22 February 2016 - The title of Bruce Cockburnís memoir, now out in paperback, is Rumours of Glory. Upon reading the book, it occurred to the Cockburn enthusiast and fellow Juno-winning musician Hawksley Workman that there was too much rumour and not enough glory affixed to the standing of Cockburn. The two artists spoke to each other recently by phone, about credit due, MTV and roads worth taking.
Hawksley Workman: The passing of David Bowie got me to thinking about artists who seem supremely aware of what theyíre creating for themselves and their own self-mythologizing. My sense, Bruce, is that you werenít ever really aware of the legacy you were creating. Is that fair to say?
Bruce Cockburn: It strikes me that legacy is a very ephemeral thing. Iíve had that word thrown at me, but I donít know. I think itís out of my hands.
Workman: But people like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, they nurtured or fostered an image of themselves that accompanied their art. I have trouble that youíre not included in the group of names we seem to culturally deify, and that itís because their kind of self-mythologizing wasnít part of your landscape. Do you feel that?
Cockburn: For me, itís always been about the music and words. But under the surface, I recognize I have an ego like everybody else. I want to be noticed. In the beginning, I was defensive about that. I didnít want to think in those terms, and I went to great lengths to avoid acquiring an image of any sort. But then I found that I had acquired an image of somebody who was trying not to have an image. So, I couldnít beat that one. Once you put yourself in front of the public, an image is thrust upon you Ė by peopleís response, by the media, by some sort of natural reaction to having somebody who is up on stage seem larger than life.
Workman: I hear all that. But your compulsion to do or to go or to be seems to eclipse that of somebody who might stroke their chin and think about what move might make them cool.
Cockburn: Iíd be a liar if I denied being aware of how things might look to other people. But, again, itís out of our own control. You can make choices, and people might see you as being cool or as a jerk. I got called names for supporting the Sandinistas. You canít take that out of the picture, but, for me, itís always been about curiosity more than anything else. I donít see anything as a compulsion.
Workman: After reading your memoir, the thought that came to my mind was that Iím not working hard enough.
Cockburn: Iíve been curious and Iíve had opportunities that Iíve taken advantage of. In some cases I went around looking for the opportunity, like the first trip to Central America. I tried to make that happen, and had given up on it, before it actually did happen. Once I did that, I got invitations to all sorts of interesting places. And it seemed morally appropriate as well. I donít feel Iíve ever been a crusader of any sort. But I feel itís good to do what you can do.
Workman: You were putting political videos and songs on MTV. You were doing things that were as punk rock or as rebellious as you could at the time. Did you understand just how unreal it was?
Cockburn: Oh, I donít know. Most of the credit I receive for anything Iíve done has had a lot to do with [long-time manager] Bernie Finkelstein. Heís the one who knows how to get out there and get peopleís attention.
Workman: I just donít feel itís been recognized or celebrated that you were breaking all kinds of rules.
Cockburn: I suppose people could say there was a certain amount of strategizing that I didnít do. But I donít feel like Iíve given anything up. People would say, especially in the U.S., ďDo you think this political involvement stuff is going to hurt your career?Ē For one thing, I donít think of what I do as a career. Itís just what I do. And for another thing, it doesnít appear to have hurt it, because the most quote-popular-unquote song of all, which was If I Had a Rocket Launcher, was almost the biggest hit. Mind you, I was totally shocked it got on the radio.
Workman: Do you feel that youíve received all the credit you deserved?
Cockburn: Iíve done what Iíve done. I didnít go to Central America looking for song material or anything else. I went there to see what the Nicaraguan revolution looked like up close. When I got there I found myself very deeply moved by the things I was encountering. That experience changed the direction of the next couple of decades for me. Invitations came up Ė invitations for adventure, to Nepal, for instance. And whoís going to say no?
~ from The Globe and Mail.