-- Cockburn's 15 minutes of fame --
By Luke Hendry, The Intelligencer

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17 January 2014 - Bruce Cockburn is doing what many dream of doing: quit his day job to become a writer.

But it's really only a sabbatical.

Cockburn, 68, is at work on his memoir and daydreaming about meeting his deadline and returning to songwriting. In the meantime he'll perform Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. at Belleville's Empire Theatre.

“Pretty sure I'll be able to think about music again,” he says through static on the phone.

He's walking around his neighbourhood in San Francisco, where he now lives with his wife, M.J., and their two-year-old daughter, Iona.

With chronically self-deprecating humour – and apologies for the poor reception on his phone – Cockburn sounds relaxed but soon describes the pressure of writing his memoir. It shares a title, Pacing the Cage, with a Cockburn song and a new documentary film about him. It's set for a November release. [memoir title changed to Rumours Of Glory]

“Then I'll just have to go around justifying it,” he says, chuckling.

There are notes of optimism and relief in his voice as he talks about the possibility of writing music again and explains he simply hasn't had the headspace or time.

“The book's taken up all the creative energy and imagination for now.

“The book has turned out to be much more of a burden than I imagined it would.

“It started off easy because I started off writing about my early childhood. That far away in time, the memories are concise. They're sharp, they're clear, they're short, and they're not complicated by concerns for the feelings of people I don't know anymore.”

But the term “tell-all” isn't something that'll appear on the jacket.

“I'm not naming people if I feel it's going to compromise them somehow.”

Cockburn says he'd written 100 pages himself but then called for help as he “got bogged down” and struggled with the book's structure.

He recruited fellow Northern California resident Greg King as co-author. King's photos have appeared in Newsweek, Rolling Stone and Smithsonian magazines; he's also president of Siskiyou Land Conservancy.

King now writes a chapter in Cockburn's voice; the artist then tweaks the text, ensuring it still sounds like him.

“It sounds like it is me talking – and it is, in fact, me talking.”

Cockburn's also the focus of the documentary film – also called Pacing the Cage – covering his 2009 tour.

“The process of making it was fun.

“It's a bit of an ego stroke, having this camera follow you around.

“I think they caught they flavour of me on tour very well.”

He compared it to hearing your recorded voice for the first time.

“It doesn't have the kind of automatic humiliation factor that it did in the beginning.

“Then you realize it's how everybody sees you anyway.”

The only problem: “I think there's some bad hair in the film,” says Cockburn, laughing.

He says he's now much more comfortable in the spotlight, but it took years of work.

“Some people are lucky enough to have the show-off gene.

“I'm sure I have the inflammation as much as anyone, but the way I was raised, it wasn't appropriate behaviour.

“In the beginning I was very, very reluctant to be exposed at all.

“I wanted to people to come to the music. I wanted people to come to the shows. I didn't want to be a 'personality' in public. I wanted to be anonymous.

“Of course it doesn't really work like that.”

He says he'd never been called “sir” and found it “so embarrassing” to be recognized and treated as a celebrity.

“I felt like I was being drawn into this class hierarchy.”

Yet now, he joked, “if somebody doesn't do it, you're offended.

“There's a sort of insidious element to it in that way.”

Cockburn says he isn't keen to invite his fans into his private life and is “not a fan of social media.” Manager Bernie Finklestein, however, maintains his client's busy Facebook page.

Though some are billing his current tour as being in support of his 32nd album, 2011's Small Source of Comfort, Cockburn says the tour's setlists are “all over the place,” mixing old and new tunes.

His live act didn't have much of a band component until the 1980s and he's again performing alone.

And soon, he says, there may be more music to play.

“I'd love to write another song,” he says, “but when I think of ideas, I have to put them in the book, because the book has to get done.”

And in the meantime, he says, all the attention feels pretty good.

“Hey, man. It's my 15 minutes of fame,” he laughs. “It's great!”

~from Intelligencer - Cockburn's 15 Minutes of Fame, By Luke Hendry.

Tickets: $57.82 at the theatre, 321 Front St., 613-969-0099 ext. 1 or Empire Theatre

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.