Bruce Cockburn: Rebirth of the ĎRocket Launcherí
By Don Wilcock For The Saratogian

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4 May 2011 -Bruce Cockburn, who is playing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Egg in Albany, was totally shocked when his song If I Had a Rocket Launcher 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," said the Canadian singer/songwriter/ guitarist who has just released his 31st studio LP, Small Source of Comfort.

Cockburn is almost as ubiquitous in Canada as Dylan is here. The winner of 13 Juno Awards (Canadaís Grammy), an officer in the Order of Canada, and a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, he is known for his oblique and sometimes somber songwriting style. "Rocket Launcher" is certainly not typical of his style, which runs from acoustic folk to electric. The new LP, getting deservedly rave reviews, finds him reflective, sometimes funny and quirky as in Call Me Rose written from the perspective of Richard Nixon reincarnated as a single mother of two living in the projects.

"Maybe it matters to have my thoughts on a page that are different from the songs people are used to," Cockburn said about his memoirs due out in April of next year. Heís having an internal struggle as he tries to get into the actual writing. "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 when he was in his 40s and 50s, but it was easy then to say that he hadnít done enough. But now, at 65, heís committed, and the task is 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. I mean, Iím obliged to do it because I signed a contract, and 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, I donít know if there needs to be a book like this. It doesnít make sense. So I have to fight myself all the time to get myself to work on it, and eventually it will get done."

It must be daunting for a man who has spent more than 40 years writing cryptic three-minute songs to suddenly commit to a long form analysis of the thought processes that go into those little gems. In the song Five Fifty-One for example, he sings about "diesel in the breeze" and "middle of the night cops came knocking on my door."

The images come out of a real experience he had at his girlfriendís apartment in Brooklyn. "If it isnít at least close to being your experience then you shouldnít be writing about it at all unless youíre just asking questions in your song," he said. "If the job is to tell the truth, then youíre supposed to know what the truth is."

Cockburn has removed the self-imposed filter he put on his emotions as a writer when, in 1968, he wrote Gifts where he sings: "We may walk within these walls and share our gifts with you."

"Within myself there were self-imposed restrictions that were not even conscious in the beginning. Sometimes thereíre feelings you donít share. Sometimes there are things you donít look at too closely. So all these sorts of judgments that young people have are more prone to and most of us hopefully lose as we get older, but I allow myself more freedom than I did in the beginning."

On Boundless a song he co-wrote with Annabelle Chvostek, he sings, "All I wanted all along is to be the Ďyouí in somebodyís song.í "

"Itís true when you think about it. What do we want from being alive? We want to be loved, and we want not to be lonely, and we want to feel like we mean something. So (the song) is just saying that, in effect. Every time I hear a songwriter, particularly a female songwriter who impresses me, I want to be the Ďyouí in their song."

Bruce Cockburn will perform Saturday at The Egg in Albany. Tickets ae available online at or call 473-1845. Tickets are $34.50 and $29.50.

From ~The Saratogian, by Don Wilcock, 4 May 2011.

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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.