-- False River --
San Francisco - 24 August 2016

Found on:

Bone On Bone (2017)

on the coastline
where the trees shine
in the unexpected rain
there's the carcass
of a tanker
in the centre of a stain
and the waves of
dead sea things
slide slick on to the stones
and the flux
thicker than water
from the planet's pierced bones

in a jeweler's
armoured window
you can just cast your eyes on
a diamond-crusted
in the shape of Bart Simpson
through mirrored
cops in armour
and the drift of gas clouds
drones the
size of horseflies
scrutinizing the crowds
and the horsemen
on a high ridge
they wheel and they ride
their work all
done for them
by the turgid black tide

false river, dark flow
how far do we have to go?
torrent tumbles to the sea
this ain't the way it's supposed to be
false river

life blood
of the land
consort of our earth
pulse to the
pull of moonrise
can you tally what it's worth?
we can spend it
till we end it
while the heat climbs up the graph
till we're panting
like a salmon
with its gill hooked on a gaff
and the dark blood
keeps flowing
like a hemorrhage from the womb
that birthed us
gave us substance
on our own heads be our doom

false river, dark flow
how far do we have to go?
torrent tumbles to the sea
this ain't the way it's supposed to be
false river

Bruce Cockburn - Guitar, Harmonica and Vocal
Roberto Occhipinti - Upright Bass
Gary Craig - Drums & Percussion
John Aaron Cockburn - Accordian
Colin Linden - Electric Guitar
Brandon Robert Young & The San Francisco Lighthouse Chorus - Vocals

  • From the Bone On Bone press release:

    The environmental warning "False River” came about at the invitation of Yvonne Bloomer, the poet laureate of Victoria, British Columbia. Bloomer was seeking a poem about the controversial Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline. "Pipelines have their own perils that we’re all aware of,” says Cockburn, "so I started writing what was meant to be a spoken-word piece with a rhythm to it. But it evolved very quickly into a song.”

    Editors Note:

    This song is included in the book Refugium Poems for the Pacific which was compiled by Yvonne Bloomer.

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

  • 14 February 2018 - (from 'Bruce Cockburn on politics, poetry, and pop radio’s least likely hit By Bill Forman' Colorado Springs Independent

    Indy: Were there specific circumstances that inspired you to write the song "False River"?

    Bruce: There were, but they're not what the song describes. It's a composite of images having to do with that kind of stuff, but the trigger for the song was a request from a woman named Yvonne Blomer. She's the poet laureate of Victoria, British Colombia, and she put a book together of environmental-related poetry as part of the movement specifically against the pipeline that they want to put right close to Vancouver there, across the Rockies. There's another one further north that's also very contentious and probably will, sooner or later, go through. I mean, eventually they usually win. But there's a lot of opposition to put both of these in. So she asked if I would contribute a poem. And I don't really write poems, but I thought, well, maybe I can do this?

    Indy: All you have to do is leave out the music and that makes it a poem.

    Bruce:Well, that sometimes is true, and I think in that case, it was. Most of the times if I were writing for the page, it would look a little different, because you do a lot of things for rhythmic reasons you wouldn't necessarily do for the visual on a page. But, in my mind, when I was writing that song, I had a kind of hip-hop rhythm, which informed the pacing of the lyrics. So it was written as a poem for that collection, but it was obvious to me, even before I finished it, that I was probably going to try to make a song out of it. And so I did so.

  • Help out! To add material to this section, see this page first.

    Song Index | Alphabetical Song Index | Chronological Song 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.