25 October 1999 -- Last week, on 21 October 1999, Bruce Cockburn received the 1999 Tenco Award in Sanremo, Italy. A friend of the Project, Karim Zinati, was there:
"The show was in the Ariston theatre", reported Zinati, "famous in Italy because it is where the Festival of Italian Music has taken place since 1950. This is a very popular festival and one of the most important events of the year for bad Italian pop music. It is a competition. Each year a jury (always criticized) awards a prize for the best Italian song. It was during this festival that the Italian folk singer Tenco [Editor: who the award is named after] shot himself (in '66, I think), apparently out of stress."
"Tenco was a very serious songwriter and out of place in this [pop] competition. After some years, some of his friends created the Club Tenco, a festival for helping out the younger songwriters and for supporting the music of those artists that are on the fringes of show business."
A 12 October press release from Cockburn's management, True North, stated that "the prestigious award is presented in recognition of Bruce's international career and his contribution to the art of songwriting. Past winners include Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, and Jacques Brel."
Translated from the original Italian, the citation that accompanies the award states:
"For the passionate coherence with which he has travelled through three decades of songwriting, always updating the fabric of the noble Canadian folk rock school; a beautiful example of bilingual culture, testifying to the ideal harmony and meeting of cultures that has always been in the best part of his country's history."
Cockburn received the award during a nationally televised program from Sanremo and was set to perform four songs during the program. In the end, he played five. Zinati reports:
"It was a fantastic show. I arrived during the soundcheck. Apparently Bruce wasn't happy with the sound. There was a little feedback from his guitar but after some work from the technicians it all turned out okay."
"After some Italian artists, Bruce came out for the award, presented by a very famous and influential music critic, who declared Bruce as one of the greatest unknowns. 'I think that Breakfast in New Orleans will mark the start of a new career for Bruce', he said. Bruce grinned and thanked everybody, before starting to play Creation Dream. It was wonderful! The new Manzer sounded very good, and the solo was incredible."
"Then Bruce played When You Give It Away, saying that this was 'from the New Orleans part of the new album'. Strange choice, I thought, a spoken song for an Italian crowd. But it was good and people enjoyed the rhythm."
"Then Bruce played Lovers In A Dangerous Time. There was a boy sitting next to me who was amazed at Bruce's guitar playing. This is a very fine version of the song, with strong vocals and guitar."
"Then Last Night Of The World which had an EADF#BE open tuning. The crowd really enjoyed it. It was incredible to hear this song live. I really like it. Then it was over. The announcer read the text that came with the award and thanked Bruce, but the crowd called him back."
"Bruce was very pleased and thanked everybody, in Italian and in English. He picked up the Manzer, saying 'Here's another song from the new album" but then played Night Train. It was very fast with very long intro. The crowd was silent, listening to every note. He ended the song with an humming voice part that touched everybody."
"I think that he made a powerful impression on everybody. Bruce Cockburn is not an unknown here, but most of the people just remember him as one of the '70s folkies. Maybe this show will help them change their minds."
Cockburn is currently in Europe promoting his new album Breakfast In New Orleans, Dinner In Timbuktu. The award ceremony occurred during his European tour which began on 13 October, in Paris, and ends on 15 November, in Pescara, Italy.