Bruce Cockburn: Still making music that matters
by Lynn Saxberg - The Ottawa Citizen

News Index

6 March 2012 -
The category: Roots & Traditional Album of the Year, Solo
The album: Small Source of Comfort
The competition: Craig Cardiff for Floods & Fire; Dave Gunnig for A Tribute to John Allan Cameron; David Francey for Late Edition; Lindi Ortega for Little Red Boots

Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburnís musical quest has taken him on a journey thatís lasted more than four decades and touched on everything from spiritual reflections to electric protest songs. Now 66, heís had a significant influence on pop culture, and is still making music that matters, as you can hear on his 31st and latest album, Small Source of Comfort.

Born in Ottawa, Cockburn took guitar and piano lessons as a teenager. He attended Bostonís prestigious Berklee College of Music for two years in the 1960s before returning to Ottawa to play in various bands, including The Children and Threeís A Crowd (which also included David Wiffen). Cockburnís career as a folksinger and guitarist began on the coffee house circuit, and was strengthened by an appearance at the 1967 Mariposa Festival. His first album was released in 1970.

By 1980, Cockburn was beginning to make an impact in the United States. His 1979 album Dancing in the Dragonís Jaws yielded an unexpected top-40 hit with the cerebral Wondering Where the Lions Are, as well as an invitation to perform on Saturday Night Live.

The winner of a shelf-full of Juno awards and the Order of Canada drew even more attention a few years later with the release of Stealing Fire. Although music fans of the 1980s were not used to hearing outspoken songs about issues on the radio, they were drawn by a soft-spoken Canadian ranting about a rocket launcher. The single If I Had a Rocket Launcher was written after Cockburn visited Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico. A second single from the album was also inspired by his travels. Lovers In a Dangerous Time became one of Cockburnís most popular songs, thanks in part to the 1990s version by the Barenaked Ladies.

Other politically charged songs by the silver-haired troubadour include Call It Democracy, The Trouble With Normal and If A Tree Falls. Driven by a desire to make the world a better place, Cockburn has visited places like Mozambique, Bahgdad, Cambodia and, most recently, a 2009 trip to Afghanistan. He usually comes home with an idea for an issue-oriented song, such as anti-landmine Postcards from Cambodia or Mines of Mozambique. The latest example is the powerful Each One Lost, a mournful ode to lost soldiers thatís included on his recent album, Small Source of Comfort.

Produced by Cockburnís old friend Colin Linden, the 2011 album demonstrates the artistís affinity for jazzy folk-pop and dazzling acoustic guitar meanderings. Insightful lyrics and a dash of humour complete the package, which earned last yearís Canadian Folk Music Award for contemporary folk album of the year.

Another recent milestone for the Canadian Music Hall of Famer (and his longtime girlfriend) was the birth of their daughter, Iona. The same year, Canada Post issued a stamp bearing Cockburnís likeness.

For his humanitarian efforts, Cockburn was given the inaugural Allan Waters Humanitarian Award in 2006. In an interview with the Citizen that year, he explained his motivation.

"Growing up, I did a lot of canoe tripping in Algonquin Park. I went to a camp there in the summers and one of the things that they instilled in us was: Always leave your campsite better than you found it. It just seems to me that applies to life and the world," he said.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen - Bruce Cockburn Still Making Music That Matters by Lynn Saxberg.

News 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.