-- Bruce Cockburn at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival on Saturday --
-- by Tom Murray - --

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8 August 2019 - Bruce Cockburn at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival on Saturday.

ďIt was just after I released my memoir,Ē the singer-songwriter recalls over the phone from Trail, B.C., where he and his band are preparing for a theatre show. ďI had invested all of the energy normally used in songwriting into my book (2014ís Rumours of Glory), and when I was done I looked around and wondered if I was still able to do it.Ē

That question, if anyone ever took it seriously, was laid to rest with Bone on Bone, which went on to win Contemporary Roots Album of the Year at the 2018 Juno Awards. Now the iconic folk-rocker (and guitar wizard), known for an eclectic range of hits like the incendiary If I Had a Rocket Launcher, the lilting Wondering Where the Lions Are, and the heart opening Lovers in a Dangerous Time, is preparing to follow up with an all-instrumental album called Crowing Ignites. We spoke with Cockburn about his new album, fellow guitar deity Richard Thompson, and Ronald Reagan.

Q: What was the genesis of Crowing Ignites?

A: My manager Bernie (Finkelstein) and I had come up with an idea to do what was going to be called Speechless 2. Speechless (which came out in 2005) was a compilation of previously recorded songs, with a few new tracks added on. We thought, okay, letís do the same again, but I ended up writing so much that it became its own album. I had a lot of fun with it, and brought in these loosely structured songs with some improvisation, while others are less improvised. In the case of Seven Daggers I just played a charango (an Andean stringed instrument) pattern and then started putting stuff on top of that.

Q: It comes out in September; will you be devoting your fall tour to just instrumentals?

A: Not the whole show. I think people would be unhappy with me if I did that, and I know Iíd be unhappy. There are a few that have made their way into the setlist, though. Thereís a piece that was constructed in the studio with me playing all the parts; the band Iím touring with can play those parts, while I get to do all of the showoff moves.

Q: Because of your propensity for occasionally releasing instrumental albums, as well as your similar interests in mysticism, I tend to put you in the same category as Richard Thompson.

A: Weíve been on the same bill a number of times, and Richard is a great guitar player. We have different skill sets, and Iím definitely an admirer. I guess thatís my way of saying that I donít mind being lumped in with him.

Q: Youíve been living in the States for a decade now, which must be very eye-opening for you.

A: I actually lived in the States the first time in the í60s, during the Vietnam War, and that was similar in some regards. When I first started hanging out there again with my then-girIfriend and now wife it was a very different scene. It was Obamaís America, and it had a very different feel. In spite of what I felt were many flaws in that administration there was a generally positive atmosphere, and a kind of sense of hope in the air. Thatís not so evident right now.

Q: Itís strange how the current government hasnít quite galvanized the music scene in the same way that Johnson and then Nixon did.

A: Well, when someone like Kanye West is a big Trump supporterÖitís definitely weird. People are very polarized, though itís hard to find Trump supporters in San Francisco. It can feel like an echo chamber at times, because of the degree of polarization. You canít really have a conversation with anyone about this stuff unless itís partisan.

Q: Youíve been around long enough to have seen the way the political pendulum swings through the decades. Is it that worrying to you?

A: I think of someone like Ronald Reagan, who had a very public smoothness. I once spoke with (then-Sandinista leader, now Nicaraguan President) Daniel Ortegaís wife Rosario about a trip they took to Washington to meet the Reagans. They were invited to this party where everyone was very hospitable and nice, but at this point Reagan was saying things like he supported the (U.S.-backed right wing rebel) Contras and saying ďI am a Contra.Ē In a diplomatic context he was nice, but from a global perspective he was awful.

Q: You canít really call the current U.S. President a very smooth politician.

A: I think his cosmic function is to create chaos and disorder. Itís one of his two talents; the other is getting attention. I mean, we have to give him that. Here we are talking about him, just as in every conversation I have, even of the most superficial kind, we always end up discussing him. Thatís a skill!

~ from

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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.