-- Let The Bad Air Out --
circa November 1991*

Found on:

Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu (1999)

Judge said to the hooker, "Can you come out to play?
I've been condemning people all day long, that's how I get paid
My dreams are full of criminals frolicking about
Open up the window, let the bad air out!"

Strangled by confusion, my mind is in decay
Can't picture tomorrow, can't remember yesterday
Send out for the Black & Decker and the psychiatric couch
Open up the window, let the bad air out

Traitors in high places take my money, tell me lies
Take a walk past Parliament, it smells like something died
They ask for trust, but somehow I've got serious doubts
Open up the window, let the bad air out

Too much monkey business, like Mr. Berry said
Drugs and oil and money, don't mean nothing when you're dead
At the risk of being subversive, nothing left to do but shout
"Open up the window, let the bad air out!"

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

  • Editor's note: *Before its release on the "Breakfast" album, this song was played for several years at live concerts by Bruce Cockburn, but with a different musical style to that in its release format. As such it was previously available and listed on this website as an "unreleased song". One report notes that the song was performed at Massey Hall as early as November 1991. Cockburn reported at the time that the song was intended to be on Nothing But A Burning Light and an earlier version was possible recorded during the Nothing But A Burning Light sessions. Thanks to Graeme Burk for this note.

  • August 1999

    "This was an older set of lyrics from four or five years ago which I had different music that never quite worked. I found music that I liked which fit the context of the new album. As I was writing it, the wordless part of the melody seemed to cry out for the addition of a horn section of trombone and harmonica, and that became the sound wherever horns were appropriate. At the time I wrote the lyrics I was thinking of the political scene in Canada, but it has a pretty universal application."
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn, Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu", Ryko press release, undated, circa August 1999. Submitted by Nigel Parry.

  • 2 November 1999

    Bruce said that he had encountered an old turn-of-the-century jazz tune called "Blues for Bobby Beldon" which included the line "I thought I heard Bobby shout: 'Open up the window, let the bad air out!'". Bruce explained that the air in this quote would be whorehouse air, since it was in these places where jazz was born; and, commenting on the political content of his song, he said he had thought the time was ripe for another song of this kind, because American politics have more and more come to resemble the actions going on in a whorehouse.

    [Editor's note: We received a correction to this comment from Dutch Uithoven. Thanks!
    " It's Buddy Bolden's Blues not "Blues for Bobby Beldon"! And He shouted 'Open up the window, let the bad air out!' in "Funky Butt" Hall NOT a whoreouse. The Funky Butt (I forget the real name) was a dance hall where a lot of the lower classes danced. Their hygiene was somewhat suspect and hence the air could get rank."]
    -- from comments made during the intro to the song at a gig at the Alter Wartesaal, Köln (Cologne), Germany, on 2 November 1999. Submitted by Frank Lay.

  • December 1999

    KBCO: We love to have you here. Can you play another song for us?

    BC: I'd be happy to. Coincidentally, this is also from the new album. [laughs] It has a kind of New Orleans connection although it's a bit of a tenuous one. I've got to change tuning for this, but only a little. Back in the early days of Jazz which was of course born in the New Orleans area, among the legendary practitioners of the music of the time were Jelly Roll Morton and Buddy Bolden. Jelly Roll actually wrote a song back then called 'Buddy Bolden's Blues'. And in 'Buddy Bolden's Blues', he says, 'I thought I heard Buddy Bolden shout, ''open up that window, let the bad air out!'' and what they're talking about was the literally funky air of the whore houses in which they were obliged to play that music. And it struck me at one point that perhaps there was a need for that sentiment to be expressed again because of what one might call the 'brothelization' of north American politics - not just in your country. So I took some liberties with Jelly Roll's Idea, and applied it to some other things as well.
    -- from an interview on KBCO, December 1999. Submitted by Suzanne Capobianco.

  • 14 May 2000

    [...partly based on how the free-trade agreement has adversely affected Canada.]

    -- from "Bruce Cockburn: Canadian will bring his band to Whitaker Center," by Kira L Schlechter, The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, PA, May 14, 2000. Submitted by John Peregrim.

  • 16 October 2000

    "...I'm thinking about North American politics, and particularily with reference to [Bill] Clinton and whatever."

    Asked if he'd been referring to Monica Lewinsky

    "It's not just that. It's the sale of Canada to multi-national interests passed off as free trade. There's a lot of whoring going on, and it's not just the overt."
    -- from "The Good Fight, Politics, religion and music are a fine mix for Bruce Cockburn", Vancouver Sun, February 10-17, 2000. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.

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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.