-- Key to the Highway: Bruce Cockburn --
by Melissa Clarke

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23 September 2020 - Americana Highways’ Key to the Highway series.

Fans always clamor to learn more about their favorite, most beloved musicians and those who travel with them. There’s such an allure to the road, with its serendipity, inevitable surprises, and sometimes unexpected discomforts. This interview series is a set of questions we are asking some of our favorite roots rock Americana artists to get to know more about them and what they’ve learned and experienced on the road. We are sure they have key insights to share and stories to tell. Here’s one from Bruce Cockburn:

Americana Highways: How do you like your coffee or other morning wake-up beverage?

Bruce Cockburn: Strong and black

AH: What’s the most interesting or strangest motel/hotel or place you have stayed (while on the road?)

BC: Hotels…hmmm… Was it the fleabag in Skopje where the bed springs sagged to the floor? Or the “hotel” attached to a club outside of Manchester with torn curtains and a crust of forty years of rock band habitation? Or the guest house in Nepal where the cow tried to come in and get warm and the guy who was out of his mind with altitude sickness tried to convince the innkeeper’s twelve-year-old daughter to go outside with him and help him take a leak? Maybe the New York joint with the beautiful Art Deco lobby and the rundown room where the roaches and I were compelled to listen to the neighbour’s TV blasting a sports event. When I knocked on their door the sound was abruptly cut off. The guy who opened up was very tall and dark haired, wearing a tense expression and a shoulder holster. Past him I could see two other large fellows, similarly equipped, and on the couch a small older man. I pointed out that the game was pretty loud in my room and would they mind terribly turning it down. “Oh. Sure. Sorry!” he said, and as the door swung shut I could hear “It’s ok. It’s just the guy next door saying the TV is too loud.” After that the game came on again, softer, and I could make out their conversation through the paper thin wall; three plainclothes cops guarding what appeared to be a mob witness.

AH: If one CD is stuck in the player in the van for the entire tour, what do you hope it is? And why?

BC: Tough question. The duration of the tour might be a factor. Something soothing on the ears and the brain — Arvo Part maybe, or Pablo Casals’ rendering of the Bach cello suites. Or maybe Bo Diddley…

AH: What’s one personal item you must have with you on your road trip?

BC: A good knife

AH: What is your relationship with food? How do you handle this on the road, and what’s your favorite dish on the road, (or restaurant, and what do you order there)?

BC: Unless you’re in Italy, where it’s almost impossible to get a bad meal, food on tour is pretty much catch as catch can. There’s a lot of late night pizza and questionable Chinese. That said, once in a while there’s a great meal. That has happened in Edmonton, Venice, New York, Toronto, Grants Pass OR, somebody’s kitchen in Winnipeg…

AH: If you could pause your life for a few weeks and spend some time living in a place you only have passed through, which would you choose, and why?

BC: I’ve passed through a lot of places. None of them felt like home. Many of them have seemed to invite further exploration though. I’m generally drawn to the high and dry — the Rockies, the Four Corners region of the southwestern US. That said, there are some pretty great coastlines in the world — western Newfoundland, islands like Martinique, Maui, the wild coast of Cornwall. To the high and dry, add windswept. What really makes or breaks a place though are the people in it.

AH: What quote or piece of advice have you gotten from someone on the road that has really stuck with you?

BC: Live fast — die young! Oops! Blew that.

~from Key to the Highway - Bruce Cockburn.

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.