16 June 2015 - After spending the better part of the last three years writing a memoir, Bruce Cockburn has little desire to continue working to the kind of schedule required by a publisher.
“I’ll be happy if there are no deadlines at all,” declared the Canadian Music Hall of Famer by phone from his home in San Francisco.
“The actual writing, the sitting down and coming up with language was fun, as much fun as writing songs. I always feel like Sherlock Holmes on the trail of something: I’m tracking down the next line. that was true of the book, but the presence of deadlines made it very stressful.”
The memoir, Rumours of Glory, was published last year (accompanied by a nine-CD box set), freeing Cockburn up to get back to his first love, writing songs. He has three new tunes in the works, none of which are ready to perform, and no deadline to finish them. As is his preference.
“I went through a brief phase early on where I thought real writers write every day so I thought I should try that,” explains the 70-year-old Ottawa-born singer-songwriter-guitarist. “After about a year doing that, I ended up with about the same amount of usable stuff as if I had just waited for the good ideas so I opted for waiting for the good ideas, and it’s been that way ever since.”
It’s been four years since his last studio album, Small Source of Comfort, long enough to see further changes in the ever-shifting music landscape. Even a legend like Cockburn, known for hard-hitting topical songs like If I Had a Rocket Launcher and Lovers in a Dangerous Time, has to wonder where he fits in.
“I’m still trying to figure out how to approach coming back to being a songwriter,” he says. “I did gigs through that period so I was not completely away from the scene, but I didn’t write anything. It’s different now than it was even five years ago, and it’s moving fast. By the time I feel like I’m ready to make a CD, will I make one or will I sprinkle out a bunch of tracks online?”
In the next breath, he answers his own question: “I still think in terms of making CDs, and I know lots of other artists do, too, and not just old guys. I don’t think the medium is dead. I think that there is a place for a collection of songs, and I don’t really sympathize with the trend, which is to just put out these things one-off without any kind of background or connections.
“An album is kind of like a book, a collection of poetry, and so where that will fit in in the current scene, I don’t know if it does at all. But I’m not worried about it until I have enough songs to worry about it.”
In the meantime, there are plenty of gigs, including a hometown show at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. He’ll be playing with longtime drummer Gary Craig and a new sideman, Toronto bassist Roberto Occhipinti, who’s known for his jazz chops. “I’m hoping there will be some jamming and stuff in the set, but I won’t really know ’til we do some rehearsing,” Cockburn says, describing the jazzier configuration as a new adventure.
Another factor influencing his life these days is his three-year-old daughter, Iona, who frequently travels with her parents when Dad is on tour. Needless to say, there are no journeys planned to war zones.
“It makes for a slightly more complicated balancing act with respect to touring,” Cockburn says. “That’s the biggest single effect. It’s also harder to get time. I’m living the life of a young family man and I’m not a young family man. I’m an old family man. There are energy requirements that I manage to meet but it’s hard work sometimes.”
Except for lack of sleep, Cockburn says he’s in good health. Retirement is a long way off.
“I’ll retire when I have to. If my hands stop working or my brain stops working and I recognize it, then I’ll retire, I guess, but I don’t have any expectations of quitting voluntarily.”
At the TD Ottawa International Jazz festival
When: Saturday, June 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Laurier Avenue Music Stage, Marion Dewar Plaza
~ from Bruce Cockburn: Back to his musical basics by Lynn Saxberg. © Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen