-- Cry Of A Tiny Babe --
1 March 1990. Toronto, Canada.

Found on:

Nothing But A Burning Light (1991)

Rumours of Glory - box set Disc 5 (2014) [compilation album]

Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph get upset because he doesn't understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says "God did this and you're part of his scheme"
Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says "forgive me I thought you'd been with some other man"
She says "what if I had been - but I wasn't anyway and guess what
I felt the baby kick today"

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

The child is born in the fullness of time
Three wise astrologers take note of the signs
Come to pay their respects to the fragile little king
Get pretty close to wrecking everything
'Cause the governing body of the whole [Holy] land
Is that of Herod, a paranoid man
Who when he hears there's a baby born King of the Jews
Sends death squads to kill all male children under two
But that same bright angel warns the parents in a dream
And they head out for the border and get away clean

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn't to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you've got [you have] ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It's a Christmas gift [that] you don't have to buy
There's a future shining in a baby's eyes

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

Bruce Cockburn - Electric Guitar and Vocals
Michael Been - Bass
Edgar Meyer - Acoustic Bass
Booker T. Jones - Organ
Jim Keltner - Drums
Sam Phillips - Backing Vocals

Note: Words in [ ] were sent to the Project as corrections to this song, from a listener via iTunes in December 2004.

Known comments by Bruce Cockburn about this song, by date:

  • June/July 1992

    "Cause the governing body of the holy land is that of Herod, a paranoid man, when he hears there was born a baby King of the Jews, sends death squads to kill all male children under two.' I wanted to put it into terms people can relate to now, because the story itself is so familiar, that its been reduced to traditional images that really work against our understanding of it as a human story. A story that happens to people. You know Joseph's got a saint in front of his name and Mary's got a halo. Those images are so entrenched in people's minds. The fun part of writing a song about it was to crack those images and try to see through to the lives of the people who were directly affected by those events."
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn an Update" by Lahri Bond in the June/July 1992 Dirty Linen (#40). Anonymous submission.

  • 1994

    "I wanted to write a Christmas song. I went at it like trying to tell the Bible story but put it in modern terms. Like the Goddard movie "Joseph and Mary". I thought the story in the Bible is such an interesting story, but you forget how interesting it is because it's held up as a cliche so much to us. And over the years people have lost their humanity, who are in the story, and they've become larger-than-life figures. And I just thought it would be interesting to play at putting them in a human context. So Mary becomes a little bit shrewish and has a little bit of an attitude. The classic Mary figure, the Madonna - the original Madonna - is a far cry from any young Jewish mother I've ever run across [Laughs]. So I wanted to get it into something that people could relate to."
    -- from "Closer to the Light with Bruce Cockburn" by Paul Zollo, SongTalk, vol.4, issue 2, 1994. Submitted by Rob Caldwell.

  • year unknown

    [According to Cockburn the project became less of a 'job' and more of a united experience.]

    "at one point, during the song "Cry of A Tiny Babe" (about the birth of Christ) Jim Keltner broke down in tears. Well, he didn't breakdown-he kept playing but he was fighting it off throughout the song because he was so moved by what was going on," tells Cockburn. "Most songs were recorded in one take which is indicative of a certain focus."

    [Possibly the most inspiring song, for Christians, is 'Cry Of A Tiny Babe' a re-telling of the Christmas story. As Cockburn explains, he wanted to look at the event as though it actually happened, because quite frankly-it did.]

    "We've tended to lose sight of the reality of that story, of the immediacy of that story because it's so tied up in historical baggage. Mary is always the Madonna with a blue vale and everything. But in the story Mary is a woman who finds herself pregnant and can't explain it to anyone, especially Joseph who's kind enough not to want to see her executed but is sort of trying to extricate himself from the situation. You figure what must have been going through their heads at that time, I wanted to do a song that would address that fact-the humanity of the people involved" finishes Cockburn.
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn: The Soul of a Man", by Michael Case, Umbrella magazine, year unknown. Anonymous submission.

  • November 1999

    Steve Lawson: Was that a chance [Christmas] to re-indulge your love of folk music?

    BC: Well, in a way.. circumstantially I guess... The Christmas album was something I'd wanted to do for 20 years because I'd loved that music and thought I could do something with it, but it took that long to get somebody to pay for it. We were doing these radio shows out of New York, we did 5 in the end, which became the Columbia Records Radio Hour, which became a monthly show that they did, I ended up doing all the Christmas ones.

    Steve Lawson: And you duetted with Lou Reed on Cry Of A Tiny Babe????

    BC: I know, it amazes me too - you should have been there when it happened. We'd rehearsed it but he was reading the lyrics off. There we were playing the song, and it came time for his verse and that's what he did, and I just started laughing as you can probably hear on the ensuing chorus.
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn Interview", Guitarist Magazine, November, 1999, by Steve Lawson.

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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.