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14 February 2018 - Concert Review from Live Music News and Review added to this page. The 2018 Setlist Archive has been updated.
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Interview by Daniel Lumpkin for Christianity Today
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15 February 2018 - Bruce Cockburn has married his art with activism for more than 50 years as a musician, holding up a mirror to the ills of society and holding nothing back.
This singing poet of outrage and wry humor's best-known songs Ė 1984's "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," about Guatemalan refugees, and 1979's "Wondering Where the Lions Are," about the threat of nuclear extinction Ė are relevant as ever today. Over the decades Ė and 33 albums Ė Cockburn has used his guitar and his voice in the social justice tradition of folk music.
The prolific legendary Canadian singer and songwriter, now 72 and living in San Francisco, is still on his mission and speaking truth to power. But don't expect him to expel any creative energy on the current occupant of the White House.
"I'm not interested in writing about Donald Trump," Cockburn said in a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Santa Cruz, California. "The whole world is writing about Donald Trump. He lives for attention and I prefer not to give it to him."
But the milieu of this divided, dark moment in American history is certainly present throughout his new album "Bone On Bone." On the standout song "Cafť Society," for instance, Cockburn offers a grim snapshot of chit-chat in a Peet's coffee shop: "Talk about the tsunamis and the crazies with their guns/And crazy-ass policemen shooting everything that runs."
Cockburn calls it "an appreciation of community, which I think is something we don't get enough of."
On "States I'm In," a play on words, he offers a poetic depiction of the lonely state and the spiritual malaise of contemporary life in these United States.
"In some way it's a summation of my personal history, but it's in the context of what we're in now," he explained.
"States I'm In" was inspired, Cockburn said, by writing his memoir. Published in 2014 as "Rumours of Glory," the book led to a rare break from songwriting for Cockburn and a long (for him) six years between albums. As he worked on the book, he thought it might be the end of his songwriting days.
"It wasn't so much that it made songwriting harder, but all the ideas and energy that would have gone into the songs were going into the book," he explained. "When I was finished, it had been a long time since I'd written a song Ė much longer than any dry spell I'd experienced before that."
The prose writing and the promotion and the book tour shook up Cockburn's long-held creative routines.
"I wasn't sure if there were going to be any more songs after that," he said. "Sometimes life changes and you're invited to go in new directions. I didn't know if that would be one of those times."
Thankfully for his loyal fans, new songs started coming to Cockburn soon after the noise around the book quieted. The result is "Bone On Bone" and a tour that brings Cockburn back to the Wheeler Opera House on Saturday night.
On the tour, he's playing material from the new record alongside songs from throughout his career, with a full band behind him. The bigger, harder rocking band is new for Aspen. Cockburn has made regular stops here since 2003, but has mostly performed in a solo acoustic setup or with a trio.
Despite his arthritic hands, Cockburn still works magic on six- and 12-string guitars. Looking ahead, he's hoping to put together another album of instrumental music, following up 2005's all-instrumental "Speechless" (the title track on "Bone On Bone" is also a classic instrumental folk-jazz fusion) and he hopes to do a covers record at some point.
Cockburn said he's not much engaged with the current landscape of the music industry Ė he has a six-year-old daughter and "since she was born I haven't paid much attention to anything but being a dad." But from what he picks up about the scene while playing at folk festivals, he observes a new generation of singers and songwriters carrying on his legacy of political songwriting and sees creative communities dividing along ideological lines.
"I see the polarization that is the main problem today in American life is also present in the music world," he said. "So if you hang out around folkies you're going to hear a lot of political stuff. If you're hanging out around country musicians, you're not going to hear much and if you do it'll be on the other side."
~from Aspentimes.com - email@example.com
14 February 2018 - At age seventy-two, after fifty years of recording, Canadian songwriter/guitar wizard Bruce Cockburn has produced some of the best music of his career on Septemberís Bone On Bone. Over thirty-three albums, Cockburn has offered fearless commentary on political issues, meditations on spirituality, and hundreds of brilliant songs that defy categorization.
He is perhaps best known for two midcareer hits, 1979ís "Wondering Where the Lions AreĒ" and 1984ís "If I Had a Rocket Launcher." These songs, as different as they are from each other, are representative of Cockburnís sprawling catalog. "Lions," with its reggae-influenced rhythms is a showcase for his unique fingerpicking style, and "Rocket Launcher" demonstrates a concern for social justice that runs throughout his songs. (Indeed, he brought politics into his art when musicians were encouraged to avoid "causes." His involvement in the anti-landmine campaign helped bring about the Ottawa Treaty, in which 122 nations agreed to abstain from using the weapons.)
Admired by musicians and activists around the world, he is royalty in his country of birth. Yet, for all the critical acclaim, Cockburn is a humble working musician with a generous sense of humor. Of his legendary status, Bruce Cockburn has said: "You can be a legend, or you can be present. You donít get to be both."
In a recent interview, conducted over telephone, Cockburn discusses his music, songwriting, and the benefits of not selling out.***
The Rumpus: How are things in California? From the outside, it looks terrifying.
Bruce Cockburn: San Francisco is such an anomaly in every sense: culturally, weather-wise, and in terms of its sociopolitical structure. As a city, itís kind of all by itself, with the illusion of self-sufficiency. Youíre insulated from a lot of the weirdness. One day, we wonít be. There will be that big earthquake, and itíll be our turn.
Rumpus: Bone On Bone is a beautiful album. It gets more interesting with each listen. After about two plays, I could remember most of the lyrics, which says something about the strength of the writing.
Cockburn: I find it surprising you could remember because I have my difficulty with them. It took me a while to get it. I still struggle with the spoken word parts on "Three Al Purdys." Of course, they are not my words, they are his. But itís always touch and go if the lyrics are not just simple rhyming couplets.
Rumpus: That is such a cool song. Having Al Purdyís poems "Transient" and "In the Beginning Was the Word" with verses from your narrator [a homeless performer of Purdyís poems offering "three Al Purdys for a twenty-dollar bill"] is remarkable storytelling. Your verses in the middle fit perfectly with the verses from Purdyís poems. My only complaint is that there are only two Al Purdys in a song called "Three Al Purdyís."
Cockburn: Well, I didnít get the twenty dollars. Nobody was forthcoming with the twenty-dollar bill.
Rumpus: Your playing and lyrical approaches seem to change with every album. Bone on Bone might be the album that catches your live sound most accurately. It doesnít sound like anything else youíve done, but has some of the paranoia of The Trouble With Normal, with the roots music feel of something like The Further Adventures Of.
Cockburn: Thatís interesting you say that. My young daughter used to insist on listening to my stuff in the car. Every time we got in the car, sheíd say, "Daddy, can we listen to you?" So, Iíd be like, "Oh, okay. Are you sure you wouldnít like to listen to someone else?" A fan had given me a three-CD set of her "Best of" choices covering the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I ended up listening to the 70s disc of those while driving my daughter to preschool. There were a lot of songs on there that I wouldnít have thought to collect and others that I was surprised were missing. It was nice to hear how those records sounded after all these years. They are all very different.
The albums from the 70s sound very different from the ones that came after, and Inner City Front. Those were all Gene Martynec productions. There is something about the way we made those albums. I didnít have a sense of it at the time, I donít think. But it was interesting to listen to them. That period and that way of recording definitely impacted the songwriting and the approach to Bone On Bone. We didnít attempt to reproduce those albums, and I wouldnít remember enough about what Gene did in the studio to be able to reproduce them anyway. But my attitude going in was I wanted to get something like that feel back, the less structured, less produced kind of feel. I think in the 80s we got very far away from [a stripped down] feel. It came back since the T Bone Burnett albums [Nothing But a Burning Light, Dart to the Heart] in the early 90s, which were, in spirit, more like the 70s albums. I havenít really bothered thinking it through enough to articulate it well, but I do recall thinking I wanted to make an album like those albums.
Rumpus: Did you record Bone On Bone live with the rhythm section?
Cockburn: Yeah, everything. We had a few overdubs, but the songs were recorded complete with everyone playing.
Rumpus: Do you record on tape?
Cockburn: I think we did on this, pretty sure. I didnít take much of a hand in the production. I used to worry about that more in the 90s when Colin Linden first started producing my stuff. I insisted on being co-producer at least in name so that I would have veto power over things, or more than just the power of veto is what I was thinking. But after a couple of albums, it was obvious that Colin was doing all the work and so should get the credit. Itís a process in which I have a great involvement anyway, but I trust Colinís expertise and Colinís ears and donít think much about the technology end of it. The last bunch of albums weíve done both digitally and with tape.
Rumpus: It captures your live sound more faithfully than many of your studio albums.
Cockburn: The studio was great. Itís a studio called Prairie Sun near Santa Rosa, an hour north of San Francisco. Itís an old chicken ranch. The studio is in the old farm buildings. The smell of chickens is mercifully long gone, but the atmosphere is great. And the sound in these old buildings is good.
Rumpus: Youíve said the title of the new album is a reference to arthritis. In other interviews youíve said there are pieces you can no longer play. Have you had to adjust songs so that you can play them?
Cockburn: In one case. Itís partly arthritis and partly just wear-and-tear. The cartilage is gone from using the joints too much. A song like "Peggyís Kitchen Wall" took me a long time to learn to play again because the shape of my hand has changed. The fingers donít point in the same way. I donít have quite as much reach as I did. Thereís a riff in the original version of ďPeggyís Kitchen WallĒ that was just a millimeter beyond my reach. There is one note in that riff that I couldnít get to, so I stopped playing the song. Then I figured out a different fingering and tuning to be able to play it again. That songís back in the repertoire.
Itís more common for me to just not play those songs. For example, I canít play "Foxglove." Not that I particularly miss it, because Iíve played it a lot, and there are other songs I want to play more. The rolling three-finger movement on the right hand is something I donít do so well now, so songs that involve that tend to get left out.
Rumpus: Has the limitation opened new possibilities on the guitar?
Cockburn: Itís maybe changed the emphasis a little bit. The new album is more bluesy than most of my albums. The guitar, at least, is approached that way. Itís more about getting into a mindset than it is about the hands at this stage. I mean, I can still play most of what I want to play. I havenít had to make a major enough adjustment for it to affect the songwriting.
Rumpus: That right-hand technique of yours with the extended pinkie, like a shaka sign, is painful to execute and seems to concentrate the movements of the second joints of the first, second, and third fingers. To hold that position for any length of time is painful. I can only imagine the damage sixty years of playing that way would cause.
Cockburn: The worst part is the thumb. One time, someone wrote a review of a show in which they observed that my guitar playing was like a bunch of events happening, held together by my right thumb. When I read that I thought, Jeez. Heís right. If anything happens to my thumb, Iím screwed. This was not that long ago, maybe ten years ago, but I could see this portent: there were going to be issues. And Iíd never thought about it before that. Sure enough, there are issues. But, so far, Iíve been getting away with it.
Rumpus: How much do you play when youíre not on the road?
Cockburn: Less than I should, and less than I want to. I am busy at home the way our lives are set up at this point, with my wifeís working hours and my daughterís school hours, and bedtime hours, etc., etc. I have to fit my playing time into a relatively short day, and still get the errands done. Ideally, Iíd be playing four to six hours a day. Iím lucky to get in ten to twelve hours a week. I catch it when I can.
Rumpus: Are your songs usually fully formed when you go into the studio?
Cockburn: They are pretty much done. I donít think about recording until I have a body of songs that feels like itís ready to record. There are occasions when there have been revisions in the studio, or when I hear something back that doesnít work, and I have to figure something else out. But thatís not true of this album. All the songs were as you hear them.
Rumpus: Do you change strings before every performance?
Cockburn: I used to, but not anymore. I change guitars so often during a show that the strings last longer. Back in the day, when it was one guitar through the whole show, I changed them before every show. But now, with everything plugged in, the age of the strings is much less an issue than it used to be. Your sound isnít dependent on the string singing into a microphone.
Rumpus: What is the story about the backdrop you use live?
Cockburn: Itís just a piece of camouflage netting. Itís probably going to be retired after this tour. Weíve been using it a lot.
Rumpus: Is it military issue?
Cockburn: Yeah. Itís somebodyís military. I donít know whose. I donít think it was Canadian-issue, maybe it was. I got it in a surplus store somewhere.
Rumpus: When your first album came out in 1970, you entered into the height of the music industry. I know it was different in Canada, where the scene was still developing, and Bernie Finkelstein [Cockburnís manager and one of the architects of the Canadian music industry], and True North Records, as well as government-regulated quotas for Canadian content were helping with that. And you enjoyed a couple of decades early on of that abundance, but it all seems to be gone now. When I was a kid, we would complain about musicians who "sold out," meaning that they had a commercial success with a questionable song, or that they sold their songs to corporations. But you never sold out. Was it for the lack of offers?
Cockburn: No, it wasnít, actually. The offers were never numerous, but there were many requests over the years to use songs. I remember getting an offer from a major credit card company that wanted to use something. This would have been in the 80s, when my songs were getting quite a bit of airplay. I remember thinking the money they offered was insulting. Never mind the issue of selling out, which would have been enough for me to say no, especially to a credit card. But they just offered this crappy, token sum of money for the use of a song in an ad. Once you put a song in an ad, you could never sing it again. I mean, back then! Nowadays, you do. Now, those are the songs that become hits for the people who do that.
In my aesthetic/ethical frame of reference that would mean the death of a song. If I am going to kill a song on your behalf, youíd better give me good money for it.
Bernie and I talked about this way back, and we talked about it every time any kind of publishing deal came up. When I sold my publishing before moving to the States, for example, there was a stipulation in the contract that the songs canít be used for political or commercial purposes without my permission. So, if a non-profit wants to use a song, odds are weíll give them permission, depending on what they are trying to convince people of, I suppose.
But the concept of "selling out" is an outdated one anyway. It might come back. It isnít an outdated idea for me personally. I still feel very strongly about it. Looking around, the sensibility that taught me to think that way is not readily noticeable anymore. Young people are growing up with a different idea how to do it.
Rumpus: Do you think that is because there is not as much money available through record sales? That sales allowed musicians to turn down commercial offers?
Cockburn: That would probably exacerbate it, Iím not sure. But I think people just dropped the idea. You donít hear anybody talking about it. As you pointed out, back in the day, people did talk about [the commodification of music]. Youíd take somebody to task for having done that, or for considering doing it. Youíd go to great lengths to avoid the appearance of selling out, even if you werenít. Itís just not on peopleís radar now.
Rumpus: I am very proud that in thirty-six years of writing songs, I havenít "sold out." Then again, I havenít had the opportunity to sell out, so I donít know how Iíd stand up to the temptation.
Cockburn: [Laughs] Faced with a mountain of debt and a tempting offer, who knows? Itís a judgment call that each of us has to make for ourselves. Itís not fair to pass judgment. Somebody who sets out to be a commercial songwriter, whose goal is to have hits and make moneyóI mean, I donít understand that mindset, and Iíve never subscribed to itóokay, itís fine. If thatís what they want to do, more power to them. They should go do that. We should just treat each other in a friendly and respectful manner and leave it at that.
If that concern comes back, itíll be because the artists are sickened that everything is about money. There is a strong strain in the human spirit and psyche that wants something bigger and of greater value than money. Those kinds of feelings get expressed in the arts more readily than anywhere else. I suspect there will be a pendulum swing at some point away from the intense materialism we are bombarded with right now. It may come from the economic bottom who are getting screwed anyway.
M.D. Dunn is a musician, writer, and educator from Northern Ontario, Canada. Find him online at www.mddunn.com
~from TheRumpus.net - by M.D.DunnM.
14 February 2018 - The traditional lullabies that parents sing to their children have been known to include disturbing images: babies in cradles falling from trees, children who fear dying in their sleep, that kind of thing. But none of them, as far as we know, have involved assault weapons.
Until recently, that is, when singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn was contacted by a fellow Canadian who'd made international headlines last October.
A revered singer-songwriter, Cockburn is best known here in the States for his unlikely mid-'80s hit, "If I had a Rocket Launcher." According to Rumours of Glory, his 2014 autobiography, Cockburn had been visiting Guatemalan refugee camps, and after returning to a hotel room, was in tears as he wrote the song. While many who've heard the song may not be familiar with its backstory, there was no overlooking its infamous last line: "If I had a rocket launcher / Some son-of-a-bitch would die."
"I was forwarded an email from Joshua Boyle, who I don't know at all, but he's the guy who was rescued from captivity in Afghanistan just recently with his wife and three kids," says Cockburn of the unusual interaction. "He's a Canadian guy who is married to an American woman, and they were captives of the Taliban for five years. And during that time, he sang 'Rocket Launcher' to his kids as a lullaby. They were just toddlers, so they wouldn't get what the song's about at all. But you could get what he was feeling, though ó or, I can surmise at least, you know?"
Over the course of his career, Cockburn has won 12 Junos awards ó the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy. Last year, he was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame, an honor that coincided with the September release of his 33rd album, Bone On Bone.
While it's been largely underplayed in his music, Cockburn turned to Christianity early in his career, and, apart from a period in which he became fed up with the intolerance of the evangelical right, he still identifies that way today. A rock musician whose music has incorporated elements of folk, jazz and world music, he's been hailed as one of contemporary music's most gifted guitarists, yet sings and plays in an understated way that complements lyrics that can be both poetic and polemical.
@ Boulder Theater
2032 14th Street
Fri., Feb. 16, 8 p.m. (sold out)
"On the coastline, where the trees shine, in the unexpected rain / There's the carcass of a tanker, in the centre of a stain," he sings on the new album's poignant "False River," while other songs show a wry sense of humor that surfaces from time to time: "Cafť Society, a sip of community / Cafť society, misery loves company / Hey, it's a way, to start the day."
Taken as a whole, the album is musically engaging and, in its own way, spiritually uplifting, something that will come as no surprise for his legion of fans. It also showcases his exceptional skills as a guitarist, as well as an occasionally more gritty side to his vocal style.
Cockburn's upcoming Boulder show, which will feature his full band, comes well into a more than 50-date tour, no small feat for a musician who last year turned 72. In the following interview, he talks about making the new album, how "Rocket Launcher" relates to Trump's America, and thinking of himself as a singer-songwriter until proven otherwise.
Indy: Reading your book, I think I learned more about certain aspects of the American experience than from my high school history classes...
Bruce Cockburn: That's not all that surprising. [Laughs.]
Indy: That's basically my question: American curriculums leave out topics like John Foster Dulles and the United Fruit Company. Are you still surprised, ever, by what we don't know in the States about our own history?
No, not really. But I don't think the States is worse than most countries in that respect. I think that every country, and every society, has an image of itself that it wants to perpetuate. And I don't even think it's that wrong, as long as the information is out there for people that want to find it. If you start suppressing information in a vigorous way, then it becomes something else.
I think Americans look inward more than they look outwards, in that people think, "Oh, I was going to go on a trip but I don't have to go anywhere outside of the United States to get anything I want by way of a holiday." And it's kind of true ó if you're looking for a beach or if you're looking for a ski experience ó I mean, it's a country that has a lot of stuff to offer.
Indy: There's a line in Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman where she's writes about the small Alabama town the book is set in. "If you did not want much," she writes, "it was plenty." Would you say that summarizes part of the American thought process?
Yeah, although it's changed over the years. I remember how my family would all get in the car and drive from Ottawa down to Daytona Beach in Florida for Easter holidays. It took three days back then to do that drive, and I remember stopping at a gas station in Georgia, and the guy pumping the gas, a middle-aged man, said, "Where are you all from?" And my dad said, "Well, we're Canadians, we're from Canada." "Canada? What state is that in?" So I mean, that's in the '50s, right? It's changed, I don't think you'd get that now. Now people are too aware of hockey and the Blue Jays. And the NAFTAs.
Indy: How do you think the response to "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" would be different if you released it today? I mean, that song was in heavy rotation on a lot of American stations, but the line "some son-of-a-bitch would die" is a little extreme. I could see that being quietly banned now.
ďHearing 2,000 people sing Ďsome son-of-a-bitch would dieí is a very disturbing thing.Ē
I could see that, but I wouldn't assume it automatically either, because I thought it would be banned back then. Like when it was suggested that it be sent out to radio stations as a single, or as the lead track from the album, or whatever it was, I said, "Nobody is going to play that, like, this is ridiculous." And yet we know what happened.
But the thing is, I think actually, if anything, it might even be more popular now, because everybody's mad. I mean everybody is overtly angry now. And back then, it wasn't that so many people cared about Guatemala ó I mean, there were those who did ó but I think a lot of people liked it because it was an expression of outrage, of a sense of what they would feel as their own rage at life.
Indy: Yeah, as long as you didn't listen to the words.
Well right, but people don't, and I know intelligent people who have had conversations where they'll go, "Oh you mean you're supposed to listen to the lyrics?" It's like, "Yeah!"
Indy: But you can't sing along as easily on the verses.
Yeah, exactly. Although I did play it at a festival in England, in a circus tent with 2,000 people in it, and they all sang along with it. And hearing 2,000 people sing "some son-of-a-bitch would die" is a very disturbing thing. It wasn't meant to be a sing-along, but there they were singing. And these were 2,000 Christians, as well.
Indy: A few days ago, I saw the news that Energy Transfer Partners ó the same company building the pipeline through Standing Rock ó has been given a final go-ahead, after two years, to run a pipeline through Louisiana's Cajun country.
Yeah, yeah. It's a disaster.
Indy: Were there specific circumstances that inspired you to write the song "False River"?
There were, but they're not what the song describes. It's a composite of images having to do with that kind of stuff, but the trigger for the song was a request from a woman named Yvonne Blomer. She's the poet laureate of Victoria, British Colombia, and she put a book together of environmental-related poetry as part of the movement specifically against the pipeline that they want to put right close to Vancouver there, across the Rockies. There's another one further north that's also very contentious and probably will, sooner or later, go through. I mean, eventually they usually win. But there's a lot of opposition to put both of these in. So she asked if I would contribute a poem. And I don't really write poems, but I thought, well, maybe I can do this?
Indy: All you have to do is leave out the music and that makes it a poem.
Well, that sometimes is true, and I think in that case, it was. Most of the times if I were writing for the page, it would look a little different, because you do a lot of things for rhythmic reasons you wouldn't necessarily do for the visual on a page. But, in my mind, when I was writing that song, I had a kind of hip-hop rhythm, which informed the pacing of the lyrics. So it was written as a poem for that collection, but it was obvious to me, even before I finished it, that I was probably going to try to make a song out of it. And so I did so.
Indy: Speaking of poetry, can you tell me a bit about "3 Al Purdys." How you ended up writing a song about a homeless guy going around shouting his poetry.
Well this was another one ó it's weird ó this album has two anomalies in it that were both the result of requests to write songs for other projects. In this case, there were people making a documentary film about [Canadian poet] Al Purdy, and they asked if I would contribute a song to the film. And I had not written anything for years, because I was too busy working on my book and that soaked up all the creative juices, and there was nothing left for songwriting. So when the book was done, I'm sitting there kind of going, "Well, am I a songwriter now or not?" It had been four years since I wrote a song and that's the longest it's ever been since I started.
I mean I was kind of figuring I would still keep thinking of myself as a songwriter until proven otherwise. But I wondered about that, and I was kind of sitting and waiting for an idea to come. So this invitation to contribute a song came. I didn't know very much about Al Purdy myself, so I went out and I bought his collected works, and he's a knockout. I mean he's just a great poet, and quintessentially Canadian in a way, but he also transcends that.
And right away I thought of the phrase "I'll give you three Al Purdys for a $20 bill" coming out of the mouth of somebody. And then I thought, who would that come out of the mouth of? And I pictured this guy with his hair blowing in the wind and a scruffy beard. And he's kind of an older guy, and he's out there on the street ranting out Purdy's poetry for money. So the spoken-word parts of the song are quotations from Al Purdy, and the rest of it I wrote in the voice of that guy.
Indy: A number of your vocals on the new album feel bluesier than usual, even though the music is still kind of all over the place. How do you view this album musically, especially in light of the 30 or so that came before it?
I don't spend much time thinking about that kind of comparison, but it's kind of where I'm at now ó whatever that means. The lyrics invite the music for the most part. There are other decision-making factors, but a set of lyrics will tell me whether they want to be performed on an electric guitar or an acoustic guitar, or whether they want to have a certain kind of rhythm. So a song like "Cafť Society" just wanted to be bluesy.
Indy: So after this tour, what will your next recording project be?
There are no plans to record right away ó this album hasn't run its course and I'm still feeling good about singing these songs ó so that's it for the time being. But two things that we've talked about doing as long-range, somewhere-down-the-road projects are another instrumental album. We did one called Speechless a few years ago that was a mixture of new pieces and previously recorded ones, and we might do a volume two of that, which I would quite like to do. And I'd also, if I don't die first, like to eventually do an album of other people's songs. But I don't know.
Indy: Any artists in particular?
No, lots of different people. People that I admired. Dylan would be there, and Elvis would be there, and whatever other things I might dredge up from the depths.
~from www.csindy.com - Colorado Springs.
10 February 2018 - When Bruce Cockburn gazed into the capacity seated crowd at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles, he may as well been holding a mirror. Salted with dozens of spectacled, grey-haired men and their dates, the audience was clearly composed of lifers; fans that have followed the Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist for the better part of his five-decade career. So, when the opening notes were played of classics from the vast catalog that Cockburn has amassed, such as the first set highlight of "If I Had A Rocket Launcher," or the second-halfís peak on "Wondering Where the Lions Are," the otherwise polite and respectful mass turned boisterous.
In between and through to the end, there were constant reminders of Cockburnís quietly stinging humor, taking jabs at an unnamed current world leader who "gets enough attention already," and a poignant anecdote about immigration ahead of "Free to Be" that served as both contemporary cautionary tale and historical footnote. Thatís Cockburnís style, even today, as he dropped in a few songs from his latest Bone On Bone, introducing the title track with another jab at aging. There was terrific irony in there, as well: Cockburn asking early of the crowd not to blow the pot smoke towards the stage; not with any moral objection but because it affected his vocal chords.
Those vocals were in wonderfully characteristic form; gravely and with a barking edge when needed, then smoother and hitting each high note. In his hands, the guitar, too, is still a powerful voice as Cockburnís fingerstyle on instruments electric, acoustic, resonator, and even the exotic (a tiny stringed one traditionally made from the shell of an armadillo) is as melodic and technically dexterous as ever a time in the septuagenarianís span.
Check out the full gallery of photos by Stevo Rood here.
So, when on the final performance of the night, Cockburn and his trio of bandmates turned the El Rey into a den of psychedelia it was no real surprise. For a raging ďStolen Land,Ē Cockburnís guitar roared in a wash of feedback and wah-wah, whammy bar and delay. He let the last bits of shrieking guitar linger in the air before clicking off an effects pedal, turning sheepishly to his audience with a humble smile heís had for 50 years, and bowing with his band to another earned and deserved standing ovation.
Video - Wondering Where The Lions Are - by Stevo Rood
~from Live Music News and Review, Review by Larson Sutton - Photos by Stevo Rood Instagram: ARoodPhoto - Twitter @stevord
9 February 2018 - In the six years since Small Source of Comfort, his last album of new songs, Bruce Cockburn has gotten married, settled in San Francisco, become a father for the second time, and started going to church again. Thatís a lot, and itís only part of the story: Cockburn spent three of those years working on his autobiography, Rumours of Glory, and when it was finished, he endured a year long songwriting drought. "There was simply nothing left to write songs with," he said. "As soon as the book was put to bed, I started asking myself whether I was ever going to be a songwriter again."
That dry spell ended with "3 Al Purdys," a song composed for a documentary about Canadaís "unofficial poet laureate" Al Purdy, whose best-known poem is about a pint of beer thatís "half fart and half horse piss." Channeling Purdyís voice in lines like "the beauty of language set a hook in my soul; me like a bread crust soaking soup from a bowl" brought Cockburn back to songwriting, with the rest of the eleven cuts following over the next two years. Unlike the songs on Small Source, these have no faraway travel to spark them, but because heís found himself in California during the current political climate, Cockburn has drawn inspiration from a world around him that feels foreign, drifting, a place where "everything is spinning in the looming entropy."
Thereís plenty of lyrical anger on Bone On Bone, from the "carcass of a tanker in the center of a stain" on "False River" to the "fóĖg detours" of "Mon Chemin" to the "uniformed monkeys" of "States Iím In" to the "flapping lips of flatulence [that] bellow ĎVote for MeíĒ on "Cafť Society." But alongside all that outrage, which has long been part of Cockburnís writing, thereís a renewed sense of spirituality thatís come from finding himself in church again after being away for decades. On more than half of these songs, heís joined by a choir from SF Lighthouse, whose calls and responses transform Cockburnís questions about God and scripture into statements of purpose. They add their affirmations to counter doubt on "Stab at Matter" and "Forty Years in the Wilderness," and provide the full-voiced gospel momentum for "Jesus Train" and Rev. Gary Davisí trad "Twelve Gates to the City."
At 72, playing isnít as easy for Cockburn as it was ten or 20 or 30 years ago. The albumís title is an allusion to his arthritisóbefore performances, he spends at least an hour warming up his fingers. But once heís ready, his pickingóon six-string, 12-string, and resophonic guitarsóremains a thing of beauty, deeply thought and deeply felt, with an older-and-wiser economy of notes that balances urgency and patience, shimmer and substance, rhythm and ornament. And on the discís one instrumental, "Bone On Bone", Cockburn faces age head-on, combining a slow, steady, monotonic bass with a melody thatís both soaring and wearyógliding between folk and jazz, and sounding as perfect as ever.
~from Acoustic Guitar.
8 February 2018 Bruce Cockburnís last album, Small Source of Comfort, came out six years ago. But Cockburn had good reasons to back up his absence; he spent a sizable chunk of the time working on, releasing and promoting his memoir, Rumours of Glory. The guitar virtuoso also got remarried, had another child and was busy settling into a new city, San Francisco. It was a series of life-changing events and items that demanded his time and attention.
Writing Rumours of Glory made Cockburn consider hanging up his songwriting hat, he says, and in a recent interview with Boulder Weekly, Cockburn politely dismissed the idea that his questioning was momentary or fleeting.
"No, it was kind of serious," he says. This was a defining moment for someone who has been in the public eye as a well-respected musician since his debut album in 1970.
Cockburn eventually decided he would continue writing songs, and an album resulted. Bone On Bone, released last September , is his 25th studio album. There is typically a folk influence on Cockburnís albums, regardless of the overall sound of the particular project, and Bone On Bone is no different. Itís not the sometimes-dissonance-edged jazz rock of The Charity of Night (1996), the world beat-influenced pop of Stealing Fire (1984) or the grit-tinged guitar rock featured on parts of the Further Adventures Of album from 1978; instead Bone On Bone has an organic feel and roots orientation.
Cockburnís guitar playing and voice cut through the 11-track album with clarity and precision. His vocals have a slightly weathered but polished feel to them, while his guitar work has a rustic, yesteryear sound to it.
The bluesy shuffle of "Cafť Society" helps paint the picture of a group of folks ó sometimes including Cockburn himself ó that meet outside a local Peetís Coffee & Tea. "3 Al Purdys" starts with reverberating guitar work that has become a trademark Cockburn sound. The guitar riff drives the almost-hypnotic song, with Cockburn taking on the persona of a homeless man asking folks for $20 to recite three Al Purdy poems. Cockburn discovered Purdy, a well-respected Canadian poet a few years back, picked up a volume of his poems and became a fan.
"I was blown away by how good he was," Cockburn says. He was so blown away, in fact, that he contributed music to a film about the late poet, Al Purdy Was Here, which came out in 2015.
Both "Cafť Society" and "3 Al Purdys" feature the cornet work of Denverís own legendary Ron Miles.
Milesí cornet grabs onto Cockburnís melodies and accentuates them. On the chorus of "Cafť Society" for instance, his horn-playing takes a melodic chorus and makes it difficult to forget.
Cockburn dips into gospel with "Jesus Train," which true to its name, moves along like a Heaven-bound locomotive, and "Twelve Gates to the City." Both songs, and four others on the album, feature The San Francisco Lighthouse Chorus.
"Itís not a choir; they just sing at church," Cockburn says. "One Sunday it will be a couple of women. Thereís just these different combinations, and then thereís the band. Iíve played with them a few times at church. Itís a great asset and a great talent pool. They were kind enough to come out and sing on all these things."
Cockburn discovered the San Francisco Lighthouse Chorus through a church his wife, and now Cockburn, attend.
"There was just this all-embracing, fantastic vibe in the room," he says. "I didnít know anybody. I was a total stranger walking in there. None of them knew me. And then there was this great music, a good band and a bunch of really good singers."
"Looking and Waiting" is another noteworthy tune from Bone On Bone. Guided by dulcet guitar picking, comforting backing harmonies and an ear-catching rhythm shift, itís more of a dream than a song. Cockburn denies the suggestion that the tune took a long time to write, even though it has the feel of a long-crafted composition. He says the lyrics only took 15 minutes to compose. The words, as alluring as the music, express hope even with the realization that one wonít always have all the answers. In the opening lines that also act as the songís chorus, Cockburn sings, "Looking and waiting/ Itís what I do/ Scanning the skies for a beacon from you/ Shapes on the curtain, but no clear view of you."
Searching and questioning with hope is an overarching theme of the record. These are stories of highs and lows, pushing and pulling, ebb and flow. Itís a dirt-on-the-ground, dust-in-the-nose, sunshine-in-the-sky, water-to-drink type of journey through words and music that matches with rustic, earthy tones.
Bone On Bone is a record worth experiencing. [purchase here]
On the Bill: Bruce Cockburn. 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder. Tickets are $34.50-$39.50. [sold out]
7 February 2018 - Hi, I'm happy to announce that Bruce's album "Bone On Bone" has been nominated for a JUNO award in the "Contemporary Roots Album of the Year" category. It's Bruce's 33rd nomination. He's won 12 to date. Here's a stat to contemplate and is fun to think about. Bruce got his first JUNO nomination in 1971 (he also won that year). So getting a nomination in 2018 means he's been getting nominated over a period of 47 years now. Wow.
To put that in some perspective, for an artist who is getting their first nomination now in 2018, to do what Bruce has done, it would mean that they would have to get nominated again in 2065. Think about that. I hope I'm around to see it happen. ~ Bernie Finkelstein
5 February 2018 - When Canadian folk-rocker Bruce Cockburn plays Berkeleyís Freight and Salvage this week, backing his latest album "Bone On Bone," he wonít be crashing at a roadside motel afterward. Heíll be sleeping in his own bed, right across the Bay Bridge, in his home in San Francisco, where heís been quietly residing for nine years. "My wife ó whoís an attorney ó and I were living in Brooklyn, and I was still commuting there from my other house in Canada," says Cockburn, 72. "Then she got a job in the Bay Area, and we moved out here, to a town where nobody gets by on just one income. But we love it."
What neighborhood do you live in here?
Well, Iíd rather not have too much attention focused on exactly where I live.
Do fans show up unannounced?
So far, the only person whoís showed up ó and she showed up at our door Ėwas this psycho fan that I have thatís Canadian. Fortunately, I wasnít here, so she left a note on the door. She left her phone number, with a "Just passing through ó gimme a call!" Sheís just a pesky person whoís been around for decades, but her activities have abated of late, so hopefully ó fingers crossed ó sheís outgrowing this. But in terms of the local folks, they kind of know what I do, but none of them are particular fans that Iím aware of.
Where do you find yourself hanging out?
Iíve got a 6-year-old daughter, so I hang out at home. I have a place where I go to practice, and the rest of the time I run errands. So I truly do not hang out anywhere.
Have you written about San Francisco yet?
Well, I could do that. But I donít. Iíve found that after any period of trying to do that, I actually ended up with the same amount of usable material as I would have if I had just waited for the good ideas. I tried that in the beginning, almost 50 years ago. And ever since then, Iíve just been waiting for the good ideas. So if an idea comes, I have to seize it and wrestle with it.
Our city is so aesthetically inspiring, though.
There was a song on the last album, an instrumental piece called "Parnassus and Fog," and thatís a product of living here. And thereís a new song called "Cafť Society" thatís about the cool gang of folks that hangs out at the local Peetís in the early mornings. And we live in an era where community is an increasingly rare and precious commodity.
IF YOU GO
Where: Freight and Salvage, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 7-8
Tickets: $40 to $44, (sold out)
Contact: (510) 644-2020, www.thefreight.org
Note: Cockburn also appears at 8 p.m. Feb. 9 at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz.
~ from SF Examiner By Tom Lanham.
Bruce Cockburn on Fretboard Journal
5 February 2018 - On this weekís podcast, we talk to legendary singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn. Bruce was featured back in the Fretboard Journal #23 and he offers plenty of updates since then on his career, music and projects during our conversation. We chat about his Linda Manzer-built instruments (including the electric charango that she built for him), his memoir Rumours of Glory and the full-length documentary on his life, Pacing the Cage.
This episode of the Fretboard Journal Podcast is brought to you by our friends at Dying Breed Music, where you can find a bevy of great acoustic guitars from the Golden Era.
Fretboard Journal - Bruce Cockburn podcast #185 by Jason Velinde.
5 February 2018 - February 4 - 10 - Bruce Cockburn LIVE! on SiriusXM
Sunday Feb 4: The Village Folk Show on The Bridge, SiriusXM ch32
and on the SiriusXM App @ 10 PM to 2 AM PT/ 7 PM to 11 PM PT.
Bruce Cockburn LIVE! on around 10 PM ET/ 7 pm PT.
This show will rebroadcast on SiriusXM The Village ch741 online in the USA and Canada all week ( 6x)
Feb 5 Monday 6 PM ET (Village Folk Show 6-10 PM ET)
Feb 6 Tuesday 12 PM ET AND 6 PM ET (Village Folk Show 12-4 PM ET)
Feb 8 Thursday 8 AM ET (Village Folk Show 8-12 PM ET)
Feb 9 Friday 12 PM ET
Feb 10 Saturday 10 AM ET
The show will also be available for 2 weeks on demand at siriusxm.com/ondemand under The Bridge.
Twitter: #siriusxm @sxmvillage
We invite you to listen Ė here is a 30 day free online trial: http://www.siriusxm.com/freetrial
SiriusXM The Village ch 741 and The Bridge ch33
Hear The Village - Facebook
SiriusXM - The Village
30 January 2018 - "Cut from the same revolutionary cloth as N.W. A, iconic Bruce Cockburn thrills the guitar nerds of Vancouver"
Iím a bit slow sometimes, I admit...
It took until last nightís show at the Center to see the connection between Bruce Cockburn and N.W.A.
N.W.A had the shocking temerity to confront middle class white America with gritty tales of police brutality, drugs, guns, and the complete inability of government to give a shit about anyone besides the ruling elite. Bruce Cockburn has for years been speaking the same truth to power, with a level of intensity that rivals ďFuck Tha PoliceĒ, and a degree of relentlessness that has caused him to be occasionally dismissed by some as being too earnest or preachy. They werenít listening.
Cockburnís songs have for years been serving up searing indictments of government-sponsored terrorism, systemic economic disparity designed to benefit the ruling class, and a host of other well delineated-social ills. Songs such as "Call It Democracy", "Trickle Down", and "If A Tree Falls" seem to have been ignored or disparaged by some at the time of their initial release, but in hindsight, they now seem downright prescient.
Perhaps this lack of attention, especially south of the border, is due to the fact that these words are delivered by a soft-spoken, somewhat diminutive gentleman from Ontario, instead of a group of loud and angry young men straight outta Compton. No matter. The message is, again, similarly clear.[Editor note: Bruce has a huge following of admiring fans 'south of the border' here in the USA.]
And did I mention that the author of these weighty words is a monster guitar player?
I first got exposed to his music when I was 12 years old. As we only were able to get two TV channels on a good day, I was watching a CBC variety show, and on comes this early 20s hippie. Round wire-frame glasses, acoustic guitar, and a smile so beatific that you could practically smell the hash smoke. As he played "Thoughts On A Rainy Afternoon", I was left trying to figure out where the other guitar players were offstage, as he had the ability to sound like three people playing at once.
What he was doing on the guitar just didnít seem possible. He only got better.
As a songwriter, Cockburn has a deeply personal style, and although he has had some hits on Canadian radio, his style has never lent itself to mainstream radio in the US. Their loss. His songs almost always seem to be an emotional reaction to things deeply personal, as if he were a big toothpaste tube of human experience, and if you squeezed hard enough from the bottom, a great song would come out the top.
Saturdayís show at the Center began with an interesting set from Sarah Felker, aka Nefe. A 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Guelph, Ontario, she gave us a brief set of originals that showed off her powerful pipes. Girl can move some air, without question.
Accompanied by a second acoustic guitarist, she rendered a tight set. However, while Felkerís material was no doubt sincere and heartfelt, the writing seemed ratherÖ youthful.
The music itself was not particularly harmonically adventurous, and all too often the songs fell into three-chord Jack Johnson campfire mode. At times, I almost expected a drum circle to break out, but thankfully, the crowd of mostly senior citizens was able to contain its enthusiasm. Dodged that bulletÖ That said, I think that as Felker develops and matures as a songwriter, we may hear great things in years to come.
Cockburn and his band then took the stage. The Canadian icon is 72 and still touring, and as such, he looked a little more hunched over and moved a little slower than the last time I saw him almost a decade ago. Nevertheless, he strapped on a vintage Fender 12-string electric and got down to business.
Right from the opening chords of "Tokyo", it was pretty much a love fest. That led into "Lovers In A Dangerous Time", and then "States Iím In" off his latest release, Bone On Bone. Switching guitars every couple of songs, Cockburn took the crowd on a trip that mingled hits, some obscure deep cuts, and new offerings like "Jesus Train" and "Bone on Bone", which were performed on a resonator guitar.
His guitar style has always incorporated alternate tunings, and a pumping thumb on the bass strings while the other fingers on his right hand seem to have minds of their own. It was simply stunning on a gorgeous reworking of "If I Had A Rocket Launcher", where he used a black Fender Strat going through a delay pedal, which introduced complex polyrhythms to an already complex fingerpicking part. Guitar nerd heaven.
After touring for so many years, Cockburn is a calm and relaxed presence onstage, and once again, that calmness and humour belie the ferocity of some of his lyric treatments. After the obligatory "Wondering Where The Lions Are" and "The Coldest Night Of The Year" (both substantially reworked for this ensemble), we were treated to a great performance of "If A Tree Falls", a blazing critique of Amazon deforestation and human environmental indifference.
Cockburnís backing band was quite wonderful as well. Drummer Gary Craig is blessed with not only impeccable time, but the ability to coax a vast number of tonal colours from his kit, beautifully complementing, but never dominating the music. His goofy facial expressions had me in stitches too.
Unassuming John Dymond on bass did an admirable job also. His playing showing a restrained virtuosity that never drew attention for attentionís sake, but the right notes were definitely played at the right time. Always. He also provided solid backup vocals on several songs.
Cockburnís nephew, John Aaron Cockburn, rounded out the group, playing accordion, guitar, and violin in addition to providing background vocals. While the accordion seemed suited to a couple of tracks, for my money it seemed to add unnecessary clutter to some numbers. Or maybe it was just a little hot in the mix. Iím reminded of the Far Side cartoon ďWelcome to hell. Hereís your accordionÖĒ
All jokes aside, the singerís nephew is also an absolutely killer guitar player, and I wish he could have been featured as a guitarist more. The apple does not fall far from the extended family tree.
With an encore of "3 Al Purdys" and an absolutely stellar reworking of "Stolen Land" that featured an extended psychedelic distortion guitar solo worthy of Jimi Hendrix or Robert Fripp, the evening drew to a close. The crowd of silver hairs politely indicated its pleasure and then shuffled home to adjust their medications.
All in all, a very satisfying evening for guitar nerds everywhere. As the saying goes, just because thereís snow on the roof, doesnít mean thereís no fire in the furnace. Letís hope Bruce Cockburn keeps kicking at the darkness for years to come.
~from The Georgia Straight by Rob Bailey.
26 January 2018 - Fifty years after singer-songer Bruce Cockburn burst onto the Canadian music scene combining careful guitar work with scathing political lyrics and activism to match, the man behind 'Pacing the Cage' and If I Had a Rocket Launcher released his first album in six years.
His album Bone On Bone was released in September the same month as his award, and Cockburn, 72, plays Saturday 8 p.m. at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts. Tickets are available online.
And just this fall, the 'Lovers in a Dangerous Time' songwriter was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, alongside some of the greats of the country's music greats.
He spoke to Metro from his San Francisco home. Here are some excerpts.
Metro: Your new album Bone On Bone features demons in disguise, Biblical images, blood sacrifice ó it's a mystical album.
Bruce Cockburn: The songs come out of speculations about life and feelings triggered by the stuff I've run across. It's a record, in a certain way, not just of what's going through my head at the time, but also the years preceding it. There was a big gap from the previous group of songs.
There's a sort of a line of continuity, though: the spiritual focus has always been paramount for me. Sometimes it's obvious, sometimes it's less, in my music. Lately there's been more. It's partly a function of the stage of life I'm at, I think. Each song has it's own origin story.
Tell me about your new song Forty Years in the Wilderness.
The imagery is certainly Biblical in origin, but when I wrote it I was thinking of my own 40 years Ö There was a long road in between, if anyone cared to notice you can trace it through my songs and albums. I moved west ó if you'd asked me 15 years ago if I was ever going to live on the West Coast, I would have said, 'No I don't see myself doing that.' But here I am. I married an American gal and she got a job in San Francisco.
How does Bruce Cockburn of 40 years ago compare to today's 72-year-old one?
To the extent I can remember, I was worried about more stuff. I wish I could claim to be free of unnecessary concerns. But I found when I turned 50, I suddenly felt I had a license to enjoy my life. Because the pressure was off. I'd made it through half a century; from here on in is a gift.
You aren't 'pacing the cage' any more?
(Laughs) That depends on the day! I might be, but mostly not. That's a condition that all of us find ourselves in one way or another at times. Hopefully infrequently.
But I do feel like for me the wilderness was learning to love and learning people. In the process of learning to be part of a community of people, which I had previously pretty much tried to avoid. But it became apparently if I was going to get any further, I had to learn how to love my neighbour ó but I had to learn who my neighbour actually is!
Whether it's #MeToo, anti-Trump or refugees ó do these movements remind you of the kind of awakening you saw in your songs Call It Democracy or If I Had a Rocket Launcher?
There's so much bafflegab; the President makes outrageous statements every day, you can pretty much count on it, and pretty much everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie. Why are we paying attention to this guy at all? If you're going to get involved in stuff ó and I hope people do ó if you get enough of that youthful energy involved in something there is the chance of making changes.
Is there anything you have to offer this generation going through its 'rocket launcher' phase?
I would caution people against getting too attached to the imagined outcome of their efforts. Because you probably won't live to see the real outcome. Don't expect to be able to revel in success or you're going to get burnt out, exhausted and cynical. It's really important to just do the work and keep the focus on stuff that actually matters.
~from Metro News Vancouver by Dave Ball
23 January 2018 - Itís something of a nice bit of symmetry in the recent life of Bruce Cockburn.
On Tuesday night and after a nice two-month holiday break, the legendary Canadian artist will kick off the second half of his current North American tour to support his latest studio album Bone On Bone with a Jack Singer Concert Hall show.
He arrived in town two days earlier for a Sunday night ceremony at Studio Bell, where he saw his plaque placed on the wall to celebrate his induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, which is housed in the East Village home of the National Music Centre.
Heíll wrap this leg of the tour in early May in Toronto at Massey Hall, where last September the official Hall of Fame gala event was held, Cockburn feted alongside fellow Class of 2017 inductees Beau Dommage, Stťphane Venne and Neil Young.
"It was great,Ē Cockburn says of that evening sounding somewhat surprised, "contrary to my expectations. Not that I expected it to be bad or anything, but you go into an awards show thinking thereís going to be a lot of stuff that I donít really feel like I have to sit through here, but I will anyway because I donít want to be rude to people. But it wasnít like that, the show was actually really good ó very well produced, well rounded and the artists that performed were good, and the things people had to say were at times a little long-winded perhaps, but mostly not. The evening went off very well."
And one imagines that the man who has devoted the past 50 years to the craft of writing songs must look at this honour as a particularly significant one.
Perhaps even more so, than, say, many of the other awards and accolades heís received throughout the years, including a dozen Junos, induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, the Order of Canada, the many honourary doctorates and all of the others that heís piled up in an almost unassuming manner.
"I appreciate that fact," he says of this particular tribute to his gifts. "I donít live for awards, believe me, itís the last thing Iím thinking about when Iím writing. In fact, I donít think Iíve ever written a song and thought about an award at the same time. But as a measure of the fact that people are treating the songs with respect and paying attention to them, that means a lot Ö Itís very nice."
Not that heís quite yet ready to rest on those laurels, as late last year he dropped Bone, his 33rd album and first since 2011ís Small Source of Comfort.
Much of the time in between saw the artist working on his memoir Rumours of Glory, which was released in 2014.
And then. Nothing. For a couple of years, he admits the songwriting muse all but left him.
It was the longest period he hadnít written since a year and a half at the end of the í80s when he was burnt out and needed to step away because it was "pretty intense decade for me." The second he did take that hiatus, however, inspiration returned.
Not this time, though, which youíd assume would have the now-San Francisco-based Cockburn concerned, even a little worried.
"It wasnít a worry so much as just a wondering, speculation," he says, noting that "all of the creative energy that would have produced songs went into the book, so there was neither motivation nor opportunity to write songs for the Ö three years it took to write that thing.
"When it was over and the book was put to bed and out, I started thinking, ĎWell, am I still a songwriter? í"
"Iíd continued to perform through that time and had come up with some instrumental pieces, but the lyrics werenít there. So the question was, ĎWell, am I still a songwriter or is that part of my life over now? And should I be looking at something else, like, am I going to be a prose writer now?í That was the speculation, but I was hoping that songs would come."
That they did. After being asked to contribute a song to a documentary about Canadian poet Al Purdy, he penned the first track for the album ó 3 Al Purdys ó and the dam broke.
What flowed out is 11 songs that find the 72-year-old at the height of his powers. Itís vintage Cockburn, with the artist and band revisiting his consistent themes ó activism, humanity, spirituality ó in a remarkably fresh and refreshing manner.
The highlight of the record is the stunning, jaw-droppingly wistful and wondrous ballad Forty Years In the Wilderness, which finds Cockburn reflecting on the past four decades heís spent living life away from the Church but still very much with faith.
It quite simply is one of the most beautiful and moving pieces heís ever recorded.
"I was as much moved by the song when I thought of it," he says with a chuckle.
"When Iím writing a song if I feel like itís touching me as Iím writing it, I donít take it for granted, but I feel like I have some justification hoping that it will hit other people deeply, too. And that has been the case with that song.
"Thatís great that it struck you. I donít know how old you are, but I wonder if it requires a degree of maturity to be touched by that particular song."
When heís told that heís speaking to someone whoís a child at 47 he laughs.
"Yeah a mere babe, so you actually donít know what itís about at all," he jokes. "I say that facetiously because I donít think you have to have any particular set of qualifications, but if youíve hit a certain age thereís a chance that the 40 Years number will have a more literal application to your life than if you havenít been around that long."
That, presumably, will be one of the many tracks from Bone On Bone that will make it into the setlist, with Cockburn noting that the material still feels "fresh" to him, made even more so by the full band experience of the shows.
Which is perhaps why heís not even thinking yet of whether or not thereís still more to come from the well heís tapped so brilliantly for so long.
"If an idea comes Iíll grab it, but Iím not waiting in the kind of receptive state that I deliberately do if Iím really looking for the songwriting experience, because Iím too busy performing and these songs still feel fresh.
"But that said Iíve got at least four new instrumental pieces that Iím working on so the creative side is being attended to. Weíve speculated ó just pure speculation ó about doing a second instrumental album," he says referring to 2005ís Speechless.
"A lot of people liked that and thereíve been a lot of requests for another one and we thought maybe it would be a good thing to do. Whether these pieces will add up to that, I donít know."
So can fans take heart, assume that Bone On Bone is not his swan song?
"The first album could have been my swan song," he says laughing again. "You never know Ö"
He continues. ďI never take it for granted. People do me an honour by listening to my stuff and allowing it into their lives and hearts. I donít take that for granted at all. I donít assume that itís going to stay as it is at any point. It could get bigger, it could get smaller, but as long as I feel like thereís somebody out there ó and Iíve learned over the years that this is pretty much a given that thereís always going to be somebody who cares."
He laughs again.
"My first inkling of that was playing as an opening act at a psychedelic club in Toronto in the late 60s. I was the cannon fodder that went on while they were getting the light show going and nobody was there yet Ö It was a huge room, a big room shaped like the inside of an egg that was the size of a football field, so thereíd be half a dozen people sitting at the other end of the room, in the dark, behind the light show, you couldnít see them."
"I learned, after doing this for a few months Ö I realized that actually I could feel when people were paying attention. And there always was somebody who was Ö
"Ever since then Iíve understood that anything you do thereís always going to be somebody there. Whether you can count on that to make a living off of, is another issue.
"But thank God for me itís worked the way it did."
~from by Mike Bell - YYscene.com
24 January 2018 - Audio Interview
24 January 2018 - While visiting Studio Bell, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Cockburn reflected on words and rhythm, and how they play into his songwriting process.
The National Music Centre and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame held the formal plaque ceremony as part of Bruce Cockburnís induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on January 21, 2018.
22 January 2018 - Bruce Cockburn is not in the habit of listening to his old songs. But he did find a unique way to review his canon of music a few years back.
It was when he drove his daughter to preschool in San Francisco. He became his own captive audience.
"She would always insist on hearing my stuff in the car," said Cockburn, talking to media on Sunday evening at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. ďĎCan we put on your music in the car?í Every day this would repeat itself. ĎDo we have to? Can I not play somebody else?í Nope. So Iíd play me. Itís like looking at an album of snapshots in a way. It brings back all the feelings. Not all of the details, some of those are lost to the murk of time. But, certainly, that brings back the feelings that went into those songs."
Cockburn was in a bit of a reflective mood Sunday evening at the National Music Centre, where he participated in the plaque ceremony held in honour of his 2017 induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. It found him placing his plaque on the wall, which already holds the names of artists such as Leonard Cohen, Hank Snow, Joni Mitchell and Wilf Carter.
Now housed at the National Music Centre alongside the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, the organization is overseen by the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN). The honour seems long overdue. Somehow SOCAN managed to find more than 50 songsmiths to induct before honouring Cockburn ó a songwriterís songwriter who wrote If I Had a Rocket Launcher and Lovers in a Dangerous Time ó this year, alongside Neil Young, Beau Dommage and Stťphane Venne.
But he was gracious and had high praise for his fellow songwriters from the Great White North.
"I think Canada punches well above its weight in terms of the quality of songwriting that comes out of this country relative to the size of the population," said Cockburn, who will play the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Tuesday night. "When you think how much we were influenced by English pop music in the í60s and American pop music forever, thereís a lot of American pop music that is actually Canadian. And a lot of it that is not pop but has more serious intent than what often gets called pop music comes from here and Iím proud of that."
Cockburn, 72, recounted his beginnings as a songwriter. Initially, the Ottawa native saw himself becoming a composer for jazz ensembles. But he also became interested in poetry.
"Then, along came Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia Tyson, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bob Dylan and others who woke me up to the notion that interesting music and poetics were not mutually exclusive, that you could put serious music together with melody, a chant or a groove," he said. "I was hooked."
Wearing a tie and his trademark Doc Martens, Cockburn also showed a flash of the political irreverence that informs many of his most beloved songs when talking about Canada versus the U.S., where he has lived for the past nine years.
"As people who belong to this country, we should know that we belong to the one island of sanity in the Western Hemisphere,Ē he said to cheers from the audience. ďEverything south of here is (expletive) up."
~from Calgary Herald by Eric Volmers.
Photo: Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
Additional photos can be viewed on brucecockburn.com
23 January 2018 - Legendary singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn was honoured at a celebration hosted by the National Music Centre (NMC) to commemorate his 2017 induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. The event took place Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, at Studio Bell in Calgary, where Cockburn formally placed his inductee plaque onto the wall. A reception followed, featuring a tribute performance by Calgary-based artist Aaron Young.
In her remarks, CSHF Executive Director Vanessa Thomas identified Cockburn as one of Canadaís greatest and most influential songwriters. ďFor the past five decades, Bruce Cockburn has made music delineated by his spiritual quest, humanitarian activity, and political viewpoint,Ē said Thomas. ďIn a body of work encompassing folk, rock, pop, reggae, jazz, blues, gospel and world music, his songs prove, every day, that music can effect change.Ē
"Itís a remarkable gift to have been inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame,Ē said Cockburn. ďIf itís not presuming too much, Iíd like to offer a word of thanks on behalf of the whole community of Canadian songwriters. The effort to create a home for the pursuit and honouring of our art is much appreciated.Ē
Since opening in 2016, Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre (NMC), has been the physical home of the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. In December of 2017, the CSHF announced a temporary exhibition at Studio Bell, in partnership with the NMC, to honour the four 2017 inductees: Bruce Cockburn, Beau Dommage, Stťphane Venne and Neil Young.
The exhibition, called Showcase, displays personal items and instruments from this yearís honourees, including one of Youngís practice guitars Ė a vintage 1970s Epiphone acoustic Ė on which he wrote ďNatural Beauty,Ē from his 1992 Harvest Moon album. Other treasures include the written lyrics for Cockburnís 1984 political anthem ďIf I Had a Rocket Launcher,Ē and 1988ís ďIf A Tree Falls,Ē along with a Linda Manzer-built acoustic guitar owned and played by him.Two 2017 Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame inductees, Paul Brandt and Harvey Gold, are also being feted in the exhibition, which opened on Dec. 13, 2017, and will run until the fall of 2018.
~from SOCAN.ca. With files from Nick Fedor. Photo: Neil Zeller Photography
23 January 2018 - (originally published 13 December 2017) - Itís a small battered notebook, filled with scribbled lines, multiple revisions and the frayed edge of a page that has been mysteriously ripped out.
It also represents the inner workings of one of Canadaís most beloved songwriters and the early glimmers of one of his most beloved songs. Bruce Cockburnís handwritten lyrics for Lovers in a Dangerous Time are currently on display as part of The National Music Centreís temporary exhibit in Studio Bell to honour Cockburnís 2017 induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
"You can see things have been scratched out and ideas are written around," says Adam Fox, director of programs for the National Music Centre. "You can almost get a sense of their compositional method; just how they are crossing things out and putting things in different order."
The notebook, which also includes handwritten lyrics for Cockburnís politically charged hit If I Had a Rocket Launcher, is on display, as is his lyrics from 1988s If A Tree Falls. They are both on loan from McMaster University, where many of the songwriterís archives have been housed since he donated them in 2013.
The temporary exhibit, which will be on display on the fifth floor of Studio Bell until the fall of 2018, celebrates a new batch of inductees to the Canadian Songwriterís Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. Both now have a physical home at the National Music Centre, as does the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
This year, Cockburn joins fellow Canuck icon Neil Young and Quebecois rockers Beau Dommage and French-Canadian composer Stephane Venne.Continue Reading
The exhibition will be on display at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, until the fall of 2018.
~from Calgary Herald - by Eric Volmers. Photo Darren Makowichuk / Postmedia
23 January 2018 - The temporary exhibit, which will be on display on the fifth floor of Studio Bell until the fall of 2018, celebrates a new batch of inductees to the Canadian Songwriterís Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. Both now have a physical home at the National Music Centre, as does the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Photos by Madison McSweeny via Twitter
19 January 2018 - Bruce Cockburn is a lot like the Montreal Canadians teams of the 1970s.
Theyíve done it all, won it all and have every decoration and distinction imaginable, but have experienced a dormant period in recent years.
The Courier spoke to Cockburn in advance of his upcoming tour, which lands in Vancouver at the Centre for Performing Arts on Jan. 27.
Speaking from his home in San Francisco, the 72-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter mused on his process, almost losing it and how he got it back.
But first, some hard numbers on a career thatís spanned almost five decades.
And you thought the Habsí six Cups in 10 years was impressiveÖ
You have dozens of albums and hundreds of songs. Two and three generations of fans are at your shows. How do you cater to all these different groups and different wants when you draw up your setlist?
I donít know if you really try to cater to everyone, exactly. But I do pay attention to what I think people hope for when they come to a show. They put up money for tickets, you have to respect that and sympathize with it. Any given show of mine is going to be made up whateverís new and current plus the songs that I feel people will really feel cheated if they donít hear. And then I fill in the rest with whatever I feel like from the back repertoire. I like to change it up from time to time so Iím not always doing the same old songs.
Take me through your headspace 30 minutes before going on stage.
I get nervous. Itís not panic, but thereís definitely nerves involved. I have a whole routine that I go through to prep: gargling with warm salt water, inhaling steam and all these tricks Iíve learned from various other singers. If itís a band tour like this one is, itís a bit of a different atmosphere backstage, so thereís more of a social atmosphere then there is when itís just me solo.
What has to happen for you to walk off stage and say ďtonight was awesome.Ē
I have to not make any mistakes, and that almost never happens. When it does, I come off stage feeling pretty good. But the audience doesnít always agree with my take on things and that happens whether itís a collective effort or not. Iíve come off stage with the band and weíve all felt it was a fantastic show, everyone got everything right and everything gelled. And then somebody else will say, ďI thought you better the night before.Ē So itís a pretty subjective judgment.
More and more performers ó bands and comedians ó are saying no to cell phones at live performances. Whatís your take on cellphones at your gigs?
I donít worry about it too much, but I used to. When it was more of a rarity it used to seem very intrusive, it seemed like it was disrupting the people around the guilty party. But after a while, it just became so ubiquitous. You canít really take a position on it because no one cares what you think. Theyíre going to do what they do. I do think itís changed the character of how audiences respond in a way, but I donít notice any lack of enthusiasm on the part of the audience.
There was a six-year gap between albums, arguably the longest of your career. There was a memoir written and a birth in that timeframe. You alluded to perhaps being done as a songwriter, that you had nothing left to say. What was going through your mind as you reconciled potentially walking off into the sunset?
It was a wait and see. I was hoping that I would write more songs. I didnít feel like it was over. But I also felt like maybe the universe was telling me that it was over. So you just have to wait and see how that plays out when youíre in a place like that. Iíve been in situations like that in other issues lots of times in my life, where you say ďwhat am I supposed to do now?" You wait until you do know, and then you do something. It was the same with the songs.
Given the length of your career, how do you stay hungry and driven to keep doing what you do?
I remain hopeful that Iíll succeed. Thatís all it takes for me. I donít want to go up there slouching and not giving people what they came for. Theyíve done me the honour of coming out to the shows to listen to what Iíve got to present to them. I want to present it in the best way that I can.
Bruce Cockburn performs at the Centre for Performing Arts on Jan. 27.
Tickets for Cockburnís show are available at ticketmaster.ca. [Tour Dates]
This interview has been edited and condensed.
~from Bruce Cockburn thought he was done - Vancouver Courier by John Kurucz.
19 January 2018 - It should surprise no one that Bruce Cockburn has thoughts about the political turmoil in the United States under President Donald Trump.
After all, the Ottawa-born singer-songwriter has lived in San Francisco for a number of years. He goes to church there. He is raising his six-year-old daughter there. Obviously, he is invested. Heís is also one of modern musicís most astute political songwriters, known for penning tunes such as the angry and direct 1984 anthem If I Had a Rocket Launcher and the urgent, green-leaning 1989 classic If A Tree Falls.
So why wouldnít he have thoughts? Besides, it would just seem a waste to have Bruce Cockburn on the line and not have him weigh in on what is behind the strange political climate of his adopted country.
"Itís all smokescreen now," he says. "You pretty much can bet that everything that comes out of the Presidentís mouth is false. Every single word except for perhaps the references to his own feelings, that may be genuine. But everything else is B.S. But we all pay attention to it because you canít believe the next piece and then you think ĎWhatís going to come next?í But in the meantime, they are dismantling the (Environmental Protection Agency), they are dismantling, as much as they can, any kind of regulation on corporate behaviour. Thatís what itís all about. Itís all about some people making a vast sum of money at everyone elseís expense and heís supposed to keep us distracted, which heís doing a pretty good job of."
Itís all made for a national atmosphere filled with anxiety and confusion. But, if history is any guide, interesting political times tend to lead to interesting music.
Cockburn laughs when asked if Trump "inspired" him in any way when writing the songs for Bone On Bone, his first album in seven years and his first to come after suffering an extended period of writerís block. He quickly points out that "inspired" is not the word he would choose. But he acknowledges that both the moody opening track, States Iím In, and the driving and bluesy Cafe Society loosely reflect the angst and anxiety he senses around him.
But perhaps the most potent political commentary was his decision to include an acoustic-blues arrangement of the religious, traditional Twelve Gates to the City as the albumís closer.
"Itís a song about inclusion," says Cockburn, who will perform backed by a full band at the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Jan. 23 and Edmontonís Winspear Centre on Jan. 24. "The message of the Biblical passage from which that comes ó itís specifically about Israel ó is that thereís a gate for each of the tribes. Youíre all welcome here in Godís city. To me, by extension, that seemed like an important thing to say right now in America."
Still, Cockburn ultimately sees Bone On Bone as more spiritual than political. Whatever the case, the album certainly sounds like it came from a songwriter whose creativity has been recharged. From the aforementioned acoustic and gospel blues tracks to the intricate and instrumental title song to the gorgeous and melodic ballad 40 Years in the Wilderness, Bone On Bone finds one of Canadaís finest songwriters in top form. Itís all the more impressive considering that, only a few years ago, Cockburn questioned whether he would ever write another song.
He spent three years writing his 2014 memoir, Rumours of Glory, which he says sapped up a good deal of his creativity. He had gone through dry spells before, but this seemed a little more permanent.
"There was nothing left over for the songs and no real motivation for the songs because I was doing this other kind of writing," he says. "When it was over, after all that time, I sort of thought ĎI donít know if Iím a songwriter or not, Iíll have to wait and see.í Luckily, because I was hoping I would be still, songs did start coming after awhile. The album is proof of that."
It was the rollicking 3 Al Purdys that helped Cockburn turn the corner. He was asked to compose the song for a documentary about the Canadian poet. Producing songs to order is not the way he usually works but he penned a narrative about a homeless man obsessed with Purdy and eager to trade recitations of his poems for spare change. While itís ostensibly a sad story, Cockburn seems to be having a blast operating outside his comfort zone as he exuberantly inhabits the eccentric narrator.
"Itís something I donít do very much of," he says. "I donít want to say Iíve never done that before because thatís probably not true, but nothing comes to mind that compares at the moment: To be a different character but still be my song. In this case, I imagined myself being that guy in the song. Then it was easy to write him thinking about it that way. Living in San Francisco, thereís plenty of models for that kind of character that you see every day."
Now that the writerís block is behind him, the singer continues to look to the future. On Sunday, Cockburn will be in Calgary for the formal plaque ceremony of his induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which is housed at the National Music Centre. In December, the centre launched a temporary exhibit that included artifacts from this yearís inductees, which include Cockburn, Neil Young, Quebecois rockers Beau Dommage and French-Canadian composer Stephane Venne. It features Cockburnís notebooks in which he wrote lyrics to some of his most beloved songs, including Lovers in a Dangerous Time and If A Tree Falls. It offers a tantalizing glimpse into his creative process.
While Cockburn says he is grateful that he has fans who pay close attention to such things, he admits he doesnít think much about the process once a song is finished.
"I think about the process of writing the next one,Ē he says with a laugh. ďWhatís done is done. The value reflecting on those things have on me as a writer is chiefly to avoid the mistakes of the past or to just do things better; make things more clear, more interesting, more whatever."
Bruce Cockburn will play the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Jan. 23 and Edmontonís Winspear Centre on Jan. 24
~from Calgary Herald - Bruce Cockburn talks about avoiding mistakes of the past by Eric Volmers
18 January 2018 - Bruce Cockburn canít escape his political criticism but continues to write songs from the heart
Bruce Cockburn is a name that many people know or have at least heard. The Canadian singer-songwriter has written more than 300 songs about love, protest, and activism that have been covered by musicians like Chet Atkins, Barenaked Ladies, Jerry Garciaóthe list goes on.
Almost a decade ago the 72-year-old icon made the move from Canada to San Francisco. Even though he has lived there for nine years, itís still a strange transition period for himóespecially with the current political sphere.
"Iím in the States of Trump and itís peculiar," he says from his driveway. "I donít know if itís all that strange. My only experience of living in the States was in the Ď60s when I went to music school. It was very polarizing much like it is now."
Though the situation feels familiar to Cockburn, heís getting tired of talking about it.
"Ever since Trump assumed presidency, I donít think Iíve had a conversation with somebody in this country where his name hasnít come up," he says. "Heís in his glory Ďcause the guy wants attention, but itís revolting and it gets tiring thinking about it. Heís not the devil. I think he serves the devil without probably knowing it, but heís a human being."
Cockburn really tries to no longer think about politics, but every once in awhile, his thoughts trickle in. It can be consciously or unconsciously like on his newest record, Bone On Bone and its opening song "The States Iím In".
"The challenge is to keep from being distracted from all the bullshit out of the White House," Cockburn says. "It doesnít matter what comes out of Trumpís mouth because you know itís not true. So there is that overlap in the meaning of the song but itís more about having lived in the times and conditions Iíve lived in. It does have a double entendre about the situation here, even though I never intended it."
The tone of the album has an almost distressing, sombre quality to it. Every song obviously comes from a place that is true for Cockburn, but there are political undertones on songs like "Stab At Matter," "Cafe Society," and "False River" peppered throughout. It makes sense. This is the musician who wrote "If I Had A Rocket Launcher," a song that went on to be on of the most popular protest songs in the Ď80s.
"Itís important to be hopeful and critical. Without that, weíre all toast," he says.
Bone On Bone is Cockburnís first album in six years. After his Small Source Of Comfort record in 2011, he focused on touring and writing his memoir Rumours of Glory. Many thought his album writing days were over, including Cockburn himself.
"Someday it will run out, and the pace of album making got slower since the Ď90s. After 30 years of doing it, or whatever, Iíve already said a lot of what I have to say."
At the time, Cockburn felt uninspired to write new songs as much of his creativity was going into the memoir. It wasnít until he was approached to write a song for a documentary about the past free verse poet Al Purdy, that his musical inspiration was reinvigorated.
"This seemed like a gift," Cockburn says. "I didnít really know what I was going to write a song about, but now somebody wanted me to write a song that has some tangential relationship with Al Purdy. As soon as I said yes to writing the song I said the phrase ĎIíll give you three Al Purdyís for a 20 dollar bill.í So I had to create a character who would say that. So I had this disheveled homeless guy who loves poetry, particularly Al Purdy."
From that burst of imagination, the country-blues song "3 Al Purdys" was written as other songs began appearing to Cockburn during dreams and periods of self-reflection.
Perhaps one of the most universally powerful songs on Bone On Bone is "40 Years In The Wilderness," an almost meditative acoustic track with a sound that harkens back to one of Cockburnís older songs "Lord of the Starfields."
"Songs like that really come from a deep place," Cockburn says. "In that case, ["40 Years In the Wilderness"] we were what people euphemistically call Ďcamping,í and I was watching some joggers and thinking about having moved from the east to the west, and all these elements seemed to conspire. So I started writing this song thatís almost quite biblical in a way. I had not thought about in the Old Testament when the Israelites have left Egypt that they are in the wilderness for 40 years."
Itís refreshing that even though this is Cockburnís 25th album, he can still write songs that are abnormally personal, but relatable.
"My own spiritual development required me to get out of my own head and get into understanding people in a heartfelt way," Cockburn says. "I did that by exploring the human world for about 40 years. Thatís really where the song came from I think. The sun sets on all of us and the older you get, the closer it gets."
Wed., Jan. 24 (8 pm)
From $42 [Tour Dates]
~from Kicking the Darkness by Stephan Boissonneault - VueWeekly.com
16 January 2018 - CALGARY Ė Canadian icon, Bruce Cockburn, returns from a three year hiatus with Bone On Bone, a return to form for the legendary singer-songwriter. With an astonishing 33 albums under his belt, Bruce Cockburn has brought us a frantic, but timely album, his first since 2011. Cockburn has been a fixture in Canadian folk since the Ď70s, but it was Dancing in The Dragonís Jaws(1979) and the song "Wondering Where the Lions Are" which propelled Cockburn to international renown.
"What else am I gonna do? Iím still here and I still have something to say." Cockburn tells BeatRoute from his Bay area home, when asked what keeps him going, his 33rd album now on the shelves. "I have had the same lack of a game plan since day one."
Bone On Bone also marks Cockburnís first album since the release of his memoir Rumours of Glory (2014). His rewarding lyrics and virtuousic guitar ability has defined his career, but following the release of his memoir, Cockburn initially didnít think he was going to be able to return to music. "After that long I wasnít sure if I was going to be able to remember how to write a song, or whether-or-not my life had changed enough that it wouldnít be the thing to do anymore."
It was an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary on Canadian poet Al Purdy that brought Cockburn back to songwriting. "This was a gift from God I thought. I had this image of this homeless guy who was obsessed with Al Purdyís poetry."
The song in question turned into ďSweet Al PurdyĒ and is also the inspiration behind "3 Al Purdyís" on Bone On Bone. Cockburn did not grow up in a religious home but it was his time as an adolescent that helped form his faith, which has always been a critical juncture for him. A child of the Beat Generation, Cockburn grew up reading about Buddhism, the Occult and eventually Christianity.
"It got to the point where I had to look in the mirror and say to myself, ĎYouíre a Christian now.í At that point in my life, I didnít really know how to have a relationship with anybody let alone God. I had grown up not really good at relationships so I had a lot to learn about that."
A large part of Cockburnís extended period away from music allowed him to invest himself in fatherhood for his young daughter Iona Cockburn, born in 2011. Although Cockburn tries to bring his daughter on tour as much as possible, she has started school and is unable to join him as much as he would like.
"If you have a family that can travel with you that changes the picture drastically.Ē He attests. At the juncture of parenting and activism, Cockburn is hopeful for his daughter. ďI trust that my young daughter will pick up the vibe, but the world she grows up in is going to be quite different from the one we are currently in I think, and not necessarily for the better."
Living in San Francisco under the looming thunderstorm of todayís political climate has allowed a new era of activists to interact with Cockburnís music, finding such hits as "If I had a Rocket Launcher" off the 1987 album Waiting For A Miracle, still resonant with the politics of today. While Cockburn does not consider it his job, he is happy to speak truth to power with the power he has an artist.
"Iíve never seen myself as much of an activist but as a mouthpiece for the people who are the real activists."
Bruce Cockburn performs January 23 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall (Calgary), January 24 at the Winspear Centre (Edmonton), and January 27 at the Centre for the Arts (Vancouver). [Tour Dates]
~from Bruce Cockburn: Just a mouthpieceÖ with something still to say by By Andrew Bardsley - Beatroute.ca
16 January 2018 - Roundhouse Radio interviews Bruce Cockburn.
19 December 2017 - "I see the way the music unfolds as a kind of architecture," says Bruce Cockburn. "Thereís a sense of visual shape that goes with how a melody moves."
After Bruce Cockburn released his self-titled debut album in 1970, the prolific Canadian singer-songwriter released at least one album every couple of years, yielding a body of work that would be covered by everyone from Chet Atkins to Michael Hedges to Jerry Garcia. But following his 32nd album, 2011ís Small Source of Comfort, things appeared to suddenly dry out.
Cockburn hadnít disappeared but had transferred his creative energies from songwriting to penning a memoir. In Rumours of Glory, published in 2014, Cockburn shares his personal and political lifeóheís a longtime activist who has spoken out on human-rights violations and ecological devastation, among other thingsóand offers insights into his most popular songs, like "Wondering Where the Lions Are" (from 1979ís Dancing in the Dragonís Jaws) and "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" (on 1984ís Stealing Fire).
The period he spent working on the memoir also coincided with the birth of a daughter, and between the demands of fatherhood and writing, Cockburn didnít feel he had any new songs to offer. In fact, after the book was completed, he wondered if his work as a songwriter was ending, too.
But then Cockburn was asked to contribute a song for the 2015 documentary film Al Purdy Was Here, a portrait of the late Canadian poet, and other new songs soon followed. These tunes are collected on Bone On Bone, which Cockburn recorded with his core band of bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig, along with his nephew John Aaron Cockburn on accordion, and jazz trumpeter Ron Miles on flugelhorn.
Cockburn now lives in the United States, and, lyrically speaking, Bone On Bone is a product of life in the Trump era. Musically speaking, itís a product of Delta blues, modal jazz, and non-Western influencesóall distilled in the guitaristís idiosyncratic fingerstyle approach, with its intricate counterpoint.
Calling from his home in San Francisco, the 72-year-old Cockburn discussed his return to songwriting, shared one of his secret guitar tunings, and explained why his Manzer instruments have been his longtime companions.
"Putting music to a set of lyrics is like scoring a film. You have words that need to be served by the music."
After completing your memoir Rumours of Glory, you decided you wouldnít go back to writing songs. Why did you change your mind?
It wasnít really a firm decision. I just wasnít sure about returning to songs, because itíd been such a long time since Iíd written anything of that sort. The creative energy that went into the book is what wouldíve gone into songs if I hadnít been writing a memoir. Also, I started the book when my second daughter, whoís now 5 years old, was born. Not only was I having to embark on this completely new kind of writing enterprise, but also I was getting no sleep because of the baby. All of that just conspired to make an absence of songs. After the book was put to bed, I thought, itís been a long time since I wrote songs, maybe Iím supposed to be doing something else now or maybe not. It was just wait and see. Then, during that waiting and seeing, I was hoping song ideas would come. Luckily, they did.
Did you learn anything about your songwriting in the process of working on the book?
I donít think I learned anything I didnít already know. It was in some ways instructive to go back over all that old ground, but all along Iíve had a pretty good handle on how my writing process works. Itís been this wait-and-see thing ever since 1970, when I tried being a disciplined writer for a year and that didnít really work for me. This is in the bookóI ended up with about the same amount of usable material at the end of the year of diligently writing every day as I would have if I had just waited for good ideas. Mostly what I was writing was just throwaway stuff. After that, I didnít bother anymore, I just waited.
The Canadian fingerpickerís 33rd album features his nephew John Aaron Cockburn on accordion and jazz trumpeter Ron Miles on flugelhorn, and was produced by longtime collaborator Colin Linden.
The opening song on Bone On Bone is called "States Iím In," and overall the album seems to have kind of an anxious energy. Does the current political situation here in the U.S. factor into the writing?
In an indirect way, it definitely does, as it does for all of us. Who gets through a day without saying the name Trump? You canít these days. Itís just ridiculous, the degree that his showmanship is able to keep us paying attention to the stupid things he does. In that sense, itís definitely part of "States Iím In," itís part of "Cafť Society" Ö any of the things that have exterior references in them, pretty much. The political atmosphere certainly colors the songs.
On "Bone On Bone," youíve got an interesting concept going onóa combination of McCoy Tyner-sounding chords and blues fingerpicking moves. How did you arrive at that synthesis?
Itís a good question. I date myself every time I do that, because Iím a product of that period [modal jazz of the 1960s] very much. I went to Berklee for a couple years, studying jazz composition. Coming out of high school, thatís what I thought I was going to be doing with my life. Being surrounded by people who were dedicated to music and by the sound of their music 24/7 for a couple years was really great, and many influences came into my music because of that.
Iíd already had a great interest in jazz, and I was a big fan of Coltrane and all that stuff. At the same time, I was listening to Mississippi John Hurt and Big Bill Broonzy and all the older bluesmen, trying to fingerpick like them, which I never really learned how to do. In the process, I ended up mixing a kind of mutant fingerpicking with a lot of the jazz elements that I was learning.
At first, I was self-conscious about the jazz thing. I didnít want to invite comparison with actual jazz guitars, because I didnít think my playing warranted that. Iím not that great an improviser and have never been any good at playing on changes and stuff like that. So I didnít include jazz in my own musical thinking for a long time. It crept in little by little. By the mid í70s, I had enough confidence to bring in actual jazz musicians to play with me in the studio, and to some extent live. Then it grew from there.
Cockburn favors a tuning he calls EGAD. "Itís like DADGAD," he explains, "but with the 6th string kept at E instead of lowered a step. I like how easy it is to get that McCoy Tyner movement under your fingers in that tuning."
Throughout the album, the guitar parts tend to be less based on progressions than riffs.
I think that observation is exactly right. Itís also a product of the fact that when I was at Berklee in the í60s, I was learning jazz harmonies and how to write horn charts using lots of IImĖVs and all that stuff. I never related to it very well. I loved listening to the music people made thatís constructed that way, but it felt alien to me to try to make my own music like that.
At the same time, as I was being taught those things, the jazz world was discovering Indian and Arabic music, which donít have any chords per se. They have harmonic relationships, but theyíre relationships based on the shapes that melodies take against drones, even if the drones are sometimes imagined.
That music attracted me hugely. Then at the same time, the free-jazz thing came along, and I liked that a whole lot. I just found I was drawn to music that didnít depend so much on chord changes, and partlyómaybe it was lazinessóI just didnít have it in me to do the work to learn how to play with the standard kinds of chords. To some extent Iím envious of people who are really good at that, because itís a wonderful skill, and itíd be nice to be able to do that.
I see the way the music unfolds as a kind of architecture. Maybe itís from looking at meters in the studio or something. Especially the modern ones that are graph-like. Thereís a sense of visual shape that goes with how a melody moves. That governs me more than the idea of chords. There have been times when Iíve experimented with that more. Certain songs and certain sets of lyrics seem to warrant more chord changes.
I tend to write a lot of lyrics that donít seem to want that, that just want a rhythm, some kind of non-chordal support from the guitar. Putting music to a set of lyrics is like scoring a film. You have words that need to be served by the music. They need support, and they donít want to be overwhelmed by it. You want to create a space, an auditory framework for the words to sit in, and thatís what the musicís all about.
Getting back to "Bone On Bone," it sounds like youíre playing in an alternate tuning.
Yes. "Bone On Bone" is in a tuning I call EGADólike DADGAD, but with the 6th string kept at E instead of lowered a step. It gives you all those fourths, but in E minor. I like how easy it is to get that McCoy Tyner movement under your fingers in that tuning. It took a bit of doingófor my brain at leastóso I could play relatively freely over the droning bass in EGAD. It gives you some obvious handy things, but it also takes away some things that youíre used to from standard tuning.
Linda Manzer 6-string cutaway (2)
Linda Manzer 12-string
Linda Manzer electric charango
1930s S.S. Stewart archtop with Bartolini Hi-A pickup
Roundneck single-cone Dobro with brass body and biscuit bridge, Telecaster neck pickup, and internally mounted Shure SM58 microphone
Amps: 1960s Fender Vibrolux Reverb (2)
Boss TU-2 tuner
Boss DD-5 Digital Delay (2)
TC Electronic Corona Chorus
Boss DD-7 Digital Delay
Line 6 DL4
TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb
Strings and Picks:
Martin Marquis M2100 (6-string)
DíAddario EJ38 (12-string)
"In a perfect world, all my music would be totally improvisational. Perhaps thatís an illustration of the gap between how I actually do things in my daydreams and in reality."
Early on in my career, I resisted using very many alternate tunings. I was kind of put off by how a lot of singer-songwriters were using open tunings. They basically changed the guitar tuning and didnít learn any new fingeringsótheyíd get into different keys or different harmonic relationships just because of the tunings. It seemed like a cop-out to me.
That said, I learned open-C tuning from listening to Reverend Gary Davis, as well as the standard open-D tuning that everybody knows, stuff like that. Iíve never learned to play freely in the C tuning. Thereís just not enough there for me to get into. It works great for certain things. I used it, for instance, on an older album [1991ís Nothing But A Burning Light], doing a cover of Blind Willie Johnsonís "Soul of a Man," because thereís certain things that are there with that open-C tuning that are good bluesy things to do. It has a power to it.
For composed pieces, open C works quite well, as long as you have time to think about what youíre going to do. Improvising in it is hard, other than in that very basic blues way, for me. With the EGAD thing, itís just a matter of playing on it a lot. You learn what to expect from where your fingers are going next. You can study it, obviously, too. You could write it all down and do it in a systematic way. That might be preferable for all I know, but for me, the process has been just learning it by doing.
Speaking of improvisation, how does that feature into your work as a singer/songwriter, especially on Bone On Bone?
Where possible, I like improvising. Often, I find a place for a guitar solo in a songótwo verses and a guitar solo and another verseóor some structure like that, where the opportunity to solo is written in. And the length of the solo can vary. Like on "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," Iím just playing over an Em chord, basically.
Thereís plenty of improvisation on the new album. I gave myself a shot at improvising crude blues riffs on "Cafť Society" and the opportunity to jam on States Iím In," although the song probably couldíve done without it. The song would still work, but I like the idea of having it in there. "Mon Chemin" starts with an improvised bit before the other instruments come in.
The trumpet/flugelhorn player Ron Miles improvises all through the album. Heís a jazz guy, an amazing improviser, much more so than you can tell from what he does on my album, though he did contribute greatly to it. With musicians of that caliber, you can just let them show up to the session and then turn them loose on the recording. This kind of improvisational process is usually how I operate with bandsópeople coming up with their own parts.
In a perfect world, all my music would be totally improvisational. Perhaps thatís an illustration of the gap between how I actually do things in my daydreams and in reality. I write in a pretty structured way. Any song can be improvised on, but the songs donít always invite it, letís say. This album has a lot that did. Perhaps this is one of the things that distinguishes it from some of my other stuff.
Shown here onstage with a vintage Fender XII, Cockburn has an affinity for 12-string guitars. Bone O n Bone features several tracks based around his Manzer 12-string acoustic. Photo by Matt Condon
So the arrangements came together in the studio, as you presented the songs to the musicians?
Basically, yep. It was a multiple-way conversation between [producer] Colin Linden, me, and the musicians. In the case of John Dymond and Gary Craig, weíve worked together a lot in different settings over the years, and Colin and I have done a lot of stuff together for 20 years now. Communicationís very, very easy. Thereís a sense of what to expect from each other. It makes for a short conversation.
If you bring in somebody new, like Ron or my nephew John Aaron [Cockburn], who plays accordion on the album, thereís more to talk about and more to sort out, because theyíre coming from a place of unfamiliarity with the setting. Still, if people know what theyíre doing, itís usually pretty easy to get good results.
Itís kind of uncommon for singer-songwriters to pair acoustic guitar with flugelhorn and accordion. Did you decide on the instrumentation first, and then look for players, or was it the other way around?
It was the former, actually. I have a friend named Myra Melford, a really great jazz pianist who lives in Oakland. We knew we were going to record in the Bay Area, and I knew I wanted a trumpet player who would be a good foil for me. Myra recommended Ron Miles.
Then thereís the case of my nephew. I knew he played accordion and guitaróheís a very gifted young musician. He has a band of his own that leans toward Eastern European-influenced stuff. I hadnít heard him play anything but that. I wondered what would happen. I thought, I know he can play the instrument, and I know heís really musical, so letís check it out. He came through in spades and is in the touring band now, too.
Itís working really well. Itís circumstantial, but it can go any which way. Iíve had experiences of the other kind, where I know somebody or I just run into somebody, they happen to be in town, and itís like, letís get them on the record. But this album didnít really have that.
Was it difficult to blend acoustic guitar with flugelhorn, given how much more powerful the horn is?
I think in general, horns probably are easier to make a pretty sound with electric guitar, but it can all work. Itís a matter of finding the right kind of parts and the right musical relationship between instruments. In theory, any instrument can go with any instrument, really. Acoustically, you can get into a problem when you have very loud and very soft together. If Iím playing acoustic guitar unamplified with a clarinet player or even a piano player, Iím going to get drowned out.
But with todayís technology, that kind of difference in the instrumentsí power doesnít really matter. Itís more like, is this particular trumpet playerís tone going to harmonize with or blend well with my guitar? You think about those things, but for me, the bigger consideration is what kind of stuff theyíre going to play. That said, Ron brought the flugelhorn, because it has that slightly mellower tone than the trumpet. I thought it fit really well with the sounds we were getting in the studio.
What guitars did you play on the album?
It varied from song to song. On "Bone On Bone"ó the only instrumental on the album óI played a guitar that belonged to Colin Linden. Thatís a Gibson L-7C, I believe, an old one. We were doing these overdubs at Colinís studio in Nashville. He had all his guitars sitting around there, and I found that one to be the best one for that piece.
The dominant acoustic sound is the sound of Manzers. "States Iím In," for instance, was recorded on my Manzer 6-string. I played my Dobro on "3 Al Purdys," and thereís the solidbody electric charango that Linda Manzer made for me years ago, which is what you hear on "Mon Chemin," the French song. Others are on my Manzer 12-string, such as Looking And Waiting" and "Twelve Gates To The City."
I had some other guitars around, but I didnít use them much. "Cafť Society" is on an old S.S. Stewart archtop, which I have a pickup on. Itís one of the original Bartolini pickups for acoustic guitar, called a Hi-A, which Iíve had since the mid í70s. It was superseded by pickups that sounded more acoustic, but I kept the pickup around because itís a good one and it sounds great on the S.S. Stewart.
Tell us more about your Manzer instruments.
Iíve known Linda since the í70s, actually, when she was apprenticing to Jean Larrivťe. The first instrument she made for me was that little solidbody charango I mentioned, which she made in the late í80s. Then a year or two later I got her to make me the 6-string that you hear on the record. The 12-string is a more recent acquisition, from the early 2000s. Itís an older guitaróLinda made it for somebody else, and it came back to her.
How are the Manzers different from other steel-strings for you? Whatís made them your go-to guitars for so long?
Over the course of many years, I went through a lot of guitars, trying to find one that was just right. I got a Larrivťe that I was told was the first cutaway heíd made. At that time, the search was on for something you could amplify. Itís one thing to be onstage playing solo into a microphone, but the minute you had any kind of a band, you needed more.
Pickups got better, and I had quite a few different commercial brands of acoustic-electric guitar. But I decided to go back to a handmade instrument, and thatís when I asked Linda to make me one. We talked about what characteristics it would have, but my input wasnít terribly meaningful because Iíve never really paid that much attention to these things. I did ask for a little wider fretboard, thinking it might be nice to have the strings a bit further apart, for fingerpicking purposes. I also asked that the neck be shaped in such a way that I could get my thumb around it to fret notes on the lowest string, because I do that a lot.
That is the advantage of going to a luthier for a custom-made guitaróyou can get exactly what you want in an instrument. Thatís not to say you canít find great guitars that were made in factories. There are so many wonderful Martins and Gibsons. Then, you have small companies making splendid guitars. Iíve got a Collingsóa Brazilian rosewood and Adirondack spruce dreadnoughtóthatís a beautiful guitar. I bought it in the early í90s from Westwood Music in L.A.
The truth is, there are so many great luthier- and factory-made guitars these daysóso many more than when I was starting out in the í70s. Though in the end, it matters less what you play than how you play it.
In this live version of If I Had a Rocket Launcher," Cockburn fingerpicks his roundneck Dobro and dives into a chimey solo at 3:02.
Manzer cutaway in hand, Cockburn performs "States Iím In"óa standout track from Bone On Boneólive at CBCís studios.
~ from https://www.premierguitar.com/articles/26664-bruce-cockburn-just-wait-and-see.
27 November 2017 - It's an "official" video for "Stab At Matter", a song from Bruce's latest album, Bone On Bone. Animation by Kurt Swinghammer.
20 November 2017 - The lights. The hundreds of voices. The instruments across the stage, positioned just so in front of a backdrop youíll probably never see again. Fan faces that remind you of how your own must look Ė excited, hopeful, grateful.. wired!
All part of going to a concert to see one of your favorite musicians, right? This is, after all, what got us into music and gear in the first place: the music itself! The artist and accompanying machinery were second to the songs he, she or they created: what they do to us, how they change us, where they give us new insights, when they cause us to really feel something, and how they become a part of our life.
All these things are an apt montage of how I have been impacted by the music of Bruce Cockburn. Since being introduced to his repertoire in Europe in the late 80s, I have bought almost every album he ever made, and let me tell youÖ heís made a lot! Last month he released his THIRTY-FIRST album, entitled ďBone On BoneĒ! Prolific much?! Not only did I buy that (of course), but this past Friday night I saw him again live, as he performed to a sold-out, packed house, a fleeting number of his most favoured songs, as well as quite a few stellar new creations.
Before the show began, I took some time to take a quick glimpse at the gear he used for the night. Not only did I want to personally know how he pulls off these epic, unforgettable tunes Ė I knew you would too. Come take a peek with me! (click through for full article)
~ from Bruce Cockburn Ė Glimpses of a Masterís Gear - Serious G.A.S. by Teaj
16 November 2017 - This past September, after almost 50 years of making music, singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. It was an honor many felt was long overdue.
The Ottowa-born songwriter spins tales of hope and despair infused with a personal spirituality that has connected with audiences since he first appeared on the music scene in 1970. His prolific output includes more than 350 songs, including "Wondering Where the Lions Are" and the politically charged "If I Had a Rocket Launcher." He also published a memoir, rumors of glory, which kept him away from songwriting for three full years.
On the heels of his induction, Cockburn released Bone on Bone (True North Records), his 33rd album and the first in seven years. Cockburn talked to Isthmus in advance of his tour stop at the Barrymore Theatre on Nov. 21.
How do you go about writing a song?
The lyrics come first in 99 percent of my songs, and once the lyrical idea develops enough to hang the music on, I can go forward. It usually requires a verse or two before I know where it wants to go. Then itís a matter of fine tuning everything. Itís pretty straightforward once it gets rolling.
Can you give us an example or two?
"All the Diamonds" grew out of a spiritual experience I had in Stockholm. The day after our performance I was sailing on the bay and through the archipelago, and the diamonds were conjured up by the sunlight reflecting on the sea. It seemed to deserve something hymn-like, like you might hear in church, which is not typical for me.
"Night Train" came about after visiting some friends in Toronto who were growing their own wormwood and making absinthe at home. Absinthe is rumored to have psychotropic properties and has the reputation of having inspired or destroyed the careers of numerous artists. I thought I would drink a bunch of it and see what all the fuss was about. I have never done it again and, as a scientific experiment, I wouldnít recommend it.
Is this an especially rich time for songwriters with a political bent?
I donít want to write a song about Donald Trump. Thatís revolting and the guy gets enough attention as it is and for all the wrong reasons. I donít want to add to the cacophony. The other stuff that rides along ó environmental issues and immigration concerns ó might offer material in the right hands, but itís hard to get too technical in a song.
You live in San Francisco with your wife and five-year-old daughter. Whatís it like being a Canadian in Trumpís America?
Itís pretty nutty, but America has always been nutty. I lived in Boston [while attending the Berklee College of Music] back in the 1960s and had hair over my collar. Back then people were polarized by the Vietnam War, and it seems weíve come back around to that situation where we have a hard time talking to each other. How would I talk to a Trump supporter, and how would he talk to me? Itís a major challenge and something we all have to get past.
Is there a musical legacy you like to leave with your fans, something that spans your entire career?
I donít think in terms of "career." The word implies an orderly progress, which I donít apply to myself. As an artist, you have to have the temerity to believe that people are interested in what you do. For what itís worth, I think my songs leave a trail mostly of my own spiritual journey.
I see that as part of my job, and my whole body of work is trying to figure out what itís like to be a human being in this period of history. I am creating little mirrors for myself, and talking a lot to myself through my songs. The conversation then is shared with the listeners.
13 November 2017 - After wondering if heíd ever write a song again, one of the most enduring and contemplative singer/songwriters of our time delivers more brilliant music.
Even the word "prolific" is an understatement for rare artists like Bruce Cockburn.
The thoughtful, brilliant Canadian singer/songwriter just released his thirty-third record, Bone On Bone, another superb piece in a magnificent career that has spanned fifty-plus years. And at the age of 72, Cockburn ó who was just inducted into the Canadian Songwritersí Hall of Fame this past September alongside Neil Young Ė shows no signs of burning out or fading away.
But a few years ago in a rare twist of almost-tragic fate, Cockburn found that writing songs for a new record, which would be his first in seven years, wasnít coming so easy. His mightily abundant supply of songwriting chops, fueled by his deep spirituality, went momentarily dry after he exhaustively poured all of his creativity and energy into his 2014 memoir, Rumours Of Glory. Stunningly, he wasnít even sure he would write another song.
"When I came out of writing my book, I wasnít sure if I was gonna write anymore songs Ďcuz it had been so long," Cockburn said as he embarks on an extensive US tour which brings him to The Birchmere on Tuesday November 14th. "Itíd been four years since I wrote a song, so I wondered if I still knew how to do it. (Writing the memoir) was more work than I expected, and all the creative juice I had went into the book, I wasnít prepared for it. So at the end of all that, it was like, ĎWell, maybe Iím gonna be a songwriter again, maybe I wonít.í I was hoping I would be, I was hoping that I would write more songs, Ďcuz in my gut I didnít feel like that was over. But I also wondered if itís really meant to be that I should be doing something else. It wasnít a negative feeling, really, it was just kind of a question."
Cockburn first credits inspiration from an unlikely source, in the form of a surprising request from a legendary fellow Canadian, for getting him back in gear, getting the juices flowing, getting him writing songs again.
"I got an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary film that was being made about [Canadian poet] Al Purdy," Cockburn said. "It just seemed like a gift, you know, hereís this guy who wants me to write a song, and I donít even know him. And over the years Iíve done very little of writing on demand like that, Ďcuz itís sort of the opposite of how I normally operate, but in this case, the idea of writing about Al Purdy seemed like a good thing. The offer was wide open, it was like, ĎWell, you can take Purdyís poems and set them to music,í which would be very difficult actually because theyíre not that kinda poetry. Right away, I got the idea, the image came to me, of this homeless guy who is obsessed with Al Purdy and rants his poems out on the street. The song just went from there. It was like, ĎIíll give you three Al Purdys for a 20 dollar bill.í And what would this homeless guy be saying when he wasnít ranting Purdy poetry? So ultimately, itís a question of looking around for things."
And given Cockburnís lifelong passion for activism, it was also the new regime in the U.S. that helped rejuvenate his need to express himself through song.
"I donít think Iíve had a conversation with anyone in the past year that didnít mention Donald Trump. Right now, as a nation, the U.S. is polarized and so fragmented. Everybodyís just in shock, ya know? But when I write, itís not that intentionalÖor deliberateÖI just react. When I write a song, its Ďcuz I got this idea. An idea comes, and I think I can run with it, and thatís what I try to do. So, itís not like I sit around thinking, ĎHow do I express how disturbed I am at whatís going on in the United States?í But once the ball was rolling, it just kept rolling."
In inimitable Bruce Cockburn fashion, the songs from Bone On Bone have that extraordinary depth and thought and complexity that are staples of his work. Take the breakdown of his process for writing the catchy but startling "Stab At Matter" for example, itís a description which opens a window into how Cockburn often comes up with themes for his often miraculous music.
"The original Stabat Mater is a Latin hymn from the 1300ís or earlier, maybe the 1100ís, itís ancient," Cockburn passionately describes. "In Latin, ĎStabat Materí means basically that the ĎMother is standingí or Ďstand there, Mother.í Itís really about Mary standing at the foot of the cross, watching her son die. It intrigued me, so I started obsessing over the phrase Ďstab at matterí. It just seemed to offer all kinds of possibilities and what came out was what you hear. Itís the destruction of ego, or the inevitable destruction of the stuff we surround ourselves with, depending on how you wanna look at it. Itís based on the notion that you donít grow very far spiritually without getting your ego heavily in check. You waste a lot of energy, we all do, when being attached to things that do get destroyed. Or that just have their deaths built in. So itís kinda getting free of all that. And I donít know why it took that musical form, the words just seemed to want that. Thatís how those things go."
Cockburn credits the intense experience of writing his memoir for providing the basis for "States Iím In" which, along with a nod towards his disdain for the current administration, is also deeply personal.
"I donít think there woulda been a song like ĎStates Iím Iní without having written a book. Youíre standing back, taking stock, and it gave me a sort of perspective on things. In a certain way, ĎStates Iím Iní is a sort of encapsulation of the whole book. The song itself is not entirely autobiographical, Iíve never been a card shark. But it represents places Iíve been in myself and in the exterior world also. From being in war zones to watching beautiful sunsets over the Pacific. The sun going down in the West, over the ocean, is perhaps the most current thing in there. The sense of the divine creeping up at the end, like welling up. The whisper that has all that power at the end of the song. You could see the song as kind of a depiction of the dark night of the soul, in a metaphoric way, cos it starts with sunset and ends with dawn. I donít know."
And as far as his induction into the Canadian Songwritersí Hall Of Fame, Cockburn was ushered in with a memorable speech by fellow CSHOF member, the legendary Buffy Saint Marie. "Buffy made the most lovely introduction to me that appeared to be just off the cuff and went on at some length longer than I thought she would, but she was great. It felt good to hear all that, and to have her do that." Being who he is, Cockburn is typically humbled with the honor, but admittedly also very thankful for the welcome affirmation of his exceptional five decades of musical masterpieces.
"It means very little to me that I actually have an award per se, I donít collect those things on purpose. But the best thing about it is that itís a measure of how much attention people have paid to what I do, and I really care about that. Thatís really the complement in there. Thatís the positive reinforcement, which is very strong. I really appreciate that people have been listening and have attached importance to what I do. Not every artist gets that. So Iím grateful for that."
Bruce Cockburn performs Tuesday November 14th at The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria VA 22305.
~ from Midliferocker.com
8 November 2017 - Immigration, the environment, power, and Lucinda WilliamsÖthoughts from Bruce Cockburn. (13 minutes)
3 November 2017 - Bruce Cockburn is a prolific Canadian singer-songwriter and recording artist with more than 300 songs in his catalog. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Dan Fogelberg, the Jerry Garcia Band, Barenaked Ladies, Ani DiFranco, Jimmy Buffett, k.d. lang and many others. This interview discussed many things including his most recent 33rd album "Bone on Bone."
Paul Leslie Hour - Interview with Bruce Cockburn.
3 November 2017 - Bruce Cockburnís new album, "Bone on Bone," released last month, is the 33rd in the long and illustrious career of the Ottawa native, but it took a little spark to help get the songwriting going.
That was simply because Cockburn, the writer of over 300 songs, had devoted himself to penning the autobiographical "Rumours of Glory - a memoir," and heíd also become a father for the second time in 2011. But when he was asked to contribute a song for a documentary on the late Canadian poet Al Purdy, Cockburn began reading Purdyís work, and inspiration came quickly.
Cockburn, 72, will be performing with his band Thursday night at the Wilbur Theater in Boston, part of his 14-date November tour of the East Coast.
"That turned out to be a great gift,Ē said Cockburn, calling from his San Francisco home before the tour started. "It served a very timely purpose, as I was sitting around wondering if I was going to write songs again, and wanting to write songs again. They asked me and I said yes, and began looking into his work, and that got the ball rolling."
Cockburnís song "3 Al Purdys" is a real treat, designed to reflect a homeless man ranting in the street. This fellow has devoted his life to the poetís work, and the tune is book-ended by a spoken word introduction and coda, where Cockburn is reading Purdyís actual lines. As the song goes on, the manís rants make more sense, until by its end weíre all persuaded that his declaration that heíd trade "3 Al Purdys" for $20 would be a very good deal indeed.
Many local music fans may not know that Cockburn has some Boston-area ties, as he spent three semesters at Berklee College of Music between 1964-66. Leaving to begin playing with a band of friends, Cockburn bounced between several groups, including one called Olivus, which opened for both Jimi Hendrix and Cream in 1968. But by 1969 Cockburn was following his own muse, writing and performing as a solo act, and releasing his eponymous folk-rock debut album in 1970.
Cockburn was popular almost right away in Canada, but it took some time for his appeal to translate to the United States. His 1979 album "Dancing in the Dragonís Jaws" helped get him a foothold in the States, and even led to an appearance on Saturday Night Live. By then Cockburnís songwriting had taken on more topical issues, and his 1984 song "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" became one of his best-known tunes. While touring Central America, Cockburn had seen a refugee camp for Guatemalan refugees, just across the Mexican border, and while he was there the camp was attacked by helicopter gunships from the Guatemalan military. In 2009, Cockburn traveled to Afghanistan to visit his brother, captain John Cockburn, who was serving with the Canadian troops over there. Inevitably, after performing, the troops had Cockburn pose with a real rocket launcher.
That song, and another one that became a sort of folk-rock standard, "Lovers In A Dangerous Time," helped make Cockburnís "Stealing Fire" album one of his most popular. Ironically, their cover of ďLovers in a Dangerous TimeĒ became the first hit for his Canadian compatriots, Barenaked Ladies. By the end of the 1980s, a passel of Cockburn admirers among his fellow musicians had put together ďKick at the Darkness,Ē a tribute album where they performed their favorite Cockburn songs. Cockburn has continued writing and performing through the years.
Some more recent benchmarks were the 2003 album "You Never See Everything," where he was joined by guests like Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne and Sam Phillips, and the 2005 " "Speechless," a compilation album of Cockburnís best and most loved instrumental songs.
In 2013 he was the subject of the documentary "Bruce Cockburn: Pacing the Cage." Now living in San Francisco, where his wife is an attorney, Cockburnís humanitarian work has also included working with Oxfam, the Committee Against Landmines, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and the Unitarian Service Committee.
The latest album has all the hallmarks of Cockburnís best, from the delectable finger-picked guitar textures framing "Looking and Waiting" to the topical, ecological theme of "False River," to the intense self-examination of "States Iím InĒ with its infectious chorus about "sights Iíve seen, places Iíve been, each one reflected in the states Iím in."
Looking back at that Boston period, we were intrigued by some lines from Cockburnís acceptance speech when he went into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in September. "I was seduced away from the pursuit of an education in jazz composition by songs: creations that combined music with something like poetry," he had said. A line in "3 Al Purdys" also seemed revealing, when the singer says "the beauty of language set a hook in my soul."
"I went to Berklee with that notion, studying jazz composition," Cockburn explained. "My parents had been pushing me hard to go to college for music, and Berklee had just begun awarding degrees. I was an avid reader of Downbeat magazine, which was always referring to Berklee, so it became a Ďpath of least resistance.í It was a good thing for me overall. But I had always been interested in other kinds of music too, playing guitar with rock bands and folkies. The education at Berklee was all about gaining a solid theoretical base, and getting deeper into the jazz idiom. But what also worked for me was the atmosphere there, being surrounded by music and musicians, all of them inquisitive people into exploring other kinds of music."
"My Berklee time was very fruitful," added Cockburn. "Boston was also at that time in the latter stages of the folk boom, so I spent a lot of time at Club 47 and The Unicorn, and also knew a drummer who had free jazz jams at his place every Saturday. I was also in a jug band. So it was not a big step for me to go into songwriting. I had been a big fan of The Beatles, and Bob Dylan, and the old blues guys like Reverend Gary Davis, so I had plenty of variety to explore. I was also writing poetry, probably since about fifth grade, which was mostly horrible, but Iíd been bitten early by the poetry bug, with evocative stuff like ĎThe Highwaymaní really grabbing me."
Some of the new tunes continue the self examination and reflective nature that has always marked Cockburnís work, like the gentle ballad "40 Years in the Wilderness," which seems to speak of a search for meaning, the ruminative "Looking and Waiting," the joyous "Jesus Train," and the old gospel flavor of "Twelve Gates to the City."
"I think íForty Yearsí is reflective of the path Iíve been on, which is by nature spiritual," Cockburn said. "What it asks of me, I donít really know, but you take it one step at a time and perhaps when you can look back, you can see how it all makes sense. ĎTwelve Gatesí was an old gospel blues I remembered from Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, which had come back to me and seemed like a good one to learn. I only ended up using the first verse, because the later verses were darker and more folkloric, and didnít fit me. So I wrote a couple new verses to use after that first verse, with implications more pertinent to this time in history. ĎJesus Trainí was based on a dream I had, of an actual train as a representation of divine power, sort of like an old Blind Willie Johnson song Ė one of my early musical heroes. His work was always so energetic and straightforward, and yes, that song is supposed to be joyful."
Cockburn still plays "If I Had A Rocket Launcher," although heís not exactly thrilled it still resonates.
"I wish it were otherwise, that it was not still appropriate to sing it," Cockburn said. "I stopped doing it after 9-11, because I felt it played into the wrong feelings. A couple years after that, it seemed OK to do it again, and people react strongly to it. Unfortunately, we can never over-state the darkness of the human condition Ė there is joy and light too Ė but the inhumanity is always there."
The title cut for the new album is an instrumental, but a lively, surging piece of guitar mastery that is more compelling because there seems to be undercurrents beneath the bright melody. In truth, the title refers to a very human condition.
"When youíre writing without words, itís all about the feel of the song," said Cockburn. "There are elements of my jazz background in there Ė I loved the theory of jazz, I was just not good at playing it, or developing the technical chops you need. Once I had that piece we needed a title, and ĎBone On Boneí seemed to fit, and it does fit the visceral quality of this album. But the irony is that, the older you get, the more you hear doctors telling you about joints without any cartilage left, and I have some of that in my fingers, so itís apt in that sense too."
~ from Poetry provides the inspiration for Cockburn - By Jay N. Miller/ For The Patriot Leder.
2 November 2017 - Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn plays The Eggís Hart Theatre on Sunday evening (November 5), the first stop in his largest tour in years. Heíll be accompanied by a four-piece electric band in support of Bone On Bone, an extraordinary album from an artist who at age 72 has a repertoire of originals the equal of any folk or Americana artist alive and touring today.
A lot of the job of religion, says Cockburn, is "to keep wiping the lens so that stays clear. Youíre not clutching it up with ego and shame or whatever else we allow to get in the way because once you get that thing going, youíre going to blame it on somebody, and then you have enemies again." Cockburn has been cleaning our lenses since he first appeared at Torontoís famed Mariposa Folk Festival in 1967.
Unlike some other veteran songwriters who have written songs of great introspection who wish for their songs to do all the talking for them (Bob Dylan and Don McLean, for example), Cockburn is a great conversationalist who will expound about any topic whether its aging and performing, Trump and fake news, religion, child rearing, or how he feels about "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" being his signature song in the U.S. Heís like a bull rider waiting for the gate to swing open.
His concert at The Egg is the first stop on a long tour promoting Bone On Bone, his first new CD in seven years, with a band thatís more electric than any heís had in years. When I asked him how it felt to be doing a tour this aggressive and with these many dates at age 72, he spit back, "It feels like itís not enough." And then chuckled as if he almost couldnít believe he just said that. It almost didnít happen. He spent years working on his memoir "Rumours of Glory," published in 2014. The concentration it took to write that and his preoccupation with the birth of a daughter in 2011 totally absorbed his muse.
"Iím not a particularly gifted writer. It was very hard work, and I donít have the clearness or focus to sustain something like that for as long as that. I ended up pulling it off, but it didnít feel natural. Itís hard to write a quote, spiritual memoir, unquote."
When I interviewed him in 2011, Cockburn was struggling with getting into the project. "Maybe it matters to have my thoughts on a page that are different from the songs people are used to. Is it really worth doing this, and do I really want to take out of the songs the mystery that people feel and reduce it to a reality thatís boring to everyone? Is it like maybe the mystery is better?"
Heíd been asked about having an authorized biography written about him when he was in his 40s and 50s, but back then it was easy to say that he hadnít done enough. But in 2011 the task was staring him in the face. "Iíve been very slack about getting it together. I have to say Iím kind of wrestling myself with that one. When the part of my mind that likes the idea is dominant, then Iím into it, but a lot of the time Iím saying to myself, ĎI donít know if there needs to be a book like this. It doesnít make sense.í So, I have to fight myself all the time to get myself to work on it, and eventually it will get done."
The process of writing the book was antithetical to his career of writing songs that required a short attention span and often came to him in "a flash." It was when he was asked to write a song for a documentary about Canadian poet Al Purdy after his memoir was published that he got back into writing the songs for Bone On Bone. The song for the documentary, "ía href="songs&music/tap.html">3 Al Purdys," is on the new album.
"It was really about four years I guess where I didnít write anything. I thought maybe Iím done. Thatís a long time, in my experience, not to write a song. So, it wasnít like I had the intention, really. I had to kind of look that in the eye and think, well maybe thatís the end of it, but I didnít particularly want it to be. I thought Iíd prefer to write songs and keep on performing, so when the invitation came along to write something for the documentary on Purdy, it just seems like a gift from the universe. I said, ĎOK, hereís your chance now.í
"Most of my writing is not intentional. It becomes intentional once the ideaís in there, but Iím not one to sit down, think about a theme and write something about it, but his just felt right, and then right away I got this idea of the song that came out of this which was about Purdy which was this notion of a homeless guy whose obsessed with reading poetry, ranting in the streets. So, it jelled into a song pretty quickly, and then the way was open for other ideas."
A 12-time Juno Award winner (the Canadian version of the Grammys), Cockburn has sold more than seven million albums. In September he was inducted into the Canadian Songwritersí Hall of fame by Buffy Sainte-Marie. His music covers everything from urban social issues to politics. His guitar playing is inspired by Mississippi John Hurt, and he has produced such well-known songs as "Wondering Where the Lions Are," "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" and "If I Had a Rocket Launcher."
Cockburn was totally shocked when that latter song became a hit in 1984. Inspired by a visit to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico that were attacked before and after his visit, the song ends with the line, "If I had a rocket launcher, some son of a bitch would die."
"It (seemed) totally impossible to me that anybody would put that on the radio, and then all of a sudden there it was all over the place. It helped me get an audience in the states that I didnít have prior to that."
I asked him if he could replace "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" as his most recognized song in America, which one would he replace it with and why?
"Oh, thatís an interesting question. I can tell you why I would replace it if I could. I think the song was written as a result of a very specific emotional experience, and of course once you put something on the radio, it becomes generalized and everybody who hears it filters it in the wrong way, and reads different things into it, and it would be nice not to have the label which gets attached on some circles of political singer, quote, unquote. I donít think that is a description of me.
"At the same time, it represents a couple of things I did, so Iím not disowning it. But at the same time I think it would be nice if maybe a song like ĎLive On My Mindí were that popular or Ė well, that one is hard to play now. It would be a conflict between the more spiritually oriented things than the straight ahead love songs, some of which have been very well received but didnít get on the radio.
"In Canada itís a little different because ĎNight Train,í for instance, got a lot of coverage. We got a video that got exposed heavily. So, people are pretty familiar with that song, and Iím happy about that because that song in a certain sense is a kind of personal manifesto that came about pretty organically, and I think made a good record. I can think of other examples, too, but I donít know if I can pick a specific one and say, ĎWell, I think people should delve and dive heavily into the new album.í"
Cockburn at this point is centered and enthusiastic about life in general and his ongoing career. "I think what is really vital is to be open to a sense of the divine being in your life and obviously you can make terrible mistakes following that road, too. People do Ė every now and then a preacher shows up and has decided the worldís going to end on November 25th in X year, and then followers all go out to the mountain top and all have to walk home in the rain because it didnít happen.
"I just want to hear God talking to me, and I want to know what Iím doing is in keeping with that completely incomprehensible agenda that God has. So, I donít think itís good to try to second guess what the agenda is, although we always feel like we have glimpses of it. At least I do."
My radar is telling me this is going to be a very memorable show. Of aging Cockburn says, "I donít know at what point the brain/hand connection will just cut off. I mean that can happen. I donít mind the idea of having to read my lyrics. I mean Lou Reed spent his whole career doing that on stage with a big book of lyrics that he put on a music stand in front of him. He got away with it OK, but other things can happen that would seriously cause problems, and so as long as that kind of thing isnít an issue, then I expect to keep doing it."
~ from A Few Minutes with Bruce Cockburn by Don Wilcox - nippertown.com.
26 October 2017 - Returning with a remarkable new album and kicking off a major new tour, veteran singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn brings a freshness and forthrightness to this latest chapter in his storied career. The 12-time Juno winner and recent inductee to the Canadian Songwriterís Hall of Fame may have seemed a bit quiet since 2011ís Small Source of Comfort, but 2014 saw the publication of his autobiography, Rumours of Glory: A Memoir (named for his 1980 song), heís a father anew, and 2017 brings us Mr. Cockburnís very strong follow-up, Bone On Bone: 11 tracks of grit and grace standing as one of the finest albums of the year.
Itís a pleasure and an honour to speak with Mr. Cockburn about Bone On Bone ó his 33rd album (!) since his eponymous 1970 dťbut ó and a little bit about life.
"Those circumstances impose a different kind of routine on my day, in a big way, from anything I had dealt with for decades," Bruce laughs, referring to his book and his daughter. "Life for me, the day to day, in this era is quite different from what it had been for a very long time, maybe ever. In a certain way, Iím a soccer mom. Thatís a new experience for me."
With Bone On Bone and its imminent tour in full swing, I ask if Bruce decides when to make an album, or if the album tells him when itís ready.
"A little of both. My part of the decision was harboring the intent. When I finished the book, I wondered if I was ever going to write any more songs, because I hadnít written a song for three years, which is the longest Iíve ever gone since I started writing. I just had no ideas; all the creative energy went into the book. It was like: ĎAm I going to write songs again, or not?í And it turned out: ĎYes, I am.í"
Yes he is, indeed. Bone On Bone launches with the blistering "States Iím In," and robustly tears through folk, rock, ballads, even gospel ó with Bruce Cockburnís familiar voice more seasoned, but instantly familiar, gazing within, and without.
Extremely charming on the new album is "3 Al Purdys," a song Mr. Cockburn composed for the Canadian documentary, Al Purdy Was Here (about Canadaís "unoffical poet laureate"), noting with a knowing laugh: "He started the whole thing, for this album."
Bruce further confides: "I wasnít well versed in Purdyís work at all. I was aware of him, but Iíd paid more attention to some other Canadian poets." Referring to his invitation to participate in the doc, alongside such luminaries as Leonard Cohen and Margaret Atwood, he reasons: "It seemed to me the perfect opportunity to kick start my song thing again."
Adding that Purdy was of his dadís generation, "sometimes funny, sometimes not," Bruce got into the collected poems, and the resulting song ó Iím sensing a clever reversal on "Aqualung" ó grew from there: "I just pictured this character who was a homeless guy, who is obsessed with Al Purdyís work, and rants it on the street: ĎIíll give you 3 Al Purdys for a 20-dollar bill!í"
I ramble a bit about the environmentalism, consumerism, and other themes in Bone On Boneís excellent track, "False River," and how the urgency of its concerns doesnít feel rote or prescribed.
"I hope always to avoid the formulas," Mr. Cockburn explains quite simply. "Sometimes you canít quite, but itís more interesting when you donít go there, you know."
Bone On Bone closes with the gospel standard "Twelve Gates to the City," and I ask Bruce about its theme of inclusivity.
"I learned it from Reverend Gary Davis, and Brownie McGhee, and Sonny Terry, and Iíd always kind of liked it. When I went to learn it, I listened to their records a bit, and a couple other peopleís versions, and it only had the one good verse: ďThereís three gates in the east, three gates in the west..." ó that verse seemed to fit the title and the chorus of the song. The other verses that people would sing were kind of stock gospel verses.
"Itís the kind of message thatís everywhere, but I didnít want to repeat it, particularly. So I wrote two new verses for the song. I felt maybe I was being slightly presumptuous in doing so, but at the same time, itís kind of the folk process, to do stuff like that. And it seemed to me the point of the song ó the image comes from the Bible, of course, from whatever part of the Old Testament it is, Leviticus: the Holy City has these twelve gates ó one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, so that made it inclusive. The implication of that is that everybodyís welcome here. The Israelites were only thinking of their own circle, but in the current world, it seemed like a message that was a good one to put out there."
And finally, because Mr. Cockburn grapples with world issues ó political, religious; church and state ó I ask him, especially these days, how an artist balances urgency with panic."
"Panicís never far from the surface," chuckles Bruce. "But what do you do about it? Thereís nothing to be gained by giving in to it. Thereís also nothing to be gained by trying to bury it and pretend itís not there. We all come into life traumatized ó for one reason or another; to one degree or another ó and that trauma shapes your life, in some way. Itís good to pay attention to it, but without becoming completely obsessed by it.
"I think itís just trying to write from the heart, and itís been a long road learning how to do that, because my upbringing was not one that encouraged speaking from the heart. It was kind of Victorian values: stiff upper lip, and you donít lay your crap on somebody else. There was also the subtext that speaking from the heart is expressive of a state of vulnerability, which can cost you ó emotionally, at least. Over the years, part of the writing process for me ó unconsciously, mostly ó has been to get past that, and just say whatís there to be said. If you listen to yourself, itís there.Ē
~from Gregory Weinkauf, Contributor - Award-Winning Writer, Filmmaker - Huffington Post. This post is hosted on the Huffington Post's Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and post freely to our site.
25 October 2017 - The impact of the music of Bruce Cockburn has been astounding. A Canadian music icon, Cockburn has never hesitated to shake up the masses with his strongly worded music which focused on faith, love, and activism. We discover how those elements mesh. Part 1.
Our journey into the music of Bruce Cockburn continues. Weíll look into Cockburnís new album, Bone on Bone, which reveals a refreshening of Cockburnís faith. Part 2.
24 October 2017 - (Interview date: October 10, 2017) - Singer and songwriter Bruce Cockburn is currently living on a high-note. Following the recent release of his 13th [33rd] studio LP, the wonderful 2017 record Bone on Bone," Cockburn was added to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame alongside Neil Young, Beau Dommage and Stťphane Venne.
On Nov. 7, Cockburn will bring his new record and his old classics to the Calvin Theater for what promises to be an exciting show. Prior to this show, Cockburn sat down with William Plotnick for an impassioned conversation about politics, the environment and the art of music. Check it out below:
William Plotnick: How are things going today in San Francisco?
Bruce Cockburn: Smokey! Itís clearing up a little in the last hour or so, but itís pretty noticeable.
WP: While currently living in San Francisco, youíre witnessing the effects from the weekendís tremendous forest fire. When asked in a past interview if you were optimistic or pessimistic regarding the current state of the environment, you claimed "I think weíre f**ked," and that really summed things up. Your song, "If a Tree Falls," deals directly with de-forestation and the environment as a whole. Is this past weekendís forest fire a sign from nature that we are in fact quite f**ked?
BC: Well, Iím hesitant to assign more meaning to any particular event than it actually has. In general, I think that weíre going to be seeing more and more of this stuff in coming years because of global warming and because of changes in the weather that go along with global warming. Itís not strange [for] California to have forest fires during this time of the year. October is historically the worst month for that. But what is different about these fires is that the winds are gusting up to about 70 miles-per-hour and carrying those embers long distances that start new fires.
Iím not a meteorologist, but it seems to me that there is likely to be more of this unstable weather appearing on the scene than what weíre used to, and therefore all of these things are becoming less predictable and potentially more disastrous because of this unpredictability. You canít really get ready for fires of this scale. The firefighters last night were running around trying to get people out of their homes. They have no time to actually be fighting the fire because theyíre trying to rescue people. Some people were not even able to get out of their homes in time and some that did only made it out with minutes to spare.
California is a crazy place and it kind of always has been. If we start seeing fires like this in Minnesota, weíll know weíre really in trouble. But in California, forest fires are part of its history to an extent. And often, itís arson or accidental fires. Like the fire in Oregon just a few months ago, that some 15-year-old started letting out fireworks in the woods. In a certain way, that kind of stuff could happen in any era. I feel like it comes down to there being too many people, so the systems all break down. The educational systems break down and itís too big a system to fully operate. You have some schools that donít teach kids anything while other schools do. Some parents are so busy scuffling for their living that they donít have the time to teach their kids or pay any attention to what theyíre up to. So thereís always the risk that some kids are going to go off and do dumb things, or adults for that matter who do dumb things. It seems to me that everything is too big and too out of control and the efforts to control it are looking sinister because you canít really control the real stuffóthereís not enough money or will around to fix education, so that everyone could be taught how to behave in a responsible manner. What you get instead of that is some sort of totalitarian control over people because thatís the cheap way to get it done. Itís a very complicated picture, and itís one of the reasons why I said "weíre f**ked."
But at the same time, I donít feel completely hopeless about it. I feel the likelihood is that the human experiment is close to ending. But I donít know that for sure and I hope that it isnít true. I still have that hope. Iíve got a five-year-old daughter and I want her to grow up in a world that she can live in.
WP: You put it poetically in your memoir, "When Iím confronted by the degradation of our surroundings, I feel that freedom being threatened and eroded."
BC: Yeah, thereís a sense of free space, even if itís an illusion. In Canada, Margaret Atwood at one point years ago wrote a study of Canadian literature that kind of made the point that up to that time, Canadian literature involved tiny humans surrounded by big nature. You had the sense that we were confronted by an environment that was if not hostile, then disinterested in our welfare. That tone informed a lot of Canadian novel-writing and other forms of writing. That was a major element of life growing up in Canada, but the other side of that coin is that there was all this free space around us. You can always imagine that you can completely disappear into this free space and no one would care what you did. You could have lived on your own terms even if it was within your imagination. As you physically see that free space filling up, that option [of it existing within your imagination] goes away. So youíre forced to confront it, which is not an unhealthy thing because we should be looking reality in the eye. Youíre forced to confront the fact that you donít have that freedom ó that youíre stuck in the circumstances that youíre in. I lament the loss of that free space ó of that illusion of it, if it is an illusion. For me, throughout the first half of the 70s, it wasnít really an illusion. I spent a lot of time on the road getting away from the stuff that urban society asks of you and that felt more free, whether it was or not.
WP: Youíve traveled all throughout the world, and you have had the opportunity to take in the expansive landscapes and environments that planet Earth has to offer. Do you think that there is anything that we can be doing throughout our daily lives to help make a positive impact on the current environmental crisis?
BC: Thatís a good question, and itís one I keep asking myself. I donít know if I have a good answer for it. I think the small things we can do will probably count if enough of us do them. Vote for the people who have the right ideas and make sure you do vote. The idea that we should give up on democracy because itís f**ked up anyway is a very mistaken idea. If you do that than that will be a self-fulfilling prophecy that will come true. People that want to be in power and want to exercise power over the rest of us are very happy to not have us vote and to not have us exercise our democratic rights. Theyíre always happy to kind of erode those rights and take them away. It goes with the territory, you have power and you want to have more power, you want to be able to get your job done more easily without having to consult with someone. Police are like that, military is like that and government is like that. So the only way to keep that from running away from us is by paying attention and exercising our democratic rights so people shouldnít think that it doesnít matter anymore. I feel like that happened in the last federal election here and I see it happening all the time. The hopeful bit was Bernie Sanders and his crowd and the very unhopeful bit was the way the Democratic Party sabotaged that. The fact that that happened doesnít mean that we should just give up and turn our backs on it, because if you think things are looking scary right now then theyíll look a whole lot more scary if we give up our democracy.
WP: Itís nice to hear you say that because one canít help but notice a tone of indifference among some young people today toward politics or what is taking place throughout the world.
BC: For sure, and I even get it. Iíve gone through periods of my life where I felt like it really wasnít worth it. But, how much does it really take? This doesnít mean you have to devote your entire life to working on this stuff. Just, when things come up, notice!
WP: Your songs "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" and "Radium Rain" deal with nuclear warfare. Nuclear warfare is an issue you have been a strong advocate against throughout your career. Do you view the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons winning the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize as a big step forward in this issue?
BC: Well, I think itís appropriate, but Iím not sure how much that means in terms of reaching any goal. But it seems to me that we were closer to getting rid of nukes 20 years ago than we are now. But any positive attention that is paid to that issue is good.
WP: Itís gotten to the point that Iím afraid to check the news every day because two very powerful people both seem to be inciting one another to bring this kind of warfare about.
BC: As long as the weapons are around, the risk is there. Some idiotís going to use them. You have this jerk in North Korea, posturing in the way he is. But heís not without his reasons in a way, but itís an irrational response to the reasons. Then you have this comparably irrational response coming from our side and it makes one nervous. And itís not that Iíve never had to be nervous about this beforeóthe threat has always been there. Coming of age in the Ď60s, you were very aware of it. There was the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis and there was a scandal in Canada of the U.S. stationing nuclear missiles on Canadian soil without asking if it was all right with us. In the end, of course it wasnít. These things were always in the news and they were presented as existential threats. In the time between all this, it seems weíve mostly been able to ignore it ó most people figured it wasnít as large a problem anymore. But it always has been a threat because the missiles are there. When the Soviet Union broke up, there was another moment when we had to pay attention to it because all of a sudden the triggers for those missiles would fall into the hands of someone that we did not know and what their attitudes would be we didnít know. So there was another moment of instability, but it settled down once again until last year.
WP: Do you think people are removed from the issue of nuclear warfare today? It seems like people should be so well connected and informed with the popularity of technology today, but really there is a perceivable distance among us.
BC: If this is the global village, and you think about what kind of things happen in a village, youíve got a group of people who can all look each other in the eye and they still kill each other, they still have slaves and they still have to preserve order. Even in tribal communities, thereís some semblance of that. They have customs and certain ways they want things to be done for the benefit of everyone. Thereís no reason to assume itís any less volatile just because we can talk to each other so easily than it would be if we were all living in a Stone Age village somewhere. The main difference there would be that the people in the Stone Age setting would be more likely to realize how much they truly need each other than we are. One of the problems with the social media scenario that we live with now is that it does not foster a sense of need. It fosters a sense of communication on some level, but thereís no sense that your Facebook friends are going to be there for you when the sh*t hits. When my friends that spend a lot of time on Facebook or have a lot of Facebook friends right in their neighborhood get into a crisis, people send them a message. ďOh, sorry to hear youíre in such a crisis!Ē and they think that actually helps. The distance between that perception and the actual reality is a factor that is more present for us than it would have been for people in a small village. But nonetheless, the human part of it is the same. You can still hate somebody that lives on the other side, or you can still feel victimized by someone who is doing better than you. Those are the real causes of all this stuff. We have a global village that doesnít address its own issues, and this makes for a more volatile international situation than what would exist without the social media platforms. We know too much now too! Itís too easy to make fun of one another.
WP: There are so many "internet trolls" today who basically thrive off of making fun of another person behind closed doors.
WP: In 1966, you claimed that you felt as if music and art were above politics. Later, you withdrew that statement through the release of the song, "If I Had a Rocket Launcher." In todayís fragile climate, do you believe that music should be inherently political?
BC: No, actually I donít. I think that you can do what you want. If youíre somebody that is making art, whether thatís music or painting or anything else, you should do what your gut and your spirit instruct you to do. For me, if Iím going to write a song, the most important thing is that it be a good song no matter what itís about, because otherwise youíre just adding to the garbage in the world. But if I choose to write a song about a political situation or about anything that is going to have meaning for people in that arena, then I better know what Iím talking about. It better be firsthand and be my experience of a certain topic. Thatís where art has power, when it comes from oneís own heart and soul. So if I just decide, "HmmÖ I think Iíll write a protest song about Sean Spicer," well, I donít know him and I havenít met him. I see what he stands for and I hate it, and I can write a song out of my own hate, but if I try to get anything beyond that then Iím going to be bullsh*tting. Then I have no power and my work has no power. Therefore, if youíre going to talk about issues, then you better understand those issues as best you can. And be personal with it because it only has its power when it is personal.
BC: Itís such a hideous development in what could be a truly beautiful thing.
WP: You once said that "Fear of poetry on the party of the powerful seems to always have been with us." Do you believe that poetry is a medium that can still create change in the world through enlightening the powerful?
BC: Well, I donít know if it was ever a medium that could create change, Iím not sure about that. It might be. What I do know is that it can be a medium for focusing the energy of a group onto a singular thing. If I go to a poetry slam and I hear somebody coming up with a powerful statement about something that feels like itís coming from a genuine place, then it affects me. I go out onto the street and I go, "Yeah, that was really well said," and the next thing I see that might relate to that content, Iím going to remember that and it will affect how I act. Itís kind of an uncertain thing, when you throw this stuff out thereís no control over how it will be received. People will always interpret whatever they encounter through their own experiences. So somebody who hears my songs may not hear them the way I imagined they would. You have to allow for that.
WP: Many people must have interpreted your more political music in some interesting ways. Was that frustrating for you?
BC: Well I had to let go of [the way my songs were received] right away, and I learned that very early in the game with the song, "All the Diamonds in the World," which I wrote out of my own spiritual experience. But later on, I met this guy who felt that that song had saved him from suicide. I had no idea that was going to happenóit never occurred to me in a million years that a song could even do that. Whatever he got out of the song I suppose had some relationship to what I put into it, but I donít think it was the same [relationship]. On the other hand, I worried a lot about "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," because I didnít want people to think that I was promoting violence. I didnít want people to think that I was trying to recruit them to go out and kill Guatemalan soldiers. It was anything but that; it was a cry of frustration, outrage and pain. And most people got that. Even if they didnít understand the Guatemalan reference, they understood the feeling and I think most people didnít take it as an evil statement. But there were those who did. A Toronto critic wrote a review that all the copies of that album should be rounded up and melted down. Thatís how much he hated that song. It made me not want to do any more interviews with that critic, but people are entitled to their opinion.
The good thing is people are paying attention and the other good thing is that Iím pretty confident no one actually went and shot Guatemalan soldiers. The song was used in some kind of funny and questionable ways. The U.S. Army used it in Panama when they were trying to take down [Manuel] Noriega. The American army forces had him surrounded and they were blasting rock and roll anthems non-stop to keep them from sleeping or wearing down. The people in charge invited all the troops to submit suggestions for a playlist and ďIf I Had a Rocket LauncherĒ ended up on the playlist. So Noriega was forced to hear that at deafening volumes. Thatís a less positive use of the song than some others, but when I sang that song for the troops in Afghanistan, they cheered. And you know theyíre not cheering out of empathy for Guatemalan refugees. Theyíre cheering because they do have rocket launchers and they want some son of a bitch to die. So it hasnít been a completely positive experience.
WP: You once claimed that you donít think the police and the people in the army should be the only people who have guns. Following the recent shooting in Las Vegas, where do you stand on gun regulation? Has your outlook toward that changed in any ways?
BC: I think that the U.S. has a big problem with guns. Thereís no question about that. The gun folks will claim things like, "gun control means a good eye and a steady hand," but if everyone with a gun had a good eye, a steady hand and a functioning brain then there would be no problem because itís not the gun that does the act, itís the gun in the hands of someone either with extreme stupidity or a lack of good will. Now, stupidity and ill will are not going to go away from the world, so you have to cover that somehow. The idea that guns are as available as they are to virtually anybody in the U.S., I think is a mistake. I donít think it should be that easy. At the very least, it should be comparable to driving a car. We have to hope that what happened [in Las Vegas] is not typical of gun crimes to come. Really what youíre talking about as the social phenomenon is not the mass murderer but itís the four-year-old who gets the gun out of a purse in a supermarket and shoots somebody. Itís the idiot who shoots somebody knocking on their door who is simply looking for help because theyíre lost, or the school kids who get ahold of guns. That is the real problem. Itís also hard to find a reasonable voice or a reasoned voice who is addressing the problem. Unfortunately, this country has a hard time having a dialogue about anything these days, and this is one of the hot-button issues that is very hard to have a meaningful dialogue about, because you either find people who agree with you or wonít, and there is no middle ground.
Itís a terrible thing. As a social phenomenon, it is really out of control and needs to be reined in. What we all struggle over is the "how?"
WP: Bob Dylan recently won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. His winning brings forth the question: Can songwriting be viewed as literature?
BC: I think that what I write is like poetry. Iím scared to call it poetry because then I invite comparison with great poets. It just scares me to think that someone might put my name on a page next to Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot or even Allen Ginsberg. Maybe in some ways [Ginsberg] is a less scary comparison, because I feel like my stuff is closer in some ways to his in style and spirit, but at the same time I still donít like the idea of being put into that ballpark. I prefer to think of my words as song lyrics, but other people see them as poetry and call them poetry and some people have done me the honor of paying very close attention to how I write and what I write. I think you want to be careful when asking if music can be literature, because music doesnít have to have words.
WP: Speaking of music without words, the song "Bone on Bone" from your newest record features four minutes of moody acoustic strumming. When youíre writing music without lyrics, is your process any different?
BC: Itís really quite different from song writing. For me, songwriting starts with the lyrics. I get an idea for a lyric and that idea starts to take shape. Then at some point, thereís enough there to begin thinking about how to put music to the words. With the instrumental pieces, they just come out of exploring on the guitar. Thereís the same degree of accidental origin as a song with lyrics, but it comes from different mechanics. When fooling around on the guitar, Iíll stumble on something that could be the basis for an instrumental piece, and then I work on it to try to find more things to add to it so that it can become a finished piece. A piece like "Bone on Bone" has the basic structure of a Jazz tune. The other pieces have a more carefully composed structured.
WP: For someone who has played the guitar for so many years, have you found that you still find new and exciting ways to explore the instrumentís sonic capabilities? "
BC: I donít have the flexibility in my fingers that I had 15 or 20 years ago, but there are still new things on the instrument that I donít know. Itís just important to keep learning. If you donít keep learning and exploring, then youíre going to stagnate. And that is with respect to anything at all in life.
WP: The first song on your new record, "States Iím In," feels like a tale of your experience within American society ó how each space youíve been to has perhaps had its own impact on you.
BC: The song is really a reference to the United States and thatís the play on words there. Itís a really personal song. What Iíve been saying about it is that itís an encapsulation of a sort of dark night of the soul experience. Itís sort of mythic but it unfolds over the course of the night. The darkness in it isÖan exploratory state, but itís one full of angst. As we said earlier, itís up to everybody to bring his or her own experience to the music, and that will be true of this song too.
WP: Thank you so much for the time Bruce, and Iím looking forward to seeing you on Nov. 7 at the Calvin Theater. I hope that San Francisco sky clears up soon.
BC: Thanks for the interest, Iím looking forward to being there.
~from The Massachuttes Daily Collegian - by William Plotnick.
20 October 2017 - Life in Trumpís America doesnít end at the countryís borders. The present-day eraís global scope means that, sonar-like, the current U.S. presidentís impact tears across the world, including upward to the countryís endearing northern neighbor. Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn wrote his new album, Bone On Bone, under the unnerving atmosphere that has settled like grey ash over contemporary life ever since the 2016 presidential election. Several songs, including "Cafť Society" and "States Iím In," touch on the agitation rippling through communities and individuals, while "False River" decries a more specific issue: pipelines. "Life blood of the land, consort of our earth, pulse to the pull of moonrise, can you tally what itís worth?" he sings against a locomotive rhythm that practically pulses with exigency. Trump, specifically, doesnít pop up on the album, but his influence can be felt in the at-times brooding reflections which spur Cockburnís latest songs.
The LP marks Cockburnís 33rd and arrives seven years after his last effort, Small Source of Comfort. The time in between took his attention to other places, including fatherhood and his 2014 memoir, Rumours of Glory. It took contributing a song to the documentary Al Purdy Was Here (about the Canadian poet) to spark his songwriting once again. Cockburn has long pointed his weapons of choice ó namely, his pen and his guitar ó at issues impacting the world, and Bone on Bone makes clear that his song-based activism hasnít eased any. If anything, he doubles down, impressing upon listeners the detrimental forces propelled by division, isolation, and more. Cockburn tapped Ruby Amanfu, Mary Gauthier, Brandon Robert Young, and even singers from the church he regularly attends ó known on the album as the San Francisco Lighthouse chorus ó to offset his dusky vocals and paint an inclusive picture of community, even while his songís subject matter toed a more solitudinous line. His lyricism, as pointed and precise as ever, proves that the septuagenarian still has important messages to share, and will do exactly that ó so long as his mind and breath and energy allow him. A new inductee to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, the timing couldnít be more aligned.
It feels more important than ever to have messengers like you.
Thank you for saying that. It does feel like a time when we have to emphasize communication, because everything is so polarized. Weíre all looking at slogans and talking in slogans all the time, but it seems really important to share an experience with each other.
Yeah, in keeping with that idea of slogans ó even thinking about the way social media packages thought ó how do you feel your songwriting has had to change to reach across the aisle, so to speak?
I donít really have a good answer for that. Itís a legitimate question, but I feel I havenít really changed my approach to songwriting. I think itís a question of maintaining some sort of footing in reality. We all have our own idea of what reality is, but social media creates a false reality. Iím not very involved in social media, so Iím not the best person to be passing judgment on it. At the same time, Iím not involved with it because I donít trust it, because I donít like it. Thereís a great usefulness to it, granted ó itís really great when you can communicate with people at a distance quickly, and if you have something sensible to communicate ó but it doesnít stop at that. For me, itís a world of BS and I donít really want to spend time in that world.
Sure. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, ďIf there was a sensible message.Ē
Itís not very hard to find opinions being passed off as news that really are offensive, whatever your perspective. Most of the time you donít learn anything, because you just get annoyed. Thatís a problem, because it could be a forum for greater understanding.
You touch on a bit of that with "States Iím In," and I love the titleís play on words: Noddings toward the division people may now feel as individuals and as a country. Whatís the most significant message you think listeners need to hear today?
Well, I donít think the song offers an answer, really, except a spiritual one. I didnít design the album to have a particular theme, but there is that underlying theme that the spiritual world is one where we can actually meet ó or where we need to go, whether we meet or not. It puts things in a perspective that is less prone to being blown this way and that by the winds coming out of various high-profile people. [Laughs]
"States Iím In," is a kind of capsulized dark night of the soul experience. The song unfolds with a sunset and it ends with dawn and, in the meantime, thereís all this stuff ó itís not all autobiographical, although the feelings are. I think the feelings that the song expresses are feelings a lot of us experience, so it has that application for somebody other than me. You can get swept away by all the stuff, but in the end, whatís essential is that relationship with the divine. Thatís the whisper welling up from the depths and, if you can shut up long enough to listen for that whisper, itís there.
Speaking about the albumís spirituality, the number 33 has a powerful religious and spiritual connotation. Does the fact that this is album number 33 hold any meaning for you?
Thatís an interesting question, too. I hadnít thought of that, so I guess the answerís "no," but maybe subliminally it did. The number that I did think of is the [song] "Forty Years in the Wilderness," and thatís more specific, both as a reference and in my own life.
And thereís also the fact that itís been seven years between albums, and seven is a potent number, as well.
Yeah, I know, weíre getting all numerological here.
And I donít necessarily mean to!
Itís not a belief system that I adhere to, particularly, but I do find it interesting when those things show up. There are certain years in my life Ö I mean, a year that adds up to four is almost never a good year for me, and almost all the other ones are. So what does that mean? Maybe itís totally subjective or maybe itís not.
Or, if you head into those particular years with that mindset, you create your own issues.
Right, itís impossible. I can never stand back far enough to be sure Iím not doing that. I think all of those kinds of esoteric ways of trying to understand things ó whether itís numerology or the tarot or astrology ó they all have some functionality. They all work in some way. But what Iíve thought over the years is that they seem to operate as enhancements to your own sense of contact to the bigger reality, so it doesnít really matter which one you use, if it helps you. If you have a sensitivity to that kind of listening state, those things help you listen, and they might help you listen ó in the case of the tarot ó to somebody elseís condition.
Once anything becomes a belief system that can be passed on and you can train people in it and so on, itís kind of like training musician. I havenít been to Berklee in some time, and really appreciated it as a great school, and it still is, but the problem with that and the problem with any system of education is, you teach people to be the same as each other. The geniuses will transcend that; theyíll learn all the stuff and then theyíll go on and be themselves. But the people that are not geniuses will end up being very good at what they do but sounding like each other. And I think the same thing applies to spiritual training: You can learn all that stuff and it doesnít make you gifted.
It doesnít, and I wonder how much "genius" here applies to a sense of bravery.
Yeah, maybe so, whether itís bravery or necessity. Some people are brave and step out in spite of their surroundings or themselves, and others of us just luck into it. This is what I know how to do, and I kind of care what people think about it, but Iím not going to let their opinions stop me.
Right, and then speaking of another individual in that sense, your song "3 Al Purdys"Ö what is it about his use of language that holds such magic for you?
He had great insight for one thing ó into people and the historical place of things. And, as a young poet, heís kind of raw and brash and very Canadian, very colloquial, very rough around the edges, but interesting as all get-out. And then, as he gets older, as the poems become more recent, he becomes more speculative and thoughtful and more international, also. His thought processes are beautifully articulated and communicable, therefore.
Heís got some really visceral introspections.
His hit is the poem where heís in a bar in Ontario, and he tries to get somebody to buy him a beer in exchange for a poem and it doesnít work, and he reflects on what poetry is really worth, when it wonít even buy you a beer. And of course thatís the side of Al Purdy that my song is thinking of. Everybody who knows Al Purdy knows that poem, and itís so archetypically Canadian. You kind of had to be there to appreciate it. I donít know how it would seem to somebody from the U.S. Nonetheless, it captures some aspect of Ontario culture thoroughly. Heís basically my dadís generation, and he spent the Ď30s riding the rails back and forth across Canada, looking for work like everybody else. Both of the spoken word sections in the song are excerpts from his poetry.
Congratulations, by the way, on being inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. I know the country has honored you in a few different ways, but what did it mean to be recognized for your songwriting?
It means people are listening. Itís gratifying and humbling, and Iím very grateful for it. An award is a thing, an event, and the event has its own meaning, and it had meaning. It was nice to be part of it, and then, you know, I have a thing to take home and put somewhere that Iíll have to dust. [Laughs]
What a way to look at it!
But what it represents, like I said, is that people are paying attention, and an artist canít ask for anything more.
Very true. Well, my last question is admittedly silly. Youíve been called the "Canadian Bob Dylan," so who would you say is the American Bruce Cockburn?
Um, Iíd like it to be Tom Waits, but Ö
Alright, letís just make that claim!
I donít think anybodyís anybody except themselves, but I remember way back in the day being described in more than one review of a show as the Canadian John Denver, and the only similarity is that we both have round glasses. Itís such a cheap way to try to describe something. Itíd be better to describe me as not the next Canadian this or that: Heís not the Canadian Bob Dylan. Heís not the next Leonard Cohen. Heís not the next Joni Mitchell. If you do enough of those, you can kind of get to what the person might be. If I had to be some American singer/songwriter, Tom Waits would be high on my list. Lucinda Williams would be high on my list, too. And Ani DiFranco is a terrific songwriter and closer, in a certain sense, to what I do. I forget where it was, but I was described as Ani DiFrancoís uncle.
Itís better than being described as "the next Canadian something or other." It was actually kind of an honor, but these comparisons Ö if theyíre not amusing, then theyíre sort of not very nice.
~from Counsel of Elders: Bruce Cockburn on serving as messenger - thebluegrasssituation.com, by By Amanda Wicks.
20 October 2017 - Bruce started touring in support of Bone On Bone in September and was interviewed by Tom Power at q - CBC.
Interview - q Bruce Cockburn - "my life is about music and the guitar" -
Published on Sep 20, 2017
Bruce performed a few songs in the studio, here are the links.
6 October 2017 - Bruce Cockburnís music has never been simple and straightforward because Cockburn is a complicated musician-poet who is ever unafraid to follow his muse. Wherever it leads.
These days, he is straying away from the (relatively) more traditional Christianity of his recent past, and onto a much more mystical path. Listeners first introduced to Cockburnís music because of his admittedly thin association with whatís sometimes termed ĎContemporary Christian music,í may be disappointed with the artistís current non-specific spiritual vision. But then again, if anyone ever assumed Cockburn would fit into any sort of pre-determined evangelical mold, probably wasnít ever listening too closely from the start.Cockburn Mellows With Age
Perhaps whatís most surprising about Cockburnís latest Bone to Bone album (his whopping 33rd to date!), is how unexpectedly gentile he sounds throughout. Can this really be the same man that aimed his lyrical missive at cruel warmongers with "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" back in 1984? Shouldnít a man so unforgiving of the Bush presidencies be uncontrollably livid with Donald Trump? Perhaps this is an angry, graying man, somehow keeping much of his outrage within. Might it be his resistance isnít yet showing through in his music? Hard to fathom, but possibly true. Yet, instead of aiming his political weaponry at the current administration, Cockburn sings ó for example ó about the social networking, pseudo political expertise of our "Cafť Society."
For this avowed spiritualist (confessed to be in a kind of Ďdark night of the soul,í expressed best with opener "States Iím In"), Cockburn is nevertheless especially God-centered throughout much of his new 11-song collection. These musings range from the sonically gospel-y "Jesus Train," to the actual traditional gospel-blues of "Twelve Gates to The City." Seeker Cockburn is at his most conspicuously vertically-centered during "Looking and Waiting." It is one of Cockburnís best expressly spiritual songs since many of the similarly like-minded songs on his masterwork Humans. With it, Cockburn sings of being doggedly undeterred in his quest for the divine. Heís "scanning the skies," and scouring nature in his search; albeit with "no clear view." Itís a song sure to please both the faithful and the curious about all things spiritual.'Highly Evolved Guitar'
The albumís title cut is an instrumental that reminds us of Cockburnís highly evolved guitar skills. Even though he doesnít sing a single note on it, the tune builds dramatically like an intensifying film score. Producer Colin Linden consistently surrounds Cockburn with many ear-popping aural elements, including Ron Milesí jazzy flugelhorn solos in a few notable places.
Cockburn also keeps listeners pleasantly surprised with his various lyrical approaches. "Mon Chemin," for instance, finds him fluently singing in French, while "3 Al Purdys" incorporates quoted Al Purdy poetic lines in an unusual song sung from the perspective of a literate homeless man.
To paraphrase scripture, Cockburnís latest work is not intended for the spiritually immature; ones still dining on a diet of milk. Instead, itís a meaty dish. Itís also a thoughtful, intense and endless creative work, which is Bruce Cockburn at his best.
Bruce Cockburn, Bone to Bone; True North Records
1 October 2017 - I must admit to being a bit shocked when I heard Bruce Cockburn was being inducted this year into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
I'm sure my thoughts were shared by many Cockburn fans ó "You mean he wasn't already in it?"
That shock was somewhat ameliorated when I learned that one of his co-inductees was Neil Young.
"Well, all right then," I said to myself. "Bruce is finally getting the recognition he deserves."
So it was. A little over a week ago Cockburn was feted by his peers in a gala Hall of Fame concert at Toronto's Massey Hall. (Neil was there too, of course, but this column isn't about him.)
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, featuring Hamilton's own Tom Wilson, took the stage to perform Cockburn's classic "If I had a Rocket Launcher," and Buffy Sainte-Marie hailed him as "an agitator, an activist, a protester."
On Saturday night at Hamilton's FirstOntario Concert Hall, Cockburn proved he is all that and much more. He's not just a songwriter, a protester or a poet. He's also one heck of a guitarist.
At 72, Cockburn is white of hair and a little stooped in posture, but he's lost none of his renegade spirit or his consummate musical skills.
He demonstrated that time and time again during his 18-song set, playing a seemingly endless stream of guitars ó acoustic, electric, 12-string, six-string and a strange little number that looked like a ukulele but sounded like a jet stream.
His fingers effortlessly danced over the strings on oldies like "Wondering Where the Lions Are," as well as new songs like "States I'm In" from his "Bone on Bone" album.
He played jazz-infused, gospel-tinged blues on another new song called "40 Years in the Wilderness" and let the feedback fly on a fiery versions of signature songs "Rocket Launcher" and "If a Tree Falls."
He was backed by the rhythm section of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings ó drummer Gary Craig and bassist John Dymond ó and his nephew, multi-instrumentalist John Aaron Cockburn, who together managed to lay down the perfect accompaniment to Cockburn's genre-bending lead.
Still, it was the songs that made the night. Lyrics Cockburn first sang decades ago were given new relevancy. He reached back in his catalogue for "Free to Be," a track he recorded in 1977 in opposition to the rise of white supremacist groups like the Western Guard.
"I forgot about that song for a very long time Ö and then the news happened recently," Cockburn explained to the audience.
Cockburn has been always been ahead of the pack. What may have seemed radical 30 years ago, now seems main stream, perhaps even fashionable.
Almost to prove the point, Cockburn closed the show with a blistering rendition of "Stolen Land," a song he wrote in 1986 about the injustices suffered by the world's Indigenous people. Judging by the standing ovation Cockburn was given, it seems the message may finally be getting through.
ēOpening for Cockburn, was Hamilton singer-songwriter Terra Lightfoot, who performed a solo set that featured several songs from her upcoming album "New Mistakes." Lightfoot is a roots rocker who usually is backed by a full band, but the quality of new songs like "Paradise," "Drifter" and "Norma Gale" easily won over the audience. "New Mistakes" will be available Oct. 13 on Sonic Unyon Records. Lightfoot is setting off on a tour of North America, Japan and Australia before returning home for a concert with her band on Jan. 13 at McMaster University's LIVElab theatre.
~from Graham Rockingham - Hamilton Spectator, photo Scott Gardner,The Hamilton Spectator.
23 September 2017 - BRUCE WAS INDUCTED TO INTO THE CANADIAN SONGWRITERS HALL OF FAME ON SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 23 - from Massey Hall.
Here is a Recap of the ceremony, with videos, photos and Bruce's speech in his own hand. [6 October 2017 - Video of Bruce's speech has been added as has Buffy Saint-Marie's introduction speech.]
23 September 2017 - The back is slightly bent and the hair has been bleached by time but Bruce Cockburn, that musical lion, doesnít seem ready for eternity quite yet, even if he might be thinking about it.
The legendary singer songwriter returned Friday night to a packed Southam Hall in the National Arts Centre with a tight band that featured his nephew John Aaron Cockburn on guitar and accordion and longtime musical associates Gary Craig on drums and John Dymond on bass, and a new lineup of music from his first album in seven years called Bone On Bone. It is the 33rd of a storied career that began in Ottawa in the 1960s.
Delivering this new album was not easy. Cockburn has said in many interviews that he struggled to find the muse after finishing a memoir called Rumours of Glory. The man writes songs based on inspiration, a spark that ignites a song and he couldnít find it until he helped in a fundraiser to preserve the home of the Canadian poet Al Purdy. Thinking about the poet produced a song called 3 Al Purdys and all of a sudden the fire was lit.
Cockburnís part of the evening opened up, early on, with a crowd-pleasing rendition of Lovers in a Dangerous Time from 1984. Getting one of the hits out of the way cleared the way for a run of songs from the new album which showed the man has lost nothing off his voice or his picking or his ability to write a lyric that is multi-layered in meaning.
States Iím In is such a tune. Itís the song that is put forward on his website as an entry point to the new album Ö ďAll the places Iíve been each one reflected in the states Iím inÖĒ
One aspect of this new record is its embrace of spiritual matters. Cockburn has found spirituality in his latter years accompanying his wife to a church in San Francisco, where they live with their six-year-old daughter.
Cockburn has always leaned to the spiritual but now he is more clearly focussed on what he indicated in an interview [Interview date August 25, 2017] with ARTSFILE, as Godís plan.
The songs from Bone On Bone, such as 40 Years in the Wilderness, which he played Friday night, reflect that sentiment. But heís not abandoned concerns for such things as the environment which was at the heart of the intense and pointed song False River off the new disc. He also spoke to the need for reconciliation in Canada with indigenous nations in the song Stolen Land which was released in 1990.
He flashed back to the tune Free To Be (1977) which took a shot at an extreme right wing organization called the Western Guard. North American society today faces another resurgence of this kind of white nationalism, making Cockburnís song a prescient warning. And he fired up his Rocket Launcher to underline the point. Nor did he ignore my particular favourite Wondering Where the Lions Are. Itís hard to believe it was released in 1979.
Cockburnís guitar skills havenít suffered a whit from the ravages of time. He can pick it any way you want it from a classical sound with hints of Spain in it to flat out rock guitar god. This was amply demonstrated in every song including the instrumental Bone On Bone that is on the CD of the same name.
Cockburnís evening wrapped up with a standing ovation and three encore tunes including an oldie The Coldest Night of the Year and ending with a nod to God in the song Jesus Train.
Now itís on to Toronto where Cockburn is to be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame along with another legend Neil Young, along wth Quebecers Beau Dommage and Stťphane Venne.
The evening opened with Hamilton, Ontarioís Terra Lightfoot, who offered her own strong voice and talent on the guitar in a stripped down performance of new music from her next album, New Mistakes, which is coming out in October.
~from Peter Robb - artsfile.ca. [Interview date August 25, 2017]
22 September 2017 - Bruce Cockburn, 72, lives in San Francisco but calls Canada ďthe single island of sanity in the Western hemisphere.Ē - True North Records
Bruce Cockburn, the angry Canadian composer of "If I had a Rocket Launcher," has been living in the land of Donald Trump for the past eight years, surprisingly content.
Cockburn is on the phone from his home in San Francisco to talk about his new studio album "Bone On Bone" and his upcoming Canadian concert tour that will take him and his band to Hamilton's FirstOntario Centre on Sept. 30.
OK, San Francisco isn't exactly the land of Trump. It's actually an oasis of liberalism in a nation that happens to be run by that very unliberal guy who recently told the United Nations he was prepared to destroy North Korea and it's little dog, too.
I've been interviewing Cockburn for many years now. He doesn't shy away from political fencing. He always seemed ready to do battle with the world's injustices. If there was a tree to hug, both arms were wide open. If there was a whale to save, Bruce was aboard. And if a Junta needed taking out Ö well Ö there was that rocket launcher.
So after the usual pleasantries, our conversation naturally turned to some carefree banter about the new America.
"It's a crazy country," Cockburn admits with an understated laugh, noting that his time in the U.S. has made him appreciate his native country. "Canada, for all of its issues and there are many, is the single island of sanity in the Western hemisphere."
But he is not grabbing for the nearest rocket launcher. His wife M.J. Hannett has a law career in San Francisco and their five-year-old daughter Iona has just started Grade 1 there. Unless things get really crazy in America, he's there for the long haul.
He admits to concern about the polarized nature of American political discussion, on both the right and the left.
"The unwillingness to see the other guy's point of view is very common," says Cockburn, a native of Ottawa. "That's part of the energy of the country. On the positive side, we know that the U.S. has great energy and great things get done here."
At 72, the iconic songwriter is sounding more like a moderate than an iconoclast. Trump is a setback, but things will work themselves out. Right now, Cockburn has more important things on his mind. He's looking at life from the narrow end of life's road.
"What seems urgent now is not the same that seemed urgent in 1980," he says. "I know some stuff I didn't know then, and I have a sense of how much I don't know. I see this threshold approaching that requires a different sort of attention than the stuff you notice when you are younger.
"Bone On Bone ," released Sept. 15 on the Waterdown-based True North Records label, is Cockburn's 33rd album, the first from a studio in six years.
Produced by Colin Linden of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, the album is filled with the brilliant guitar playing and beautiful lyricism that have become Cockburn trademarks. It's an extraordinary accomplishment for an artist whose career spans more than five decades.
The album's 11 songs reflect an awareness of where the writer stands in the arc of life. When Cockburn decided to call it "Bone OnBone," he was thinking of joint pain.
"It's about having lived this long," Cockburn says without hesitation. "I think of it as a kind of darkly joyous exercise in noticing where you are. At this point, what's ahead of you is shorter than what is behind you."
There are some lighthearted tracks like "Cafť Society," filled with snippets of conversation from the local coffee shop, and "3 Al Purdys," written for a documentary about the life of the great Canadian poet.
There are also songs with a strong gospel tinge ó not preachy, but traditional, as if borrowed from a southern Baptist church. Cockburn attributes the gospel sound to his return to the church.
"I had just hit a point in my life where that had become a dominant theme again, so it's a dominant theme in the songs," he explains.
Cockburn was a church goer in the '70s and that spirituality is embroidered into much of his work during that era. In 1980, however, Cockburn stopped attending church and took a more humanist, often political, approach to his art.
Three Christmases ago, things changed with the death of a close family friend in a house fire. Cockburn's wife took solace in San Francisco's Lighthouse community church. She asked him to accompany her.
"One day I finally gave in and I was completely captivated," he says. "I stepped through the door and there was this wall of love and great music, a small congregation with no pretences. Everyone that goes there goes because they want to be there. The vibe was great, very democratic and welcoming."
"Reconnecting with that particular approach to spirituality led to what's on the album."
The release of "Bone On Bone" comes at a time when interest in Cockburn's extensive catalogue is burgeoning. On Saturday, Sept. 23, he will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriter's Hall of Fame along with Neil Young, Beau Dommage and Stephane Venne at Toronto's Massey Hall.
Hamilton's Tom Wilson, who will be among several artists performing tributes to Cockburn at the ceremony, says it is time Cockburn receives such recognition.
"He's an iconic messenger who is known all around the world," Wilson says. "He's done so many things with his art."
~from Graham Rockingham - Hamilton Spectator.
23 September 2017 - Here's a link to a great online interview/article Cockburn Comes to Terms with Life by Graham Rockingham.
Concert Review: Bruce Cockburn at the NAC with Terra Lightfoot
By Apartment613 - Colin Noden
24 September 2017 - Iím going to tell you why this may have been the concert of a lifetime, but first I have a question. Is banter a thing at Bruce Cockburn concerts? Or was this a welcome home response for a local kid who made good?
Bruce came out blasting in his first two numbers, with ďTokyoĒ and ďLovers in a Dangerous TimeĒ given a driving instrument dominate sound. Then, assured he had our attention, he began to tune his guitar.
ďWelcome home!Ē was shouted from the back of the audience. Bruce responded, and so it began. Every tuning pause had someone toss a comment on stage. And Bruce tossed one back. It began to feel like we were all sitting around a campfire with good olí Bruce from Nepean High, who was in town to party for the night and just happened to bring along his six guitars. Of course, thatís just how Bruce wanted it.
The two hours that followed were expertly crafted in song selection and dynamics. They also showcased a musician at the top of his game. Bruce immediately served notice that he is a musical force for the here and now.
His guitar playing is mind blowing. Yes, there is still the trademark clean plucking of old, but last night left no doubt that Bruce Cockburn is best-in-class in Jazz, Blues and Rock as well. The ďBone on BoneĒ instrumental jazz piece was literally hypnotic. ďStolen LandsĒ had shredding that brought us into the ecstatic centre of a pow-wow. It was amazing. He captured the emotions, the shuffle and stomp of the dance, and the literal voices of the singers were coming out through his fingers.
It was a performance that would have given other top musicians a stroke. Yet there he was, slightly stooped over the strings, as if just listening to what was coming out. If there was any emotion shown, it was from drummer Gary Craig who kept up using everything at his disposal, even improvising by using a rattle to beat the floor tom. All done with a wild smile on his face.
The bottom line, is that if you want to hear some of the best guitar playing across multiple genres, then Bruce Cockburn is your guy. But what about the singing? Well, you could say Bruce has been blessed with a voice that ages well and suits his message. Iíll leave it at that. Thereís nothing wrong with his lungs though. In his first set, he sustained a note so long that I was looking for the synthesizer. But it was all him.
The old songs, and some new songs, were as poetic and mystical as I remembered. But the lyrics that hit me hardest were his picture poem songs. They were a newsreel of images through words. The only commentary was through the music. There was no need for any reflective editorial. We got the message. The activist is still alive and kicking in him.
I said this was the live concert of a lifetime. This was one youíll be talking about for years. A musician at the top of his game.
The only reason that statement may not be true is if Bruce Cockburn continues to improve. And from what I experienced, that may be the case. He is a genius at setting a program. Heís blowing out the walls with his guitar skills. He is relevant and as outspoken as ever.
~from and to continue reading - apt613.ca/concert-review-bruce-cockburn-at-the-nac-with-terra-lightfoot/
Setlist and more photos
22 September 2017 - Prior to his induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Ottawa-born musician and activist speaks with Brad Wheeler about the significant songs of his career
This weekend is one of those points Ė when the singer-songwriter and virtuoso guitarist is inducted (along with Stťphane Venne, Neil Young and Beau Dommage) into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. The gala event takes place at Massey Hall, a venue he first headlined in 1972.
Now, at the age of 72, the Ottawa-born musician and activist has just released Bone on Bone, his 33rd album and first in six years. Sitting in a hotel room across the street from Massey Hall, the eloquent protester, clear-voiced seeker and six-string dazzler spoke to The Globe and Mail about the significant songs of his career. Not necessarily the hits, but the signposts along the way that mark a career Ė a hall of fame one at that.
Going to the Country, 1970:
"I dropped out of the Berklee School of Music in Boston at the end of 1965. It wasn't where I was meant to be. By the end of the sixties, I had written maybe 20 songs. They sounded better to me when I did them alone, rather than with any of the bands I was in. Going to the Country was one of the songs that people noticed on my first album. I wrote it as a passenger in a car going to Montreal. I took notes as I looked out the window. The song became a template for one of the strains of songwriting that I've done. The folky guitar and observational lyrics, that perhaps were very early manifestation of the reportage approach to lyric writing that has shown up a lot in my work."
Sunwheel Dance, 1972:
"It was the first instrumental piece that I recorded. I'd learned a lot about finger-picking from various sources and people I'd encountered. There was an American named Fox Watson, who was transcribing fiddle tunes for guitar. You'd have these beautiful melodies, with a really nice harmonic approach to them. I absorbed a fair amount from that. Sunwheel Dance led to Foxglove, on my next album, which got more attention. It's named after Fox Watson."
All the Diamonds in the World, 1974:
"My first overtly Christian song. It was when I started calling myself a Christian. I'd become that, in everything but the commitment. And having made the commitment, it was necessary to use the term. This song commemorates that commitment. Because of the lyrical content, the musical style was self-consciously hymn-like. The chord changes were quite churchy, which was quite different for me then, and remains so."
Wondering Where the Lions Are, 1979:
"The success of Wondering Where the Lions Are was a big surprise. It was both very welcome and very fraught. All of a sudden, I'm in the PR machine of an American record company. All of a sudden, we're touring in way more places. We played it on Saturday Night Live. It was so terrifying. It was American national TV, and I didn't feel ready for it all."
If I Had a Rocket Launcher, 1984:
"After Wondering Where the Lions Are, there wasn't anything on the radar in the States. Years went by and then If I Had a Rocket Launcher came out. It took things up another notch. It shocked me that anybody played it on the radio at all. I almost didn't record it. I was afraid it would be misconstrued. There were other songs about Central America on the album, Stealing Fire. I didn't want people to think that I just wrote the song because I thought they should go down and kill Guatemalan soldiers. But there were enough people who understood it that I felt okay to having done it."
Get Up Jonah, 1996:
"I was in St. Louis, looking out of a hotel room window at the sun coming up on the other side of the Mississippi. I'd been up all night, worrying about the things going on in my life. The song relates to the Jonah story in the Bible. It's addressed to me. I'm Jonah, telling myself to get off my ass and do whatever I was supposed to be doing. Something about the track I was on was wrong. I was satisfied with the status quo. Get Up Jonah is about accepting an invitation, from the cosmos, to take the next step. I really like that song, though I haven't done it for a long time."
Forty Years in the Wilderness, 2017:
"This song is Get Up Jonah, part two, in a way. You're still being invited to follow the road where it leads, but you're older. Maybe not wiser, but less angsty. After I wrote my memoir [2014's Rumours of Glory], I hadn't written a song in four years. I started going to church again, after not having gone for decades. There was a sermon about Jesus being baptized, which is when he really figures out who he is. He's shocked, and he runs out into the desert to figure it out. That struck me with considerable force. I felt like I'd been struggling with that issue for 40 years. I'd started to identify myself as a Christian in the 1970s, and here I was, 40 years later, back in church. And I'm living in San Francisco now, with my wife and child. I never would have imagined myself living on the West Coast. But it was an answer. I went with it. I went west in another one of those cosmic moments. This song is about accepting those invitations."
~ from Bruce Cockburn - a life in seven songs by Brad Wheeler - Globe and Mail. (Inteview date: September 11, 2017)
22 September 2017 - Bruce Cockburn sounds vaguely bewildered.
He's 72-years-old, decades past his commercial heyday, an album artist in a sea of streaming singles ó let's be blunt, a dinosaur ó and yet somehow, inexplicably, young people keep showing up to hear him play.
For a guy with no false modesty who keeps expectations to a minimum, it's like finding out the tooth fairy is real.
"There's a scene in an old movie called 'The Ruling Class,' with Peter O'Toole, where he takes his place in the British House of Lords," allows the Ottawa-born singer-songwriter with self-deprecating humour.
"Some are still alive, some are just cadavers with cobwebs. I pictured this 'getting old with my audience' thing a bit like that."
He laughs, making it clear he would have no issues.
"But luckily there's always been new interest. In the last couple of years, there have been a greater number of younger people coming to shows and, strangely, a lot of them tell me they grew up with my stuff.
"Their parents played it."
His own parents, he points out, played the soundtrack to the Broadway musical "My Fair Lady" and the Victorian operas of Gilbert and Sullivan ó old school bombast the young Cockburn loathed with a passion.
"I would have gone miles out of my way to avoid having to go to a show of any of that music," he confides from his home in San Francisco. "And yet, here are people who experience my music in the same context, but they're coming.
"It's great . . . (befuddled sigh) . . . I don't understand it."
There's a lot of things he doesn't understand, and none of it makes any difference.
Cockburn is Cockburn ó always has been.
Sensitive and softspoken ó almost to the point of apologetic ó the 12-time Juno winner speaks in vague generalities, hesitates before committing himself to a single argument and weighs the pros and cons of everything, always tempering, balancing, on point.
He's the Clark Kent of Canadian Folk Rock.
But hit on a sensitive topic, elicit an emotional reaction ó environmental devastation, the welfare of indigenous peoples ó and his veneer of gentle deference turns to a sort of jaded resilience.
"I don't feel compelled to write about Donald Trump," he glowers when I imply the controversial U.S. president is ripe for the picking, protest song-wise.
"He gets enough attention."
"There's some scary stuff going on, but it's been going on for a long time."
Needless to say, he has little faith humanity will save itself.
"The environmental stuff has been around for decades and nobody does anything," he grouses with frustration. "People in positions of authority who could make meaningful decisions are not making them, and have not been making them.
"Every now and then it gets a little better and a little worse. Now we're in a phase where it's a little worse. People can't make up their minds. Are you gonna give up the money or are you gonna give up the planet?"
I can hear his bile rise over the phone: "You can't have both. You can't have oil and a healthy environment. It's that simple. And yet, it's not simple to execute. The will isn't there."
He sounds resigned, but after 47 years of activist songwriting with a string of hits that include "Wondering Where the Lions Are," "If A Tree Falls" and "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," he remains mysteriously unplacated, ready to go head-to-head at a moment's notice.
"I never thought of myself as an activist," he notes in his humble, unassuming way.
"I just write the stuff that comes to mind. I'm confronted by things the same as everybody else and I get an emotional response that, if I'm lucky, will trigger a song."
Take "If I Had A Rocket Launcher," his '84 hit about the plight of Guatemalan refugees, the most virulent, righteous, God of Thunder cry of rage and despair ever concocted by a Canadian songwriter: "If I had a rocket launcher, some son-of-a-b--ch would die."
"It wasn't a protest song," he offers, almost embarrassed.
"It was a song from my heart about something I saw. It's not theoretical."
Also not theoretical is that Cockburn, seven years past official retirement age, has a five-year-old daughter and finds himself, improbably, living the life of a man in his 30s.
"It does make you look at the world in a new way," he concedes openly. "I'm an old guy. If they blow up the world now, I've had a life."
"But a world without water, without air ó those are big concerns. I don't know that having a child really changes that. The world has always been beautiful and precious and fragile. It's always seemed like that to me."
Which begs the question: What's more terrifying, the imminent destruction of the planet, or getting called to the office because his kid is acting up in kindergarten?
"No matter how you feel about the big one," he concedes happily, "you gotta deal with the little one . . . no matter what.
"Obviously, it puts the nature of the world into sharp relief. I want her to be aware of things in as positive a way as possible."
While his new album, "Bone On Bone," avoids direct commentary on headline issues, his bent toward social justice and spiritual faith, in typical Cockburn style, are never far from the surface.
"As you get older, your life becomes more complex," he reasons. "And therefore whatever art you're producing becomes more complex too."
Some things, however, stay the same: his principled cynicism, his humanitarian zeal.
And in a turnaround from his '80s stance against the regressive views of the religious right, the quietly spiritual songwriter ó who once identified boldly as Christian ó is no longer boycotting the word.
"During the Reagan era the association between a certain kind of Christianity and American politics became inescapable," he laments softly.
"In conversations with (then musical partner) T Bone Burnett, we said 'should we actually go around calling ourselves Christians at this point?'
"Because the people waving that flag with the greatest vigour were people we didn't agree with at all. We didn't want to be seen promoting the stuff they're promoting."
With the U.S. increasingly polarized under Trump, I point out, it's worse now than it was then.
"Yeah, but you know what? Screw them!" he says gruffly. "At a certain point, it's like 'OK, I'm not gonna hide from that!
"At one time I just got tired of having to explain to people 'Yeah, I'm a Christian, but I'm not THAT Christian.'"
At some point, he says, you have to stand up "because these other people got the megaphone and somebody needs to take it away from them and say more truthful things.
"I don't know if I'm that person, but all of us who have gone through these kinds of feelings owe it ourselves to take that position."
It's a classic Cockburn response. Follow your own path. Don't take the easy route.
"It's never seemed very hard not to take the easy route," he points out. "Because it's always seemed like just doing the next thing."
"In hindsight I suppose I could do this differently or that differently and maybe there'd be a bigger audience, but I'm not sure a bigger audience is really necessary."
A man of modest expectations, he mulls this over for a moment, then admits he's content with the "significantly sized audience" he has.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, I suspect, he's also thankful that after five decades, his body or work exists on a different plane than the soundtrack of "My Fair Lady."
~from Joel Rubinoff - Waterloo Region Record.
19 September 2017 - Legendary musician Bruce Cockburn on music, activism, and hope
18 September 2017 - After writing his 2014 memoir [Rumours of Glory], Bruce Cockburn wasnít sure he was still a songwriter, a startling disclosure considering the scope of his illustrious music career, which has spanned more than 50 years, dozens of albums, multiple Juno Awards, an Order of Canada, a Governor Generalís performing arts award and membership in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
The Ottawa-born folk legend is also being inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, along with Neil Young, Beau Dommage and Stephen Venne, during a ceremony in Toronto on Sept. 23.
"There was an extended period when I didnít write any songs," revealed the silver-haired troubadour in a recent interview. "The memoir took three years of pretty intense focus. All of the creative energy that would have gone into songwriting went into the book, and there was nothing left over for anything else."
What finally cracked open the creative floodgates and led to the superb new album, Bone On Bone, was, in effect, an assignment. Cockburn was invited to contribute to the 2015 documentary on the noted Canadian poet Al Purdy, and decided to take up the challenge.
"Itís not typical in my experience to write a song on demand, whether someone elseís demand or mine. I kind of sit around and wait for a good idea," Cockburn says. "But in this case, Iíd been going for all those years without writing songs and I wasnít sure thereíd be any good ideas and then along comes this opportunity, and it seemed like the perfect invitation to get back into songwriting again. I said yes right away."
The song is 3 Al Purdys, an acoustically rhythmic, six-minute tale of a homeless man obsessed with Purdyís poems, and a chorus that goes, 'Iíll give you three Al Purdys for a $20 bill." Itís a brilliant tune, combining spoken-word poetry (by Purdy) with a mesmerizing hook thatís not unlike Cockburnís 1979 nugget, Wondering Where The Lions Are.
The rest of the album is no less finely crafted. His first studio project in seven years, itís also the first since Cockburn moved to the San Francisco area, married his longtime girlfriend, M.J. Hannett, and welcomed a baby girl into the world. Their daughter, Iona, who turns six in November, is in first grade at a French immersion school in San Fran.
While the new songs are not obviously political, they are informed by living in the U.S., as hinted in the title of the first single, States Iím In, an atmospheric mood piece built on Cockburnís precisely fingered acoustic guitar work and world-weary lyrics. He describes it as a "dark night of the soul experience.
"Itís just one of those songs that come from looking around and feeling whatís happening," he says. "The whole album is coloured in a subtle way by the fact that Iíve been living in the States for a few years, and it is a really different place."
You wonít hear another If I Had a Rocket Launcher on this record, but you will hear songs that explore spirituality from a Christian perspective, something Cockburn has embraced to varying degrees throughout his life.
These days, itís a big focus, partly because Cockburn has been going to church again for the first time in years. "Itís been a long time since I darkened the door of a church," he says. "I kind of fell away from it when I moved out of Ottawa at the end of the í70s."
But when his wife started attending services at San Franciscoís Lighthouse church, she encouraged him to join her. "I resisted it for a while and eventually gave in," he says. "Then I walked in the door and it was like I had walked into a sauna, only instead of heat, it was love. It was a tangible vibe in the room. It was really a shock actually."
A couple of songs ó Forty Years in the Wilderness and Stab at Matter ó feature a chorus of singers from the Lighthouse church.
Produced by fellow Canadian musician and longtime collaborator, Colin Linden, the album is based on the musicianship of Cockburn and bandmates John Dymond (bass) and Gary Craig (drums), with a roster of guests, including his nephew, John Aaron Cockburn, on accordion. The younger Cockburn, a singer-songwriter-producer and multi-instrumentalist who plays accordion, guitar and piano, grew up in Ottawa and has his own band, Little Suns, will also join his uncleís group for the upcoming tour, Bruceís most extensive in years.
At 72, itís clear that Cockburn is not interested in slowing down. "Iíve never taken the notion of retiring seriously. Of course, anything could happen. My hands could stop working or my brain could stop working, and that could be the occasion for retirement," he muses.
"But I never think of that. My models are the old blues guys, like John Lee Hooker and Mississippi John Hurt, who basically just played til they dropped. Thatís kind of my expectation."
~from Lynn Saxberg - Ottawa Sun
15 September 2017 - At a certain point in his career, Bruce Cockburn decided that if he wanted to be a "serious" writer of songs he needed to get Ö well Ö "serious." That led to a year of emulating other "seriousv writers by spending each day putting pen to paper.
At the end of that year, he learned something.
"I didnít have any more usable songs than I would have, if I had just waited for the good ideas to come," he said in an interview. "So I dropped that policy and just waited for the good ideas and Iíve been doing that ever since."
Seems to have worked out just fine.
In fact, the Nepean high alumnus has just released his 33rd album Bone On Bone and will be inducted formally into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on Sept. 23 with Neil Young and the seminal Quťbťcois artists Beau Dommage and Stťphane Venne at a ceremony in Toronto. Thatís right after his latest tour rolls into town for a show at the National Arts Centre.
At 72, the multiple JUNO winner is still doing what he does best, but nobody ever said it was easy.
"I donít feel like I have all that energy but it seems to keep going anyway. So why stop? I certainly donít take it for granted. The body is aging, the brain is aging, all that stuff."
Itís been awhile since the last recording was released. In between he churned out a memoir of his life so far called Rumours of Glory. That effort left him drained and dry.
"When I finished the book," he says, "it was on my mind whether I was going to write any more songs. I had been working on the book for three years and hadnít written anything else."
But after a period of time the songs started coming again and there was eventually enough for an album and a few instrumental pieces and bits and pieces that were not included on the record.
"So there is reason to think it will keep going. But I donít take it for granted because stuff gives out."
Writing, for Cockburn, is very much dependent on inspiration.
"Sometimes good ideas come from having a certain kind of intention. Iím not the kind of writer who says ĎIím going to write about topic X.í It has to wait for an idea but once the idea is there, then I do pursue it" in a rigorous and vigorous manner.
"Sometimes Iíll be somewhere and I think, I really want to write a song about this but itís more I hope I write a song about this. You put it out there and sometimes the idea comes. Thatís as close as I get to planning."
His instrumental pieces are written with his hands.
"Once an idea or a motive comes and is established Iíll hunt around for things to go with it, but the initial impulse comes from the hands when I am practicing or fooling around with the guitar."
Bone On Bone the album is named after Bone On Bone the instrumental piece.
The cover artist for the CD found that title funny, Cockburn said.
"I told him the title Ö heís a pretty funny guy Ö and he goes, ĎOh sexy!í and Ďkinky this and thatí.
Cockburn had to disabuse him of that idea by saying "itís about not having any cartilage. Itís about arthritis. But itís a good title, it has a bit of a snap to it."
He does say the album has "more spiritual stuff on it than other recent albums," although, itís "not exclusively that. Itís kind of from everywhere, itís me being alive in the world today." That spiritual sensibility shows up in songs such as Jesus Train, "Twelve Gates to the City, Looking and Waiting and Stab At Matter, echoing in the title at least the Stabet Mater.
"I have always believed that my life had a direction, that it was not something I had to decide on. I make all kinds of decisions and choices but in the broader sense, there was a direction coming from outside, coming from God basically.
"Frequently Iím distressed because I canít understand why I have to go through this s**t, but God said so."
But the fact is, he says, it all has worked really rather well.
There are 11 songs on the record produced by Colin Linden. One of them is called 3 Al Purdys, a tribute to the poet and ranconteur. Cockburn participated in a fundraiser to preserve Purdyís home in southern Ontario and few years back.
Cockburn today calls San Francisco home. Heís there because his wife has a job there. Itís where they are raising a daughter called Iona. But you get the sense itís not necessarily a comfortable place.
The U.S. is a "crazy place" today, Cockburn says.
"I feel closer to the centre of the craziness than when I was living in Canada. In some ways it would be very nice to move back to Canada, but I am committed to be here for the time being.
"It has struck me that we Canadians live in the one pocket of sanity in the western hemisphere.Ē
But like songs that donít always come, Cockburn believes Canadians shouldnít take their current national sanity for granted.
As someone who wrote a song about picking up a rocket launcher, Cockburn is politically attuned.
He believes there is energy to the debate in the U.S. and elsewhere, but he worries that people who oppose President Trump are just offering resistance.
"Iím happy for that. But at the same time we have to offer something more than resistance. Resistance means you give up. Iíd hate to see that. What we are not seeing is someone offering an alternative leadership. One hopes it will come out of this ferment."
Now that Bone On Bone is up for sale and people are praising the msuic, is there a sense of relief?
"Absolutely. There are always questions. We finished the album a few months back now and Iím going ĎGee, I wish we had done this or that or the other thing.
But thatís nature of making music from scratch, he says.
One neat aspect of this album and tour is the fact that his brother Donís son, John Aaron, has joined the merry band.
ĎItís an interesting connection and it certainly feels good" to have him on board.
The Ottawa show will feature the new album, some hits and some other older songs that are more obscure. The set list might change so he wasnít sure what would make the Ottawa lineup at the time of the interview, but he did mention one tune from the album Big Circumstance released in 1988 called The Gift and another from the album Further Adventures Of released in 1978 called Rainfall. Both of these seem to fit the times, he says.
"Sometimes these things will just pop up out of the murk of time and want to return again."
Cockburn says he does like coming back to Ottawa "my family is there and itís part of my history for sure, but I have never really felt that anywhere was home. Home is out there somewhere."
~from Peter Robb - artfile.ca.
13 September 2017 - Bruce Cockburn's latest studio album Bone On Bone will be available for purchase September 15 from:
True North Records
In support of the release, Bruce will be on tour with a full band: drummer Gary Craig, bassist John Dymond and accordionist John Aaron Cockburn. The tour starts off in Canada and then swings into the north east USA. Get your tickets NOW!
8 September 2017 - Bruce Cockburn is one of Canada's most beloved songwriters, earning 12 Juno Awards and spots in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriter's Hall of Fame over the course of his storied career, which spans nearly five decades.
It's been six years since Cockburn released a studio album -- 2011's Small Source of Comfort -- but the songwriter announced earlier this year his plans to release a 33rd LP, Bone on Bone. The new collection of songs, produced by Colin Linden, touches on many subjects close to Cockburn's heart, including the poet Al Purdy, life in Trump's America, and the complexities of personal spirituality.
Click through and Listen to the album in its entirety before its September 15 release date.
11 September 2017 -
Canadian singer-songwriter, guitarist and activist Bruce Cockburn has been described a "spiritual poet", an "iconoclast" as well as the "Bob Dylan of Canada".
With a career spanning almost half a century, Bruce Cockburn is an ever-evolving artist, who has undergone many stylistic shifts. He is a consistently meticulous guitar player and a skilled lyricist. His music blends folk, rock, pop and jazz, and his lyrics address human rights, environmental issues, politics and spirituality.
His 33rd album Bone On Bone is out on September 15th, 2017, which coincides with his induction into the Canadian Songwriterís Hall Of Fame and the launch of his longest touring schedule in decades, with a stop in Montreal on September 19th at Club Soda.
Bruce Cockburn is a 13-time Juno Award winner and an Officer of the Order of Canada. He is also a Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee and a recipient of the Governor Generalís Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Canadaís highest honour in the performing arts. In 2011, he welcomed the birth of his daughter and in 2014, he released his critically-acclaimed memoir Rumours of Glory.
I spoke to Bruce about his new album, osteoarthritis, Jesus, the search for God, the state of the world weíre leaving to our children and his upcoming tour.
Your new album flowed out of an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary film about the late Canadian poet Al Purdy. Why did this set you off on the writing of your album and how much of an influence is Al Purdy in your lyrics?
Heís a considerable influence on the lyrics of the song called "3 Al Purdyís", which includes the recitation of pieces of his poetry. Otherwise not.
That song was the first to be written. It came after an extended period where I hadnít written anything at all Ė at least no songs. I wrote a book, which is a whole different kind of thing. That enterprise took up all the creative juice that would have gone into song.
When the book was published and I didnít have to think about that anymore, Iím standing around wondering if Iím going to write any more songs now because itís been four years since Iíd written anything. When I was in the midst of this period of uncertainty, the invitation came along to write a song for that film. I said ďyesĒ, because I felt like if it works, it would get the process going again and put me back on the songwriting track. I was very glad to be able to get that song and have it work, and Iím very grateful for the ones that came along afterward.
What are your main inspirations for your new album, as well as the overarching themes?
The inspiration for all my songs is life as I experience it. Thereís no particular theme. Iíve never been the kind of writer who sits down and plans out what Iím going to write songs about or how to put together an album around a particular idea.
The album acquires a type of thematic content because the songs come from a particular period in my life. Thereís a certain kind of unity and feel Ė to some extent lyrical content Ė that reflects whatever I was going through when songs were written. Out of that stew pot of experience, thereís a fairly noticeable spiritual bent, which is not new and not unusual. But there have been times when itís been less an obvious part of songwriting as itís been on this album. Thereís that and thereís how it feels to be in the world the way it is right now.
In the film Pacing the Cage youíre asked, "Are you more of an optimist or a pessimist?" and you rapidly reply, "I think weíre fucked". I know youíre a social and environmental activist and have a 5-year-old daughter. I have a young child as well and Iím worried about what the world will look like when she has her own kids. Do you feel the same way about your young daughterís future, perhaps more than with your first daughter (who is now 40 years old)?
Yeah, I think so. Iím not sure if itís more because 30-40 years ago there was a lot to worry about as well. It feels like itís more precarious now than it was 40 years ago Ė the state of the world, that is, and the state of the world as something that Iím handing on to my child. I found that when my first daughter was born, the sense of responsibility became very strong, but that Iím somehow responsible for at least to whatever degree Iím complicit in perpetuating this stuff we see around us.
When youíre going hand this world onto your kid, you better make it the best one you can. At the same time, you want to prepare your child for what theyíll have to deal with. Thereís a balance that has to be found between keeping things in hand and preparing for the inevitable Ė or what might be the inevitable.
I feel like the world is actually coming apart. I donít have enough confidence in that opinion to sell it as a prophetic message, but thatís how I feel. I look around and it looks like entropy to me. One of the songs, "Cafe Society", mentions that: the word "entropy". If you want to look at it from a religious point of view, it looks satanic. It looks like the forces of chaos are really flexing their muscles. The effects of that are far more noticeable than any antidote that might be offered in spiritual circles.
Flapping lips of flatulence bellow "vote for ME"
Everything is spinning in the looming entropy
Ė Cafe Society
I believe there is that light. Even if itís a faint hope, thereís the hope that enough people will be motivated to act out of a sense of our interrelatedness to each other and the planetary processes that keep us alive. If enough people get that and start living from a place of understanding that, then it will have an effect.
The title of your album and the title track is Bone on Bone. Bone on bone usually refers to osteoarthritis, when you have no cartilage left between joints. What is the significance of ďbone on boneĒ?
Youíre right. Thatís exactly what Bone on Bone refers to. I have hands like that. My finger joints have no cartilage left and some other spots like that too. Itís interesting because most young people donít think about that. The phrase ďbone on boneĒ doesnít mean anything to them.
Micheal Wrycraft did the album artwork. In one of our first phone conversations, he asked me what the title of the album was going to be and I told him: Bone on Bone. And there was a pause, and he said, "Ooooh, sexy." I said, "No, Michael, no. So not sexy." But thatís what it is, and it seemed like a good title for a guitar piece using those fingers.
Does the osteoarthritis in your hands affect your guitar playing these days?
Yes, it does. I donít think it affects it in the way that anybodyís able to hear yet. Eventually, it will. I hope I donít have the presence of mind to quit when that comes around. But at this point, Iím getting away with it.
There is religious and spiritual content to many of the songs on the album like ďJesus TrainĒ. Youíre on the ďJesus TrainĒ: who is Jesus and what does he represent?
If you asked me this in the 70s, I would have given you an answer that was compatible with church teaching. That he was the incarnation of the divine on earth, that he lived how he lived and died how he died, etc. etc., and returned from the dead. Over time, that mental picture weakened, and I was not convinced of the reality of that Ė but not of what he stands for.
Lots has been written on these kinds of questions. In a certain way, the Jesus story echoes older stories from other cultures in the area, from ancient Egypt for example Ė these kinds of messianic figures that appear in various cultures and at various points in history. I have trouble with the exclusivity and the historical facts of whether or not there was Jesus.
I never lost interest in having a relationship with God, but what that relationship is supposed to consist of has come under question. But that search has led around. After decades of not being a church-going guy and for a long time not even thinking of myself as Christian, here I come back around again and now I do go to church. Iím not quite sure if Iím a Christian or not, but Iím thinking a lot about that.
Who is Jesus? Heís a representation of the divine. Whether heís the only one or the best one is up for discussion. Part of my picture of Jesus is kind of a Jungian archetype, a collective animus. I donít know if thatís right either. This is all subject to revision and drastic change with whatever next step is in front me that I havenít taken yet.
Where did the song ďJesus TrainĒ come from? Is it a metaphor for the spiritual path?
The song "Jesus Train" just popped out of me in church. It popped out having a dream in which there was a train that was definitely a spiritual presence: a powerful, armored locomotive. Looking back at the dream, it just seemed like that was the Jesus Train. It then ended up being a song.
Thereís a lot of power in that train. For me, the image is not one of blissful meditation or feeling in tune with the universe. This is: ďget on this train and charge through whatever landscape you have to charge through to get where youíre going.Ē Because itís a train, you donít have to fight your way through yourself. Youíre on a vehicle that is going to take you there, no matter what.
Standing on the platform
Awed by the power
I feel the fire of love
Feel the hand upon my shoulder saying "brother climb aboard"
Iím on the Jesus train
Ė Jesus Train
Over your almost 50 year career, whatís changed the most and how have you evolved as an artist?
The biggest change I notice is in my body. Iíd like to think Iím a better artist and Iím deeper into what I do. I have a keener sense of what makes a good song than when I started. Certainly in the beginning, my sense of what a song was, was really a product of all the songs Iíd listened to rather than the ones Iíd written.
At this point, when Iím writing a song I can be critical of what Iím writing at the same time as I can be excited about it. I think in the beginning there was only the excitement and not the criticism and not the ability to stand back and say: "Is this really going to work? Is anybody going to understand this?" I donít want to be ruled by my anticipation of peopleís response to the song because thatís not how you make art. But, at the same time, the album is out there for people to hear so you want to make it to some extent accessible.
This is your longest tour in decades. How are you feeling about getting back on the road?
Iím very excited about it. This tour is paced in a different way than what used to be normal because of my daughter primarily Ė because I have a family I want to maintain a relationship with. I donít want to go out for six weeks at a time and come back for two, and then go out for another six, which is the way we used to do things when we had a new album.
But I havenít stopped performing. This tour will be done in 3-week chunks with more time in between, so I get to have a family life at the same time as I get to do the touring. Iím very excited to be getting back on the road, especially with a band because almost all the work Iíve been doing for the last number years have been solo. Itís going to fun to have a real extra oomph on stage.
Bruce Cockburn performs at Club Soda on September 19th in Montreal. Doors open at 7 PM, show at 8 PM. Tickets: $53.25 to $55.25.
8 September 2017 - BRUCE Cockburn hasnít exactly led an unexamined life.
The Canadian singer-songwriter published a memoir in 2014, has been the subject of biographical documentaries and likely submitted to countless newspaper and magazine interviews throughout his career.
The most conspicuous evidence about himself, though, is contained in his large catalogue of songs, starting with his self-titled debut in 1970 as a fresh-faced folkie. After a recent tuneless dry spell he found worrisome, Cockburn, 72, releases his 33rd album, Bone on Bone, on Sept. 15 and commences a tour next week in the Maritimes.
Cockburn considered during a phone interview whether he had enough perspective to judge the depth of his new work.
"I wonder if I do,Ē he said.
"Letís see. Letís think about that for a minute.
"I wouldnít dispute that itís an introspective album at all. In that sense, in my mind, it would be typical of most of what Iíve done. I think thatís just as true of the stuff that people wouldnít necessarily interpret that way. Ö People think If I Had a Rocket Launcher, for instance, is some sort of political polemic but itís a totally introspective song. That might not be how people heard it on the radio, but thatís what it is.
ďI donít know that this album is more introspective than that, itís just maybe because thereís nothing that can be attached to a social issue or whatever.Ē
The cover art of Bone on Bone even shows Cockburn peering intently through a magnifying glass, suggesting that topics will be subject to investigation.
"Yeah, thereís not much hidden from view; not much thatís interesting, at least. It just goes with the territory. The alternative was to remain in obscurity," he said.
"People get to hear my songs, and I get to make my living doing what I do."
Cockburn fans should find Bone on Bone fits just fine alongside his best work. There are several spiritual songs, a version of Twelve Gates to the City that should sate blues fans and the title track, a deft guitar instrumental.
ďYouíve probably read all the crap theyíre sending around so you know that itís the first in a while because I was working on the memoir, then after the memoir was done ó I spent three years writing prose ó I wasnít sure I was going to have any more song ideas. I was very relieved when they started coming.Ē
So, the man who came up with Lovers in a Dangerous Time, If a Tree Falls and Wondering Where the Lions Are was sort of left waiting for a miracle. One arrived, so to speak, in the form of the raspy 3 Al Purdys, something initially intended for a completely different project that ultimately sparked a fresh creative period.
"It came about because there were some folks in Ontario who were about to make a documentary on Al Purdy, whoís one of the all-time great Canadian poets,Ē Cockburn said.
ďHe would have been of my dadís generation; a really great wordsmith and a kind of quintessential Canadian, as far as that goes.
"I figured this would be a chance to find out if I was going to be writing songs again ó or not. If I could do something for the film, it would kind of get the whole creative process rolling. And it worked out; right away, I got this idea for a homeless guy whoís obsessed with Purdyís poetry and raps it on the street.
"After that, the songs just started to flow."
The band heís taking on the road will feature drummer Gary Craig, bassist John Dymond and Cockburnís nephew, accordionist John Aaron Cockburn. They will gather for about a week in Toronto to go over the show, which Cockburn suggested would already be in firm shape on the East Coast.
"I donít think people are going to think of it as something formative that theyíre witnessing. Itís going to be a show. Whatís been the case in the past is that thereíll be certain songs in my imagination that will work well together and weíll do a show like that and maybe they will, maybe they wonít. If they do, then weíll keep doing that. If they donít, it gets adjusted.
"Generally speaking, the show will be pretty much the same in the Maritimes as it is next February, when weíre on the West Coast. "
Cockburn plays Halifax on Sept. 16 at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, with Terra Lightfoot opening. There are also shows Sept. 15 in Fredericton and Sept. 17 in Summerside.
He said heís fond of travel and still enjoys touring. Still, concessions are made to accommodate shifting personal obligations.
ďI look forward to it greatly. I think it is also sort of an obligation. Thatís perhaps too strong a word; itís certainly the default position when youíre putting out an album. The expectation is youíre going to be touring."Thereís a slight difference now. Iíve got a five-year-old at home and a family relationship that I need to maintain, so the pacing of the tour is going to be slightly different than previous ones. Ö Itís generally three-week stints instead of six-week stints so I can be away and still be recognizable when I get home."
Cockburn, long an exceptional guitarist, said maintaining that talent also has demands, including an obligation to practise daily.
"The fact is, I donít. But I should, and I regret it when I donít because the older you get, the longer warmup time is needed to get back to wherever you thought you were.
"Itís just like any physical activity; you need to maintain co-ordination and muscle strength and all that stuff to execute the moves you want to make, and you need to maintain the kind of brain-hands co-ordination thatís required, which takes repetition to make happen. I want to explore, not just play scales and do my exercises."
It may not seem right to some, but Cockburn, a national icon who will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on Sept. 23, has been living in the United States for eight years.
"It comes and goes. You think the civil rights movement was over in the í60s but itís not at all. Different aspects of it have surfaced because parts of it got addressed and parts of that problem were fixed, but overall it wasnít fixed."
The Ontario native has put down roots in San Francisco. Based on his description, it sounds like the city lives up to its reputation as an enlightened urban enclave.
"I think itís more comfortable. My friends who live in Nashville have to keep their heads down, more for social reasons. You just donít want people mad at you all the time; itís not because their lives are in danger.
"And, yeah, San Franciscoís beautiful."
~from Cockburn Back on Track by TIM ARSENAULT - The Chronicle Herald.
7 September 2017 -
"Take up your load, run south to the road,
Turn to the setting sun,
Sun going down, got to cover some ground,
Before everything comes undone."
The gentle lilt of his guitar, that familiar voice a little more road-worn but still warm and wise, and those words. This is his first studio album in seven years, but few lyricists help us to know ourselves more deeply than award-winning singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn.
Above is the chorus from "40 Years in the Wilderness," the third track off of Cockburnís new record, Bone On Bone. CBC Music has the advance stream playing a week ahead of its Sept. 15 release. Listen via our player, pre-order the album here and get a list of his Canadian tour dates here.
A week after Bone On Bone drops, Cockburn will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on Sept. 23 in Toronto, alongside Beau Dommage, Stťphane Venne and Neil Young. Itís a fitting honour for Cockburn, who, over the course of almost five decades in the music industry, has penned some of the most thoughtful and enduring folk and pop songs of the 20th and 21st centuries, including his U.S. breakthrough, "Wondering Where the Lions Are,Ē and the gorgeous "Lovers in a Dangerous Time."
But after writing his 2014 memoir, Rumours of Glory, Cockburn wasnít sure if heíd ever be able to write anything ever again.
ďI didnít write any songs until after the book was published because all my creative energy had gone into three years of writing it,Ē Cockburn said in a press release. ďThere was simply nothing left to write songs with. As soon as the book was put to bed, I started asking myself whether I was ever going to be a songwriter again.Ē
Three years later, Bone On Bone is here.
Cockburn spoke with CBC Music over the phone from his home in San Francisco about writerís block, finding his faith again and how the late Canadian poet Al Purdy helped kick start the making of Bone On Bone, his 33rd album.
The fifth song on the record is called "3 Al Purdys" and I love the fact that he was an entry point for you after your break with songwriting. What was your relationship to him and his poetry?
I actually didn't have any relationship with him or his poetry really, until the invitation came to contribute to the film [Al Purdy Was Here]. I was aware of him certainly and I was aware of his reputation but I hadnít really gotten into his stuff at all. When the prospect of doing something for the documentary was raised I went out and got his collected works and I was completely blown away and amazed that I'd missed it all those years. And regretful, because it would have been great to have met him, or at least to sort of been able to track the development of his work over the years. You can kind of do that looking at the book as a retrospective, but he really was an incredible poet and so Canadian. I can't think of anyone other than Stompin' Tom Connors who so exemplified a certain aspect of Canadian culture.
And there's so much pathos and humour in his work.
When I got asked to write a song, I had not written anything for a while. All the time I was writing my memoir and I couldn't really get into the concept of songwriting because all the creative energy was going to the book. I was kind of wondering, "Am I going to write songs again?" The invitation came to do this and it was like, "OK, this will be the kickstarter." I immediately thought of this image of this homeless guy who comes across as being penniless for his art. I pictured him kind of in the wind, coattails blowing and he's ranting on the street. Well, not really ranting, he's reciting Al Purdy's poetry, heís obsessed with his poetry. The chorus is "I'll give you three Al Purdys for a 20-dollar bill," I think Purdy would've approved of that, probably.
I think so too.
Basically the guy's like, "You look at me, you see a homeless bum, you think I'm ranting. But you've got to pay attention to this, 'cause you can spit on the prophet, but pay attention to the word."
I think a lot about those themes, and theyíre in your work, too, the obligation of humanity to see a little bit deeper than we sometimes want to.
I agree with you. When you encounter the surface of something, there's a massive depth behind it. Allow for that even if you donít know what's in there, so that you have the chance to discover more. It's important to kind of approach everything in life like that.
Can we talk a little bit about 'Forty Years in the Wilderness'? I think this is one of the most extraordinary songs I've heard this year and I'd love to know a little bit about what went into writing it.
I was in church one day and the sermon was about Jesus descending from heaven and he realizes who he is, or what his mission is letís say. One of the gospels basically describes him as kind of jumping up and running off into the desert. He spends 40 days in the desert and in the story he's tempted by and being offered all sorts of great worldly things, which he rejects. This [sermon] happened right about the time, not to the date, but more or less 40 years since I'm a churchgoer. And I'm back in church and I'm hearing this, and I'm thinking, well ó it's not quite correct to say why, but a large part of me not being a churchgoer was learning about the world.
It hit me at the end of the í70s, way back when, that if I was going to love my neighbour as myself I'd better find out who my neighbour was. I embraced urban life at that point, which previously I'd been very suspicious of, and I made a point of kind of socializing myself in a very different way from how I had been before that point. And over time, I mean, didn't just happen overnight, but ah, you know, I had a lot of adventures. I met a lot of great people and some not-so-great people and I travelled to some amazing places and I pretty much fell away from going to church, although I did not fall away from my belief in God and my desire for a relationship with God.
My wife who was going through her own spiritual searching was kind of steered toward this particular church [in San Francisco] and had gone pretty regularly for several months before she managed to convince me to actually go and I went and I completely fell in love with the place ó well, not with the place but with the people and the spirit that's there.
Your guitar playing is really the centrepiece for so much of the record and I was really curious about how the guitar has helped shape you as a storyteller over the years. It seems like it's an extension of your storytelling.
I almost think of it the other way around. I'm a songwriter because I wanted to be a guitar player. I started off wanting to play rock and roll guitar, under the influence of Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent and Elvis. I never did end up playing that music, per se, but that got me wanting to play the guitar and, you know, over the years, the earliest years of playing I began to imagine myself being in the jazz world and playing, you know, composing music mainly, but playing on the guitar. I never got the chops together to be a jazz musician.
Well the reason I didn't is that I felt after I got to know it more, that it wasn't really where I was being invited to go. I was interested in all kinds of other music as well by the time this kind of turning point, decision-making wise. I was heavily under the influence of Bob Dylan and singer-songwriters/folk music of the í60s. My mother said, "Well, you're gonna have to sing, you know. Play guitar and sing too." And I'm going, "Nah, no way, I'm not singing." She had a lot to do with convincing me that that singing was something I could pull off, even though I was terrified of doing it.
Once I was learning folk songs and blues tunes, it wasn't a very big step to start writing songs. It was the guitar that started it all. And I've always loved the instrument and loved making music on the instrument, whether there was a song to be sung or not, you know?
Iíd like to talk about the Songwriters Hall of Fame induction. I was wondering if we could just briefly look at some of your most popular songs and just how your relationship has changed to them, perhaps, in some cases the decades between when you wrote them and when they are now. Letís talk about ĎIf I Had a Rocket Launcher.í
That was a heavy song at the time and it's still heavy when I perform it. In order to make a song live in a performance setting I kind of have to be in the song, I have to be in the state of mind I was in when I wrote it, and ah I honestly don't like being in that state of mind. It's not a fun place to be, but not because of the notion of committing an act of violence that I don't particularly approve of, but just to relive the atmosphere that produced that song. But people like to hear it. I like playing it because I like the way the music fits. I like doing the guitar solo in it, in particular, so that helps mitigate the sort of cloak of angst that I have to put on in order to put the song across properly.
Does it feel particularly relevant again?
I don't think its relevance has ever really diminished. The connection to the current goings on is pretty obvious, of course, and the ... I mean if you write a song about war or about the kind of mindset that goes with war. We're surrounded by it in the media right now and it's right up in our faces because we're being invited by a couple of maniacs to think seriously about participating in a war.
Absolutely. What about ĎLovers in a Dangerous Timeí?
I sing that song a lot, the same applies to "Rocket Launcher" and a couple other ones, the ones that have been particularly popular. I get tired of singing them because they're in every show, you know? Like, "OK, can we just have a show that doesn't have this?" But at the same time I want to sing them and I want to give people, first of all what they paid to hear, to some extent, and I also am grateful that people have allowed these songs to touch them and I don't in any way want to be thought of as disowning these songs. So I sing them and I'm fine with that but at the same time, you know, "Lovers" is a song I could see not doing for a while except that it's going to be in the shows because for the reasons I said. The fun part of this is going to be the tour that's coming up is a band tour. I haven't done a band tour for quite a while and so we can really rework some of these things a little bit from the kind of solo presentation that I've been giving. And that'll make it fresh and fun for me.
What about an overlooked gem of yours? What do you think is a song of yours that should have resonated but maybe it didn't and you love it a lot?
Oh boy. I don't have a very good answer for that one. When I'm thinking about putting a show together or thinking about, like, the repertoire that I'm going to be drawing from for a period of time ó 'cause I can't retain all of the songs in my head at the same time. I can manage to hold about 50 or 60 of them and then after that, if I were to pick an old one I'd have to go back and relearn it. There are songs that the "non-hit," quote unquote, ah, songs that I think of as, at any one time as part of the repertoire change over time and um, so right now I'm thinking about songs like "The Gift," which I'd forgotten all about and it came back. Saw a video of me doing it on a German TV show and I thought, "Wow, that's a pretty good song. I should get that together again."
There's a couple like that. There's another, a song, this isn't quite what you were talking about, but there's one of the songs that's really been popular with people, called ĎPeggy's Kitchen Wallí and that I have not been able to play for a long time because my fingers over the years, in the last decade or so, have become a little arthritic and they've actually changed shape a bit so I can't quite reach as far on the guitar neck as I used to be able to do. It's only a matter of of a couple of millimeters, but that's a couple millimeters between one side of a guitar fret and the other side of the guitar fret so I havenít been able to play ĎPeggy's Kitchen Wallí but I recently discovered a way to actually make it work so I'm excited about being able to play that again.
Canadian Tour dates
Sept. 15: The Playhouse, Fredericton, N.B.
Sept. 16: Rebecca Cohn, Halifax, N.S.
Sept. 17: Harbourfront Theatre, Summerside, P.E.I.
Sept. 19: Club Soda, Montreal Que.
Sept. 20: Imperial Bell, Quebec City, Que.
Sept. 21: Theatre Granada, Sherbrooke, Que.
Sept. 22: National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Ont.
Sept. 23: Massey Hall and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Toronto, Ont.
Sept. 25: Showplace, Peterborough, Ont.
Sept. 26: Centre in the Square, Kitchener, Ont.
Sept. 27: Grand Theatre, Kingston, Ont.
Sept. 29: London Music Hall, London, Ont.
Sept. 30: First Ontario Hall, Hamilton, Ont.
Complete list of Tour Dates
~from First Play and Q&A: Bruce Cockburn, Bone On Bone by Andrea Warner, CBCMusic
15 August 2017 - Kyle Meredith spoke with the legendary songwriter about what it took to complete the LP, his recent autobiography, and the intersection of politics and religion - LISTEN.
11 August 2017 - Bruce Cockburn released his first album in 1970. He's now 72 and his latest, Bone On Bone, will be coming out next month. With a career spanning five decades, there is a wealth of wonderful music and lyrics to draw from in his back catalogue.
His transition from acoustic troubadour to Christian mystic was followed by a spell where his music concentrated mainly on political and environmental activism.
Throughout his long career of recording and touring, chronicled in his 2014 memoir, Rumours Of Glory, Cockburn has consistently touched on spiritual themes.
His writing is influenced heavily by the Christian tradition. He recently said that he remains on a spiritual journey: 'I don't know the answer. I'm still working on it, and that is perhaps why people are willing to listen to the stuff I put into songs.'
Here, we look at some of Cockburn's most enduring spiritual songs...
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26 July 2017 - Forty Years in the Wilderness
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TORONTO, July 12, 2017 - Bruce Cockburn has announced the September 15, 2017 release of his first full-length album in seven years, Bone On Bone (True North Records). The release coincides with his induction into the Canadian Songwriterís Hall Of Fame, and the launch of his longest touring schedule in decades.
Few recording artists are as creative and prolific as Bruce Cockburn. Since his self-titled debut in 1970, the Canadian singer-songwriter has issued a steady stream of acclaimed albums every couple of years. But that output suddenly ran dry in 2011 following the release of Small Source of Comfort. There were good reasons for the drought. For one thing, Cockburn became a father again with the birth of his daughter Iona. Then there was the publication of his 2014 memoir Rumours of Glory.
"I didnít write any songs until after the book was published because all my creative energy had gone into three years of writing it," Cockburn explains, from his home in San Francisco. "There was simply nothing left to write songs with. As soon as the book was put to bed, I started asking myself whether I was ever going to be a songwriter again."
Such doubt was new to the man whoís rarely been at a loss for words as heís distilled political views, spiritual revelations and personal experiences into some of popular musicís most compelling songs. What spurred Cockburn back into songwriting was an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary film about the late, seminal Canadian poet Al Purdy and he was off to the races.
Bone On Bone, Cockburnís 33rd album, arrives with 11 new songs and thereís a prevalent urgency and anxious tone to much of the album, which Cockburn attributes to living in America during the Trump era. But, more than anything, Bone on Bone amounts to the deepest expression of Cockburnís spiritual concerns to date. The 12-time Juno winner and Canadian Music Hall of Fameís "Forty Years in the Wilderness" ranks alongside "Pacing the Cage" or "All the Diamonds" as one of Cockburnís most starkly beautiful folk songs. ďThere have been so many times in my life when an invitation has come from somewhere...the cosmos...the divine...to step out of the familiar into something new. Iíve found itís best to listen for, and follow these promptings.
"Forty Years in the Wilderness" is one of several songs that feature a number of singers from the church Cockburn frequents, for the sake of convenience referred to in the album credits as the San Francisco Lighthouse "Chorus." "Among other songs, they contribute call-and-response vocals to the stirring "Stab at Matter." Other guests on the album include singer-songwriters Ruby Amanfu, Mary Gauthier, and Brandon Robert Young, along with bassist Roberto Occhipinti, and Julie Wolf, who plays accordion on "3 Al Purdys" and sings with the folks from Lighthouse, together with LA songwriter Tamara Silvera.
Produced by Colin Linden, Cockburnís longtime collaborator, the album is built around the musicianship of Cockburn on guitar and the core accompaniment of bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig. Also very much part of the sound is the accordion playing of Cockburnís nephew John Aaron Cockburn and the solos of noted fluegelhorn player Ron Miles (check out his stunning work on the cascading "Mon Chemin," for example).
Cockburn, who won the inaugural Peopleís Voice Award at the Folk Alliance International conference in February and will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in September, continues to find inspiration in the world around him and channel those ideas into songs. "My job is to try and trap the spirits of things in the scratches of pen on paper and the pulling of notes out of metal," he once noted. More than forty years after embarking on his singer-songwriting career, Cockburn keeps kicking at the darkness so that it might bleed daylight.
Bone On Bone Track Listing:
1. States Iím In
2. Stab At Matter
3. Forty Years In The Wilderness
4. Cafť Society
5. 3 Al Purdys
6. Looking And Waiting
7. Bone On Bone
8. Mon Chemin
9. False River
10. Jesus Train
11. Twelve Gates To The City
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True North Recordsv P: 647-971-3742
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Press Release Bone On Bone
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31 July 2017 - At 72, Bruce Cockburn is as in demand as ever, which means the only way to catch up with him is when he calls me from the road, travelling down another highway somewhere near his adopted hometown of San Francisco. The Canuck music legend swings through Canada on tour this summer before heading into the U.S., drops a new disc, Bone On Bone, his first studio album in six years, on Sept. 15 and then follows it up with an induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame later that month. Oh, and he's got a 5-year-old girl at home who, like her father, values quality daddy-daughter time. As such, Cockburn carved out a few minutes on the road to talk his new album, being daddy to a 5-year-old at age 72 and what it means to be a songwriter in these turbulent political times.
MIKE CRISOLAGO: You've got a tour, a new album and the Canadian Songwriter's Hall of Fame induction in the next few months. How does it feel to be so in demand at this point in your career?
BRUCE COCKBURN: It feels great. But I mean I could be busier, which is a good thing Ö I've got a five-year-old at home so I like to be at home too. It's nice to know that there's enough interest out there that I can say no to some things.
MC: In recent years you've gone long periods of time between albums. What was the impetus or inspiration for Bone On Bone?
BC: It's kind of the same as usual for me. The big difference here is that I got side-tracked working on my memoir [Rumours of Glory, 2014]. The book took three years and a bit to write and during that time I didn't write any songs. So when that was put to bed I'm sort of looking at myself going "Are you a songwriter again now?" And luckily for me, it wasn't a very long time before the songs started to come.
MC: Did having your daughter change your focus when you were writing?
BC: I would say yes. There are no songs about that specifically, but I think that there's no question you look at the world differently when you're handing it on to someone else in effect. And I've been through this before. My older daughter's 40 and she's got four kids of her own. It asks more energy of me than I probably have [but] it's also really great, really fresh. I have a better perspective on being a parent than I did when I was younger.
MC: It must also affect how you tour.
BC: Yes. If you're in any kind of relationship with someone who can't tour with you there's always tension between the home front and the tour front and you have to figure out a balance. When you're 30 and you have a kid you think you're going to live forever and if you miss a couple of moments in the child's development, big deal because you're going to see lots of others. But at this point in my life I don't want to miss anything because I won't get a second chance at it. So we'll tour for a shorter stint at a time with more breaks in between.
MC: You're going into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in September. What does it mean for you to be honoured by your peers in that way?
BC: It means a lot. It's very gratifying that the people who have been paying attention think it's good enough to warrant that honour. A few years ago I got into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame [at the Junos] and it felt pretty strange because it's a hall of fame Ė aren't you supposed to be dead for that? And then I had to get up and make a speech on national TV as part of the Juno thing and that was terrifying. But now that I've done that I don't feel like I have to be dead and I think we get to perform so it'll be fun.
MC: Artists like yourself and Bob Dylan and others included a lot of social activism in your music. Today the political climate resembles the heated protest culture of the 1960s. What do you feel is the duty of a songwriter in times like this?
BC: Well, the first and foremost duty is to make art. Delivering polemics is not effective and it doesn't ring true. But for me the first thing you have to do is write a good song. The second thing you have to do is it has to mean something and then what it's going to mean is going to be determined by the things that are on your mind. For me, I can't sit and think, 'Gee, you know, Trump's really an asshole, I better write a song about him.' Doesn't work like that. And it's more of a mood thing and that doesn't mean that some set of circumstances can't produce a very specifically focused song. I mean, that's what "If I Had A Rocket Launcher" was -- a response to a very particular circumstance. But if I don't get the idea it does me no good to try to come up with one in an artificial way. But the duty is to speak the truth and do it well.
MC: In an interview with Zoomer a few years ago you mentioned that when you turned 50 you were allowed to have fun with your life. How do your 70s feel?
BC: Feels older. That's the biggest one. I guess I see myself as an Elder in a way, with a capital "E." That's a new thing and I don't like to make too much out of that because it's for other people to decide if I have that status. I think of those models that I have like Mississippi John Hurt, who went on as an old man playing for young people and having an effect on them that was beyond just an hour's entertainment and I hope that if I'm in a position like that where I have an effect on people that it's a meaningful, worthwhile effect. And I also obviously hope I can keep on making a living doing that for as long as possible.
MC: And you mentioned your 2014 memoir earlier. In that book the story stops at the year 2004. Have you planned a follow-up to bring it up to date?
BC: There's no plan like that, but it could happen. I guess especially if I become debilitated in some way and can't keep performing, or if the song writing thing runs dry. Who knows? There'll be a story to tell, but whether I'll get bored enough or live long enough to tell it Ö
~ from www.everythingzoomer.com by Mike Crisolago - Copyright 2017 ZoomerMedia Limited
7 July 2017 - It has been 33 years since the release of Bruce Cockburnís darkly infectious hit, If I Had a Rocket Launcher, a stirring commentary on the injustices the Canadian singer-songwriter experienced during a visit to Central America.
Today, the song remains as valid ó and potentially misunderstood ó as ever.
"A lot of people relate to it currently, in terms of Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria, any number of places," Cockburn said in a recent interview in advance of his July 15 appearance at the Vancouver Island Music Festival in Comox.
"Unfortunately, we donít seem to be running out of war and pain."
Cockburn recalls the "scary" experience of playing the song for 2,000 Christians at a music festival in England in the 1980s, and everyone enthusiastically singing: "If I had a rocket launcher Ö some son of a bitch would die."
For reasons like that, he is not comfortable with people singing along to the song.
"Thereís nothing joyful or celebratory about it. Itís truthful, but thatís not a pleasant truth to me. I donít like reliving it."
Cockburn also appeared in Santiago, Chile, to support banned artists during the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. A Chilean singer repeated each line after Cockburn in Spanish. "When we got to the end, the audience was on its feet. That was also quite chilling. These people had a different perspective on it."
The Ottawa-born Cockburn wrote Rocket Launcher after visiting a refugee camp in Guatemala.
"Most people relate to it for close to the right reasons. Itís a cry of outrage. Very few people understand it as a call to arms."
Ultimately, what does he hope to achieve from a political song?
"I hope to write a good song and have people hear it. Thatís it. I donít think songs change the world. People change the world and if people embrace a particular song as a kind of anthem, then that song becomes part of the process of change."
Cockburn is talking over the phone from a Starbucks in San Francisco, where heís lived the last eight years and where his second wife, M.J. Hannett, works as a lawyer. This afternoon, heís with his five-year-old daughter, Iona, and apologizes for the interruptions.
"Sorry, I am using a carrot to try to spread peanut butter on a piece of bread. Actually, Iím quite proud of myself."
Over the decades, Cockburn has drifted between Christianity and spirituality, spurning the trappings of formal religious dogma and the unyielding conservatism of some movements. Heís found some solid ground at San Francisco Lighthouse Church.
"I am kind of coming back to calling myself a Christian again," he says. "Itís a vibrant, alive place, and kind of free thinking. Everybody is here because they really want to be, not out of habit or social convention."
Cockburn is an accomplished lyricist and guitarist who, at age 72, endures arthritis in his hands.
A few songs such as the instrumental Foxglove are now too difficult to perform.
"Itís not enough of an impediment to stop me from performing. If you come and hear a show, I wonít think, ĎOh, he doesnít play like he used to.í "
Cockburn has 32 albums to his credit. Some of his best-known songs include Tokyo, Lovers In A Dangerous Time, Wondering Where The Lions Are, The Coldest Night Of The Year, and If A Tree Falls ó a 1989 song that touched environmentalist David Suzuki.
"I was blown away by it because we were involved in a big battle to stop a dam in Brazil," Suzuki recalls. "It was a powerful demonstration that music transcends language and culture and cuts straight to the heart."
Cockburnís 33rd project, Bone on Bone, is scheduled for release in September. He says fans can expect spiritual undertones, a ďbluesier and rougherĒ sound than on past albums, with a political song about oil called False River.
What propels him at this stage of his life?
"The words demand the music. Itís not a deliberate process. The songs take the shape they do."
Saturday, July 15, 1 p.m. & 8:15 p.m. | MusicFest 2017, Comox
Tickets and info: islandmusicfest.com
~from Bruce Cockburn reflects on impact of Rocket Launcher, By Larry Pynn, Vancouver Sun.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun
4 July 2017 - Rock 'n' roll poets are few, but Bruce Cockburn is one of those rare legends of both instrument and word.
His songs have been quoted in books and movies and even in other songs (by U2 in God Part II). Cover versions of his songs have catapulted other acts to stardom (Barenaked Ladies). And his name has been evoked in global conversations for humanitarian efforts and social development.
Other stars like Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffett and Emmylou Harris are outspoken fans. Steve Bell, one of Canada's most notable Christian performers, did an entire album of Cockburn covers.
Cockburn is, by any estimation, a master of the guitar. He plays a finger-style that was honed on jazz at the Berklee School of Music but the raw material was carved from the blues found around his Ottawa upbringing, then steeped in international concepts he picked up along the way. When Cockburn travels, he always brings a little something home.
He also has a healthy appetite for poetry, from which his abundant lyrics emerge.
He's written some lightning bolts, the most famous of which is "gotta kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight" found tucked in the folds of his classic hit Lovers In A Dangerous Time.
It is hardly alone. Sizzling metaphors and turns of phrase engorge the sails of his music career.
He told The Citizen that he studies master poets and reads it for fun as well, but he knows his place on that bookshelf.
"In a way, writing songs gives you an out. You can get away with - and sometimes you're obliged to get away with - things that wouldn't really stand up on the page very well, because they have to go with the music," he said.
"I can say yeah, I'm a pretty good guitar player for a songwriter, or I'm a pretty good songwriter for a guitar player. It's not really poetry, what I do, but it's so much like it I hold myself to that standard."
He cites Robert Bly, Blaise Cendrars and Kenji Miyazawa as some of his favourites, but the first one that turned him onto poetry at all was Ars Poetica by Archibald MacLeish he discovered in Grade 6, and the first one who inspired some of his directions in life came with a beat.
"Allen Ginsberg was for me what Bob Dylan was as a songwriter," Cockburn said of the back alley bard of San Francisco - the city in which Cockburn now lives.
It wasn't a pilgrimage. Cockburn's wife has a job there, Cockburn's work is portable, so the move was academic. So was becoming the stay-at-home parent for their daughter, now five.
He spent her first three years writing a different sort of composition. He penned his autobiography, Rumours Of Glory, during her first three years.
"It seemed like the right time. It seemed like I was old enough to have a story to tell," he said.
The topic of a book had come up before, but this one was suggested by publisher HarperCollins who urged him to talk about his spiritual Christian mentalities as much as his music and social activism.
"During that period I didn't write any songs so I was kind of wondering if I would be a songwriter again after that was put to bed. And luckily, I think, I still am," he said. The album Bone On Bone is the echo of that, scheduled for release in September.
Perhaps some of that new material will spread across Canada Games Plaza tonight when Cockburn performs at tonight's edition of the Heatwave Festival celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary.
Cockburn has always been a proud representative of Canada, on the global stage. But he is also a fiercely realistic one.Songs like Stolen Land, And They Call It Democracy, and If I Had A Rocket Launcher are but a few that prick the skin of abuse to indigenous people here and around the world.
He has gone to places where these abuses are splattered in blood. Canada's power imbalance has been violent, there have been brutalities and victimizations, but he is cognizant that at least the conversations now are about reconciliation, restoring balance, and minimizing the ongoing damage.
"We were duplicitous colonists and then we were bad friends," he said, knowing that this week's Canada Day celebrations are only valid if they take stock of the pain the making of Canada caused, and still causes with documents like the federal Indian Act still overlaying aboriginal relations.
"It is obviously an ongoing concern," he said.
"A lot of the right noises are being made but not a lot of the right actions are taking place, yet. There's some good talk, and good talk is better than no talk, and changes are slowly occurring but thing we have to remember on all sides is, we have no where else to go. We've got to deal with this like family members in a situation that needs rectifying. It's a dialogue that has to go on between brothers and sisters, not 'us' and 'them.'"
He also has his daily dose of local politics to keep his eyes clear on Canada's progress. He lives in the nation that can't seem to stabilize its rhetoric anymore. Cockburn likened Donald Trump to the demonic clown named Violator in the Spawn comic book series.
"The dialogue is no longer civil," he said of the American cultural condition anymore. "There is no room for reasoned dialogue. There's no room for friendly persuasion. The only persuasion is at gunpoint, and we haven't quite gotten there yet, but it is on the horizon. It is amazing to hear where it's gone."
As a poet, a songwriter, an author, in almost any form he's ever taken Cockburn is above all an observer who conveys what he sees in forms of art. Tonight, he shares that with Prince George.
The festivities get underway at 7 p.m. with opening acts Khast'an Drummers and Scarlett Jane.
~from Prince George Citizen - by Frank Peebles
© Copyright 2017 Prince George Citizen
30 June 2017 - We lived in what was stamped a "hippie haven" in the early seventies Ė Gothic Avenue, which borders Quebec Avenue Ė in High Park, Toronto. The brown rice/alternative lifestyle sanctuary was a haven for writers, musicians Ė in fact the late Billy Bryans lived only a few steps away and was playing in a band called Horn. Music was big fun and discovery. You could start in the early morning after a hit of a hash/tobacco joint and walk in on neighbours. Music played day and night, in fact it was all about checking out the person next doorís album collection.
The progressives blasted Emerson, Lake and Palmer Ė the countrified Ė Pure Prairie League Ė and the folkies loved their Tea for the Tillerman/Cat Stevens and a newcomer rising on the Canadian scene, Bruce Cockburn.
Even if you didnít pay much attention you learned who the artists were were through peripheral listening. I had Bruceís voice memorized as well as his fluent guitar playing. Cockburn stuck with you like he belonged in your life. Right time, right place!
The debut Ė Bruce Cockburn, produced by Eugene Martynec, came with a single that seemed to follow Canadians everywhere Ė Going To The Country. I know the inhabitants of Gothic Avenue were served a new side each year we survived the developers wrecking ball Ė High Winds, White Sky Ė Sunwheel Dance, Night Vision, Joy Will Find A Way and In The Falling Dark.
Come September, Cockburn is inducted into the Canadian Songwriterís Hall of Fame (CSHF)and releases his thirty-third recording, Bone to Bone. I connected with Bruce from his San Francisco home and collected his thoughts on a number of issues, episodes and events.
You have a couple of big events in September Ė induction into the Canadian Songwriterís Hall of Fame and your 33rd recording Ė Bone to Bone. Your thoughts?
Any particular order? The exciting thing for me of course is the album Ė itís been awhile since Iíve had an album out. Iím happy with the songs and how it came out. Iím anxious to get it out and get people to hear it. The Songwriterís Hall of Fame thing is nice. Thereís a lot of Ďhalls of fameí in the world. In one way, itís delightful to be recognized by the scene Ė people who enjoy what I do and people who are close enough to it to appreciate what I do. That means a lot. I can also remember thinking, getting inducted into some kind of hall of fame means you should already be dead or about to be. I donít feel like that now. It feels pretty good. I also remember being somewhere and there was the towing and removal hall of fame Ė every industry has one. This is a national one and a big deal Ė itís nice and Iím very appreciative.
Itís about songwriting too Ė something very special.
Itís nice to be recognized by the people who understand what you do.
You have a healthy attitude about your career. Itís spanned decades and there is no reason to retire Ė just keep making music..
Yes Ė as long as I can keep doing it, thatís what I want to do. I donít take it for granted or assume my feelings would ever change Ė it could, but hasnít so far. I like what I do and I like performing the songs I write for people. Itís the way they get to hear them best and the way I get to share them in the presence of actual human feedback. As long as Iím physically able to do it, I expect I will.
Do you still enjoy your time on stage?Iíve always been terrified on stage and that hasnít really changed that much. Terrified would be overstating now but back in the beginning it was terrifying, now itís just kind of stressful. When you perform your songs to actual human beings in a live situation, thatís where the song really lives and becomes meaningful. If nothing else, the experience of being there focused on the same thing with a whole bunch of people is a pleasant sensation. Then afterwards, it feels good for a few minutes and then you start thinking about all of the things you did wrong and then it takes a day or two before you start feeling good about it again. Along with the precarious situation is the idea of making a living without having a boss. Being able to travel Ė some people would find it as having an adventurous lifestyle. Itís a great thing Ė a gift and not everybody gets to do it.
You were there at a time when the ďprotest songĒ made a difference in peopleís lives. It was impactful. The war in Vietnam came to a halt through song and action. Are there songs out there today having the same force or influence?I donít know. I donít think itís down to the songs in this generation, but means and distribution. You can write the best song in the world and itís not going to change things itself. It has to fall on fertile ground. In the sixties and up to relatively recently, the way a song fell on fertile ground was when it got sung at a protest Ė when it was sung to an audience who understood what it was protesting about and sympathized with the message. Then it becomes an emotional rallying point for all of that popular feeling thatís out there. If you donít have that, I donít think the song is going to have that much of an effect. People relate to music in a different way from most of the time Iíve been around. Iím not sure what that adds up to. In the state that Iím living thereís more popular feeling than you kind of want Ė itís so polarized. Thereís a lot of angry people on one side and lot of bewildered and worried people on the other. Can somebody write a song that would establish common ground with those opposing views that would be effective?
You live in California Ė a state thatís kind of a country unto itself now.
It is sort of. It is certainly resisting some of the trends that are sweeping the rest of the country. How long that can go for, who knows? Once they get into the real contest Ė the vast sums of money that transfer between the federal government and the states Ė just like in Canada Ė the federal government has a significant amount of leverage over a state like California. It hasnít come down to that kind of arm wrestle yet. California, by and large, is forward looking as a society. This is where people are paying attention to environmental concerns in a deeper way than a lot of places. With respect to some issues, California gets carried away. Like Etobicoke in Toronto Ė itís famous for having more bylaws than anywhere else. Unnecessary things like how long your grass should be.
We tend to go that way Ė there are a lot of laws in this state. Some are not very smart, I think. Thereís a significant amount of energy behind having a future and having influence over the quality of that future. I think that may have to do with the relative absence of fear. Itís also the kinds of jobs too. The jobs that arenít skill jobs are mostly agricultural. In Kentucky or West Virginia where the economy has mostly been dependent on mining Ė they are screwed! They are worried and angry. You canít blame them. It isnít about environmental laws like the powers that be keep painting that way, because there are never going to be mining jobs again Ė itís all going to be automated.
Even if they rolled back all of the controls and let corporations do whatever they want, there still wonít be work. California is lucky in that respect that it isnít currently in such a state of collapse. What will happen with the agricultural industry with climate change is another thing. We donít know.
Bone on Bone? Is there a theme or something that links each song?
They are linked by the period of time they were written. People will notice an emphasis on the spiritual side of things more characteristic of what I was doing in the seventies than what Iíve done recently. Itís a rawer kind of sounding record Ė kind of bluesy and deliberately rough around the edges than some of them have been. The songs seem to suit that treatment. I donít think people are going to see this as a ďpolitical, quote, un-quote albumĒ. I donít think Iíve written anything people would call a protest song on this album, but there might be one. Thereís a song called, "False River" thatís about oil. That I think would qualify. There are passing references to that state of things but itís more interior.
Even the Stones reacquainted themselves with their past and just put out a blues side.
I havenít heard that album and I hear itís good. I liked it when they started writing songs that were more in line with their actual real roots. The music that came out of English culture, but heavily blues-based. They got more interesting after they started writing about their understanding of life. That said, thereís nothing wrong with honoring those old blues songs. I think thatís what they intended to do in the beginning and did again now.
Some day I have intentions of doing an album of other peopleís stuff that would include that kind of thing. From the artists I learned from when I started out. In fact, thereís one of those on the new album, what we used to call a "negro spiritual". Itís called "Twelve Gates to the City". I used to hear the Reverend Gary Davis sing it, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry sing it and various others. The song keeps popping up Ė I donít know why really. Itís a song I feel I have a relationship with.
With YouTube, Spotify and so many streaming situations itís like the world of music has been harvested and archived. Do you spend time exploring?
I do that but I donít have much time to do anything and donít listen to as much music as I once did. There was a period back in the 70sí I wouldnít listen to anything I could be accused of imitating. I didnít want to listen to any other songwriters. I didnít listen to rock ní roll or even the jazz I loved. I went around looking for music I hadnít heard before. I got deep into European Renaissance music and ethnic music from various parts of the world and what we would now call ďworld musicĒ and was not called that back then. It was just recordings of peopleís folk music.
I was traveling in southeast Asia in connection with the land mine issue in Cambodia and ended up jamming with these two guys. One played percussion and the other the Cambodian equivalent to the erhu and the tunes were traditional music and sounded like a cross between Appalachian fiddle music and blues. Fast tunes really bluesy sounding in a minor key. A lot of sliding notes. I played rhythm Ė just tried to keep up. Iíd never given a thought to what Cambodian music would even sound like. Here I am jamming with this guy Ė blind from a mine accident.
Whatís taking up your time these days?
I have a five-year old. One more day of kindergarten then off for the summer. Going into grade one in the fall Ė and itís takes a lot of attention. Some of it is terrific and some of it is draining Ė Iím too old for this. Sheís a terrific kid and thereís a lot about this that is really wonderful.
~from FYI Music News Ė A Conversation with Bruce Cockburn Ė by Bill King.
13 May 2017 - When Bruce Cockburn published his memoirs in 2014 [Rumours of Glory], he didnít think he could go back to writing songs.
It was 2011 when the 13-time Juno award winning Canadian musician first sat down to bang out his book, around the same time his daughter Iona was born. As expected, becoming a father proved a distraction.
ďIt was weird,Ē he said in an interview with OttawaStart.com last month. ďIt was kinda a pain in the buttÖ Iíd never gone that long without writing a song.Ē
After a while thinking heíd hung up his songwriting hat, the touch he is so well known for came back.
Soon, heíll set out on a North American tour with his new album Bone on Bone, the 33rd album of his career. Heíll play at the NAC in Ottawa on Sept. 22.
ďThe tour will be a band tour, which I havenít done in a while,Ē he said.
Heíll be alongside his nephew, accordionist John Aaron Cockburn, as well as drummer Gary Craig and bassist John Dymond, who are all featured on the album.
Opening their act will be Hamiltonian Terra Lightfoot, who spoke to OttawaStart.com last week.
Bruce Cockburn says thereís no direct reference to U.S. President Donald Trump in his new album.
Cockburn has become known for his politicized lyrics, often covering topics such as human rights and the environment. But thereís no mention of a very current political situation, he said.
ďThereís nothing about Donald Trump,Ē Cockburn said. ďIíd feel dirty if I did something like that.Ē
While he doesnít sing specifically about Trump, he said some might interpret a cover of gospel song 12 Gates to the City to be a reference to Trumpís Mexican border wall.
ďThereís a gate for everyone,Ē Cockburn said.
Lamenting the amount of time it takes to get an album out these days, which he says used to be much quicker, Cockburn said there isnít a unifying theme in the album, or a single inspiration.
ďThe songs just come out wherever they come from,Ē he said. ďI didnít really write any of the songs with a theme in mind.Ē
Born in Ottawa on May 27, 1945, he was raised in Pembroke and attended Nepean High School. Today he lives with his family in San Francisco and looks forward to returning to the capital.
ďI get back there every now and then,Ē he said, such as for the Juno Songwritersís Circle at the NAC on April 2.
Growing up, Cockburn said, he felt the need to escape Ottawaís bubble and travel more.
ďIíve always felt like a nomad,Ē he said. But he still feels a connection to his hometown.
ďI feel very happy to come back and perform.Ē
~ from OttawaStart.com.
1 April 2017 - Buffy Sainte-Marie was presented with the Alan Waters Humanitarian Award at the 2017 JUNO Awards by Bruce Cockburn.
You can watch the video of this presentation here, this is a live stream of the JUNO's, presentation starts at 3:27:28.
Colin Linden Ė Buffy Sainte-Marie Ė Bruce Cockburn Ė JUNO 2017 Ė photo Ė True North Records
Bruce Cockburn takes part in the Juno Songwritersí Circle at the NAC in Ottawa on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Patrick Doyle / The Ottawa Citizen
3 April 2017 - Every song has a story.
Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn came home to Ottawa Sunday to host whatís dubbed the ďjewel of the JunosĒ at the National Arts Centre, bringing together established stars and up-and-comers to explore what he called the ďmysteryĒ of the craft.
"Nice to have an excuse to be back in Ottawa," the capital-born Cockburn, 71, told the sold-out crowd at Southam Hall, which greeted him with a standing ovation before heíd sung a note.
With him for the 2017 Juno Songwritersí Circle were nominees including Chantal Kreviazuk, Colin Linden and Wintersleepís Paul Murphy plus the powerful singer-songwriter Donovan Woods, Acadian newcomer Lisa LeBlanc and 21-year-old R&B phenom Daniel Caesar.
"I donít get here often enough," Cockburn said, adding that heíd decided to perform some "old ones."
Cockburn reached back into his catalogue to play hits like Lovers in a Dangerous Time, inspired by the "innocent and lovely" fumblings towards romance of his then pre-teen daughter, now a mother of four, amid the Cold War, AIDS crisis and environmental degradation of the 1980s.
He launched into the beautiful, menacing first bars of If I Had a Rocket Launcher after explaining its inspiration was hearing the first-hand accounts of Guatemalan refugees whoíd fled savage attacks, the songís helpless rage amplified by Lindenís haunting slide guitar.
Bruce Cockburn takes part in the Juno Songwritersí Circle at the NAC in Ottawa on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Patrick Doyle / The Ottawa Citizen
Another classic song and Cockburn hit was born in Ottawa. It was the late 1970s and Cockburnís cousin, then a Canadian spy, told him over a dinner in Hull that amid the skirmishes of China and Russia, they could all wake up tomorrow to the end of the world.
"This is a guy who knew what he was talking about ó it kind of spoiled dessert," Cockburn said.
But the next day,"Ottawa was still here," and as he drove along the Queensway, Cockburn began Wondering Where the Lions Are, which became a Top 40 hit in the U.S. and so familiar to his fans much of the NAC crowd sang along word for word.
Bruce Cockburn & Colin Linden takes part in the Juno Songwritersí Circle at the NAC in Ottawa on Sunday, April 2, 2017. Patrick Doyle / The Ottawa Citizen
Kreviazuk, nominated for Adult Contemporary Album of the Year, explained at the benefit for MusiCounts, which aims to make sure every kid gets music education, that sheíd used songwriting to ďfind my joy and solaceĒ since her childhood in Manitoba.
"Before thereís a song, thereís nothing," she said, sitting at the piano before launching into her 1997 hit Surrounded. Inspired by a friend who committed suicide when they were teenagers, she said it both helped her find her lifeís work and memorializes him every time she plays it.
Another song was a complete change of pace Ė an acoustic version of Feel This Moment, co-written by Kreviazuk and recorded by Pitbull and Christina Aguilera.
"Donít let people tell you what to say," was Kreviazukís advice to aspiring songwriters.
Lisa LeBlanc, a 26-year-old Acadian transplanted to Montreal, had clearly already taken that advice, bringing down the house with Ti-Gars, a take on her Cajun cousinsí ballads about lost love transformed into a catchy complaint about a dude stealing her car.
Then she pulled out her banjo for You Look Like Trouble (But I Guess I Do Too) which turns the romantic ballad on its head.
"My heartís always traveled with me in my suitcase," she sang. "And I guess I donít wanna see it ending up in yours."
Murphy explained that he found the bandís smash hit Amerika in the pages of a collection by 19th-century American poet Walt Whitman that echoed the themes of an otherwise ďterribleĒ short story heíd written himself.
"It stirred something in me," Murphy said, before launching into the song, which juxtaposes a lament for a lost country with the entreaty to "fix me in your twilight eyes so we can make a moment last."
Big-voiced Woods, a Sarnia native who was nominated for Songwriter of the Year and has had his work recorded by the likes of Tim McGraw, had the crowd in silence for a beat before thunderous applause for What Kind of Love is That?
He got a standing ovation when he closed the show with the poignant Next Year, inspired by all the things in life we put off until it might be too late Ė like his narratorís impromptu trip to the Grand Canyon with a dying father.
"There ainít no next year," he sang. "Another day down, another week gone, youíre always just talking about tomorrow ó you canít beg, steal or borrow or make time."
Woods explained that he goes down to Nashville to write songs with the kind of "famous guys" who live on private islands.
"They have to bring people down to remind them what itís like to have problems," he quipped. "I pack my problems."
~from Ottawa Citizen - by Megan Gillis - Postmedia. Photos Patrick Doyle / The Ottawa Citizen.
6 April 2017 - The JUNO Songwritersí Circle has been recorded, and you can listen to both sets here
The Junos Songwritersí Circle is always a lot of fun, with big-name and newer artists sharing the stage to tell the stories behind their songs before playing them.
At this yearís Junos, Bruce Cockburn hosted the Sunday afternoon event at Ottawaís National Arts Centre in two sessions: first up was Colin Linden, Lisa LeBlanc and Wintersleepís Paul Murphy; then Chantal Kreviazuk, Daniel Caesar and Donovan Woods took over.
The show was a delight, and if you couldnít attend, fear not: you can listen to both sets here.
Below, read on for five things you missed at the songwritersí circle ó aside from the music.
1. Everyoneís love for Bruce Cockburn
"Many of the greatest times of my life have been standing two or three feet away, to Bruce Cockburnís right," joked Colin Linden after Cockburn kicked off the set with "Lovers in a Dangerous Time."
By the end of the afternoon, Cockburn had made both Linden and Kreviazuk cry with his performances ó "Is there a tissue?" Kreviazuk asked ó and invited LeBlanc to teach his five-year-old daughter to play "You Look Like Trouble (But I Guess I do Too)".
"Iíve had nightmare dreams about Bruce Cockburn singing that [ĎWondering Where the Lions Areí], Chantal Kreviazuk singing that [ĎSurroundedí], and then having to go after that, itís like literally terrifying," confessed Woods before his first song. The whole thing was just a big love fest.
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~ from CBC Music.
20 February 2017 Bruce Cockburn received the inaugural Folk Alliance International Peopleís Voice Award during the opening-night awards ceremony at the organizationís 29th annual conference in Kansas City, Mo. This was the first time Bruce has received an award in the United States.
Hereís the video of Bruce giving his acceptance speech:
Ladies and Gentlemen, Sisters and Brothers
Iím greatly honoured, and very pleased, to be the first recipient of the Folk Allianceís ďPeoplesí VoiceĒ award. For me its a night of firsts: itís my first Folk AllianceÖ this is the first such honour Iíve received in the United States, a country that has made me welcome as a visitor for decades, and in which I now dwell. Ultimately, I guess DHS got tired of issuing me work visas and just decided to give me a green card instead.
It all started, though, with a student visa allowing me to attend Berklee College of Music. I found it interesting that as a foreign student during the Vietnam years, I had to swear that I would accept being drafted, in the event the war effort ran out of young Americans.
When I started putting out records, in the í70s, there was always a visa, as needed, letting me come here to tour. With the radio exposure of Wondering Where The Lions Are, I began to acquire an audience of measurable size. It was with the release of Stealing Fire, though, in í84, that things really took off. That album included a number of songs that grew out of travel in Central America, much of which was at war.
Many Americans felt betrayed by their countryís complicity in those wars, but there was virtually no public voice for that very large body of dissentÖ some underground media, but little in the mainstream. If you didnít approve of what the U.S. was up to, you were left feeling isolated.
When we took Stealing Fire on tour, it was amazing to see rooms-full of people encouraged and uplifted to look around and see that the lyrics spoke to so many besides themselves. ďHeyĖIím not aloneĒ. It was exciting for them and for me. I had not thought much about the effect of the political aspect of my songwriting. I had always felt, and still do, that the job is to tell the truth of the human experience as we live it. That, of course, includes the political, as well as lust, humour, family, general grumbling, and spirituality. The key word is truth, delivered directly or obliquely, as understood by the artist.
In the mid-í80s, the Reagan administrationís official truth was that there was no war in Central America, therefore there were no refugeesÖ all those Latinos and Latinas coming north across the border were just dying to be cooks and chambermaids and gardeners. People were dying in Guatemala, in El Salvador, in Nicaragua, slain by weapons and training provided by the U.S. Murderous as that was though, and I donít know the stats on this, it wouldnít surprise me if the death toll in the current gang culture, to which the wars of the í70s and í80s gave birth, is not even greater, especially in Honduras.
With the attention paid to that album, and the song If I Had A Rocket Launcher in particular, I acquired the reputation of being a ďpoliticalĒ singer. Before that the music business pigeon-holers were prone to calling me a ďChristianĒ singer, or things like ďthe Canadian John DenverĒ, on account of my round glasses.
The fact is though, the writing I did started from the premise that Iím supposed to distill what I encounter of the human experience into something that can be communicated, shared. Iíve never been interested in protest for its own sake, or in ideological polemicizing. Just f***ing tell it like you see it and feel it. If you donít see it and feel it, write about something else. Songs need to come from the heart or they donít count for much.
That isolation and silencing of dissent as practiced in the Reagan era has, with the growth of social media, kind of swung 180 degrees, to where the cacophony of mostly anonymous personal voices, each attached to its own conspiracy theory, tends to shatter truth into kaleidoscopic fragments, reality buried in the resulting avalanche. My truth. Your truth. Alternate factsÖwhat a fertile medium in which to grow a public tolerance for totalitarianism!
This is not lost on those whose narcissism and maybe testosterone level give them the notion that itís their right and duty to tell the rest of us how to live. OkÖ all politicians, all human beings, operate from mixed motives. Itís always tempting to think that whatís good for me is good for you too. Thatís why we need to have dialogue, debate, respect for each othersí opinions and feelings. Especially if you want to run a democracy, you must value the expression of these things. Based on that, it seems evident that the current administration is not much interested in democracy. I donít know, maybe their supporters are tired of the responsibilityÖ but somewhere in the steaming ocean of bullshit theyíre creating is a place for, a definite need for, truth.
They are trying to stifle opposition across the board by a range of means. Looks to me like theyíre just getting started. Who will end up being the last line in the defense of truth? Maybe you and meÖ
Doesnít mean we canít sing love songs, but if you think you can keep your head down and ignore the political side of things, itís liable to be waiting for you with a blackjack in the alley, when you come out the stage door.
And what truth are we best in a position to encourage? Obviously communication: community. The specific content of a given song is of less consequence than the way in which that song can be a focal point for collective energy. This is an antidote to the echo chambers, the isolation, the false friendships that characterize the online landscape.
We could be in for a rough couple of years. We may get tired, but we have to keep singing! Keep sharing!
Thank you Folk Alliance for noticing my work. Thank you USA, for the hospitality!
Thank you all for listening !
20 February 2017 Folk singer Bruce Cockburn is encouraging U.S. musicians to keep pushing for free speech under the Donald Trump administration.
While accepting an honour at the Folk Alliance International awards show in Kansas City, Mo. on Wednesday night he took a moment to address the volatile political climate.
"It seems evident that the current administration is not much interested in democracy," he said in prepared remarks.
"They are trying to stifle opposition across the board by a range of means. Looks to me like they're just getting started."
The Canadian singer, who lives in San Francisco, then urged musicians to be a catalyst for dialogue and debate.
"We may get tired, but we have to keep singing," he said.
Country singer Kris Kristofferson presented Cockburn with the People's Voice Award in recognition of his role in social and political commentary. His 1984 track "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" is widely considered a staple of activist music.
Cockburn reflected on his experiences as a young performer during the Vietnam War, and on later years when he found his voice during the U.S. presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.
He then turned to the current U.S. political climate and told songwriters to consider their music as more than just words, but a "focal point for collective energy" of the community.
"Doesn't mean we can't sing love songs," Cockburn reasoned.
"But if you think you can keep your head down and ignore the political side of things, it's liable to be waiting for you with a blackjack in the alley when you come out the stage door."
~ from TheMontrealGazetta.com, by David Friend.
Photo Credit: Bruce Cockburn, left, accepts his People's Voice Award for his role in social and political commentary from country singer Kris Kristofferson at the Folk Alliance International awards show, in Kansas City, Mo., on February 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Brian Hetherman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*