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Dan Bern gets into the head of solitary adventurer Everett Ruess for his latest project

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Join us at 1:30 p.m. today as Dan Bern chats with John Kendle live via Skype at the News Café.

Singer-songwriter Dan Bern's performance berth at this year's Winnipeg Folk Festival pretty much tells you the kind of music he does best.

But it is Bern's movie music that demonstrates an awesome versatility, specifically his contributions to the Judd Apatow-produced comedy-parody Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story as songwriter and musical consultant. In that 2007 film, Bern displayed a mastery of multiple musical genres, from Johnny Cash-style country (Walk Hard), to Dylan-esque folk (There's a Change a'Happening I Can Feel It) to bad '60s psychedelia (Sir Ringe, The Marshmallow Elephant).

Bern chose adaptation of a different (not to say tasteful) kind for his latest soundtrack, a 15-song cycle for the Jonathan Demme-produced documentary Everett Ruess's Wilderness Song, which he will be performing live at the West End Cultural Centre July 9.

Ruess was a young poet, writer and artist who, faced with the devastation of the Great Depression, abandoned society for a solitary life in the wilderness before disappearing in Utah at the age of 20 in 1934.

Bern says he didn't know about Ruess when he was approached by the Oscar-winning Demme (Silence of the Lambs) to compose music for the doc.

"So I delved into his works and learned a lot about him and was intrigued and wrote a whole cycle of songs adapted from his work," Bern says in a phone interview. "And that became the soundtrack of the film."

Ruess is assumed to be long dead (his body was never found), but to Bern he is a figure who has something to say to the young people of the 21st century.

"I think he speaks to our times," Bern says. "In the writings, he talks about consumerism and the land and nature and our relationship to it, and also our relationships with each other and ourselves.

"For a young person to have that kind of insight and self-awareness and experience, it's kind of extraordinary."

Ruess's wanderings took him to New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Bern felt a particular kinship as a former resident of Truth or Consequences, N.M. -- "A little town in the high desert hot springs" -- where he nurtured a deeper kinship with Ruess.

"He wrote about a water tower that he was particularly fond of, and there was a water tower outside our town that I painted, like, 60 different times," Bern says. "When I saw that, it hit me pretty hard and I felt really close to him.

"It felt like we were sitting in the same room together, collaborating, which was kinda spooky, almost."

The show Bern will be performing at the WECC is transmogrifying from a movie soundtrack to a theatre piece in which Bern effectively portrays Ruess.

"These songs really allow his written works to come up off the page and be sung," Bern says, adding the theatre adaptation is still in the early stages.

"This fall, I'm going to be in New York furthering that and maybe getting into a more long-term theatre situation for it. It's still kind of growing. I'm going to be in Winnipeg anyway for the (folk) festival, so it seemed like a good idea to do it in Winnipeg."

Tickets for Tuesday's show are available at the WECC, Ticketmaster, the Winnipeg Folk Festival Music Store and Music Trader.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2013 C7


Updated on Thursday, July 4, 2013 at 9:50 AM CDT: Corrects show date to July 7

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