ISSUES:
-- Songwriting: Process --

Issues Index


Introduction:

This page archives comments by Bruce Cockburn on the process of his songwriting.


  • 2 November 1981 - On whether the words or music comes first

    BC: Usually, I get words first. Write down lyric ideas as they come to me. Sometimes it's only one isolated image, and that might stay in the notebook for quite a while before I get something else or an excuse to use it. Occasionally a song will come all at once, but most of the time there's quite a delay...

    Q: So, would you have the lyric all mapped out before you start the music?

    BC: Usually, not always. Coldest Night Of The Year, for example, that happened all at the same time. In most cases the lyrics are mostly complete. Sometimes they undergo some changes... <
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn Interview, Old Waldorf, San Francisco," transcribed by Charles Wolff, from a tape of an interview with Bruce Cockburn on November 2, 1981 at The Old Waldorf, San Francisco, CA.


  • Fall/Autumn 1985 - How does BC write his songs?
    [Interviewer is John Vernile.]

    JV: How do you go about writing your songs?

    BC: I keep a notebook and write down word-ideas as I get them. The idea might come as nothing more than a visual image of one line and it sits there in the notebook until I find something else to go with it. Or if I get very lucky, a song might spring out fully grown, but usually it's a long process putting words together. Once the words are more or less together, we or I, depending on who's around, will try to put music to it. Fergus Marsh, the stick player in the band, had a lot to do with some of the songs on the last album. He would come up with groves and I would find words that fit. But most of the time there's nobody else to do that with, so usually I just look for music myself with my guitar.
    -- from "Interview: Bruce Cockburn" by John Vernile. Written by Mary Anne Devine. From the WUSB 90.1 FM Program Guide, Fall 1985.


  • 18 March 1988 - Commenting on how he writes his songs

    Besides, he says. songwriting -- like any art form -- speaks most clearly to the inarticulate, the emotional. "Look at an abstract painting," he says, "and you can't put your finger on what it is, but it might move you in a very powerful way. Or poetry, maybe, hits closer to home. But you have to accept certain limitations that go with any artistic discipline.

    "Songwriting, by the fact that it combines music and words, can become more than those things, but you almost always have to sacrifice some element of either the music or the words in order to make them fit together.

    "I'm usually working from the words," he points out. "The words determine the shape of the music, so that's going to be the focus; the music can go in any direction, but it does have to leave room for the words to make sense."

    As they should. "I work on the songs in the hope that they will be intelligible to people," he says, "and people will understand what I mean them to be. But there's going to be a lot of potential meaning there that I don't see and other people will. That's just the difference in any two people's experience -- you've got to live with that."
    -- from "The Social Commentaries of Bruce Cockburn" by J.D. Considine, Sun Pop Music Critic, Baltimore Sun, March 18, 1988.


  • Circa 1991 - What was it that shifted the focus away from political material?
    [Interviewer is Michael Case.]

    MC: For a few albums you became quite political in focus, why has that changed recently?

    BC: I think it's a result of not traveling but also out of a desire to not keep repeating myself. I don't think it's necessary to keep on saying the same things even though they still may be true. I can stay involved in certain issues without them coming out in songs. The same process I just described went into writing the political songs as well. If I'm not working with those sort of things for a period of time, or if I'm still working but the novelty's worn off(laughs), then I don't produce those types of songs anymore. It requires a fair amount of emotional justice to get those type of songs going.

    Let me add to that, the fact, though I didn't think of it at the time, Trouble With Normal, Stealing Fire, and World Of Wonders seemed to be a sort of trilogy. After doing those it seemed like I have said enough about the North-South things. At least until a new experience gives me something to add to it.
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn: The Soul of a Man," by Michael Case, Umbrella Magazine, circa 1991.


  • 3 April 1992 - Commenting on where the songs come from and documentary-style of writing

    "A lot of it is autobiographical," he said, "in the sense that most of the songs are the product of my own experience fairly directly, either as a direct experience of mine or something that I am presented with strongly, like hearing it directly from somebody who experienced something, in most cases. Sometimes it's just living with the thought of something for a long time. I don't make up very much in those songs. Most of is drawn directly from the day-to-day or whatever life experiences are going on."

    Of the time when Humans was being composed, Cockburn noted, "There's a certain style of song that started to show up, [and] became more typical of my songwriting through that period, which is a kind of documentary-style thing, structured like a little movie. Tokyo [a song on the album] is like that -- it was one of earliest ones -- where you try and set up these little scenes that relate to each other but where you don't have to explain the relationship but there's an impression that's created out of it that adds up to something."
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn- A Burning Light and All the Rest" by William Ruhlmann, Goldmine, April 3, 1992.


  • Spring 1993 -

    James Jensen: You tend to feature one or two instrumentals on each of your records was that your intention or did lyrics just not fit the music?

    BC: They were never intended to have lyrics. I always have the lyrics first so that the tunes that have lyrics are constructed around them.

    JJ: So you work from the lyric first?

    BC: Almost always.

    JJ: Are the music/tab books published on your music fairly accurate?

    BC: The first one I thought was very accurate as far as I could judge. They spent a lot of time looking very hard at what I was doing and asked me a lot of questions about it and the feedback I've got is that it's pretty accurate.

    JJ: The album "Stealing Fire" saw acoustic guitar creep back into prominence on several tracks what brought that about?

    BC: Some of those pieces I wrote on acoustic guitar, if I happen to be holding an electric guitar in my hand when I get an idea it'll probably end up on the record. A lot of the songs on my current album (tentatively titled "Dart to the Heart") were written in hotel rooms and dressing rooms on the last tour so they're written on acoustic guitar because that's what I had at the time. When I'm at home and I have my stuff all set-up and plugged in I might write more on the electric. A lot of "Big Circumstance" was written traveling and that's why the acoustic had a bigger role again on that record.

    JJ: "Keep It Open", is a song on your first album where the melody part of your guitar accompaniment could stand alone as an instrumental, you're not just playing chords behind your vocals.

    BC: That's pretty much how I write too, the melodies come from the guitar. I don't really hear melodies in my head very well until they start to take shape on the instrument.

    JJ: So you are composing through your hands rather than in advance with your head?

    BC: Yeah, very much so. When I write lyrics I may have a rhythmic concept or even a rudimentary melody in my head but it always changes completely when the guitar comes into the picture.

    JJ: I guess the point I'm getting at is if your pieces begin with noodling around on the guitar is there a point where you bring in your formal training to finish a piece or to get yourself out of trouble if your hands don't find it or is it pretty much hand and ear all the way?

    BC: It's pretty much hand and ear, it's hunting around for something that feels right and carries the words the right way. Sometimes a set of words will go through a couple of kinds of music before they settle in the right place. In the last few years I have started to think more melodically and try to build melodies because I went through a period in the mid-eighties where I was not really thinking about that. I was trying to write songs that went beyond the normal song structure so there's alot of stuff with talking in it and just rhythmic patterns over which the songs happen and so on but since the writing for "Big Circumstance" I've felt I should explore melody more closely something I might characterize as singable melodies, things that somebody who couldn't play an instrument could still get a handle on enough to sing to themselves.
    -- from an Interview by James Jensen at Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, circa Spring 1993.


  • 21 October 1994 - Commenting on the issue of the human heart

    Dart To The Heart keeps the emphasis close to the heart, a fact that even surprised Cockburn.

    "It's the first time I've ever done an album as focused as this one on the issue of the human heart. It was unusual to see it unfolding," he says. "The writing process is a random one. It's a case of grabbing what's there when the idea comes. I don't exercise a lot of editorial control over it until after the fact, so it is surprising, sometimes, to see where things are coming from."
    -- from "Cockburn Darts to the Heart This Time" by Toni Ruperto, USAToday, October 21, 1994.


  • 22 November 1994 - Commenting on the meanings of certain songs

    When I'm writing the song, I'm entirely aware of which it is," he said. "To me (songs such as those two)[All The Ways I Want You and Bone In My Ear ] are pretty carnal. But sometimes when you're expressing longing for a person, deeper things creep into it. It's fair enough if people want to read it the other way.
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn: Interior Motive" by Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times, p. F-1, November 22, 1994.


  • 7 September 1996 - On frustration and writer's block

    NY: Still though, when you put out your first album in 1970, are there ever points where you feel frustrated... like you don't know where you're going to grow as an artist or where you're going to go next?

    BC: Yeah, all the time. Whether it's frustrating or not, it's not always that way. But certainly there have been periods...I think it was 1989 - the second half of 1988 and all of 1989 I didn't write anything, and I thought that I might have to go look for other employment you know... Go back for re-education or something, but in the end I took some time off and within weeks of having officially declared myself off, I started writing the songs that ended up on Burning Light. That's the gravest example of that kind of frustration, but a lot of it's just a waiting game. You get used to just kind of staying open to whatever's going to come along and hope that you're awake enough to kind of seize on it when it does.
    -- from "Definitely Not the Opera," with Nora Young, CBC Radio, September 7, 1996, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.


  • December 1996 - Is night a creative time?

    Q: Do you find the night a creative time? The hour of 3AM is famously good for creative types...

    BC: Yeah, it is if you're still awake enough! But generally a lot of the time that's when you've digested whatever you've encountered during the day and things are starting to come back out and there's enough peace and quiet around you that you can focus on writing and organising thoughts on the page. Through the day things tend to be too busy. Ever since I can remember I've been a nocturnal creature. Although I don't live that way at home because we've got horses and dogs and cats so there's a lot of early mornings! But on the road I gravitate and the clock just turns right around for me."
    -- from "Tender is the Night," Hearsay Magazine, Vol. 14b, December(?) 1996.


  • Circa 1997 - Commenting on the process of songwriting (referring to a question regarding the writing of the song The Charity of Night)

    "I wait until I get an idea and seize it," says Cockburn. "I've been at this long enough that I can feel when a song's coming on. When you're able to touch on visceral things that are common to everyone's life, that's a lucky thing. A given experience, like love or death, may be common to all of us, but we each have our own points of contact; to share my points of contact is the fun part for me."
    -- from !Music, circa 1997.


  • 18 January 1997 - Commenting on what comes first..music or lyrics
    [Interviewer is Scott Simon]

    SS: What comes first to you in a song, the music or the lyrics?

    BC: The lyrics, in almost every case. The kinds of ideas that come to me that are able to be manifested in some creative form are generally word ideas, and the music is more often than not a vehicle. The closest parallel in my case is where you do have words full of images and you want to be able to keep those images front and center. The process of adding music to it is a little bit like adding music to a film, where you want to carry the emotion and keep it flowing along, but you don't want the music to overpower the lyrics. Other songwriters, of course, approach it completely the other way around, come up with a nice groove and a good tune and find lyrics to go with it, but that's never really worked for me particularly, and sometimes a song has to go through drastic changes of music before it gets to where I want it to be.

    SS: In a song like Charity Of Night, a series of these vignettes, are there actual stories behind all of that, or are they sensations?

    BC: Well, I don't make anything up, let's put it that way. Occasionally, there'll be... when something like levity shows up, it's liable to be imaginary. But most of what I write in these songs is a distillation of reality as I've experienced it.
    -- from Bruce Cockburn on Weekend Edition, Interviewed by Scott Simon, January 18, 1997, © 1997 National Public Radio.


  • January 1997 - Commenting on waiting, timing, ambition and process of writing songs
    [Interviewer is Paolo Caru.]

    PC: You wrote all of the songs of this album over the course of two years, in places completely different -- is this common for your writing?

    BC: Normally it is. For me the process of writing depends on the waiting, waiting for an idea. And when the idea arrives, it doesn't matter where I am I write the song. Many of my songs are influenced by the time and place I find myself. Two of the songs of this album, The Mines Of Mozambique and The Coming Rains were written in Mozambique. When you see a landscape like that, you could be sure that scenery immediately becomes the inspiration. The things that touch you deep down in your feelings can create a strong emotional response.

    PC: On your albums there is a lot of poetry -- do you find poetry a natural element when you record an album?

    BC: I love poetry and the way you can use the language. I am not able to compose music if I have not found the right words -- of the two, I give more importance to the lyrics. It is very hard to find the right words. I want to create realistic and clear images.

    PC:When you compose the music, you don't put as much importance as you do on the lyrics?

    BC: I think of the music as a companion to the lyrics. And, practically speaking, the music must be good otherwise nobody will listen to the album.

    PC: Do you write the music with your guitar?

    BC: Yes

    PC: How do you compose?

    BC:It has changed over the years. These days, I take an old notebook and look for an idea. Then I pick up the guitar and I embroider the music into the lyrics. It takes a lot of work to create a song.

    Songs like The Mines Of Mozambique have a history behind them. I went to Mozambique as a representative for a Canadian organization, to study the territory and the local situation. I was supposed to write a report for a magazine. When I arrived there, I was very fortunate to meet people who almost immediately showed me what was going on. The people I met made me aware of their lifestyle and of their culture and of the actual situation. The songs I wrote there don't have a precise story, they are descriptive and meditative songs. Mozambique is a very distinctive country, with a soul of its own.

    PC: I like the title track very much. It is a fascinating song (The Charity of Night ).

    BC: Also, it is another long song. It would have been very difficult to compress the song. Time is integral to my stories, and I like to leave space for them, to tell about the place, the memories. It also helps me touch the soul that resides inside us all. Writing songs is hard work, but I try to do it with conscience. I don't ever abandon this approach. I always go for the soul. In The Charity of Night, the first verse occurs in 1964, the second verse in 1985, the third the present.

    PC: Even after 25 years of hard work, do you still like writing songs?

    BC:Yes. There are of the moments in which the desire to write vanishes, but it returns with a vengeance. And then it becomes mandatory that I write. I still like writing. I am very fortunate -- I love my work.

    PC: Writing is a hard and difficult work?

    BC: Yes, but it is also amusing. There are different aspects of what I do that I like very much. Having an idea, developing it, and seeing the song recorded is always an amusing thing.
    -- from "BRUCE COCKBURN -- Night Visions" by Paolo Caru, Buscadero, No. 176, January 1997.


  • Fall 1997 - Commenting on how he puts his songs together
    [Interviewer is Bob Duran]

    BD: How do you put your songs together?

    BC: It's a bit like putting music to a film. I get these words and they're going somewhere suggesting something, and need a field in which to be encountered. The music provides that field. It's necessary to hunt around and find the right music to carry the words, sometimes it's immediate, sometimes it takes longer.

    BD: Where do the words come from? Do you write a daily journal?

    BC: It's a sporadic process. It's journal like, but it isn't a journal. I don't write daily, I write things down as they come to me. Sometimes a whole song will pop out, sometimes it's just bits and pieces that require some catalyzing agent to become a song.
    -- from "Interview with Bruce Cockburn", by Bob Duran, Fall, 1997.

  • Circa 1999 - When asked to describe the creative process

    "I'm just a reporter. I'm being a bit facetious, I realize, because I do fictionalize some of the experiences I'm trying to relate because they make better songs. But all of my personal experiences or those that are related to me through friends and acquaintances, become contributors to the songs I write...I really don't have an imagination. It's the experiences themselves that either literally, or through some filtering, make up the songs."
    -- from "Walking the Line With Bruce Cockburn", Indie-Music.com, circa 1999, by Heidi Drockelman.


  • September 1999 - Commenting on having writers block

    An eighteen-month period is as long as it has been for me, fortunately. For the second half of 1988 and all of 1989 I didn't write a single song. I didn't even have an idea that wasn't crummy, and that was quite disturbing. I was thinking, I'm going to have to look for another line of work, the way things are going."(He considered drawing adult comic books, a long time interest)

    "It started with travelling down to a guest ranch in Arizona. Then, between Christmas and New Year 1990, I wrote Child Of The Wind , and that was the beginning of all the stuff on [the acclaimed] Nothing But A Burning Light. By officially declaring I was no longer obliged to be anywhere or do anything except write if I felt like it, suddenly I was able to write again. Whether that can be relied upon to work next time is another question."
    -- from "Staying POWER" by Kerry Doole, Word and Music, September, 1999.


  • September 1999 - Commenting on lyrics and music

    Eleanor Wachtel: You're such a terrific musician, and there are even a couple of instrumental cuts on the new CD [referring to Breakfast In New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu ]. At the same time, there's a tendency for people to focus on the lyrics. Have you found that one or the other has been more important to you at different times in your career?

    BC: Yeah, sort of at different times in the day [laughs.] I'm a real lover of language. I'm a lyric person. When I hear a song, I go to the lyrics and if I don't like the lyrics I'm probably not going to like the song at all. It's a particular prejudice that I don't really mind because I'm having a good time with it. It's a big part of what I do, and I suppose if I had to give up one of those two elements, I would have to give up the music and stick with the words.

    At the same time, I love playing the guitar. I haven't quite figured out how to put my ideal music together with my ideal lyrics.

    The process for writing for me, generally, is a little bit like scoring a film. I get these lyrics and they contain bits of story, characters, images and ideas that need to be supported by music. Then I try to find the proper music to support that.

    Hopefully I get something that sounds musical to other people in the process. Since that's the direction of it, it limits where I can go with the music. I haven't quite figured out how to divide my brain far enough to give the two things equal weight.
    -- from CBC Infoculture Interview: Bruce Cockburn on his new CD Breakfast In New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu, by Eleanor Wachtel, CBC Entertainment, 20, September, 1999.


  • 25 October 1999 - Reflecting on his continuing creativity

    "I get bored really easily. It's normally true when you get older that there's less creative energy to draw from, and you're less inclined to be on the cutting edge of anything. But you can be on the cutting edge of your own process. If you don't keep moving forward, you stagnate and decay. It's like a form of artistic Darwinism."
    -- from "Music: Pilgrim soul: While many of his contemporaries revisit familiar territory, Bruce Cockburn keeps taking his muse to new places,' by Nicholas Jennings, Maclean's, 25 October 1999.



  • November 1999

    Steve Lawson: After the darkness of Big Circumstance, you came back with a far more commercial album in Nothing But A Burning [Light] - a shift to new country?

    BC: The term new country got invented after we made that album, but the conscious effort made in those songs was ...

    BC: I'd had this big dry spell and at the end of the 80s, from the middle of '88 to the end of '89 I didn't write anything,

    SL: Was that scary?

    BC: It was very scary, it was sort of like well OK, either I've got to think of some drastic thing to do or I've got to go and learn a new trade! So I decided to declare myself on sabbatical, I was gonna take 1990 off, which I did, and I just announced to the world that I was going to have no public involvement with anything, and I more or less did that. And within a week of having started on my sabbatical I started writing, and I wrote Child Of the Wind, and the songs started coming that ended up making up 'Nothing But a Burning Light'.

    BC: But there'd been this big clearing of the slate before that, like the whole 80s was cancelled. The thing that I'd realised during that dry period was that I'd be looking around at songs and I noticed that I had no virtually no songs that someone who was an untrained guitar player could sit down and make work, and I thought that was kind of a lack, so I deliberately made an effort to write songs that you didn't have to play like I do to make them sound good, you could just strum the chords and they'd still work. So Child of the Wind was like that, and most of the other song on NBABL[Nothing But a Burning Light] fit that description. That was on purpose, that had the effect that it wasn't an attempt to make the songs commercial, it was to make the accessible to someone that wanted to have fun playing them. And that kind of carried over into Dart to the Heart, and then I kinda dropped it - I got bored with that!
    - from "Bruce Cockburn Interview", Guitarist Magazine, November 1999, by Steve Lawson.


  • November/December 1999 - On writing lyrics before the music
    [interviewer is Susan Adam Kauffman.]

    SAK: Unlike most singer-songwriters, you write lyrics first, then the music. Can you explain more about your creative process?

    BC: It's just easier for me to put music to words than words to music. I've never been able to do that, really. My songwriting requires that I sit around and do a lot of waiting. And I write a lot of drivel while waiting for a good idea to come along. Then it will hit and a song will flow out of it. For example, the song Look How Far," which appears on the new album, has undergone a radical musical change, but the lyrics have stayed pretty much the same.

    -- from "Fire in an Open Hand: an Interview with Bruce Cockburn," by Susan Adams Kauffman, TheOtherSide, November/December 1999.


  • December 1999 - Commenting on not getting into a songwriting rut

    Well, I'm saved from getting into a musical rut by the infrequency with which I write. I mean, there's 25 albums, but they happened over a long time.

    So, there's enough space in between songs and enough life experience - that's really what triggers the writing process. I have to be a little bit vigilant about repeating myself because I'm still the same person I was when I started out, although I know a lot more about a lot more things. A lot of the feelings are still there, right, so there are some times that you do catch yourself saying something that's been said before. But so far I've been lucky enough to avoid the worst excesses of that sort of thing.
    -- from KBCO Interview, December, 1999.


  • January 2000 - Commenting on the creative process
    [Interviewer is Joseph Roberts.]

    Joseph Roberts: You allow the muse to come into your music rather than just adopting a pat formula or template.

    BC: I don't know any other way to do it. I jokingly half envy people who can do the formula thing because it's so much easier and you can tell people what it's called and everything. "This is what I do." But for me it doesn't work like that. The creative process involves a lot of sitting around in a receptive state waiting for ideas to come. They do come. The trickle, then all of sudden there'll be a flood, then a dry spell, then another trickle and a flood.

    JR: You have to honour it when it's there.

    BC: Yeah. And if you don't you lose it. If you have an idea you need to start working on it right away, otherwise it's gone. Sometimes you go out of your way to chase ideas that still pan out to be nothing, but that's the process. You can sit around thinking about it but when that flash comes you really have to get away by yourself with a pencil and paper and start writing it down.
    -- from "Conversations with Bruce Cockburn", Common Ground, January, 2000, interviewed by Joseph Roberts. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.


  • 3-9 February 2000 - Describing his approach to songwriting

    "It's like finding your way in the dark by starlight."
    -- from "Mango Man, Bruce Cockburn Tastes Folk Music's Forbidden Fruit", Monday Magazine, February 3-9, 2000 by Ron Forbes-Roberts. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.


  • 8 February 2000 - Commenting on harboring aspirations to be a beat poet

    "I've always been kind of goin' down that road ever since. The poetic style I write in requires precision in terms of images, you know...You want to present things in as clear a way as possible, leaving that space around it for people to put their own energy."

    Continuing to describe the process

    "It's kind of like writing music for a film, because you have these themes and ideas and scenes that need to be supported with music, but not interfered with.

    My gift is not to make up stories with interesting characters. Generally, the characters in my stories are drawn from life."
    -- from "Bruce is Loose", Victoria Times Colonist, February 8, 2000, by Adrian Chamberlain. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.


  • 14 March 2000 - Commenting on how his life dictates what he writes
    [Interviewer is Ousman Jobarteh]

    OJ:.....Can you, in a nutshell, explain where you come from?

    BC: [Big laugh] Reduce the 30 years or so into a nutshell? I was born. I'm here. Someday I'm gonna die. There's the biggest, the best nutshell I can come up with. Um, wow, its hard, you know? I mean... the first album came out in 1970 and, ya know, the songs, if people are familiar with the songs, they'll know that they sort of reflect the various adventures and life and times and so on that have made up my experience and the early songs do the same although less directly in many cases than they came to later on.

    So there's... you'd hear a change over the years but what you'd mostly hear is the change that takes place in anybody's life over that period, ya know, the broadening of things and the, um, and hopefully the deepening of understanding of how to write songs and perform them.
    -- from WERU-FM in Blue Hill, Maine, by Ousman Jobarteh, for Mostly Manding, Tuesday 14 March 2000.


  • 3 March 2001 - Bruce shares the fear that artists in any discipline face from time to time

    "I don't worry about drying up as much as I worry about saying the same things over and over again. A lot of what I have to say I've already said in songs. It's a function of the passage of time.

    I have to wait longer for an original idea or for something new that comes from the heart. Sometimes you can say the same thing in a new way, and that's perfectly legitimate. But in general I'm afraid of repeating myself, so these days there's more waiting and weeding."

    In the late 1980s, Cockburn didn't write a song for almost two years. He even considered abandoning music altogether

    "It scared the hell out of me, I thought I'd either have to go and learn a new trade, or take a year off and see what comes.

    I've always loved comic books, and I seriously thought at the time that I'd take a stab at art school to improve my drawing skills. Or collecting garbage. Or working in a book store. It wasn't a pleasant time.

    Instead, I took some time off, and within a week, I started writing the songs that became the Nothing But A Burning Light album. I was just burned out, choked up."
    -- from "Why Bruce Matters Now", The Toronto Star, March 3, 2001, by Greg Quill.


  • 3 March 2001 - Discussing lyrical block

    BC: "I went to the Far East a year and a half ago, to Vietnam and Cambodia, and I wrote a lot of words as a result of Cambodia. But they will not be a song, they will not. That is telling me -- whether I like it or not -- that maybe I'm supposed to be writing poetry now. It's occurred to me that maybe what I should be writing is an instrumental album and a book of poetry."

    Bill Cameron: "Does the phrase 'career-limiting move' come to your mind?"

    BC: "Well, yeah, no kidding. I could just sort of hang myself now and get it over with."
    -- from "The Witness", Saturday Night Online, March 3, 2001, by Bill Cameron.


  • Circa January 2002 - Commenting on creativity

    "On some level--you may be staring at your demons or staring at angels, or you may be making mud pies, I suppose--but you're still looking something in the eye in order to create anything of value."
    --from Red, White & Canadian Website, circa January, 2002.


  • 26 January 2002 - Bruce comments on the song-writing process

    "It's taking notes. It's looking at the surroundings I'm in and my response to that and distilling that into a song. When I get an idea, I'm, like, 'Oh, I better write this down.' I get a lot of ideas that don't turn into songs. There are some one-liners that stop there. But when a song comes into being, when that spark happens, then for some reason, stuff actually flows from it."

    Commenting on writer's block

    "What's required [to write songs] is a kind of inner stillness that will allow the ideas to come through. The two times dry spells have happened have followed a really intense activity where I got kind of burned out and couldn't muster that inner silence."

    [He almost panicked the first time]
    "I thought that maybe I should go to art school and learn some other thing to do, but then I thought that before I do anything that drastic I'll take a sabbatical and see what happens. Within 10 days of having declared myself on sabbatical, I had written a song."
    -- from "The journey is what I'm interested in", The Globe and Mail 26 January 2002, by Sarah Hampson.


  • 29 June 2002 - Commenting on writing a song with Andy Milne

    "The song is called Trickle Down and itís a song I wrote with a young jazz pianist by the name of Andy Milne who is a terrific musician and composer and he approached me last year or maybe even the year before about collaborating on a couple of songs for an album he was doing and since Iíve never really done anything like that I thought it was pretty neat idea. We got together and wrote a couple of songs. Andy is kind of in the world of the avant-garde. He has a band that consists of the typical jazz rhythm section of piano bass and drums but in addition has an incredible harmonica player who kind of comes out of the modern classical mode and a female vocalist whoís extremely agile and a rapper. That combination is really heavy duty. I was quite out of my depth in that company. The other thing you should know, well, if you listened to Andyís records you would know this is true and if you donít listen I guess it doesnít matter so it isnít really like you should know but they donít play anything in 4x4 time. Everything is sort of 7 or 5 and mixtures of this and that and the other thing and Iím left counting on my fingers to see where we are and generally not finding it but it all worked out somehow in the end and we ended up with these songs that we recorded and it came out pretty well. In the process of learning this one in a form I could perform it in I simplified it a little. I cheated and put it in 4x4 time so you can actually, you guys, like me, we can all beat our foot to this. You know, hopefully anyway. This is Trickle Down."
    -- transcribed from the 29 June 2002, Kate Wolf Festival concert. Submitted by Doug Stacey.


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    Issues Index

    This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.