-- The Charity Of Night --
29 October 1994. Schenectady, NY.

Found on:

The Charity Of Night (1996)

Rumours of Glory - box set Disc 1 (2014) [compilation album]

Big city Europa - July of 64 - It's 5AM
Weather blowing bitter off the Baltic.

Car slows beside him as he walks
Hubcaps slow revolution
Jaundiced-looking pockmarked face, round in window
Short greasy black beard

Couple of language stabs, settle on English
"It's cold - I give you ride.
Don't you want to kiss me?"

This goes on halfway across the cobbled bridge
Driver pulls ahead - gets out by the construction fence
Ambles towards him rubbing the bulge in his pants

In his jacket is the revolver
The hand is already in the pocket for warmth and fingers slide easily around wood grips

Slow as that predator's footsteps the gun comes out
Arm straightens, sight blade bisecting yellow forehead
Wind - blue metal streetlight - Faint twilight shining on the corners of stones.

Wave on wave of life
Like the great wide ocean's roll
Haunting hands of memory
Pluck silver strands of soul
The damage and the dying done
The clarity of light
Gentle bows and glasses raised
To the charity of night

Slow revolution - 1985 - crosswise in a hammock in the hot volcanic hills
Its 3AM the night after the air raid
From the ridge she watched A37s, like ugly gulls,
Make a dozen swooping passes over some luckless town
Maybe ten kliks beyond the border
In the distance the Pacific glimmered silver

Now lascivious laughter floats on the darkness from the police post next door-
Male voices - and a woman's -
Little clouds of desire painted around the edges with rum
In the muddy street a pig suddenly screams

Wave on wave of life
Like the great wide ocean's roll
Haunting hands of memory
Pluck silver strands of soul
The damage and the dying done
The clarity of light
Gentle bows and glasses raised
To the charity of night

Pacific glimmers silver
Moon full over shadow mansion
West coast - Can't say when
There is incense and the heat-driven scent of flowers

Tongue slides over soft skin
Love pounds in veins brains buzzing balls of lust
Fingers twine in wet hair
Limbs twist and roll

On the dresser wax drips in slow motion down the long side of
A black candle
Ecstatic halo of flame and pheromone-

Wave on wave of life
Like the great wide ocean's roll
Haunting hands of memory
Pluck silver strands of soul
The damage and the dying done
The clarity of light
Gentle bows and glasses raised
To the charity of night

Bruce Cockburn: Acoustic Guitar and Vocals
Rob Wasserman: Bass
Gary Burton: Vibes
Colin Linden: Mandolin
Joe Macerollo: Accordion

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

  • January 1997

    " ['The Charity of Night' is] the title to one of the songs. It seem a suitable title for the album as a whole because the songs are... almost everything that happens in the songs, happens at night. Which is not so unusual for me, I suppose, but it's kind of concentrated in this record. And the song itself... is really about reconciliation with the things that happen to you. Both the good and the bad things, and being able to remember it all and somehow live with it."

    [Song is played then Jeff Clarke comments: "That was the extended version? It's a treat."]

    "That's the only version there is. Some of the songs are a little long for radio, but I would say, yes, it is a departure in some ways. I've had jazzy elements in my albums before. But this is perhaps more overt...and it involves me in the jazz more than the previous albums that have had that content in them. Usually it's been a case of other people coming in and adding that flavor to things. In this case, I get to do some playing myself that is kind of leaning in that direction. I wouldn't call it a jazz album, and I don't think any of the players on it would think of it that way. But, it certainly has some of that feel and the space in it that that music can create. It has some jazz players..."

    - from a Kink FM 102 Interview with Jeff Clarke, January 1997. Anonymous submission.

  • January 1997

    "A song about memories, loneliness, the intimacy of a couple, on the business of life. Then, because the album is devoted to the night, it seemed natural to give the album that title.... Also, it is another long song. It would have been very difficult to compress the song. Time is integral to my stories, and I like to leave space for them, to tell about the place, the memories. It also helps me touch the soul that resides inside us all. Writing songs is hard work, but I try to do it with conscience. I don't ever abandon this approach. I always go for the soul. In 'The Charity of Night', the first verse occurs in 1964, the second verse in 1985, the third the present."

    - from "Bruce Cockburn -- Night Visions" by Paolo Caru, Buscadero, No. 176, January 1997. Submitted by Nigel Parry.

  • 18 January 1997

    Scott Simon: In a song like "The Charity Of Night", a series of these vignettes, are there actual stories behind all of that, or are they sensations?

    BC: Well, I don't make anything up, let's put it that way. Occasionally, there'll be... when something like levity shows up, it's liable to be imaginary. But most of what I write in these songs is a distillation of reality as I've experienced it.

    Scott Simon: Well then, when you begin "The Charity Of Night" by saying 'Big city Europa, July of '64, it's 5am, weather blowing in bitter off the Baltic'... am I to guess this is Copenhagen?

    BC: You're close. You're really close. It was a Scandinavian city.

    Scott Simon: You just won't tell us which one, will you?

    BC: No. It doesn't matter which one. Really. I think if it mattered, I would say it in the song, and I could have, but it just felt...part of the whole art of it is an air of mystery, and certainly that was an important part of this album, just from the amount of darkness in it. And I don't mean darkness in a moral sense, let's say, but physical darkness. Things are lit in these songs the way you see things lit at night, you know, with the street light glinting off of things. Very little of the album happens in broad daylight.

    - from "Weekend Edition", interviewed by Scott Simon, 18 January 1997, National Public Radio. Anonymous Submission.

  • 3-10 April 1997

    The title song, with its spoken verse and sung chorus, connects suggestive vignettes spaced over 20 years with a hymnlike chorus that talks about reconciling yourself to troubling memories. The opening scene describes a young man picked up on the road by a smarmy old guy who tries to come onto him. The kid gets away with the aid of a revolver he's got in his pocket. Cockburn doesn't want to say more about the incident, "because I don't want anyone to get arrested." The joke is an evasion, of course; he adds, "I'm sorry not to be more specific, but I just think it's better if people put their own story on things."

    -from "Shape shifter: Bruce Cockburn stays true to his muse", by Banning Eyre, Boston Phoenix, 3-10 April 1997. Anonymous Submission.

  • 4 April 1998

    "Anyway, The Charity of Night is a peculiar song, I think. For a long time I didn't understand it... these images were there, these, these memories that wanted to be shared... I put the second verse in the second person... because I wanted to try to make a little story out of it and connect these things in that particular way. When I was writing the verses... these things wanted, these pictures needed to be exposed and so I got the verses and I had the verses for some time before the chorus came and there was another music altogether that had nothing to do with this, that was an attempt to carry those verses, but it never quite worked.
    It never, it just didn't have the glue that, to put it together and at one point the chorus did come, to mind and the phrase 'The Charity of Night'. And when the phrase came, when that phrase came into my head, this little light went on... I don't remember now where it came from. I don't have the notebook that had the original, um, scribblings for that one, with me, and um, so I don't know, but uh, once that came it was like: Okay, now we have a way to tie these things together because, because-
    What's the point of exposing these memories? Well, it's a way to help carry the baggage, you know. I mean from a selfish point of view, it's a way to get it off my chest and put it out there, hand it to someone else. And, from an unselfish point of view it's, it's it offers anybody who's got baggage of their own to carry - and we all do - a way of saying: Okay, I'm not the only one who has to carry this stuff. And that to me is what the whole 'charity' thing - that's what I mean by the 'charity of night' in a way.
    The night, night in the sense of the peace of it, that's... even though all of these things happened, these, these, well in two cases at least, sort of ugly things happen at night. Night's also a time of reflection, it's a time of mystery, it's a time when darkness around you allows your imagination to operate in ways that it doesn't when you can actually see what's out there. And I guess I've always been fascinated with night for those reasons and -- the way, actually, just struck me... didn't just strike me for the first time but it occurs to me now as I'm saying this stuff -- that there's a song. The Rankin Family recorded a song, called oh, We Rise Again, if I'm not mistaken? Is that the song? And it's a beautiful song. I don't know their material very well. I don't know their albums, so I don't know what all they do. They had a couple of hits and this was one of them. That was in my mind: "The wave on wave of life" thing, that line, "like the great wide ocean's roll" owes something to the Rankin Family record.
    'The haunting hands of memory pluck silver strands of soul' is about carrying that baggage. It's about, it's these memories, just keep plucking at you, you know, playing notes. I mean, they're playing, they can play, aggressive savage notes or they can play beautiful notes. That chorus came like a package and I just really liked the picture it painted for me, and it seemed to have this redemptive quality that worked in some peculiar way.
    And this, you can hear me, I don't have a very rational way of explaining 'The Charity of Night' at all, other than in the general terms of it being about carrying baggage. But it's kind of a visceral thing and it's unlike a lot of what I've written and I'm hoping it's kind of the, going somewhere, that way. I'm hoping that, that it indicates that I've gotten to some other level with the songwriting, you know?
    [Inaudible question] BC: Interesting, you should say that... [more comment, inaudible] BC: The comment was that this song is reminiscent of, of or is, he's relating it to The English Patient, presumably the novel more than the movie. Yeah, there's a, well, in some ways I'm the English Patient! But - um - the [laughs] I won't go into that, but there's a definite relation. Patti Larkin remarked on that too. In fact she sent me a copy of the book after she heard the album cause she thought that, thought of that relationship.

    - from "Songwriting (part 2)" workshop, Conference '98 Festival of Faith and Writing, Lab Theatre, Calvin College. 4 April 1998. Anonymous submission.

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