-- Isn't That What Friends Are For? --
released 1999

Found on:

Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu (1999)

Heavy northern autumn sky
Mist-hung forest -- Dark spruce, bright maple --
And the great lake rolling forever to the narrow gray beach

I look west along the red road of the frail sun
Where it hovers between shelf of cloud and spiky trees,
Receding shore;

The world is full of seasons; of anguish, of laughter
And it comes to mind to write you this:

Nothing is sure
Nothing is pure
And no matter who we think we are
Everyone gets his chance to be nothing

Love's supposed to heal, but it breaks my heart to feel
The pain in your voice --
But you know, it's all going somewhere
And I would crush my heart and throw it in the street
If I could pay for your choice

Isn't that what friends are for?
Isn't that what friends are for?

We're the insect life of paradise:
Crawl across leaf or among towering blades of grass
Glimpse only sometimes the amazing breadth of heaven

You're as loved as you were
Before the strangeness swept through
Our bodies, our houses, our streets --
When we could speak without codes
And light swirled around like
Wind-blown petals,
Our feet

I've been scraping little shavings off my ration of light
And I've formed it into a ball, and each time I pack a bit more onto it
I make a bowl of my hands and I scoop it from its secret cache
Under a loose board in the floor
And I blow across it and I send it to you
Against those moments when
The darkness blows under your door

Isn't that what friends are for?
Isn't that what friends are for?
Isn't that what friends are for?

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

  • 24 August 1999 - "The 'you' in that song is my friend Jonatha Brooke who's formally of a group called The Story... Jonatha and I had been going through similar things at a distance from each other (a couple years ago now), sort of upheavals in our respective lives and comparing notes over the phone for a while and we finally actually got a chance, after many months [to meet]. One of the wierd things about being a touring musician is that you make friends with other people who do what you do but you only see them, you know, when you sort of flash past each other waving on the bus, or you know, at the occasional festival once in a while you get lucky enough that you actually end up in the same place at the same time with time to spend. Eventually you know, this happened, with me and Jonatha. While I was waiting for her to show up at the designated rendezvous point, I ended up writing that song based on our phone conversations and a few other bits and pieces from my notebook." - from an interview/live performance with Laura Ellen, "Live in the Sty" programme, KPIG radio station, Freedom, California, 24 August 1999. Anonymous submission.

  • 11 July 2019 - I recall sitting on the shore of Lake Nipissing watching the waves roll in. The imagery of North Bay helped shape that song, he recalls. - from

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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.