2 February 2014 - WATERLOO — When Conrad Grebel University College decided to present a concert in celebration of its 50th anniversary, the alumni committee searched for an artist who reflected the Christian liberal arts college's teaching philosophy.
They found the perfect representative in Bruce Cockburn.
Cockburn returns to the familiar digs of the Humanities Theatre to perform a solo concert Feb. 13. A small number of tickets remain unsold.
Fred Martin, the college's director of development, said acknowledged that the renowned Canadian singer/songwriter was "at the top of the list."
"His music has always been popular with students and alumni, and his humanitarian work and voice for social justice … have always struck a chord."
As it turns out, the chord resonates both ways.
In an interview from behind the wheel of a car travelling somewhere in California, Cockburn confirms he has always enjoyed performing in front of students.
"The energy and sense of imagination are palpable," Cockburn acknowledges, adding he doesn't design repertoire specifically for college or university audiences.
Cockburn maintains a number of associations with institutions of higher learning.
McMaster University conferred an honorary doctorate on Cockburn to add to his Order of Canada, multiple Junos and numerous awards and accolades. The 68-year-old artist donated his archives to the university.
With a career extending back to the mid-1960s, frequent world travels (both music and humanitarian tours), and more than 30 albums to his credit, there isn't much Cockburn hasn't done professionally.
Still, after nearly 50 years in the public eye, new insights into the man and his music continue to emerge.
In a recent DVD, Bruce Cockburn: Pacing the Cage, the singer/songwriter reflects on his life and career as a film crew follows him around while on tour.
The behind-the-scenes, up-close-and-personal documentary features appearances by Bono, longtime collaborator Colin Linden, longtime manager Bernie Finkelstein, author Michael Ondaatje and retired Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, among others.
Initially, Cockburn thought the idea was "horrible," but concedes the project "turned out pretty well."
Describing it as "a sweet, little film," he suggests "it is less colourful than it might have been" had it "been grittier."
He has a chance to provide a grittier picture of himself this fall when Harper Collins releases his memoir which, incidentally, is also called Pacing the Cage (originally a line from his song of the same title). [The memoir is now titled Rumours Of Glory, from a song of the same name.]
"It wasn't my first choice for a title, but people seem to like it," he admits. "I didn't want people getting confused. The book is quite different from the film."
Written with the assistance of a co-writer, the 500-page memoir ends in 2005.
"I didn't have any trouble writing the early stuff, but I needed perspective on the adult stuff, since a lot of people I write about are still alive."
He solicited the help of a longtime, American journalist friend [Greg King] to "help (me) make sense of things" and "provide a structure."
Because the memoir ends prematurely, room is left for a sequel, but Cockburn says he is "in no rush" to tackle a companion volume.
"This has been difficult enough," he asserts with a laugh.
Cockburn has been approached many times by authors who wanted to write biographies, but he always rejected the idea.
"I thought I hadn't lived long enough to develop an overview of my life."
When the proper time arrived, he decided "it was appropriate for me to tell my own story."
When Pacing the Cage hits the bookstores, one of Canada's greatest singer/songwriters will continue to be a creative pilgrim in progress.
Bruce Cockburn in Concert
U. of W. Humanities Theatre
8 p.m. Thursday (Feb 13)
Tickets available at the Humanities Theatre box office at 519-888-4908. Only a few balcony seats remain at $42.90.
~from The Record.com, by Robert Reid rreid@therecord