I Am Secretly an Important Man: Profile of Underground Bard Jesse Bernstein
The following is pure fiction: Ive been handsome and popular all my life. That sour joke is one of the better lines from fringe poet/songwriter/all-purpose bohemian Steven J. Bernstein, known to his never-large public as Jesse. Bernstein killed himself in 1991, at age 40, near his adopted home of Seattle. This being just prior to the post-Nevermind A&R landrush, he is dubbed the orator of grunge by one talking head in director Peter Sillens bio-doc, but grunge is just the last of many scenes that he drifted through in the footloose, rented-rooms life that followed his first hospitalization, as an adolescent, for schizophrenia. Sillen, co-director of the portrait of a cross-dressing Atlanta rocker, Benjamin Smoke, herein enshrines another doomed local legend. The myth is ready-made from ample photographs and footage of Bernstein reciting and perambulating, supplemented with melancholy ambient imagery of nighttime traffic, industrial-belt Seattle, and Puget Sound. A weedy little guy with homemade tattoos running up his arms and wary almond eyes behind chunky glasses on a squished goblin face, Bernstein is more memorable as a beautiful crank than a bard. Sillen ennobles the havoc of his life with a measure of down-and-out romance, but no moments really puncture a viewer, and the darkness is all too easily shaken off.
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