Gavin's Woodpile- The Bruce Cockburn Newsletter Online
2004-2012 media are in the ARCHIVES section
November 13, 2013
Reviewed by Richard Hoare
Bruce came on in fine humour saying “It was good to be back in the home of the language,” and pointing at the two six and twelve string Linda Manzer guitars on the stage, proffered that “He was going to play from his vast array of instruments”.
Cockburn kicked off with the welcome return of Grim Travellers, substituting “Islamist Underground” in place of “Red Army Underground” and “The Prophet” for “Karl Marx”. Our man settled in with The Iris of The World and When You give It Away before blowing us all away with the dextrous and rhythmic guitar work of the instrumental Bohemian Three Step. Strange Waters was played in the hypnotic arrangement created for the 2011 trio tour of North America and After The Rain glistened and sparkled.
Bruce graced us with another guitar instrumental, The End of All Rivers, played with delays, harmonics and beautiful sedate runs and closed the first set with “A song that seems just as relevant today” and an old favourite, Lovers In A Dangerous Time.
The second set eased back in with the claustrophobic Pacing The Cage before the invitation to sing on Wondering Where The Lions Are. Cockburn took the pace up a gear for a wonderfully strident Stolen Land, another vehicle for some inspiring guitar work and continued with a brilliant loping gait for Five Fifty-One. Call It Democracy kept up the fire and pace which then cooled down for the meditative God Bless The Children, written in 1972. Cockburn ended the set with an explosive rendition of Put It In Your Heart.
For encores Bruce came back and played a beautiful All The Diamonds with the capo high on the guitar neck, followed by a raucous and physical Tie Me At The Crossroads with Bruce jumping around slashing chords from his guitar. He left the stage again but we wouldn’t let him go and he came back for a luminous and lilting Look How Far to finish.
When I asked my wife, Mary, and 24 year old son, David, whether they wanted tickets for this show back in March this year they said “Why not?” As the date drew nearer and the logistics of getting to the venue after day jobs started to bite, Mary and David were wondering whether it was going to be worth the effort. I wasn’t much help with encouragement because I was going anyway. The last CD came out in 2011 and I wasn’t expecting any new material to be aired.
I am pleased to report that all three of us were delighted with what a dynamic and satisfying show we experienced. We saw a world class performer who still has the technical ability to re-arrange and deliver his material in a way that brings a refreshing vibrancy and still retain the soul of the work. Bruce’s voice and his vocal range are in fine form unlike many of his contemporaries.
On a long weekend in Sweden in September this year, Mary and I took a steam ferry out into The Stockholm Archipelago on a sunny day to see where All The Diamonds was written in 1973. All the lyrics are there among the different and beautiful array of islands. We were so lucky to hear the song again tonight.
As we left the venue our son David said to Bruce, “Thank you being so inspirational and keeping my Dad happy!!” Bruce grinned and said “That’s a noble comment; I never say that about my Dad!!”
October 22, 2013
comig to the Sanderson Centre
Canadian folk-rock icon Bruce Cockburn is performing a concert in Brantford to benefit the Freedom House Kindness Project.
The announcement was made this morning and the concert will be at the Sanderson Centre on Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets are on sale today through the Sanderson box office. Prices are $55 (orchestra) and $45 (balcony).
Cockburn is known for songs such as If A Tree Falls and Lovers In A Dangerous Time. He has won 13 Juno Awards and is known around the world both for his music and humanitarian efforts.
Last year's Kindness Project benefit was performed by Lighthouse and raised $12,000. Organizers are aiming to top that amount this year.
October 3, 2013
No Second-Guessing For
Bruce Cockburn doesn't pack his bags planning to write songs about what he'll encounter on his travels.
But there are times he'll see something that spurs him to put pen to paper.
That's what happened when the veteran Canadian folksinger wrote If I Had a Rocket Launcher for his 1984 album, Stealing Fire.
The song, a minor hit in the United States, was based on Cockburn's experience visiting a refugee camp for Guatemalans in Mexico.
“I didn't go to Central America looking for material to come up with a song,” said Cockburn in a recent telephone interview from San Francisco.
“I've never gone anywhere with that intention.”
He was surprised when his record label wanted to release the five-minute track as a single.
“It shows you how much I know about audience reaction,” said Cockburn.
“The business people could see the potential in this song. Radio people were coming back to (my manager) Bernie (Finklestein) saying, 'Yeah, we'd play that.' I'm going, 'How could they possibly play that song?' But they did.”
A song from Cockburn's most recent album, Small Source of Comfort, saw a similar start.
He lobbied the federal government to travel to Afghanistan to meet with Canadian troops including his brother, a doctor. Hockey legend Guy Lafleur and rock band Finger Eleven were part of the delegation that visited Canadian troops in 2009.
During a rest stop en route to Afghanistan, Cockburn participated in a ramp ceremony for two Canadian soldiers being returned home.
“ It was a very, very moving experience which is what I tried to capture in that song (Each One Lost),” he said.
“That's not an angry song. It's topical in its way because those ramp ceremonies were a feature in Canadian life for a number of years and hopefully it won't be again for awhile. It was actually a very touching thing to be part of, and an honour, to be part of it.”
Two Sault Ste. Marie natives, Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli and Sgt. John Faught, were killed in action in Afghanistan.
Cockburn took notes during his time with Canadian troops and wrote Each One Lost the day after he returned to North America.
“I just had such a vivid memory of that experience that it wanted to be a song,” he said.
“When I sing that song those feelings still come back. The scene is still very present.”
Cockburn has recorded numerous songs with a social message – from concerns about First Nations (Stolen Land, Indian Wars) to taking a jab at the International Monetary Fund (Call It Democracy).
His 1988 album, Big Circumstance, featured If a Tree Falls in the Forest about the razing of rainforests, Where the Death Squad Lives and Radium Rain.
Cockburn doesn't spend time debating if he has too many songs with a message that may weigh down listeners.
“The songs are a product of whatever I was experiencing during the time they were being written,” he said.
“Everybody's got their own idea of what they want to listen to. You can't really second guess, at least I can't anyway ... If I were trying to write something more stereotypical (as a pop song) then I would try to second guess how much they're going to like it. But that's not really my goal. I write the songs the way they seem to want to be written. I have to take my chances with how people receive them.”
Cockburn is a rare songwriter who notes the city, and year, where each of his tracks are penned on album sleeves and, now, booklets. It's record-keeping he started after noting some of his favourite poets, possibly T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas or Allen Ginsberg, making similar efforts.
“After awhile it started seeming like it mattered in some way,” said Cockburn.
“It's not critical to an understanding of the song in most cases. Once and awhile it is. I think there was some songs that come from situations that it's helpful to know that I was in that situation when I wrote that song ... It does leave a kind of trail for anybody who's interested enough to want to try to track the comings and goings of the creative force.”
Cockburn's setlists can potentially be drawn from the more than 30 albums he's released since his self-titled debut in 1970.
But his choice “automatically gets narrowed down” because he can only keep 50 to 60 songs “in a playable condition.”
“There's a lot to choose from,” said Cockburn.
“That's not such a bad thing really.”
He plans to draw largely from his last three to four albums (Small Source of Comfort, Life Short Call Now, Speechless, You've Never Seen Everything). But there'll also be material from throughout his career including God Bless the Children – the closing track from his 1973 album Night Vision.
He'll switch up one to five songs a night. If there's an encore, his song selection “can open right up.”
Cockburn still has a house near Kingston, Ont., but primarily calls San Francisco home now. He's married and has a daughter, Iona, who turns two in November.
He's eased back on touring since her birth. His appearance at Kiwanis Community Theatre Centre as part of Algoma Fall Festival is the last of a short tour of Northwestern Ontario.
“I tend to spend as much time as I can here at this point,” said Cockburn.
Tickets, $50 for adults and $30 for children plus tax and surcharge, are on sale at Community Theatre Box Office in Station Mall.
On the web: www.brucecockburn.com
August 28, 2013
Canadian Music Week Honors Iconic Musician &
Composer Bruce Cockburn
April 30, 2013
Hamilton, Ont. April 30, 2013—Bruce Cockburn, one of Canada’s best loved musicians and composers, has donated his archives to McMaster, including notebooks, musical arrangements, gold records, letters, scrapbooks, nearly 1,000 recordings, and even three guitars.
He is to speak to invited guests and journalists at a celebration of his gift at McMaster Tuesday May 7, where other musicians, including Tom Wilson, Colin Linden, McMaster-based Of Gentlemen and Cowards and a string quartet will play selections from his repertoire.
A Celebration of the Bruce Cockburn
Archives at McMaster
Tuesday May 7, 2013 - 7 to 9 p.m.
Convocation Hall (located in University Hall, Room 213). For more information, to arrange coverage of the event, or to see the archives, please contact:
Public Relations Manager
905-525-9140, ext. 27988
Public Relations Manager
905-525-9140 ext. 22869
April 17, 2013
Folks can quibble until they’re blue over who wins what at the 42nd annual Juno Awards this weekend in Regina. But one area virtually impervious to criticism — yet largely invisible to the public — is the show’s concerted behind-the-scenes environmental efforts.
Indeed, since 2008 the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS), which operates the Junos, has been working with innovative Vancouver-based green consultancy Strategin Solutions to implement and execute a widespread sustainability initiative covering everything from toilet tissue to catering choices to renewable electricity.
This year, in an effort to raise public awareness about the initiative, the Junos and CARAS have dubbed Canuck folk legend Bruce Cockburn their 2013 Sustainability Ambassador, a ceremonial but prestigious role held last year by Sam Roberts.
If anyone can drive home the point that the Juno brain-trust is working hard to reduce their show’s carbon footprint, it’s Cockburn, a noted environmentalist with a sterling and career-long track record of supporting agencies including Friends of the Earth, USC Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation plus Oxfam and Amnesty International.
“It’s obviously important for them to have a name that’s recognizable,” Cockburn, who won't be attending the Junos, tells Samaritanmag from his San Francisco home. “And it’s nice to be asked and to be thought of that way — as someone whose opinion matters.
“But the real point is to get everybody who is interested in the Juno Awards onside. And that’s a very broad demographic, a national TV audience. The more they can promote this [sustainable] model for holding events, the better off everybody is.
“Hopefully,” Cockburn adds, “other businesses that hold big events will make use of this [strategy] themselves. That would be the real benefit that could come out of it. Plus, encouraging young people to take a stand on environmental issues is important too.”
The sheer breadth of CARAS’s sustainability initiative surrounding the Junos is impressive and it’s based on something called the CSA Z2010, a rather clunkily named set of standards set down by solutions organization CSA Group and “published as a practical standard for a wide variety of cultural, business and sporting events and festivals,” goes the official literature provided by the Junos.
“This Standard specifies requirements for organizing and executing sustainable events, and provides guidance on how to continually improve the performance of events contributing to sustainable development.”
In practical terms, that means making big, corporate events like the Junos greener. And that’s where Ginny Stratton — founder and principal of Strategin Solutions, CARAS’s sustainability partner — comes in.
“CSA Z2010 informs the design and delivery of our sustainability initiative,” Stratton tells Samaritanmag from Regina. “There are certain requirements within the standard and we put in place a strategy that meets those requirements.
“And it’s integrated into our entire operation, so we look at everything from office operations to marketing and communications, the type of materials we’re printing our posters, flyers and banners on. The Sustainability Ambassador is part of our communications strategy to engage people in this initiative and to let them know what we’re doing.
“Another example is an interactive exhibit happening at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum called The Power of Music: Sustainability and the JUNOS, which is dedicated to different sustainability themes and features exhibits by Bruce Cockburn as well as Buffy Sainte-Marie, Neil Young, and Sarah Harmer. And of course we use social media and the JUNOs website to engage people.”
Stratton, who holds a Masters in Environment and Management from Royal Roads University in Victoria and worked “in the not-for-profit and the for-profit sector of the sustainability realm” before launching Strategin Solutions in 2007, continues.
“Purchasing is a huge part of what we do, so that’s everything from venues to suppliers and caterers. We look to integrate sustainability considerations in all our dealings, so for example we deal with the venues on issues of waste, water, energy issues and their own internal purchasing practices, like what sort of tissue they’re keeping in the bathrooms. We really get down to the nitty-gritty.
“With our caterers, we have minimum objectives and targets in terms of what we’re looking for - for locally produced or organic foods, using the Ocean Wise guidelines for sustainable seafood, that kind of thing.”
CARAS and the Juno Awards also work with two other partner organizations, Carbonzero and Bullfrog Power, to support their sustainability efforts. Bullfrog Power provides CARAS with clean, renewable electricity (and has for the past six years) while Carbonzero — now in its fourth year of partnership — guides the offset of greenhouse gas emissions generated by energy consumption and travel of organizers and attendees.
Cockburn, meanwhile, is featured in a PSA (“An exhortation really,” he laughs) that CARAS and the Juno Awards will disseminate via their social media networks and that will air inside Regina’s Brandt Centre prior to the Juno broadcast April 21. The PSA is also included in the Royal Saskatchewan Museum exhibit, on now until July 31.
He is a bit vague about what his role will entail going forward.
“Nobody’s mentioned anything, but I’d be happy to participate in anything they come up with. And if I were at the Juno awards I don’t know that it would be much different. I guess I could get up and make a speech about this stuff which would be an interesting thing to do in that context though a hard audience to play to (laughs).
“The Junos are doing as much as anybody could do,” Cockburn offers. “They’re trying. Wherever possible they are using sustainable materials and they’re trying to promote the idea of sustainability among those coming to the Junos and those involved in various ways. There aren’t many examples of businesses taking advantage of a public situation like that to promote these ideas. So it’s very encouraging.”
Adds Strategin’s Stratton: “Sustainability isn’t a trend. It’s the way of the future of doing business. It’s sort of becoming part of the DNA of CARAS and the Juno Awards which is ultimately one of our end goals with the sustainability initiative.”
March 28, 2013
TORONTO, March 28, 2013 /CNW/ - The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) is thrilled to announce that Bruce Cockburn is the 2013 JUNO Awards Sustainability Ambassador. In this role, Cockburn will help CARAS and the JUNO Awards raise awareness about actions being taken to reduce their carbon footprint. Bruce Cockburn has focused on a wide range of issues over the course of his career. He has raised awareness, and continues to speak out, about unsustainable logging, pollution, native rights, land mines, and Third World debt, though organizations such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, USC Canada, and The David Suzuki Foundation.
"The JUNO Awards are a living example of how the power of music connects us and drives positive change. Each year, they demonstrate their commitment to sustainability through engaging stakeholders, managing resource consumption and waste, mitigating climate change impacts, and integrating sustainability into purchasing decisions," said Bruce Cockburn.
Cockburn is featured in a PSA that launches today via CARAS and JUNO Awards social media networks and that will air in the venue prior to the 2013 JUNO Awards Broadcast on April 21st. In addition, Bruce is one of the JUNO Award Canadian artists profiled in The Power of Music: Sustainability and the JUNOS, an exhibit also launching today at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum (RSM).
The interactive exhibit, developed in partnership by CARAS and the RSM, highlights the connection between music and sustainability by featuring the music and personal causes of Cockburn, Sarah Harmer, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Neil Young. Also featured in the exhibit are songs and the sustainable causes of more than 20 other Canadian musicians including Arcade Fire, Billy Talent, Gord Downie, Justin Bieber, and Nelly Furtado, among others.
For the third consecutive year, CARAS and the JUNO Awards are using CSA Z2010, a national event sustainability management standard, to guide integration of sustainability considerations into decision making and event related activities. Use of the standard means engaging all involved with the JUNO Week events in contributing to overarching sustainability objectives.
For more information about the 2013 JUNO Awards and upcoming JUNO Awards events, visit www.junoawards.ca.
SOURCE: 2013 JUNO Awards
A few years back, local men’s clothier and music lover Frank Camalo realized that he was traveling farther than he wanted to hear the music he loved. So he made the decision with his friend, fellow music lover Tony Morrow, to do what he had to do in order to hear what he had to hear: bring the music to Lafayette. They got their feet wet in the dicey promoting game with a few house concerts, then dove into the deep end and underwrote the Lucinda Williams concert at the Acadiana Center for the Arts. There followed shows featuring Alejandro Escovedo with Chuck Prophet, Graham Parker and Paul Thorn.
Different artists all, but what unites them are unique visions carved into highly individual songs that only they could have written. And on Wednesday, March 6 at Vermilionville, serious music lovers will have the opportunity to fall into the vision of one of the best songwriters in the English language, Ottawa native Bruce Cockburn.
You may be unfamiliar with his work or have never heard of him, but our neighbors to the north have chosen to honor him with his own postage stamp. That alone is no reason to hear anyone, but as a little measuring tool to help you decide how to spend an upcoming Wednesday evening, you might ponder that.
With a career that spans 31 albums, 11 Juno awards and decades of activism towards a better world and against the Madness, Cockburn has never let up an inch in offering us songs of stunning power built with melodies that engage on all levels. And the songs are thrust upward by some of the most happily ferocious guitar playing you and I will ever hear.
In New Orleans in the mid-80s, my college friend Shadrach Weathersby pulled out a record and told me to sit down and listen to a song. “No, really,” he said seriously. “Sit down.” The album was Stealing Fire and the song was called "If I Had a Rocket Launcher." I sat stunned. Whoever the singer was, he wasn’t just rearranging the elements of drama for the sake of a good song. I was hearing the son of Dylan’s Masters of War, and the son was going further. Dylan’s song had teeth; the son had sharpened his to points. The last line was “If I had a rocket launcher, some son of a bitch would die.”
Shad lifted the needle from the vinyl and stared at me. I was staring at the wall. This isn’t done, I thought. Where am I?
“The rest of the album’s pretty good, too,” my friend said.
The song “Dust and Diesel” comes to mind, and “Nicaragua” and “Peggy’s Kitchen Wall,” as in who put the bullet hole in it? There was some dangerous music back in the 80s, punk and anarchy, but not much — and this was different, it wasn’t wild emotion. It was controlled.
The songwriter also knew what he was talking about; he hadn’t just made up songs about Guatemalan refugee camps from the newspapers, he had been there and seen the devastation up close. So it wasn’t a flailing about and screaming into a microphone kind of rage, rather a contained, purposeful, directed fury like an arrow sprung from lives ended flying toward the end of another life. That kind of rage.
Not all of the songs were like that. Cockburn can write about anything and writes about everything, and occasionally does it in French. And if, like most people, you ignore what’s being said, there’s still this fascinating music that ranges far, soaring through our Western sensibilities and on into other cultures. It’s folk music, yeah, but I’m afraid it’s not the kind that that the average folk can do. It’s a massive body of work fired up by massive ambition and dedication. But not every album was Stealing Fire, and nothing with that much rage has come through him since. Instead his talent grew and his vision became even more clear. It’s been decades since he’s written a series of songs with as much overt aggression, but a life full of that stuff isn’t possible or desirable for an artist unless burning out young is an option. He has said that the rage may be less but the outrage remains, and he’s written many, many songs as powerful as those on Stealing Fire.
Case in point: Cockburn’s latest album is Small Source of Comfort, one of his best albums in a long string of best albums. It includes the song “Each One Lost,” written after a trip to Kandahar, Afghanistan to visit with the Canadian soldiers and his brother, an ER doctor who joined the military later in life. The song was a direct response to the death of two Canadian soldiers as Cockburn stood on the tarmac for the solemn procession when the two coffins were flown home to their final resting place. It’s an aggressively loving song.
A collection of songs from a thoughtful and on on-the-scene observer will have such moments, yet it’s hardly a bleak album. "Call Me Rose" concerns the writer’s dream of Nixon awakening as a poor single mother in the projects. It’s a party, a really smart one. The song Radiance, a short, sharp portrait of a woman, is probably about a soldier, probably a helicopter pilot. The music is Eastern in nature and sounds very, very old. And there are other songs that I hope you hear soon.
A supporter of Canadian troops, he expresses “skepticism” about the war itself, a word he probably chose carefully, yet he also carefully examines, from a Christian perspective, that perhaps it’s beholden on the strong to prevent the weak from being bullied and preyed upon — or, as he says, how best to love one’s neighbor. This ability to examine the darkest ethical conundrums of the human condition and express it in song is why he is so popular in his native Canada — a gentle, advanced country and not, on the whole, rabidly concerned with the fear inspired by the animal parts of our nature.
The traveling to troubled parts of the world continues.
Another thing to know is that Bruce Cockburn is a very spiritual man, and has spent most of his adult life seeking in both traditional and unorthodox ways. In published interviews he speaks about the matter with an elegant concision burnished with humility.
For many of us, when the Rodgers and Hart era gave way to Lennon and McCartney, Dylan, Cohen, Joni, Waits and Newman, good songs that could change your world view were always piled up in many American living rooms. Bruce Cockburn is one of those people, and they seldom come to Lafayette.
Sunset is an
Holding out a bloody sword
No matter how I squint I cannot
Make out what it’s pointing toward
Sometimes you feel like you’ve lived too long
Days drip slowly on the page
And you catch yourself
Pacing the cage
Bruce spoke to me from his room in Orlando, where he was lodged on this current tour. He had his wife and young daughter with him, and happy squealing could be heard in the background.
SB: Since you write your own songs, your body of work is now so large that I view it as a philosophy, questions from an earthling and sometimes even answers, even if they’re not presented as such. Given that you’ve traveled hard and seen the best and the worst of us, and given that you’ve got an album called Humans, I think it’s fair to ask your opinion: what’s wrong with us?
BC: (laughter) That’s a complicated question. I think we have genetic problems we have to deal with. (I laugh) Our DNA has been affected by our origins. The Bible sort of colors it in certain ways in the myth of the Garden of Eden, and I don’t think there was a state of perfection like that, that we fell from. If there is such a thing as that former state of perfection, it’s the animal infancy that we grew out of. And as animals, before we evolved into the complicated creatures that we are, we were able to navigate our way through life with a simpler view of things. But we’re this weird combination of prey and predator, and we’re almost the only species like that, that I can think of. I think that affects our psychology in a huge way in that we’re consciously going back and forth between the peace-loving, grass-eating side of us and the carnivorous, aggressive side, and most of us have trouble reconciling those things. At the very bottom of it all, I think that’s the issue, and not one that we’re going to solve satisfactorily, so we’ve developed all these other ways of getting through and around the effects of it; they work sometimes and sometimes they don’t.
SB: The fear that comes from being the prey — that’s allowed me to get over my thing about ideology and just look at us as animals. That’s a deep down place to go to look for an answer to my question. I don’t think you can go any further than that.
BC: I can’t, anyway. You can ascribe various attributes that we have to demonic or divine influences but I think that’s after the fact, I think that’s part of the attempt to rationalize the complexity that we’ve inherited. I do think those things exist, I think there is evil in the world and I think there’s a God, and that the evil is largely a product of our own pathology, and the divine has to work through us in the state we are (in). The divine manifests in the electrochemical processes in our brains; just as much as any other experience, we can have those. The materialist in us and the spiritually inclined are both right. The people who deny the existence of God and say it’s all chemistry are correct, as far as they’re going, and the people who say there is a God are also right. To me it’s a simple equation; it shouldn’t be as hard to get along but it is. But as I said, basically the only way the divine can touch us is through who we are. When we experience a flash of inspiration, or a flash of insight into the workings of the cosmos, that flash happens in your brain, it happens to the chemical, electrical firings in your brain. It’s all the same thing. You can’t separate it out.
SB: You grew up in a religiously shaped environment but you mentioned about having a flash of experiencing the divine. Were you overcome with some sensation like that?
BC: I’ve had encounters like that more than once in my life. It’s not a regular occurrence; it would be nice if it were. But the most dramatic example perhaps, was in the end of 1969 when I got married for the first time. We got married in the Church because my wife thought that was a good idea and I liked the idea because I was fascinated with medieval things and I liked the idea of a stone church and stained glass and all that stuff, and I was interested in spiritual matters but I didn’t consider myself a Christian particularly. We got married in an Anglican church, or what here would be an Episcopal church, and I liked the ritual, all the exterior stuff of it. But right at the moment when we were exchanging rings … we’re standing at the altar and there were very few people there: my immediate family and her immediate family and that was it, and the priest of course, and as we were exchanging rings I became aware that there was somebody else there that I couldn’t see but I was absolutely convinced there was a presence on the altar with us, that was as palpable as if they were visible. And I figured, well, we’re in a Christian church, it’s gotta be Jesus. Who else would it be? It was really stunning – I mean it didn’t knock me down; I wasn’t unable to complete the ceremony and that sort of stuff, but it was very deeply affecting. And it gave me pause for thought. I had to say, okay, if there’s somebody who’s that real to me, who shows up like that, then it’s really someone I had better begin paying attention to.
SB: That would get my attention.
BC: Before then, I hadn’t, because my interest was much more intellectual before that. I felt the reality — I don’t know when it started, I think it was in my teens that I got the idea that there was a lot more to the universe than meets the eye. Then it became a question of speculating and studying up on what that might be. I read a lot of philosophers and a lot of religious stuff – not so much Christian stuff because I’d grown up in, not in a religious household particularly, but churchgoing, like a normal American upbringing for the time.
SB: You paid attention to it on Sundays.
BC: Basically that’s right. And to some extent at other times. We had teachers who would talk about it a little bit, and we said the Lord’s Prayer in the morning at the school …
SB: Was that a Catholic school?
BC: No, it was a public school.
SB: And you said the Lord’s Prayer every morning?
BC: Yeah, this in Canada, right? Where we don’t have a constitution that says you can’t do that. That’s probably changed by now. Don’t forget, this was 50 years ago or more I started going to school, so things were somewhat different. But we said the Lord’s Prayer; we did not pledge allegiance to the flag (laughter). It was quite a different atmosphere than my peers in the US might have experienced, but other than that it was probably the same, kids are kids. So there was enough of that to bring familiarity with the language and trappings of Christianity but it didn’t really go deeper than that, so when I got interested in spiritual things I got into the occult, and Buddhism, the alternative stuff that was floating around, that was beginning to be widely visible in that era, in the sixties, from 1950 on. But when this thing happened at the wedding, I had been kind of leaning closer to Christianity anyway, and it brought me closer still. I didn’t become a Christian then officially to myself on that date – that came later with another encounter — but it really reinforced that and nudged it along in a big way. And now, I don’t know if I think of myself as a Christian at this point — there’s too much about organized Christianity that is political and all the rest of it – but there’s no question in my mind that there was a divine presence.
SB: I have a problem with the things that humans have added on to Christianity.
BC: That’s another thing you can’t separate out, I mean the only records we have of it — other than what appears in your own heart — are records that were written down by people long after the fact, and people have fought and killed each other over what was going to be in those records. And it’s not coincidental to me that three thousand years before the Christian story is set, there was a guy in Egypt who was born of a virgin and had twelve disciples and was killed and rose from the dead.
SB: Oh my God. Who was that?
BC: That was Horus, the Egyptian god Horus. It’s the same story. Three thousand years earlier. So it keeps coming back, or it’s another story using the same death. And I don’t know what the answer to that one is, I don’t think there’s enough to have any sense of competence around that. But that knowledge has, among other things, made it difficult for me to categorically say that I’m a Christian, but I have tremendous respect for it and I leave open the possibility that I may be coming back around to that.
SB: Maybe it’s a passion play that continually repeats through human history.
BC: It might be, or it might be something that we have to make up for ourselves, that appeals to us in a way that makes it something we perpetuate. I mean, I don’t know how these things work; there’s a lot of mystery in the world, especially when you start dealing with the issue of God and the interface between God and people. Things get very mysterious indeed.
SB: I thought that when I got to be this age that I would actually understand a few things, but instead, mysteries get wider.
BC: Yeah, we start to understand — at least in my case; I can’t speak for anybody else — the understanding that comes with age has more to do with human behavior (laughter). I know a lot more about what I can take at face value and what I can’t in terms of what to expect from people.
SB: You’ve been really forthcoming when people pose these kinds of questions for you, you’ve been very honest about it. What about down here on the ground?
BC: The most pressing issues to me are environmental ones. Water is the thing that’s in the most jeopardy. People in the southeastern US, it’s hard to imagine the shortage of water. In the Midwest, in Canada there’s been a drought for years now. The big snowfalls they’re having right now in that area are not enough to offset that drought. There might be more that could happen of course. But the environmental changes that we’ve brought on ourselves … to me the vast weight of scientific opinion counts. It says that we’re a major contributing factor to the climatic change that we’re experiencing. And we’re not doing anything about that. We’re arguing about it instead of fixing it.
SB: Nobody can figure out how to make any money from it.
BC: It comes down to greed again, then, doesn’t it? Self-interest, the same thing. I worry for us because of that. I think that the world’s not going to get any better anytime soon because we aren’t doing enough. People are trying, but so far no one in a position of power, decision-making power, seems to be in that group.
SB: Have you heard that the CEO of Exxon admitted that global warming is real?
BC: Wow. I had not heard that, but maybe there’s a small ray of hope.
SB: Well, he said “it’s an engineering problem with an engineering solution.” At least you can say to skeptics that the CEO of Exxon said it’s real. That should put an end to the argument right there.
BC: You’d think.
What then followed was a fun discussion about why aren’t oil companies investing in the solution so they can profit from it? And on futures speculation and the economic gambling done by “really smart people.” Much of my recording is marred by a passing train. That happens a lot.
SB: You’re a hell of a guitar player and you were when you were quite young. You’re capable of some rarified harmonic richness, yet you remain accessible enough to maintain a huge fan base. Are you doing exactly what you like to do, or have you ever felt constrained at times by this accessibility factor?
BC: No, not really. To some extent I think the way I’m attached to the way I use them (harmonies) is out of habit as much as anything. But no, I’ve never felt that I had to tone something down for the sake of making sense to people. In the context of a given song, yeah, because the song has to work as a whole. Like writing a song like Pacing the Cage and throwing in an atonal bridge might be … wrong. (laughter) But I don’t feel constrained, it’s based on the choice of style I’m working with.
SB: The great American songwriters – several of whom are Canadians – Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young – don’t seem to sell that well once they age. Joni Mitchell would rather paint. You’ve been supported in every decade of your career by the Canadian fan base. Is there something about Canadians in that they’re more willing to follow a songwriter down into some demanding territory? Do they really not care how old an artist gets? What I’m trying to ask, is the Canadian audience less dumbed down than here?
BC: (laughter) I’m not sure. It’s tempting, to want to say yes to that, but I don’t know if I can justify it with fact. They would not show my videos if I had them – and we do; over the years I’ve made quite a few, but not lately, because nobody’s going to show them.
SB: Oh my God.
BC: It is an issue in Canada too. But I think you’re mistaken about Leonard Cohen, he’s as big as he ever was; he’s in the middle of an arena tour. But if you measure his record sales, it’s probably not what it once was.
SB: Where is he doing those arena shows? In the States?
BC: All over the world. He had a tour that lasted three years. His monitor guy, who used to work for me, I was out on one of the shows, and it was terrific. I saw it in Oakland, California, in a big theater, a three thousand seater, and it was jammed to the rafters. He put on a fantastic show. That was one stop – that was almost the last stop of a three-year tour that he’d been on. So he got finished with that then he decided he wanted to do the same thing only he wanted to do it in arenas, so that’s what he’s doing now. I don’t know how well it’s going for him. But that theater tour was very successful.
It’s not an across the board observation you can make about that, but certainly Joni’s less active, Neil appears to be less active. It’s hard to generalize, because you never know when they’re going to surprise you with something.
SB: It’s just gratifying to know that people are still buying records from artists who have had long careers. I’m thinking you’ll have a good show here in Lafayette. They’ll get what you do.
BC: I look forward to being understood.
Lafayette-based guitarist/songwriter Sam Broussard performs internationally as a solo artist, accompanist and with the popular Cajun band Steve Riley & The Mamou Playboys.
Posted: March 2, 2013
Bruce Cockburn is a modern day troubadour. He has been for 43 years and 37 albums. Now, at 67, he’s about to release a DVD featuring documentary and solo performance called Pacing The Cage. The songs are culled from performances off 2009’s Slice of Life CD and he likens the forthcoming DVD to a conversation.
“It’s me, a microphone and several guitars,” he said. “The solo thing allows for a greater rapport with the audience. Between takes there’s nothing but me and them and I tend to talk more. I like the solo performance for that – that ability to talk with audience with no one to hide behind.”
The DVD includes the documentary of the same name done for Vision TV in 2012 along with musical performances. A second DVD, which is entirely a concert film, will feature the performances on the Vision TV version of Pacing The Cage plus many not in the film or on the live album, Slice of Life.
“Those who like the solo thing will love this and those who prefer a band might not enjoy it as much. But the good news is that we can still come back and do a band DVD sometime in the future.”
Not surprising. In his career he’s moved from the boho acoustic thing of his beginnings, to full band albums, back to philosophical/spiritual musing, to angry rants, only to return to pacific, spiritual wonder again. Those who have followed him through the length and breadth of his recorded career, “some of whom are still alive,” will find much to savor. The performances on Pacing the Cage hit signposts all along that journey.
See, he’s wandered through Europe, Central America, Japan, Africa and across the U.S and Canada. These days he’s found hunkered down in San Francisco with a new wife and a 14-month-old daughter named Iona. He’s been there for varying chunks of time over the last three years. He sounds peaceful, rested and optimistic.
“The city fits me really well in a limited way,” he said. “When we were in New York, I really liked it there with its feeling of impending chaos. It had a really dark, almost post-Apocalyptic feel that was inspiring.”
“The city of San Francisco though, is an anomaly. It’s this beautiful kind of yuppie enclave surrounded by miles and miles of redneckery. But you don’t feel that in the city. It’s just so liberal here and beautiful and I’m sure there is that same aura of impending chaos, but you have to search for it.”
When it comes to songwriting he doesn’t know how the new atmosphere will inspire him. He hasn’t written any songs. Instead, he’s in the process of a first draft of a memoir, a kind of writing that’s new to him and presents its own degree of difficulty. He calls it a ‘spiritual’ memoir and fans of songs like Mystery from 2004’s Life Short Call Now will be drawn to it.
“The book’s turned into a much bigger project than I thought it would be. When you write a song it’s a short-term phenomenon. The flash comes or it doesn’t come and if there’s no flash there’s no song.”
“But with a book you have to sustain the energy and the focus. The thought process is carried over for a much extended period. It’s challenging for me but as time goes on it becomes a little less so. It’s moving along well now and my deadline for the first draft is the end of July.”
While there’s no word on a publication date, beyond a best guess of somewhere over a year, he’s confident as you’d expect a prolific songwriter to be. A look back at significant albums in his oeuvre always shows a superb craftsman able to wring telling nuance, truth or vitriolic upset out of a lyric.
“It’s not like I’m writing songs all the time. I write when I get an idea or an inspiration and when I have enough songs to put an album together we go into the studio and create an album.”
“But if I write songs over a period of time they’re going to reflect what’s going on in that period of time. They acquire a kind of dramatic consistency because of that.”
Indeed. One need only look back to 1980’s Humans say, or 2003’s You’ve Never Seen Everything to understand the truth of that. While critics have not always been enamored of his caustic, plain spoken, ‘journalistic’ or ‘documentary’ style of songwriting, his fans always have been.
Humans has been referred to as his masterpiece with You’ve Never Seen Everything mere steps behind that. The former was typified by gut level honesty about the end of a relationship while the latter was more politically driven. In both cases the songwriting was what provided the impetus for both albums.
What About the Bond from Humans and Trickle Down from You’ve Never Seen Everything are prototypical examples of a probing intellect driving a questing social conscience that’s tempered by a genuine moral and spiritual frankness. It’s what’s taken him on remarkable journeys and what’s brought the troubadour forward in his work.
“I feel as though I’ve actually lived several lifetimes in this one. There’s a line of continuity through everything and even though I feel I’m essentially the same person as I was when I started, I’ve learned an awful lot about a lot of stuff.”
“Our failing as human beings is not being able to see the divine energy that’s everywhere all around us. We need to remind ourselves of that. Remind each other.”
Spoken like a genuine troubadour. The DVD, Pacing The Cage arrives in early May.
Photo by Pam Doyle. Bruce Cockburn plays in an afternoon workshop at the Canmore Folk Music [no date provided].
Sat, Mar 2 (7:15 pm)
Pacing the Cage
Directed by Joel Goldberg
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Legendary Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist Bruce Cockburn makes his lone stop in our region on a brief solo tour this Saturday, February 23 when he visits the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Cockburn will perform an expanded take on the solo segments of his recent full-band tour in support of his album Small Source of Comfort.
“From the point of view of the actual performance, it’s a much more intimate shared experience with the audience when it’s just me on the stage,” said Cockburn in a telephone interview.
Cockburn, who suffered terrible stage fright early in his career, still feels anxious before a performance, but he has learned to adapt. “I’m not one of those people that loves to get out in front of people and show off,” he said. “There’s an aspect of performing that’s terrifying. It’s still there, even though it’s faint in the background. When I started, that really was an issue, and my motivation was that I wanted people to hear the songs, and if I didn’t play them, nobody would hear them. But in most circumstances, there’s a real warmth in performing that I appreciate.”
Fans should expect to hear songs from the span of Cockburn’s long career – a philosophy that he used at least in part on Small Source of Comfort, his 31st album. The final song on the record, “Gifts,” is a longtime concert-closer, stretching all the way back to 1968. Asked what it will mean to play on the same hallowed ground as the famous festival, Cockburn replied coyly.
“I wasn’t at Woodstock; I was busy that weekend,” he said. “But I saw the movie. It is a piece of history, and it was kind of the good part of the end of the ‘60s – Altamont, of course, being the other part.”
Back then, Cockburn had already charted his own course. “If I’d have kept up with the course of studies I was on, I’d have had a Bachelor’s degree and I’d have been qualified to teach in high school,” he said. “My parents were anxious for me to have something to fall back on, but I intuitively knew that if you’re going to be a real artist, you’d better not have anything to fall back on, because it’s counterproductive.”
Cockburn is spending his downtime these days not writing new music, but instead putting his memories to paper for a forthcoming autobiography. “I have a contract with a publisher to write a memoir,” he said. “The first draft is overdue by more than two years, so all of the creative energy is going into the book.”
Cockburn said that he was contacted by HarperCollins following the worldwide success of the controversial Christian novel The Shack, in which God makes frequent mentions of his music. (“I don’t know if it’s a great piece of literature,” Cockburn said of William P. Young’s bestseller, “but it’s good enough.”) “When they approached me, they said they were looking for a spiritual memoir,” he explained. “It has presented a challenge. To put things in a spiritual context: I don’t even know what that means. I guess by the end of the book I’ll know what that means.”
An Evening with Bruce Cockburn, Saturday, Feb. 23, 8 p.m., $49/reserved, $54/day of show, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts’ Event Gallery, 200 Hurd Road, Bethel; www.bethelwoodscenter.org, www.brucecockburn.com.
Posted: February 22, 2013
Anyone who has spent any time exploring Bruce Cockburn’s music knows what a complex artist he is. He is as spiritual as he is political, and as much a master musician as a lyrical poet. Cockburn will soon release his written memoirs, which he promises will take a deeper look at his continuing spiritual journey. In addition, a Cockburn documentary is also on the way.
Although these two projects aren’t as exciting as news of an upcoming musical release, they nevertheless give his many devoted fans the prospect of more insight into one of modern music’s consistently intriguing figures.
Stereo Subversion: I notice you don’t have a new album to promote these days, so what’s in the works?
Bruce Cockburn: What’s in the works is a book. That’s kind of taking up all the energy that probably would have come up with an album by now. I got a deal to write a memoir, like everybody’s doing, a couple of years ago. The first draft is quite overdue, so there’s kind of a rush on to get this done. I’m about four chapters into it. I can’t tell you much about how it’s going to end up yet because it’s very much a first draft. That’s what’ going on.
There’s also, in terms of stuff that people could look for, if not available commercially yet, a DVD of a concert – well, actually, it’s a documentary that was done on me for Canadian TV with some performance footage in it. It came out pretty well. It was on TV in a slightly abbreviated version. The longer version has been shown at a couple of film festivals. Eventually, we’ll have DVDs for people. As far as an album, that’s probably going to have to wait until all this other stuff is out of the way.
SSv: How comfortable are you with writing a book? Is that a type of writing that comes naturally to you?
Bruce: No, it’s not. [Laughs] It’s interesting. It’s different and somewhat challenging because you have to sustain a focus for such an extended period. Songwriting is a real short time event, you know. Even songs that take a long time relatively speaking, only happen in bursts. It’s not like you sit down for six weeks and work on a song, day in, day out.
It may take me that long to write a song, but I’ll write one verse and a couple weeks will go by and I’ll think of another idea and add to it, and that kind of thing. Now this is not common. Usually I’ll write in much more compressed time than that, but it has happened. But that’s totally different from what a book calls for, which is sustained energy and focus over a year or two. There’s a bit of a learning curve for me in terms of that.
My songs are generally based in life, but they’re frequently slightly fictionalized. I may change a detail here or there because it makes it a better song or because the rhyme scheme needs it. It’s not literally autobiographical, whereas the book is.
SSv: I’ve noticed over the years, when you’ve written songs you’ve also put in the album notes where they were written and the time period when they were written. Is the book going to be a little bit like a journal in the way that you organize the book?
Bruce: I don’t know how it will end up. I don’t see it being like that, exactly, although it could end up more that way than I’m picturing right now. There’ll be a lot of steps between finishing the first draft, and actually getting it out. My original thought was to have it be not chronological, but just to be made up of a lot of vignettes; when you add them all up, you get a picture of a life. And it may still turn out to be that, although the way I’m working on it now, it is chronological, starting with childhood and moving forward. The organization of it may change between now and publication, I don’t know.
It’s supposed to be a spiritual memoir, so whatever that means. I’m not even sure what that really means, but that’s what the publisher’s asked for.
Bruce: There’s going to be a certain emphasis on that side of life, I think. Because it is a memoir and because the people who buy it are going to be interested in personal details too, we think, there’s a lot of stuff about me in there.
SSv: If it’s a spiritual journey, where would you say you’re at on your spiritual journey now?
Bruce: It’s an ongoing quest. I don’t think it will stop when I die, either. I believe that my relationship with God is central to my life. It is the most important thing in my life. That being said, I don’t spend as much time thinking about that as I probably should. I currently work with a guy that does dream analysis that helps me pursue that relationship with God and kind of understand where I’m at with it.
Beyond that, it’s hard for me to characterize my beliefs in a simple way because I don’t subscribe to a namable faith or religion. I’ve moved through an acquaintanceship with a few different things and a deep involvement with Christianity and I’m pretty close to that still, but I just have too many questions to feel comfortable calling myself a Christian at this point. But I’m still very close to that.
SSv: You’re working on this book, but that doesn’t stop you from writing songs. You’re still writing songs I would hope.
Bruce: Not at the moment because all the creative energy is going into the book. Any ideas that I have time for…I’ve also got a 14-month old baby at home, so I’m pretty busy. So, between the baby and the book, there’s not too much room for anything else right now. There’s barely enough time for me to practice the songs I currently have. There is enough, but just. I always have to keep practicing to maintain the songs that I have. I wouldn’t rule it out. Never say never. So far, it’s taking the case with where writing’s taking the backseat.
SSv: How are you as a father, at this stage in your life?
Bruce: Better than I was the first time around. I mean, I don’t think I was a terrible father the first time, but I was much more concerned, as young men tend to be, about things other than family. I was worried about my art more than I am now. I take my art very seriously. I don’t want to let it down or have it let me down, but at the same time, I don’t worry about it as much as I did when I was young. I just worried a lot more about everything. That made my relationship with my first daughter a little more distant when she was young. We have a good relationship now, but I wasn’t there for her as much as I am for the new one.
SSv: Tell me more about this DVD that’s coming out. You said it was a documentary?
SSv: How did this all come about? Did they approach you and say they wanted to explore your work?
Bruce: Bernie [Finkelstein] was really instrumental in getting it going, and I don’t know whether he had the original idea, or the filmmaker Joel Goldberg had the idea. But we started talking about it quite a while back. And, in fact, it’s the same tour that the live album came out couple years ago is based on or is drawn from. So it’s the same music as is on that live album. There might be one or two different songs, but it’s not a concert film.
There’s a lot of talking. It’s more of a portrait of me on tour. It’s got several performances of songs in it and, like I said, I don’t really remember what got it started. We were working on it at the same time as the live album. We had the intention of doing both. It took a lot longer, I suppose, to find the financing to get the film done than it did to do the album.
Ideally, in a perfect world, they would have both come out at the same time. Which I would have preferred because they belong together in a way, but that’s not how it works.
February 1, 2013
In keeping with the tradition of honouring milestone years of service, the commemorative medal was created to mark the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty's accession to the Throne. The medal serves to honour the contributions and achievements made by Canadians from all sectors of society.
Their Honours will be joined by a number of prominent Canadians who will also act as distinguished medal presenters to ensure that each of their peers receives his or her medal in a dignified and meaningful way.
Following the medal presentations, guests will enjoy a short performance by some of Canada's best known performers, including Tafelmusik, and Michael Burgess, Liona Boyd, Bruce Cockburn and Tom Cochrane, themselves members of the Order of Canada.
In keeping with the tradition of honouring Her Majesty's milestone years of service, a commemorative medal was created to mark the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty's accession to the Throne. The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal also serves to honour the contributions and achievements made by Canadians from all sectors of society. Approximately 60,000 medals were struck for distribution to deserving citizens across Canada. This commemorative medal is part of the Canadian Honours System.
In order to ensure that medals are presented with appropriate dignity and respect, The Lieutenant Governor of Ontario invited all living members of the Order of Canada in Ontario, the Order of Ontario and other deserving individuals, to receive their medals at a gala celebration at Roy Thomson Hall (RTH). The first gala took place on June 18, 2012, where more than 600 medals were presented. This closing celebration will include those who were not able to attend in June.
A number of prominent Canadians have been enlisted as distinguished ambassadors to join Their Honours in the rotunda at Roy Thomson Hall to present Diamond Jubilee Medals to their peers. Each will present medals to no more than 20 recipients, to ensure a personal experience. After receiving the medal, guests will find their seats in the theatre where they will enjoy one hour of entertainment by some of Canada's best known artists, including Tafelmusik and Michael Burgess, Liona Boyd, Bruce Cockburn and Tom Cochrane, themselves members of the Order of Canada.
February 6, 2013 by LGOntario
January 31, 2013
The Church of England Newspaper
Many communities have people whose lives encapsulate the values that they hold most dearly. The Greenbelt Festival has had a few and the most recent to visit is Canadian singer-songwriter, Bruce Cockburn.
His integrity is what most endears him to the festival’s faithful, both artistically and spiritually. Driven by faith, he knows how to write about justice in a way that connects, rather than sounding preachy.
He has visited occasionally since the early ‘80s. I was stewarding at the time and remember his set, particularly for his intricate guitar work. Behind the scenes, we heard that Bono wanted to watch him and would be disguised as a steward.
“He came backstage,” Cockburn recalled, as we spoke at this year’s event. “He came in a baseball cap and a parking monitor’s badge. It was fun. They snuck him in and were all excited, ‘We snuck bono into the tent without anybody knowing!’”
That Bono should be so keen to see the Canadian says something of Cockburn’s influence and Bono remains a fan today. This year, Canadian TV showed a film made during his Slice o’Life tour. As the film opens, Bono looks at the camera, talking the words to Cockburn’s visceral “If I Had a Rocket Launcher”. He ends with the jealous line, “If I had a rocket launcher, he wouldn’t have written those songs!”
The timing of that backstage meeting intrigued me. Cockburn had been playing songs from his Stealing Fire album, largely inspired by visiting Central America when the Sandinista movement was trying to rebuild El Salvador. Ideologically unhappy with their efforts, the American government accused them of being communist and attacked them with military power.
“Rocket Launcher” was a direct response to what Cockburn saw of such bullying. The Sandinistas were encouraging education for the poor and supporting real development. To have that crushed by fighter planes attacking innocent villages enraged Cockburn to the extent that the song exclaims how, had he the firepower, “I’d make somebody pay!”
A couple of years later, when U2 released The Joshua Tree, inspired by visiting America, their song “Bullet the Blue Sky” shared that territory. Speaking of corruption, military deals and “fighter planes across the mud huts as children sleep,” the song ends with the line, “See the sky ripped open / See the rain coming through the gaping wound / Howlin’ the women and children who run into the arms of America.”
What arms – welcoming or military? The latter is the only way I can read that song and I had to wonder whether that Greenbelt night was the root of one of U2’s most iconic tracks.
Cockburn does not know. “We talked about stuff that we were thinking about – which included that – but I wouldn’t know whether I had influenced the song or not.”
Central America was just one of many tours around the globe, visiting ordinary people, often in rural communities. The songs written on those travels are highly personal and act as a window into the lives of those affected by the world’s richer nations and corporations.
Corporate greed is a regular target, but Cockburn is no blind dogmatist on the issue. “As corporatism has expanded, everybody gets caught in the idea that if somebody over there has this x, y or z, then I should be able to have it too.
“To me the picture is very large and complex, but it really comes down to two faces of a similar issue, which is: how we treat each other and how we treat the planet. If we exploit each other, there’s a good chance that at the same time, we’re also exploiting the planet in a way that’s not healthy. So very often you find the same bad guys related to every issue.”
The same mix of support and wariness marks his views on the Occupy movement.
“I have the same reservations about the effectiveness of that movement as I have about my own mouthing off,” he commented wryly. “But I think it’s really worthwhile to get out there and try. It’s like the Hippocratic Oath: first, don’t hurt anybody, then fix them if you can. We should have the same attitude: don’t hurt anybody, but fix it if you can. The Occupy movement is a flawed, but important attempt to do that.”
The “mouthing off” that he so self-deprecatingly speaks of is the ethical side of his songwriting.
“I think you have to suspend any expectation of an outcome, when you get involved in issues of any kind,” he observed. “My own experience has taught me this over the years: if you go into it thinking you’re going to see the difference you make, you’re going to burn out fast. It’s better to just trust, because eventually, if there is enough popular will around a certain issue, it will change – but you may not live to see it. It’s important to do the work anyway, because if you don’t keep plugging away at it, everything gets worse.
“So for people in the public eye, one of the things we can do is mouth off and be heard. Where people take that is not really in our control.”
He does occasionally get response from listeners. Speaking of the “great blessing” of “touching testimonies” when people tell him of the effect songs have had on them as they grew up, he added dryly, “It always baffles me when I hear young people say they grew up with my music, because growing up with my parents’ music didn’t inspire me want to go out and buy a Rex Harrison record!”
A bigger delight in his life at the moment is his year-old daughter. Often, as people get older, they get more easy-going about the state of the world. Does he feel that way, or has fresh fatherhood given him a renewed concern for where we are headed?
“I look around at the things that are going on and think, all you can do is pray and trust, because there is so much crap headed for the fan. Much of it has already hit, but there’s more coming. What she grows up into, if I want to go there, can be quite terrifying. What can I do about that? Well, I can keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing all along, but not much more, because that’s all I know how to do.”
Mouthing off aside, his current release, Small Source of Comfort, probably has more instrumentals than any new album he has made. I wondered if this was a shift in his music-making…
“Unless I think of really good words!” he replied. “It’s too soon to know if it’s a pattern to look forward to in the future, but the older I get, the more songs I’ve written, the more I’ve said what I’ve had to say in words and the more appealing it becomes to just play notes that aren’t attached to a specific idea.”
Despite the quantity of music he has already put out, Small Source of Comfort must be among his best collections since that Stealing Fire release. Has he learned to perfect his trade or is it coincidence?
Naming another of his albums, he called it “Big circumstance, which is what I think of when I think of coincidence. It just is what it is, but I’m glad I got the songs I got. I don’t take it for granted – I never have. Any album I’ve made could have been the last one. So I’m just happy if I’m able to keep going.”
In his recent music, he seems to have placed less emphasis on his faith, which may have something to do with the churches he has met across the years.
“I don’t feel the same need for a church that I once did,” he admitted. ”When I first started thinking of myself as a Christian, I started going to an Anglican church, because it was the church I got married in, and I liked the priest. That became my church in Ottawa.
“But when I left Ottawa at the end of the ‘70s, I never found another place where I felt as in touch with the Spirit. It began to feel to me like if I was going to be in touch with the Spirit, it didn’t require a particular place; it was something that’s supposed to have happened all the time and I’m still in pursuit of that. So I kind of drifted away from church – although I miss communion.”
Unwelcoming churches, making him feel like he did not belong, were much of the problem. They were particularly insensitive to the needs of a travelling musician. “I would go down on a Sunday morning to the service. I’d get people looking at me like, ‘What are you doing here, you son of a bitch?’ Seriously, it was that bad sometimes!
“Other times, it was more welcoming, but I never felt that there was a community there for me, compared to what I’d experienced in Ottawa. Partly, that’s just familiarity, but when you’re a traveller, you don’t get to be very familiar with any given place. For most of my life, home has been base camp, so the idea of being part of a community at home is not viable.”
What keeps him going is the sense of his relationship with God, something in which he feels no different to any other human.
“The real calling that we all have as human beings is to make ourselves available to that relationship with God and do whatever that steers us toward.”
Then ending with a chuckle, he said, “That’s a recipe for anarchy, but so be it!”