3 April 1992
Biographical accounts of Cockburn's life tend to use such words as "fundamentalist" and "mystic" to describe his beliefs. But it seemed a good idea to let the man himself explain what he believes, since, especially in the U.S., such words are highly charged.
They sure are," Cockburn said with a laugh before discussing his faith. "I became a Christian in 1974, officially, to myself," he explained. "Before that, I was kind of heading that way, but I didn't perceive it as a real personal involvement requiring any kind of commitment until after a certain point in the summer of '74, and then I started writing about it. The song 'All the Diamonds in the World' was the song that sort of marked that turning point. Like anything else that's new, just like Alcoholics Anonymous or any other kind of thing where you discover some great new thing, you want to go out and tell everybody about it, whether they want to hear it or not. I was suffering from that to a certain extent, not so much in the songs, but in the way I would present myself to people in interviews or onstage to a degree.
"I was looking, I wasn't sure, because I was a new Christian, and I didn't really grow up in the faith. I grew up with the symbols around me, but not with any real personal understanding of it. So, I was trying to figure out what it meant to be a Christian now that I'd made this move, and the first thing you try to do is, you try to find what all the rules are, and then you try to obey them. That makes you kind of a fundamentalist. I kind of thought that because we all shared the same faith that these people (fundamentalists) must have something going, too, that I didn't understand, maybe but I should understand because it was Christian. And I tried to make apologies to myself for the gross tactics of TV evangelists and all the rest of it."
"But in the end I was completely unsuccessful at being a fundamentalist because what a fundamentalist really is is somebody that takes the Bible literally, who takes the traditional teachings literally, and I couldn't do that. I don't think that's what it's supposed to be at all, and I just grew up as too much of a free thinker to be able to submerge myself in a belief system without any question, and I also don't think that's what we're asked to do as Christians at all, either. But some people do think that.
"Mystic, well, that's kind of a catch-all. It's the term people use when they know you're talking about something spiritual, but they don't know what you're talking about, so you must be a mystic. I never felt like much of a mystic. Although T Bone Burnett [also a Christian, and producer of Nothing But a Burning Light] called me a mystic, too, to my face, and I just laughed. I don't know what he means, but maybe there's something.
"Everybody sees things a little differently. Maybe I see things differently than other people do, and that looks like mysticism. I certainly have a sense of the presence of the spiritual in things. I value that sense quite a lot, too. It's kind of a sense of interconnectedness that goes beyond anything that you could easily put into words or define in any way, but that is nonetheless very present and real and comforting, in a way, because it's so much deeper and bigger than the things that humans normally do to each other and all the rest of it."
-- from "Bruce Cockburn - A Burning Light and All the Rest" by William Ruhlmann, Goldmine magazine, 3 April 1992. Anonymous submission.
James Jensen: Getting back to your albums of the 70's "Salt, Sun and Time"
seems heavily Jazz influenced....
BC: That album came out of a phase that involved a heavy infatuation
with Django Reinhardt.
JJ: Were you still playing fingerstyle or did you get a pick out and try to...
BC: No, no I didn't try to get his tone, I couldn't get his tone in a
million years, and still play more than one note at once but it just
leaked in, when I talk about these influences, with the exception of
the country blues guys that I actually did imitate to try to learn
their songs, the other influences are more subtle than that, they're
in the music but they aren't the result of sitting down and trying
to learn Reinhardt solos note for note or anything like that it's
just like absorbing the feel and sound of it and having some come
-- from an Interview by James Jensen at Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, circa
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This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.