Bruce Cockburn discusses his spirituality and his forthcoming memoirs
By Dan MacIntosh - Stereo Subversion

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22 February 2013 -

Anyone who has spent any time exploring Bruce Cockburnís music knows what a complex artist he is. He is as spiritual as he is political, and as much a master musician as a lyrical poet. Cockburn will soon release his written memoirs, which he promises will take a deeper look at his continuing spiritual journey. In addition, a Cockburn documentary is also on the way.

Although these two projects arenít as exciting as news of an upcoming musical release, they nevertheless give his many devoted fans the prospect of more insight into one of modern musicís consistently intriguing figures.

Stereo Subversion: I notice you donít have a new album to promote these days, so whatís in the works?

Bruce Cockburn: Whatís in the works is a book. Thatís kind of taking up all the energy that probably would have come up with an album by now. I got a deal to write a memoir, like everybodyís doing, a couple of years ago. The first draft is quite overdue, so thereís kind of a rush on to get this done. Iím about four chapters into it. I canít tell you much about how itís going to end up yet because itís very much a first draft. Thatís whatí going on.

Thereís also, in terms of stuff that people could look for, if not available commercially yet, a DVD of a concert Ė well, actually, itís a documentary that was done on me for Canadian TV with some performance footage in it. It came out pretty well. It was on TV in a slightly abbreviated version. The longer version has been shown at a couple of film festivals. Eventually, weíll have DVDs for people. As far as an album, thatís probably going to have to wait until all this other stuff is out of the way.

[ This is referring to Vision Films Pacing the Cage ]

SSv: How comfortable are you with writing a book? Is that a type of writing that comes naturally to you?

Itís hard for me to characterize my beliefs in a simple way because I donít subscribe to a namable faith or religion. Iíve moved through an acquaintanceship with a few different things and a deep involvement with Christianity and Iím pretty close to that still, but I just have too many questions to feel comfortable calling myself a Christian at this point.

Bruce: No, itís not. [Laughs] Itís interesting. Itís different and somewhat challenging because you have to sustain a focus for such an extended period. Songwriting is a real short time event, you know. Even songs that take a long time relatively speaking, only happen in bursts. Itís not like you sit down for six weeks and work on a song, day in, day out.

It may take me that long to write a song, but Iíll write one verse and a couple weeks will go by and Iíll think of another idea and add to it, and that kind of thing. Now this is not common. Usually Iíll write in much more compressed time than that, but it has happened. But thatís totally different from what a book calls for, which is sustained energy and focus over a year or two. Thereís a bit of a learning curve for me in terms of that.

My songs are generally based in life, but theyíre frequently slightly fictionalized. I may change a detail here or there because it makes it a better song or because the rhyme scheme needs it. Itís not literally autobiographical, whereas the book is.

SSv: Iíve noticed over the years, when youíve written songs youíve also put in the album notes where they were written and the time period when they were written. Is the book going to be a little bit like a journal in the way that you organize the book?

Bruce: I donít know how it will end up. I donít see it being like that, exactly, although it could end up more that way than Iím picturing right now. Thereíll be a lot of steps between finishing the first draft, and actually getting it out. My original thought was to have it be not chronological, but just to be made up of a lot of vignettes; when you add them all up, you get a picture of a life. And it may still turn out to be that, although the way Iím working on it now, it is chronological, starting with childhood and moving forward. The organization of it may change between now and publication, I donít know.

Itís supposed to be a spiritual memoir, so whatever that means. Iím not even sure what that really means, but thatís what the publisherís asked for.

SSv: Really?

Bruce: Thereís going to be a certain emphasis on that side of life, I think. Because it is a memoir and because the people who buy it are going to be interested in personal details too, we think, thereís a lot of stuff about me in there.

SSv: If itís a spiritual journey, where would you say youíre at on your spiritual journey now?

Bruce: Itís an ongoing quest. I donít think it will stop when I die, either. I believe that my relationship with God is central to my life. It is the most important thing in my life. That being said, I donít spend as much time thinking about that as I probably should. I currently work with a guy that does dream analysis that helps me pursue that relationship with God and kind of understand where Iím at with it.

Beyond that, itís hard for me to characterize my beliefs in a simple way because I donít subscribe to a namable faith or religion. Iíve moved through an acquaintanceship with a few different things and a deep involvement with Christianity and Iím pretty close to that still, but I just have too many questions to feel comfortable calling myself a Christian at this point. But Iím still very close to that.

SSv: Youíre working on this book, but that doesnít stop you from writing songs. Youíre still writing songs I would hope.

Bruce: Not at the moment because all the creative energy is going into the book. Any ideas that I have time forÖIíve also got a 14-month old baby at home, so Iím pretty busy. So, between the baby and the book, thereís not too much room for anything else right now. Thereís barely enough time for me to practice the songs I currently have. There is enough, but just. I always have to keep practicing to maintain the songs that I have. I wouldnít rule it out. Never say never. So far, itís taking the case with where writingís taking the backseat.

SSv: How are you as a father, at this stage in your life?

Bruce: Better than I was the first time around. I mean, I donít think I was a terrible father the first time, but I was much more concerned, as young men tend to be, about things other than family. I was worried about my art more than I am now. I take my art very seriously. I donít want to let it down or have it let me down, but at the same time, I donít worry about it as much as I did when I was young. I just worried a lot more about everything. That made my relationship with my first daughter a little more distant when she was young. We have a good relationship now, but I wasnít there for her as much as I am for the new one.

SSv: Tell me more about this DVD thatís coming out. You said it was a documentary?

Bruce: Yes.

SSv: How did this all come about? Did they approach you and say they wanted to explore your work?

Bruce: Bernie [Finkelstein] was really instrumental in getting it going, and I donít know whether he had the original idea, or the filmmaker Joel Goldberg had the idea. But we started talking about it quite a while back. And, in fact, itís the same tour that the live album came out couple years ago is based on or is drawn from. So itís the same music as is on that live album. There might be one or two different songs, but itís not a concert film.

[ The live album he is referring to is Slice O' Life. ]

Thereís a lot of talking. Itís more of a portrait of me on tour. Itís got several performances of songs in it and, like I said, I donít really remember what got it started. We were working on it at the same time as the live album. We had the intention of doing both. It took a lot longer, I suppose, to find the financing to get the film done than it did to do the album.

Ideally, in a perfect world, they would have both come out at the same time. Which I would have preferred because they belong together in a way, but thatís not how it works.

~from". By Dan MacIntosh, Friday, February 22nd, 2013.

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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.