Beat Route - Bruce Cockburn - Small Source of Comfort
By Spencer Brown

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11 March 2011 - "There hasn't been a lot of it," responds Bruce Cockburn when asked how his morning has been, "but, so far, so good." This kind reply comes from a man who holds various honorary degrees, is counted as an Officer of the Order of Canada and is also a major influence on songwriters both at home and abroad. It's the same kind of slow but steady approach that has spawned his latest album, Small Source of Comfort.

"The theme is of journey," he ventures of his latest album, which is six years in the making, "of road travel and that's a constant as all these songs have road references. Perhaps the song that sums the album up the most is Boundless (co-written with Montreal's Annabelle Chvostek), where the road is a metaphor, filled with the imagery from travelling and the feelings of encountering those things. The song has a modern orientation. It's really more a statement, life as a journey."

Cockburn notes that his life as a musician has always involved a journey in some way or another. "Back in the early ‘70s, my first wife and I lived in a camper for the first half of the ‘70s. We traveled back and forth across Canada, because in those days, I organized my tours differently then the way I do now." However, he has become nostalgic of that in recent years.

"It happened coincidentally that I had an American girlfriend in Brooklyn," he explains of his return to the road. "So, there I was, commuting between Kingston and Brooklyn, taking day-long drives through New York and Pennsylvania. Then she moved to San Francisco, so now it's six day drive. And it has satisfied that hunger for the road in a wonderful way."

"The songs were all being written on one or two day drives and all the lyrics predate move to San Francisco. Iris of the World, reflects the drive to Kingston and Brooklyn."

The travelogue on Small Source of Comfort isn't solely confined to crossing the border. The Comets of Kandahar is one of two tracks reflecting Bruce Cockburn's trip to Afghanistan. "My brother is an Emergency Room anesthesiologist. He thought that as the kind of doctor he was, the army needed his expertise. So, as a 50-something year-old, he went through basic training and then to Afghanistan for a six-month tour. We each badgered the army until I was accepted into the ‘Team Canada’."

"We went for a week and got to perform for the troops. One of the bases they took us to was a practice range and they let us shoot some stuff, which," laughs Cockburn, "is a very long build-up to the title." The comets to which he refers are the nickname given by Canadian soldiers to jet fighters taking off at night. "I loved the phrase and the image, because it's just such a spectacular phrase."

The other song based on his Afghan experience is Each One Lost, which deals with witnessing the Ramp Ceremony of two Canadian soldier's remains being sent home.

"That song is at other end of the spectrum. I've never seen such tragedy and to have it treated with such honour and dignity. There was just such a deep feeling among the troops during this ramp ceremony." Almost immediately, Cockburn muses that Each One Lost and If I had a Rocket Launcher are similar, in that "the two songs in a way, form a bracket to several decades. ‘If I Had a Rocket Launcher’ is about being victimized by troops in Guatemala. It was in terms of my own feelings, my reaction to a situation was so intense, it had to form a song. And so did being on Kandahar Airfield for that ceremony, so in that way, they're a pair."

For anyone even passingly familiar with Bruce Cockburn's work, his political sensibilities are ever present. "Politics," he quips, "are inescapable part of life. So as they end up in the songs, they do so based on my own direct involvement in issues. If someone asks if I can help them along if I can get behind it. I will if I can. All the political stuff I've accepted are those kind of involvements. I may be more skeptical of anyone able to change the way the world's going, but that being said, it's worth going after those things and helping the genuine things like the environment and improving the lives of people."

Given that Cockburn's career has spanned more years than this writer's life, Cockburn acknowledges that he sees people his own age at shows.

"These are people who have been listening since the beginning although some people begin to tune in after a bit. The US audience got bigger after Stealing Fire but I'm usually among people my own age with a Canadian crowd. These are people who have been listening since the ‘70s and sometimes, I find it amazing that I've survived all this, that they still listen." That doesn't mean that newer fans are spurned, either: "I'm grateful for young people. I don't want me and my audience to die together."

Of course, you can't release a road trip album and not tour, so fans can look forward to seeing Bruce Cockburn in a variety of venues across the country. "Both the drummer and violinist who are both on the album greatly aid in making everything more energetic and musically interesting," reveals Cockburn. "It's been five years ago or so since I toured with a band." He pauses to grin, "I'm actually really looking forward to making a slightly louder noise this time around."

~ from Beat Route by By Spencer Brown.

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