-- Kicking The Darkness --
-- by Stephan Boissonneault - --

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18 January 2018 - Bruce Cockburn canít escape his political criticism but continues to write songs from the heart

Bruce Cockburn - photo Dan Fischer2017

Bruce Cockburn is a name that many people know or have at least heard. The Canadian singer-songwriter has written more than 300 songs about love, protest, and activism that have been covered by musicians like Chet Atkins, Barenaked Ladies, Jerry Garciaóthe list goes on.

Almost a decade ago the 72-year-old icon made the move from Canada to San Francisco. Even though he has lived there for nine years, itís still a strange transition period for himóespecially with the current political sphere.

"Iím in the States of Trump and itís peculiar," he says from his driveway. "I donít know if itís all that strange. My only experience of living in the States was in the Ď60s when I went to music school. It was very polarizing much like it is now."

Though the situation feels familiar to Cockburn, heís getting tired of talking about it.

"Ever since Trump assumed presidency, I donít think Iíve had a conversation with somebody in this country where his name hasnít come up," he says. "Heís in his glory Ďcause the guy wants attention, but itís revolting and it gets tiring thinking about it. Heís not the devil. I think he serves the devil without probably knowing it, but heís a human being."

Cockburn really tries to no longer think about politics, but every once in awhile, his thoughts trickle in. It can be consciously or unconsciously like on his newest record, Bone On Bone and its opening song "The States Iím In".

"The challenge is to keep from being distracted from all the bullshit out of the White House," Cockburn says. "It doesnít matter what comes out of Trumpís mouth because you know itís not true. So there is that overlap in the meaning of the song but itís more about having lived in the times and conditions Iíve lived in. It does have a double entendre about the situation here, even though I never intended it."

The tone of the album has an almost distressing, sombre quality to it. Every song obviously comes from a place that is true for Cockburn, but there are political undertones on songs like "Stab At Matter," "Cafe Society," and "False River" peppered throughout. It makes sense. This is the musician who wrote "If I Had A Rocket Launcher," a song that went on to be on of the most popular protest songs in the Ď80s.

"Itís important to be hopeful and critical. Without that, weíre all toast," he says.

Bone On Bone is Cockburnís first album in six years. After his Small Source Of Comfort record in 2011, he focused on touring and writing his memoir Rumours of Glory. Many thought his album writing days were over, including Cockburn himself.

"Someday it will run out, and the pace of album making got slower since the Ď90s. After 30 years of doing it, or whatever, Iíve already said a lot of what I have to say."

At the time, Cockburn felt uninspired to write new songs as much of his creativity was going into the memoir. It wasnít until he was approached to write a song for a documentary about the past free verse poet Al Purdy, that his musical inspiration was reinvigorated.

"This seemed like a gift," Cockburn says. "I didnít really know what I was going to write a song about, but now somebody wanted me to write a song that has some tangential relationship with Al Purdy. As soon as I said yes to writing the song I said the phrase ĎIíll give you three Al Purdyís for a 20 dollar bill.í So I had to create a character who would say that. So I had this disheveled homeless guy who loves poetry, particularly Al Purdy."

From that burst of imagination, the country-blues song "3 Al Purdys" was written as other songs began appearing to Cockburn during dreams and periods of self-reflection.

Perhaps one of the most universally powerful songs on Bone On Bone is "40 Years In The Wilderness," an almost meditative acoustic track with a sound that harkens back to one of Cockburnís older songs "Lord of the Starfields."

"Songs like that really come from a deep place," Cockburn says. "In that case, ["40 Years In the Wilderness"] we were what people euphemistically call Ďcamping,í and I was watching some joggers and thinking about having moved from the east to the west, and all these elements seemed to conspire. So I started writing this song thatís almost quite biblical in a way. I had not thought about in the Old Testament when the Israelites have left Egypt that they are in the wilderness for 40 years."

Itís refreshing that even though this is Cockburnís 25th album, he can still write songs that are abnormally personal, but relatable.

"My own spiritual development required me to get out of my own head and get into understanding people in a heartfelt way," Cockburn says. "I did that by exploring the human world for about 40 years. Thatís really where the song came from I think. The sun sets on all of us and the older you get, the closer it gets."

Wed., Jan. 24 (8 pm)
Bruce Cockburn
Winspear Centre
From $42 [Tour Dates]

~from Kicking the Darkness by Stephan Boissonneault -

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.