predominately boomer grayheads, which may say something about boomers or about the Rudyard or about Louisville. It certainly says that Bern plows some very familiar ground.

Dan Bern went acoustic at the Rudyard Kipling. Photo by Paul Moffett

With Stern, we know what we'll get: lots of scatology. Bern is less famous for his potty mouth because he gets airplay on public radio more than on commercial radio. His live schtick is an altogether different matter.

He suggested, for instance, that humans are just the illegitimate offspring of extraterrestrials with a taste for simian bestiality; that Kentuckians talk funny and are ignorant hicks; that public radio in Louisville is deficient because WFPK won't play his scatological material; that the telltale signs of the Devil are organization, mathematics, square buildings, accurate record keeping and computers and that the perfect couple is a woman with narcolepsy married to a necrophiliac. And corporations, of course. Curiously, Bern still thinks that multinationals are based on Wall Street.

He insisted that the audience sing along on the space alien / monkey sex song; after thanking promoter Marty Rosen, he slammed Jews in Kentucky. (The Jews in the audience laughed; at least the ones I knew. The Gentiles forced a chuckle or two.) For good measure and to show that he plays no favorites, Bern also suggested that his Yiddishe Papa talked funny.

The laughter in the room was often tinged with nervousness and occasionally he was greeted with silence, particularly when he slipped in the occasional racist reference. Think Fuzzy and Tiger here.

I suppose that if one had not lived through the last thirty years or so in America and were generally ignorant of the recent history of popular music (and comedy), Bern's material might seem a daring breath of fresh air. He certainly is a proponent of the "folk process," otherwise known as mining the past for tunes and ideas.

He does it well enough that his career is taking off. Soon he may face the dilemma of being a finger-pointer with an agent and management, video and record deals; and a need to diversify into stocks. He invited the audience to shoot him if he ever "sold out" to corporations.

He should probably check into the price of bullet-proof vests.