17 October 2018 - Pacing the Cage, a documentary film about the career of Ottawa-born singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn begins with a rather cryptic segment featuring U2 singer Bono talking about the power of Cockburn’s lyrics. Bono quotes the Cockburn tune, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” but it’s unclear exactly what he likes about the track.
“I had nothing to do with that,” says Cockburn in a recent phone interview when asked about the clip. Cockburn performs at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at Music Box Supper Club. “I can’t remember the occasion. It was a Juno Awards ceremony a while back or maybe the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. They solicited comments from various people like Jackson Browne and Bono and others. I think that’s what Bono did for that. I have no idea what he meant by [what he said], but he was kind enough to provide something, so there it is."
With its reference to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico, "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" generated a bit of controversy when it originally came out in 1984, but Cockburn, who says he discussed it at length when he performed it back in the day, maintains it wasn’t intended to incite violence.
“I thought about changing the lyrics, but I didn’t want to engage in any self-censorship,” he says. “I didn’t think it would end up on radio stations. When [manager] Bernie [Finkelstein] told me they would send it out to radio, I said that I thought it was stupid, and no one would play it, but they did. I hope people understood that they see it as an expression of frustration. I was worried about the reaction. I certainly wasn’t saying that we should shoot Guatemalan soldiers. I think more people understand it as personal rage or frustration than the people who knew it was specific and about Guatemala.”
Cockburn continues to nurture the political side of his music with his latest effort, Bone On Bone. The album commences with “States I’m In,” a tune that features Cockburn’s gruff voice and metaphors like “reality distorted like a sat-on hat.”
The material ranges from bluesy rockers like “Stab at Matter” to gentle ballads such as “40 Years in the Wilderness." There’s a Tom Waits-like quality to “3 Al Purdy’s,” a song that features spoken word, and songs such as "Cafe Society" and "Jesus Train" have a Dylan-esque quality to them. The album represents another solid effort from a guy whose music speaks to our troubled times.
Cockburn, who says President Trump is “completely worthless as a human being,” admits his feelings about the current political climate seep into some of the songs.
“‘False River’ is related to oil spills is related to the pipeline stuff that’s been going on,” he says. “The album is really more spiritually oriented, but you have to pay attention to these things that will have a profound effect on the world.”
The live show will find Cockburn performing solo, something he’s done throughout the course of his lengthy career.
“I always felt like it was an advantage to do solo shows,” he says. “There’s greater mobility when you’re by yourself and an ability to take things that come up on the fly. The logistics are simpler. The big difference is with the audience. I like having the band because there’s extra energy, and I can make a mistake – chances are people were paying attention to the drummer at that point. When I play solo, it’s a harsher reality but at the same time, focus is on the song and it’s front and center and I like that and the sense of one-one contact that comes with a solo show.”