[Interviewer is Simon Mayo]
Simon Mayo: Now you have a new album out called Christmas, and therefore it's
a fantastic title for an album coming out at this time of year. Most of the
songs on here, and most of the songs you're going to play tonight, are very
traditional, but you're not a traditional bloke, so how come you're into
BC: I grew up loving them, the body of Christmas music, at least
the spiritual body of it. I've never really been a big fan of Frosty The
Snowman and Jingle Bell Rock and those things. I know that's going to disturb
a lot of people, but I feel I have to confess this.
SM: I'm just going to have to drop all the rest of the music in the show,
BC: Well, I won't be listening, will I, so you don't have to worry about
offending my delicate ears.
SM: That's true.
BC: I don't know why this happened exactly, but when I was very, very young,
my father gave me a book that he'd made out of, as it turned out, a box of
Christmas cards, which came with Christmas carols printed on them. And for
some reason they thought that I was learning songs quickly. It turns out I
was two years old when they thought this, so what prompted them to think that
way I don't know. But anyway, I ended up with this little loose-leafed book
of Christmas carols, which is still with me and has been with me all through
the years and sort of surfaced periodically. When I was in music school in
the sixties, I remember doing big band arrangements of some of the tunes, and
that, I guess, that book formed the basis of what you can hear on the
SM: OK, and what are we going to start with, Bruce?
BC: This is Silent Night, which I think is one of the most beautiful tunes,
beautiful songs anybody's ever written.
[plays Silent Night]
- from Simon Mayo interviews Bruce Cockburn (from Canada), BBC Radio 1, December
1993. Transcribed by David Newton.
19 December 1993
[Interviewer is Liane Hansen.]
Liane Hansen: Cockburn has wanted to do a Christmas album since the early seventies. For the past two years, he's presented a Christmas special radio broadcast in North America and Europe. But like most of us, his love of the music goes back to childhood, when his father gave him a book of Christmas carols.
BC: "He gave me that book when I was two. He got a set of Christmas cards, and they were, each card had a different carol in it, music and lyrics. And he decided that because I was so good at learning tunes at this early age that he'd make me a book of Christmas carols, and he made it out of these Christmas cards. And he used one of the card faces as the front of the book and he put it together with loose leaf rings, and it was part of my Christmas present that year, I guess. I've had it ever since, and it was the source of, I suppose, at least half the songs on the record. [singing] Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie. [speaking] I've always loved the music that I grew up with, and then to me, as a Christian, there's obviously a significance to that season that is not shared by everyone, but it's that significance that has been part of the motivating factor for me wanting to record that music, because obviously the spiritual side of Christmas is the least apparent aspect of it, most of the time these days.
But growing up, while I didn't grow up in a religious family or anything, Christmas was still thought of as Christmas in those days, it wasn't 'The Holiday.' There was still an element of the spiritual side of it that was remembered, and I suppose for a lot of people, and probably still, Christmas was a time when people who don't spend much time thinking about spiritual matters, are reminded that maybe they should once in a while and actually do think some serious thoughts for a week or two. So all of that kind of came into it, and, as I said, growing up with the music and growing up with Christmas as a fun thing as a kid, which I suppose is also an experience that's not shared by everyone. I have one friend, when I said I was doing a Christmas album, he said, 'Well, don't talk to me about it. My memory of Christmas is hiding under the kitchen table while Mom and Dad slugged it out.' You know, so not everybody has those warm fuzzy recollections that we like to think go with Christmas, but I do, and that was kind of part of it, too. [singing] Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin mother..."
LH: Do you think we, at this point, in some respects, take Christmas music for granted at this time of year? I mean, we don't really hear what we're listening to?
BC: "Well, I guess it depends on the person, but we're certainly discouraged from hearing what we're listening to because we're inundated with this, you know, the elevator music version of all these songs. And they become, at best, tiresome, and at worst, [laughs] you don't want to hear another note of that stuff if you hear too much of that kind of thing. But it becomes the unconscious accompaniment to your stressed-out Christmas shopping and all the rest of it. One of the things I was hoping would happen in the course of doing the record was to try to bring the life back into these songs, and treat them, as I think I said in the liner notes, treat them as songs that somebody actually put creative effort into writing and not just something that was intended to be wallpaper. [singing] It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old. [speaking]
The songs with spiritual significance and these Christmas songs in particular, often have a really profound level of writing and really profound things to say, and we miss that. We even miss it in church, where we shouldn't be missing it, you know. A song like It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, I never appreciated how good a song that is and what it actually talked about until I was learning it for the record, because I'd only ever heard one or two verses and never in a condition where, or in a, I suppose, well, condition's probably the right word [laughs], but in a context where I was able to really appreciate what was going on."
LH: In putting this project together, you said you wanted songs that didn't express the obvious Christmas sentiment. What is the message of Christmas that you would like to convey today?
BC: "Well, it is, in the simplest terms a birthday party for Jesus. Of course, socially, it's much broader than that, it means a whole other thing to a whole lot of people who have no particular interest in Jesus one way or the other. But, to me that's what it means, and it's an occasion to celebrate both the gift of Christ's existence and the complexities of that.
The element of responsibility, the element of questioning that comes with that, when you encounter something that's profoundly spiritual in nature you're forced to look at all the other aspects of your existence in relation to that, and sometimes that causes great discomfort, so it isn't a one dimensional kind of experience, Christmas for me. It's a time when there's a lot of things going on. It's sort of politically incorrect these days to say that this holiday is something other than a holiday, but to me it is, and that's kind of what I was hoping the album would reflect."
- from "Revisiting Traditional Carols with Bruce Cockburn" by Liane Hansen, Weekend Edition, National Public Radio, 19 December 1993. Submitted by Nigel Parry.
19 December 1993
Liane Hansen: Bruce Cockburn says his new CD of cross-cultural
Christmas music also can be enjoyed by non-Christians.
BC: I think that lots of cultures have their particular
spiritual insights and I certainly feel free in exploring other people's
spiritualities and I hope that people who aren't necessarily Christian will
feel comfortable getting exposed to this particular version of things. But
it's also a bunch of really good music, I think, and it may work for people
just on that level.
- from "Revisiting Traditional Carols with Bruce Cockburn" by Liane Hansen,
Weekend Edition Promo Clip, National Public Radio, 19 December 1993.
Steve Lawson Was that [Christmas] a chance to re-indulge your love of folk music?
BC: Well, in a way.. circumstantially I guess... The Christmas album was something
I'd wanted to do for 20 years because I'd loved that music and thought I
could do something with it, but it took that long to get somebody to pay for
it. We were doing these radio shows out of New York, we did 5 in the end,
which became the Columbia Records Radio Hour, which became a monthly show
that they did, I ended up doing all the Christmas ones.
SL: And you duetted with Lou Reed on Cry Of A Tiny Babe????
BC: I know, it amazes me too - you should have been there when it happened. We'd
rehearsed it but he was reading the lyrics off. There we were playing the
song, and it came time for his verse and that's what he did, and I just
started laughing as you can probably hear on the ensuing chorus.
- from Bruce Cockburn Interview, Guitarist Magazine, November, 1999, by Steve
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