One wise man

Whether he’s creating new works of theatre, writing songs for his next album or making super-eight films, Bob Wiseman doesn’t show signs of stopping

Bob Wiseman can see clearly past any and all obstacles that get in his way.
Bob Wiseman can see clearly past any and all obstacles that get in his way.
Credit: 
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Bob Wiseman may be dubbed by indie and mainstream musicians alike as the hardest working man in Canadian Music, but he’s the last one to admit it.

“I mean, there’s a gazillion people who work really hard. My work has never been celebrated in a large way. That’s maybe why I work so hard. I see myself as that knight in [Monty Python’s] Life of Brian who is trying to defend the bridge and keeps getting his limbs cut off,” Wiseman said. “But he’s delusional. I’m not delusional.” He certainly isn’t. Wiseman has a large underground following and celebration or no celebration, he is one of those artists who gains acclaim and fame through the history books. His relatively low profile is somewhat shocking when you consider his prolific body of work and behind-the-scenes contribution to Canadian music not to mention his run-ins with the law.

Wiseman’s career began in 1984 when he joined Blue Rodeo. He only stayed with the band for eight years, his experience with a major record label has influenced his life in many ways.

“I quit playing with Blue Rodeo almost 20 years ago,” he said. “It just wasn’t really the kind of thing I was interested in. Life is short.” Wiseman also released his first solo album during his time with Blue Rodeo, much to his surprise.

“I was signed with Warner through Blue Rodeo and they had right to first refusal, which basically means you have to contractually allow your record company to refuse your record first and then you can look elsewhere,” he said. “It blew my mind that they wanted to put it out. I expected them to say thanks, but no thanks.”

After the album’s release, Wiseman’s first of many interactions with lawyers began. He said Warner balked when after printing the record they realized the political nature of many of the songs—particularly the song “Rock and Tree,” which points out the connection between Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and the president of Pepsi-Cola and the death of Chilean president Salvador Allende.

“It makes me laugh because I know that [Warner] didn’t even listen to it,” Wiseman said. The label destroyed all 2000 first-print copies of In Her Dream: Bob Wiseman Sings Wrench Tuttle.

Since he left Blue Rodeo in 1992, Wiseman has dabbled in different musical genres. The progression of his live show has become a sort of performance art.

“It’s become a multi-media show. At a certain point I felt like there’s a million singer songwriters and who cares?” he said. “People want to be entertained. And you know, I write about things that fuck me up.” In order to strike a balance between his songs’ difficult subject matter and his need to entertain, Wiseman said he incorporates his videos and films into his live shows.

“A bar setting is the most complicated to get the attention of the people,” he said. “More media makes a lot of the show entertaining.” Wiseman has also become involved in the Toronto theatre scene, writing a play based on his interactions with lawyers throughout his career appearing at Toronto’s Summerworks festival.

“I’m reluctant to say I’m in theatre,” Wiseman explained. “I just love the arts. I love the world of dance, theatre, and film.”

Wiseman’s play, entitled “Actionable,” depicts the Pepsi-Cola incident, as well as a run-in with Prince’s lawyers in the early 1990s. When Prince announced he was changing his name to the unpronounceable love symbol, Wiseman tried to change his own name to Prince. Wiseman’s near-name change was met with a letter from Prince’s lawyers, as well as a media blitz on MTV, CNN and other major media outlets.

Wiseman’s ahead of its time folk masterpiece, In Her Dream: Bob Wiseman Sings Wrench Tuttle, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and has finally been released as Wiseman originally intended for­—free online as well as on vinyl.  “Nothing ever results in being lucrative

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