Profession: Music executive/manager
- Since 1969, True North Records has released more than 400 records, received more than 40 gold and platinum records and received more than 40 Junos
- He remains the chair and consultant of True North and still manages one artist, Bruce Cockburn
- Was the Chair of MUCHFACT for 26 years, an organization he cofounded with Moses Znaimer, which provides grants to Canadian artists
- Just released his new book True North: A Life Inside the Music Business
- Will appear at the Ottawa International Writers Festival, June 10; Toronto’s North by Northeast Festivals and Conference hosts A Conversation with Bernie Finkelstein on June 14
Bernie Finkelstein is a Canadian music legend. The high school dropout turned his luck around in 1969 when he founded True North Records – one of Canada’s oldest, largest and most successful independent record companies.
The label launched the careers of Bruce Cockburn, The Paupers, Carole Pope and Rough Trade, Murray McLauchlan and Dan Hill. For his more than four decades of devotion to the music biz, Finkelstein was named to the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame and also received the Order of Canada.
Since selling his record label five years ago, he has written his memoirs, True North: A Life In The Music Business, and just bought a car a few weeks ago – a 2009 Pontiac Solstice roadster – to go with his 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander SUV.
Why did you choose a Solstice?
I just loved the way it looked. I loved the design. It’s not a huge muscle car. It’s peppy enough but it’s not a Corvette. It’s just so beautiful on the eye.
I looked at other convertible cars online and there’s nothing like it. I think it’s the best-looking car in America since they brought out the original Corvette. I can’t take my eyes off of it.
It’s kind of cool to take the top off in the summer and drive around in a red two-seater. I’m looking to have a little fun in the car. I’m past that mid-life crisis – I’m past mid-life.
But you can’t take it on long road trips: there’s no space.
Nothing. Nothing. I can’t believe it. There’s no space.
When you open the door you’ve got the keys in one hand – there’s not even a place where you can actually put the keys to keep them from falling on the floor. It’s ridiculous.
I think the glove compartment can hold my wallet. There’s a back little glove compartment that holds another wallet. I think you can slip in a very slim, little briefcase if you have the top down. If you have the top up, you might get in the equivalent of a small carry-on bag.
There’s no coffee cup on the driver’s side. There’s one on the passenger side, but if you have a passenger and you’re both holding coffees then it’s a problem.
Are you nervous about driving a Pontiac since the brand no longer exists?
That’s true, but its easily serviced at GM, so I’ve been told. I haven’t had a breakdown because I haven’t had it long enough.
Why did you buy an Outlander?
I’m not a big car shopper. I like the Mitsubishi for a couple of reasons – I like the way it looks.
It has a very distinctive grille – I see a lot of people are copying that grille. It reminded me of an F-86 Sabre jet. I grew up on Air Force bases so it kind of struck me that way.
I did a lot of shopping before I bought the Mitsubishi. The ones I liked were very expensive and I didn’t want to blow a lot of dough. The Mitsubishi had everything I needed on the lot, fully loaded. To some degree, I considered it to be the world’s most expensive cell phone because I kind of bought it because I liked the way the Bluetooth worked and because it had satellite radio.
I’m very happy with the Mitsubishi. It’s a very cool car and it has a fair amount of pep. It’s a V-6 engine and it can get up and go when you need to get up and go. It’s a good car.
In your book you describe driving and music as paradise for a 16-year-old. How do you describe it now at 67?
At 16, there’s nothing better. You got in your car, turned up Chuck Berry on the radio and played it really, really loud. Half the songs were about cars. It was a great experience. You can’t get better than that! I still like it a whole lot. I always have the radio on. I listen to odd stations in this era of satellite radio, which I subscribe to in my car. I listen to CBC. I don’t listen to pop music these days – it doesn’t have the same appeal to me now.
Driving and listening to the radio no matter what you’re listening to is a great experience. I don’t think anything can beat hearing Chuck Berry singing Maybelline and driving in your car when you’re young.
Are you a car guy?
I’m not a real car expert although I’ve loved cars all of my life.… I had a 1960 Sunbeam Alpine in 1963 that I used to drive around in Toronto. I loved it – it was fantastic, but it kept on breaking down. It had a removable hard top. It was a standard. I loved it.
I had another great vehicle that I was attached to.... I bought a used 1959 Chevy Apache panel truck. I loved that truck. I ran it right to the ground. It was a great truck. It was blue. It was a standard on the column – not on the floor. That car broke down all the time – when I bought it, it was slightly broke down.
I learned how to drive on my dad’s ‘56 Chevy Bel Air at the Trenton airbase. He was a really big Chevrolet guy. He was also in the military and didn’t make a lot of money.
It sounds like I’m attached to Chevrolets, but it’s not exactly true. Later on, I had a Peugeot sedan – it had a four on the floor. It was beautiful.
When you signed a new musician did you ever go on a spending spree and buy a new car?
No, I never did, really.
But I always wanted to get a hot rod. I always regret not getting a hot rod. I didn’t buy anything elaborate. I drove fairly comfortable cars. I think owning this SUV and this Solstice is a bit of a splurge for me as far as cars go.
If I can bring you the keys to any hot rod what would it be?
Bruce Cockburn just sent me a picture from San Francisco of a ‘47 Buick Convertible – that is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I’d take that right now.