8 September 2017 - BRUCE Cockburn hasnít exactly led an unexamined life.
The Canadian singer-songwriter published a memoir in 2014, has been the subject of biographical documentaries and likely submitted to countless newspaper and magazine interviews throughout his career.
The most conspicuous evidence about himself, though, is contained in his large catalogue of songs, starting with his self-titled debut in 1970 as a fresh-faced folkie. After a recent tuneless dry spell he found worrisome, Cockburn, 72, releases his 33rd album, Bone on Bone, on Sept. 15 and commences a tour next week in the Maritimes.
Cockburn considered during a phone interview whether he had enough perspective to judge the depth of his new work.
"I wonder if I do,Ē he said.
"Letís see. Letís think about that for a minute.
"I wouldnít dispute that itís an introspective album at all. In that sense, in my mind, it would be typical of most of what Iíve done. I think thatís just as true of the stuff that people wouldnít necessarily interpret that way. Ö People think If I Had a Rocket Launcher, for instance, is some sort of political polemic but itís a totally introspective song. That might not be how people heard it on the radio, but thatís what it is.
ďI donít know that this album is more introspective than that, itís just maybe because thereís nothing that can be attached to a social issue or whatever.Ē
The cover art of Bone on Bone even shows Cockburn peering intently through a magnifying glass, suggesting that topics will be subject to investigation.
"Yeah, thereís not much hidden from view; not much thatís interesting, at least. It just goes with the territory. The alternative was to remain in obscurity," he said.
"People get to hear my songs, and I get to make my living doing what I do."
Cockburn fans should find Bone on Bone fits just fine alongside his best work. There are several spiritual songs, a version of Twelve Gates to the City that should sate blues fans and the title track, a deft guitar instrumental.
ďYouíve probably read all the crap theyíre sending around so you know that itís the first in a while because I was working on the memoir, then after the memoir was done ó I spent three years writing prose ó I wasnít sure I was going to have any more song ideas. I was very relieved when they started coming.Ē
So, the man who came up with Lovers in a Dangerous Time, If a Tree Falls and Wondering Where the Lions Are was sort of left waiting for a miracle. One arrived, so to speak, in the form of the raspy 3 Al Purdys, something initially intended for a completely different project that ultimately sparked a fresh creative period.
"It came about because there were some folks in Ontario who were about to make a documentary on Al Purdy, whoís one of the all-time great Canadian poets,Ē Cockburn said.
ďHe would have been of my dadís generation; a really great wordsmith and a kind of quintessential Canadian, as far as that goes.
"I figured this would be a chance to find out if I was going to be writing songs again ó or not. If I could do something for the film, it would kind of get the whole creative process rolling. And it worked out; right away, I got this idea for a homeless guy whoís obsessed with Purdyís poetry and raps it on the street.
"After that, the songs just started to flow."
The band heís taking on the road will feature drummer Gary Craig, bassist John Dymond and Cockburnís nephew, accordionist John Aaron Cockburn. They will gather for about a week in Toronto to go over the show, which Cockburn suggested would already be in firm shape on the East Coast.
"I donít think people are going to think of it as something formative that theyíre witnessing. Itís going to be a show. Whatís been the case in the past is that thereíll be certain songs in my imagination that will work well together and weíll do a show like that and maybe they will, maybe they wonít. If they do, then weíll keep doing that. If they donít, it gets adjusted.
"Generally speaking, the show will be pretty much the same in the Maritimes as it is next February, when weíre on the West Coast. "
Cockburn plays Halifax on Sept. 16 at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, with Terra Lightfoot opening. There are also shows Sept. 15 in Fredericton and Sept. 17 in Summerside.
He said heís fond of travel and still enjoys touring. Still, concessions are made to accommodate shifting personal obligations.
ďI look forward to it greatly. I think it is also sort of an obligation. Thatís perhaps too strong a word; itís certainly the default position when youíre putting out an album. The expectation is youíre going to be touring."Thereís a slight difference now. Iíve got a five-year-old at home and a family relationship that I need to maintain, so the pacing of the tour is going to be slightly different than previous ones. Ö Itís generally three-week stints instead of six-week stints so I can be away and still be recognizable when I get home."
Cockburn, long an exceptional guitarist, said maintaining that talent also has demands, including an obligation to practise daily.
"The fact is, I donít. But I should, and I regret it when I donít because the older you get, the longer warmup time is needed to get back to wherever you thought you were.
"Itís just like any physical activity; you need to maintain co-ordination and muscle strength and all that stuff to execute the moves you want to make, and you need to maintain the kind of brain-hands co-ordination thatís required, which takes repetition to make happen. I want to explore, not just play scales and do my exercises."
It may not seem right to some, but Cockburn, a national icon who will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on Sept. 23, has been living in the United States for eight years.
"It comes and goes. You think the civil rights movement was over in the í60s but itís not at all. Different aspects of it have surfaced because parts of it got addressed and parts of that problem were fixed, but overall it wasnít fixed."
The Ontario native has put down roots in San Francisco. Based on his description, it sounds like the city lives up to its reputation as an enlightened urban enclave.
"I think itís more comfortable. My friends who live in Nashville have to keep their heads down, more for social reasons. You just donít want people mad at you all the time; itís not because their lives are in danger.
"And, yeah, San Franciscoís beautiful."
~from Cockburn Back on Track by TIM ARSENAULT - The Chronicle Herald.