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'Alaskan Highway'
Singer Dan Bern Takes Folk Music Down a New Road

Start streaming audioListen to Part One of the interview with Dan Bern.

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Dan Bern

Singer/songwriter Dan Bern
Photo: Patricia Masisak

Nov. 22, 2001 -- With his acoustic guitar and a batch of witty and insightful songs, Dan Bern is rapidly becoming the voice of a new generation of folk music. The singer/songwriter -- hailed by some critics as the next Bob Dylan -- talks about his latest album, titled New American Language, Thursday on All Things Considered.

Fans say Bern's lyrics distinguish his music from the folk tunes of the past. His songs are steeped in pop culture, with references to a lively variety of icons -- Marilyn Monroe and Mother Teresa, Tiger Woods and Charles Manson. He isn't afraid to poke fun at society -- or at himself. In "Gamblin' with My Love," for example, he imagines Pete Rose and the late Major League Baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti discussing Rose's betting misadventures in a hotel room. And in a song called "Most American Men," Bern wonders if he should take Viagra just to stay competitive.

Dan Bern

Singer/songwriter Dan Bern
Photo: Tom Hoebbel

Bern grew up in a musical family, but few expected him to become a folk singer. He was raised in rural Mount Vernon, Iowa, where his Eastern European émigré parents -- his father a concert pianist and composer, his mother a poet -- settled after arriving in America. In that setting, surrounded by classical music on one hand and poetry on the other, Bern started composing songs.

In New American Language, his fifth album, Bern again places staples of modern culture in folk settings. With "Alaskan Highway," he takes on everyone from Leonardo DiCaprio and Eminem to Britney Spears. He also manages to comment on last year's presidential election. At one point in the album, he sings, "if you judge me, judge me by the songs I write." For many music fans, the verdict is favorable.

"To me, it's about a universal human parade," Bern says. "It's a thing of inclusion."

Other Resources

New American Language
Dan Bern's new album, New American Language
Photo: Messenger Records

audioListen to cuts from New American Language.

   • Sweetness
   • New American Language
   • Alaska Highway
   • Thanksgiving Day Parade
   • God Said No
   • Turning Over
   • Albuquerque Lullaby

• Visit Dan Bern's official Web site,