-- Jazz-folk icon Bruce Cockburn brings 'Bone On Bone' tour to Music Box --
-- By Chuck Yarborough, The Plain Dealer --

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15 Ocotber 2018 - CLEVELAND, Ohio- For nearly 60 years, Canadian folkie Bruce Cockburn has been chronicling the world as he sees it, taking on oppression, the environment and just about any other topic.

So where does the new release, "Bone On Bone,'' fit in the catalog of nearly 35 albums?

"It's the latest one,'' he said drolly in a call from his current home in San Francisco home earlier this month, ringing up to talk about his show on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at the Music Box Supper Club.

And then, because he's as honest as he is prolific, Cockburn explained.

"Where does it fit in terms of songwriting?'' he asked. In a certain way, it's typical of my albums in that the songs reflect what I've been experiencing during the periods when the songs were being written.

"This case did not involve Third World travel,'' said Cockburn, whose most famous song arguably is "If I Had a Rocket Launcher,'' written about the starvation and oppression he witnessed during a trip to Guatemala. "There's a noticeable level of environmental commentary on this album, and the focus is more on the spiritual than anything else.''

Oh, and just in case you think he is either slowing down or cutting back, Cockburn preceded the 2017 release of "Bone On Bone" with a 544-page memoir called "Rumours of Glory'' in 2014.

The memoirs took three or four years of work, which cutting into the songwriting time.

"All the creative energy I have went into the book,'' said Cockburn, who described the difference in writing for a book and writing a song as "night and day.''

"Writing a song is a short-term phenomenon,'' he explained. "You may spend hours on it, but a book requires you to focus on it for an extended period of time.''

What they do have in common, at least for Cockburn, is the personal aspects of each. While his songs may not be exactly about himself, they do tap his thoughts, beliefs, hopes and fears. Hints of "who" he is come through.

But a book, particularly a memoir, is a revelation of your own soul.

"Exposing too much of who I am?'' he said. "That was a concern. But the bigger concern for me was compromising other people. A lot of that didn't get said in the book.''

He's convinced that didn't affect the honesty of the memoir, not totally. But he conceded that putting in some details might have "altered the flavor of the book.''

"There are things I didn't want to say about my parents and other people who are still alive,'' he said.

Cockburn, not so surprisingly, used his catalog as the groundwork for the book, building the story of his life around the stories of his songs, because they are interwoven.

And now, he's sort of hooked, even though he's still putting out new music - and will until the day he dies, most likely. That's in part because songwriting is who he is, and in part because he feels the job of the songwriter is chronicle life itself. He's working on a book about medieval songwriters, even, and their role as the historians of their era.

"I think the job of an artist in whatever medium is to try to instill their experience of what it is to be human in some way that we all get to share,'' Cockburn said. It's a concept that has grown in the 73-year-old's mind and heart as the years have passed.

"That makes every face of the human experience subject matter for a song,'' he said. "It's perfectly legitimate to wrote silly dance songs or simple love songs - or not-so-simple love songs, for that matter.

"I think it's fair, and I personally like to write about everything I can,'' Cockburn said. "If I can find a way to make it interesting, it becomes natural.''

To that end, the current political climate is the perfect climate for a songwriter, especially one whose history is of activism and philanthropy.

And again, it's the "we're all unique together" mentality that makes it work.

"Everybody [poops], everybody's born. Everybody dies,'' he said. "What's to fight about there? On that level, it's really the sharing that matters."

Plus, a song - maybe one with a catchy melody or a clever lyric - can sometimes get through to an otherwise reticent person, almost without his or her knowledge.

"That's a great way to sneak in under people's fortifications,'' he said, laughing.

Bruce Cockburn
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 23.
Where: Music Box Supper Club, 1148 Main Avenue on the west bank of Cleveland's Flats.
Tickets: $40 to $55, at the box office, and by phone at 216-242-1250.


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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.