"In Toronto, I've made a deliberate effort to immerse myself in human society, a society I've never really felt a part of. And I've found a lot of good stuff. Part of that whole process has involved becoming more concerned about what is happening to the people around me."
-- from "Singing in a Dangerous Time" by Eunice Amarantides, TheOtherSide, January/February 1985. Submitted by Nigel Parry.
[Commenting after the agreement between the Parents Music Resource Center and the recording industry that resulted in a warning sticker on the first American pressing of this song] "I think it's really stupid, and it's tempting to believe that there's a connection [between the political content of recent music and people wanting to censor it] but I haven't seen any real evidence of that effect. The connection may go the other way, too. When you get [a] very uptight metality trying to enforce itself on the rest of the population, people are driven to react."
-- from "Bruce Cockburn - A Voice Singing in the Wilderness" by Steve Perry, Musician magazine, March 1987, transcribed for the Web by Rick Evans. Submitted by Nigel Parry.
"Through a growing familiarity with the Nicaraguan revolution, a recognition of North-South relations began to take shape. Nicaragua, the Philippines, Chile, virtually all of Latin America really, Indonesia, emerging African countries... Wherever you look you find the same financial interests at work. Working to get rich without controls, at the expense of the poor. When the poor complain, out come the troops, and then the arms companies get rich too."
-- from "Rumours of Glory 1980-1990" (songbook), edited by Arthur McGregor, OFC Publications, Ottawa, 1990. Submitted by Rob Caldwell.
3 April 1992
["Call it Democracy" is perhaps the only song ever written about the
International Monetary Fund, which Cockburn accuses of fostering
"insupportable debt" in Third World countries. Typically not pulling any
punches, Cockburn charges that the IMF doesn't "really give a flying fuck
about the people in misery." That earned it a few bleeps on radio and video
channels, but no one seemed to notice the chorus, "IMF, dirty MF." We won't
spell out here what "MF" stands for, but it can easily be imagined.]
"You know who noticed that was the American record company," Cockburn said,
"'cause that came out when the whole Tipper Gore thing was really peaking
[the Parent's Music Resource Center's campaign against x-rated lyrics], and
they were talking about stickering records and everything, and I can't
remember now even who the independent label we were dealing with was [Gold
Mountain], let alone which was its major distributor [MCA]. But that big
label, anyway, was determined that there should be a sticker on that record
or else we had to print the lyrics on the back of the record [jacket], and
they did [print the lyrics], and they highlighted in yellow [the potentially
"It was just such absolute nonsense. I mean we were laughing about it, except
that it was kind of tasteless. But it was such a joke. They got over that. I
guess that people just realized that by doing this they were aggravating the
situation, if anything. But it's just such a load of crap. My mother didn't
like it. She said, "Did you have to use that word?"
-- from "Bruce Cockburn: A Burning Light and All the Rest", by William Ruhlmann, Goldmine, 3 April 1992. Anonymous Submission.
25 March 2000
"That song came from the time of neo-conservatism, when governments supported business at the cost of lives and nobody gave a shit. We have since moved on to neo-liberalism, when governments support business at the cost of lives and nobody gives a shit; and I see we're moving on to neo-feudalism, that's the service economy coming at you. We will all serve. I'm not quite sure who we're serving. There's a sort of mystery there; are we serving Bill Gates? I think not, he's too visible. Somebody else? Maybe you're sitting right here (in the audience). Are you out there? Fuck off, if you are. (positive audience response) And if you're not, well we missed a grand opportunity to level with each other."
-- from a live performance at Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada, 25 March 2000. Submitted by David Macklin.
5 May 2000
[Commenting after a searing version of "Call It Democracy," Cockburn said] "That song is fifteen years old and it shows. The words are outdated. Back in 1985, they needed the notion of 'democracy' to justify what they were doing. Now they don't even use that as an excuse."
-- [paraphrase] from performance at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA. 5 May 2000. Submitted by Peter Ruark.
8 March 2002
"The situation hasn't changed all that much, except for the rhetoric,"
Cockburn said. "Whereas they used to talk in ideological terms, now nobody
bothers with that - greed and control of resources is right out on the table.
That song was an attempt to vent what I understood about the inequity of the
'north-south' economic relationship. That inequality still exists - I thought
of that song a lot when all the protests against globalization were taking
place in Seattle, Genoa and Quebec City."
-- from "Cockburn's musical passion - live in new CD, Anonymity doesn't stop, "Greatest Hits" collection", Denver Post, 8 March 2002, by G.Brown.
27 March 2002
While a noticeable amount of his songwriting has reflected his interest in a variety of social and political causes, the roots of his inspiration as a songwriter are more ubiquitous:
"Well, it's just my life. I just mine my emotional response to something that happens. When I wrote Call it Democracy, I was commenting on what I understood first-hand from encounters with people suffering the devastating effects of the International Monetary Fund's policies. "
"Sometimes I write about emotional reactions I have to things, like in the various love songs or more sexual songs."
-- from "mouth that roared: Bruce Cockburn says he's not an activist but a concerned voice", Edmonton Sun, 27 March 2002, by Fish Griwkowsky.
29 March 2002
[commenting before playing Call It Democracy]
"I had the opportunity, a couple of summers ago, in July, to play at the
Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa. I was tempted to play this song, Chretien
was sitting there and everything!"
-- from the 29 March 2002 show in Calgary, Alberta, Max Bell theatre, Solo performance. Submitted by Ashley Markus.
2 July 2005 -
"These are some songs . . . I'm going to sing some songs that I wrote as
a result of my first few encounters with what we think of as the 'Third World' quite a few years ago now.
Although sometimes the first impressions they don't go deep, they are intense -- and those are the
things that make songs. But I just wanted to make an observation about
a phrase like 'Third World.' We can say 'Third World' and we form a
picture in our mind of whatever that means to us. But what a lot of us
don't include in that picture is that the 'Third World' is made up of
people, of human beings just like us -- in the same boat as us, with
the same kinds of dreams and hopes and wishes for a happy life. Their
dreams may be a little scaled down from some of ours. They may be hoping that
their kids will live to see the age of five. You know, most of us can
assume that's going to happen, but in a lot of the world they don't.
But you know, these are people with human faces, with lives, with
individual talents and characteristics . . ." [plays If I Had A Rocket Launcher and Call It Democracy]
- Transcribed by Glen Philip Hansman from a videotape of the 2 July 2005 Live 8 Concert.
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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.