Gavin's Woodpile
The Bruce Cockburn Newsletter Online



MEDIA 2015 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014


Bruce has contributed a new song called "3 Al Purdys" to The Al Purdy Songbook project
Photo: Recording at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, CA


November 18, 2015
Update from original posting
D. Keebler

Christmas With Cockburn Live, Featuring Bruce Cockburn with the singers and players of San Francisco Lighthouse Church

You can find details and ticket information for the two Christmas shows that Bruce will be performing in San Francisco
at this link.

Christmas With Cockburn Live, Featuring Bruce Cockburn with the singers and players of San Francisco Lighthouse Church

Bruce will be performing at the San Francisco Lighthouse Church on December 11 and 12, 2015. In an email, Bruce told me “The shows will be benefits for social programs the church runs.”

Tickets are expected to be limited to about 400. You can learn more about the event at the church's webiste.

Soundcheck - Redding, California - April 28, 2012
Use by permission


November 6, 2015
Albuquerque Journal

Bruce Cockburn on tour in support of ‘Small Source of Comfort,’ stops at the Lensic Performing Arts Center
by Adrian Gomez

SANTA FE, N.M. — For more than 40 years, Bruce Cockburn has done everything his way. Whether it is in his public or private life, the singer-songwriter has used his music to give a glimpse of what it’s like to be him.

Oh, not to mention he penned his memoir “Rumours of Glory” in 2014, which gave a deeper look into his decades-long career.

“I’ve always searched and found out things for myself,” he says during a recent phone interview. “I wanted to see everything firsthand. This is the way I chose to live.”

Cockburn has created a career most would envy. He’s picked up a dozen or so Juno Awards (Canada’s equivalent to the Grammy Award). He’s also recorded 31 albums, with his latest being “Small Source of Comfort.” The album is a blend of folk, blues, jazz and rock. It was inspired by his trips around the world, including San Francisco, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Kandahar, Afghanistan.

“The songs are representative of what I feel,” he says. “I’m impacted by everything that I get out and see. That’s the best part about touring – I get to see the world.”

There are five instrumentals on the album. “Each One Lost” and “Comets of Kandahar,” stem from a trip Cockburn made to war-torn Afghanistan in 2009. The elegiac “Each One Lost” was written after Cockburn witnessed a ceremony honoring two young Canadian Forces soldiers who had been killed that day and whose coffins were being flown back to Canada. He says it was “one of the saddest and most moving scenes I’ve been privileged to witness.”

Cockburn will continue to write and release more music.

“As you go through life, it’s like taking a hike alongside a river,” he says. “Your eye catches little things that flash in the water, various stones and flotsam. I’m a bit of a pack rat when it comes to saving these reflections. And, occasionally, a few of them make their way into songs.”


November 6, 2015
County Weekly News

Film Serves as Fundraiser


Looming tall, almost always with mad, fly-away hair, a cigar in his mouth, a drink in his hand, pounding away at his typewriter or lounging by the lake. What a character. And what a writer.

Filmmaker Brian Johnson has crafted a moving and complex portrait of the artist in his documentary film “Al Purdy Was Here” to be screened at the Regent Theatre in Picton in advance of the film’s full release next year. On Dec. 12, at 1:30 p.m., Purdy fans and aficionados, theatre-lovers, film-lovers, Canadiana and literature lovers, poets, readers, neighbours and friends are invited to come together to raise funds and spend a most-excellent afternoon bringing this Canadian icon to life.

The film was a hit at Toronto International Film Festival in the fall and features an outstanding array of Canadian icons, both literary and musical: Leonard Cohen, Bruce Cockburn, Gord Downie, Gordon Pinsent, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Sarah Harmer, Tanya Tagaq and Joseph Boyden to name a few.

The screening is a fundraiser for two local organizations; The Al Purdy A-Frame Association – raising funds to support the upkeep of the famous A-Frame cottage and the writers-in-residence who come to work there and Festival Players – raising funds to support its world premiere production of A Splinter in the Heart, Purdy’s only novel, adapted for the stage by playwright Dave Carley.

In the mid 1950’s, when Al and his wife Eurithe bought the plot of land on the south shore of Roblin Lake in Prince Edward County, Purdy was just beginning to find his voice as a poet. The space played host to a who’s who of Canadian Literature, Purdy holding court and hosting the likes of Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, George Bowering, Margaret Laurence, Earle Birney and more. The A-Frame, which had fallen into disrepair over the years, was purchased and refurbished by a Canada-wide initiative to maintain this legendary literary space.

In 2014, after a great deal of structural work had been done on the property by numerous volunteer groups, the cottage was ready to receive its first batch of poets-in-residence. These residencies allow writers time and a space to write, to focus on their work. Writers are provided travel funds, a writing stipend, and a cozy and historied retreat.

Festival Players, celebrating its tenth anniversary season in 2016, has been bringing high-caliber professional theatre to the region since its inception. Artists from across the country have joined the company to perform, design, compose, and create for the appreciative resident and visiting audiences. In the tenth season, the company is focused on stories by, for, and about Prince Edward County. One of the pieces in the season will be a stage adaptation of Purdy’s only novel, A Splinter in the Heart. Dave Carley, a prolific and accomplished playwright whose deep respect for his subject is clear in his work, has tackled the translation from page to stage with aplomb.

Splinter is set in 1918 in Trenton. WWI is coming to an end but the British Chemical Plant in town is still in full swing, producing half of the TNT for the allied war effort. Patrick, the young protagonist, is struggling with looming adulthood and with his place in the world. On Thanksgiving Day the British Chemical goes up in flames and flattens the town in a nearly Halifax-sized explosion. Life for the town, and for Patrick, is never the same. Workshopped in 2015, Splinter will be Festival Players’ mainstage production in 2016, the jewel in the crown as it celebrates a great story, a great story-teller and a little known piece of this country’s history.

On Dec. 12, the afternoon begins at 1:30 when guests are invited to grab a drink or a snack, browse the Purdyana, rub elbows with some lovely folks, get a copy of the A-Frame Anthology or tickets to the premiere of Splinter in 2016, browse some interesting and rarely seen bits of Purdyana. Filmmaker Brian Johnson will host a Q & A following the screening.


October 9, 2015
The Scotsman

Bruce Cockburn - St. Andrews Square, Glasgow
Review by Fiona Shepherd

If anything, the solo, acoustic format of this show threw his dexterous guitar playing into even more impressive relief than usual, his hypnotic mix of picking and strumming providing the backbone for his songs, with his own vocal rhythms woven into the fabric, creating mood music as much as protest song.

The two strands came together via the cascading chords of his environmental warning If A Tree Falls. Like the solidly scathing Call It Democracy, it was written almost 30 years ago but could have been composed yesterday.

Cockburn raised consciousness in other ways too, transporting the listener with ringing New Age chimes over strident strumming, using an ambient field recording of waves to enhance the mesmeric reverie of his playing and utilising the heavenly harp-like timbre of 12-string tenor guitar to tug at the soul as much as his beseeching voice.

The quaint but complex folk instrumental Sunrise on the Mississippi conjured up a sense of place, though he packed more of an emotional hit with The Whole Night Sky and generated a spontaneous call-and-response from the audience on Wondering Where the Lions Are.

Overall, this was a sober affair but, ever mindful of the mood, he decided not to end on one of his “ain’t life crap” songs, choosing to bow out with the more spiritually nourishing Mystery instead.

Show date: October 6, 2015


September 19, 2015
Calgary Mayor,
Naheed Nenshi

The Canada We Hope For - Mayor Nenshi's speech

On September 19, 2015, Mayor Naheed Nenshi presented at the LaFontaine-Baldwin Symposium hosted by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and its co-founders and co-chairs, John Ralston Saul and the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson. It is an annual signature event hosted across the country, showcasing leading thinkers. An adapted version of the speech appears in today's Globe and Mail and the portions of the speech (plus interview) ran on CBC's Ideas.The full video of the speech can be viewed below or through this link.  

The following is the full text of Mayor Nenshi's speech: “The Canada We Hope For: A Naïve View”.

[Thank you and good morning. It truly is a great honour for me to be with you today. I’m honestly a bit surprised to be here. When I was a volunteer helping organize George Elliot Clarke’s lecture in 2006, when I proudly carried quotes from His Highness the Aga Khan’s 2010 lecture on my phone (they’re still there), when I tried to understand all the big words in John Ralston Saul’s inaugural lecture, I never thought I’d be in the company of these artists, these intellectuals, these people who’ve changed the world. I’m just a kid from East Calgary who likes to share stories. And I will do that today, in the hopes that the stories may help us better understand this place we call Canada and the roles we all have in this play we’re writing together.]

I bring you greetings today from a place called Moh’kinsstis—the Elbow, a place where two great rivers meet. It’s the traditional land of the of the Blackfoot people, shared by the Beaver people of the Tsuu T’ina Nation and the Nakota people of the Stoney Nations, a place where we walk in the footprints of the Metis people.

The Blackfoot people have honoured me with the name A’paistootsiipsii, meaning “Clan Leader: the one that moves camp while the others follow”. It is a name that humbles me. And it reminds me of the humbling responsibility I have every day.

It is an honour to be with you here today, in this time of reconciliation, on the traditional lands of the the Huron-Wendat, the Hodnohshoneh and the Anishnabe. We are not on new land newly populated. We are on ancient land that has been the source of life for many people for thousands of years. For more than 5,000 years, people have lived, hunted, fished, met, and traded here. People have fought and loved—held fast to dreams and felt bitter disappointment.

This is part of our collective history—a reminder that we are all treaty people. And our common future is one of opportunity for all.

Today, I’m going to tell some stories. Some are personal, some have nothing to do with me. But I believe in the power of stories to help us better understand who we are, and crucially, who we want to be.

So, please allow me to indulge in some origin stories, beginning with my own.

My parents came to this country in 1971 when my mother was pregnant with me. I was therefore, born in Canada, but made in Tanzania.

This summer, I went on a family trip. I took my mother and my sister’s family, and we all went back to Tanzania. Our little group ranged in age from six to 75, and we were exploring our roots. We saw the house my mum grew up in and the hospital where my sister was born and lots of elephants. But, more important, we reflected on our own roots. I stood on the shores of Lake Victoria in Mwanza and gazed across the lake. I realized that, if my parents had been born on the other side, instead of being immigrants in 1971 they would have been refugees in 1972.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the early 1970s, my parents were working in a place called Arusha. Then, as now, Arusha was used for many international and UN meetings. My dad met some Canadians working for the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). They used to get the Toronto Star delivered to them, and dad, a voracious reader, used to ask for the newspaper when they were done with it. So he read, and he learned all about this strange place.

One day, he read an article about the new city hall in Toronto. As he saw the pictures of that great building and Nathan Phillips Square, he was amazed. How do you build such a tall building, he wondered, and make it round? He resolved that, one day, he would see that city hall.

A few years later, he got his chance. He had saved up so he could go to his sister’s wedding in London, England. He figured that, since he was in London, he might as well make a side trip to Toronto (I’m not sure he consulted a map). Just before leaving, they discovered my mum was pregnant and decided to go anyway, leaving my three-year-old sister with relatives. Much to my regret, they did eventually send for her.

When they got to Toronto, they immediately fell in love with the place (it was summer). They felt a certain freedom, like their kids could do anything there, and they decided to stay.

What followed was a very ordinary story familiar to so many of us.

When my parents arrived, there were six Ismaili families in Toronto and they did prayer services at someone’s home. On Fridays, my mother would strip her only bed sheets off the bed, wash them by hand, hang them to dry (there was no nickel for the dryer), and hope they would be done in time to fold, take on the subway, and bring to evening services so there would be a decent cloth to cover the small tables and lend some dignity to the basement.

Only a few months later, this little group of six families found themselves having to look after hundreds of Ismaili families—refugees from Uganda—and show them how to make it in this strange new place. They never once begrudged this. Even though they had so little, these new arrivals had even less. 

Even though my parents barely knew how to navigate Canada, the newcomers had no idea. So they got to work. It was the right thing to do.

When I was a year old, having done my research and crafted a thorough argument, I convinced the family that our future was in the west, and we packed up a Dodge Dart and moved to Calgary. Sometimes we were very poor. Sometimes we were only mostly poor.

But what we lacked in money, we gained in opportunity. I went to amazing public schools. I spent my Saturday afternoons at the public library. I learned to swim, kind of, at a public pool. I explored the city I love on public transit. And through it all, I was nurtured by a community that wanted me to succeed, that had a stake in me, and that cared about me.

And in 2010, 20 months before he died, my dad, who loved Toronto City Hall, got to sit in another city hall and watch his son be sworn in as mayor.

While that story may seem extraordinary in its details, what’s extraordinary is just how ordinary it is. It is a very Canadian story. It is a story of struggle, service, sweat and, ultimately, success.

Almost every Canadian has such an origin story and every one is worth telling. And with each telling, we share in the story of who we are.

There is another origin story that touches my people—Calgarians—very deeply. This Canadian story reaches back even before the origin story of Lafontaine and Baldwin.

It is the story of Treaty 7. Actually, it’s the story about the story of Treaty 7.

A few years ago, a small group of visionary artists, historians, and cultural leaders came together to create a theatrical presentation about the creation of Treaty 7. With over 20 First Nation and non-Aboriginal performers, it would explore the historical and cultural significance of the events at Blackfoot Crossing in 1877.

The resulting production, Making Treaty 7, is the origin story of my people.

That may sound a bit odd. I’m not that kind of Indian, after all. How can I find my origin in the story of people who signed a treaty while my ancestors were a world away?

But that’s the point.

This beautiful and funny and sad and inspiring and painful work of art reminded us that we are all treaty people. All of us who share this land. It’s our origin story.

Certainly, it hurts at times to think about what we’ve lost. But it’s elating to think about what we’ve gained.

The story doesn’t end there though. It continues through unbearable tragedy and emerges in triumph.

A few months after the performance, and after I was granted my Blackfoot name, two of the creators of Making Treaty 7, Narcisse Blood and Michael Green (Elk Shadow) went to Saskatchewan to help the people there understand their origin story—Making Treaty 5. And then, on their way to the Piapot First Nation, on Highway 6, with two Saskatchewan artists, Michele Sereda and Lacy Morin-Desjarlais, they were killed in a terrible car accident.

That night, as news spread, one after the other, Calgary buildings and roads and bridges lit up in yellow to honour Michael’s artistic home, One Yellow Rabbit Performance Theatre. No one organized it—it just happened. It was the right thing to do. Michael’s memorial service was held in a packed concert hall—the same place that had hosted the memorial for a much-loved former mayor and premier just a year earlier.

And, of course, the stories continue to be told. On January 7, One Yellow Rabbit will open the 30th Annual High Performance Rodeo. And, on Wednesday, Making Treaty 7 will remount as one of the first shows in a brand-new concert hall, reminding us again that we are all treaty people.

So far, I have only told you origin stories. I have told you two Indian stories, and they show us what we love about Canada and what we hope Canada was and will continue to be.

They tell us about when Canada works.

And when Canada works, it works better than anywhere.

What we know is that the core strength of our community is not that there are carbon atoms in the ground in parts of this country and maple trees with amazing sap in others.

What we know is that we’ve figured out a simple truth—one which evades too many in this broken world. And that simple truth is just this: nous sommes ici ensemble. We’re in this together. Our neighbour’s strength is our strength; the success of any one of us is the success of every one of us. And, more important, the failure of any one of us is the failure of every one of us.

This means that our success is in that tolerance, that respect for pluralism, that generous sharing of opportunity with everyone, that innate sense that every single one of us, regardless of where we come from, regardless of what we look like, regardless of how we worship, regardless of whom we love, that every single one us deserves the chance right here, right now, to live a great Canadian life.

But this is incredibly fragile. It must be protected always from the voices of intolerance, the voices of divisiveness, the voices of small mindedness, and the voices of hatred. It’s the right thing to do.

As that great Canadian philosopher, Bruce Cockburn, reminds us “nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight.”

And our fight is for that Canada.

And I worry that, in our current public and political discourse, we are losing that fight.

Let’s talk about Bill C-24.

One of the highlights of my time as mayor is being able to go to citizenship ceremonies. Every time, without fail, I cry. I cry with joy to be with so many people to have chosen to be Canadian. They have worked so hard to be a citizen (in the formal sense of the term). They have taken on the great responsibility of being a Canadian. And I weep as I share in that special moment, talking about how growing up, I always wondered why my family all had these fancy citizenship certificates and all I had was a lousy birth certificate.

As I grew up, I realized that those pieces of paper were not only the most valuable possessions we had, but that they were really the same.

No longer.

How is it that those individuals I get to watch saying their oath should somehow be less Canadian than others? How is it that we should allow it to be easier for our government to strip them of that privilege and responsibility of citizenship?

How is it that I, born at Saint Mike’s in downtown Toronto, could be stripped of my Canadian citizenship? How did we let this happen?

(An aside: two weeks ago, when asked about my concerns about this, a spokesperson for Minister Chris Alexander said “As for his views on our strengthened citizenship laws, unless he [Nenshi] intends to commit and be convicted by a Canadian court of acts of terrorism, treason, espionage or taking up arms against the Canadian military, he has nothing to worry about.” Not only does this person spectacularly miss the point, she doesn’t even know what the act that her boss is responsible for actually says. As Prime Minister Harper likes to say, look, let me be clear: either you believe in the rule of law in Canada, or you don’t.

One Canadian citizen committing the same crime should be treated the same as any other citizen, not subjected to a different sort of justice if they had a parent or grandparent who was born somewhere else. And the bill allows her boss to exile people from Canada without any Canadian court being involved. I suspect Canadians don’t really want him to have that authority.)

How did we get here?

I am deeply troubled at the language of divisiveness we hear in Ottawa these days. The label of “terrorist” is thrown around with disturbing regularity. But it is not done haphazardly. It is targeted language that nearly always describes an act of violence done by someone who shares my own faith.

The man who murdered Edmonton Constable Daniel Woodall was, we are told, a very unwell, dangerous man. The man who ran over two soldiers in Quebec was a “radicalized” terrorist. According to our Prime Minister, one of our greatest threats is of “Jihadi terrorism.” Well, sometimes he says “jihadist terrorism.” He generally avoids saying “Islamist terrorism” these days, so I guess there are small blessings.

But this is very specific, very deliberate language. It ties violent action to a religious group—many of whom are Canadian citizens. It does little to understand the causes of violence or the potential solutions. Instead, it encourages division; the opposite of the Canada to which we aspire.

The ridiculous debate on the niqab at citizenship ceremonies is another example. On the one hand, our government warns us of the radicalization of Muslim youth in our own communities. Law enforcement officers and community activists have repeatedly warned us that the cause of this radicalization is alienation and isolation; that the kids being radicialized are the same kids who join gangs. It truly is not about religion. So, we work hard to make these kids feel part of the community.

But then, on the other hand, in order to give a sop to some elements in our society, the government picks a fight on a completely irrelevant issue. So the government announces it will appeal two court decisions (an unwinnable appeal if I’ve ever seen one) and spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money, to prevent one woman from voting.

And those kids—the ones we are trying to convince that there’s a place for them in our society—are told that no matter what, they can never be truly Canadian. That their faith is incompatible with our values. All that good work on de-radicalization? Completely undermined by our own actions.

When we act like this, whether the issue is dealing with the extraordinary human suffering of those fleeing conflict or the right to vote, we are failing ourselves, our nation, and the world. It’s the wrong thing to do.

And I’m serious when I say “the world”. Canada, the idea of Canada, is a powerful beacon for all humanity. But here again, I fear we are failing.

The government has been running commercials that end with the slogan, “Strong. Proud. Free.” (Who knew that countries have slogans). The Economist last week called us “strong, proud and free-riding.” A study by former CIDA president Robert Greenhill and Meg McQuillian indicates that our foreign aid performance from 2008-2014 ranks us dead last in the G7.

In a recent interview, Mr. Greenhill suggests that that if spending had stayed at 1979 levels and the money been used to help destabilized countries, hundreds of thousands fewer people might now be fleeing, and thousands fewer dying.

And it’s important to note that this is not a partisan argument. Our commitment to assisting in global poverty began to flag in 1995 and has largely continued for 20 years, under Liberal and Conservative governments.

My friend John McArthur tells a story about a recent debate. December 2013 marked the multi-year replenishment deadline for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria—one of the world’s most successful modern life-saving institutions. Months earlier, the United States and the United Kingdom had made their own anchor pledges. They also offered matching grants to help motivate other countries’ contributions. Nations such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden each stepped in with commitments equivalent to $8 to $10 per citizen, per year. Canada, by contrast, left its decision to the final moment. After a flurry of last-minute internal deliberations, the government committed less than $220 million per year, or only $6 per Canadian. The lowball pledges from Canada and a few other countries meant that hundreds of millions in matching dollars were left on the table and the Global Fund suffered a billion-dollar annual shortfall. That billion-dollar shortfall will cost one million lives. And we bear too much of that responsibility.

The shocking part of all of this is not that it happened, but that we collectively did not notice. It was as though we had stopped thinking about the world around us and about our role as leaders.

Former Prime Minister Joe Clark warned in 2013 that we were gradually turning inward, writing:

"An essential question for citizens of lucky countries is not simply who we are or what we earn, but what we could be. That question implies others: To what do we aspire? What are our talents and advantages and assets? How can we be better than we have been, in our impact on events both inside and outside our country?"

I say we aspire to a better Canada in a better world, and that we have that power as citizens to make it happen. It’s the right thing to do.

In just a few days, while those kids are performing Making Treaty 7 in Calgary, we will be witness on the other side of the continent to the largest gathering of world leaders in history.

Those leaders will adopt a new series of Sustainable Development Goals—the Global Goals. They will commit to an extraordinary vision: a vision of a world free of poverty, hunger, disease, and want. A world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity. A world of equal opportunity permitting the full realization of human potential.

There are 17 goals, 107 outcome targets, and 62 targets for implementation. And we have to do it by 2030.

So what, then, is our role as Canadians? We must take on the challenge given us as lucky citizens. It’s the right thing to do.

I’m speaking as though these failures of the Canada to which we aspire are recent. They’re not. I’m naïve, but I’m not that naïve.

After all, we are the nation of Japanese internment camps. We are the nation of the Chinese head tax and Africville. We are the nation of Komagata Maru and provincial eugenics programs. We are the nation of “none is too many.” We are the nation that created and sustained residential schools.

These are our stories too. They are not lapses in our citizenship. They are not moments when we temporarily forgot what it was to be Canadian. They are real and they are stories we tell—as uncomfortable as we are in the telling.

We feel a deep, cold, dark discomfort when confronted with those stories of ourselves. The truth is not easy. It wasn’t easy for the victims of residential schools to tell their stories to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It wasn’t easy for Canadians to bear witness to those stories. But it is profoundly important that we did and that we do.

But there’s something noble in this.

We cannot shy away from these stories of divisiveness.

In telling those stories alongside our origin stories, we move forward.

But there is also something noble and true and real and perfect and Canadian in the stories that we tell that inform us about who we want to be. The stories of the best Canada. The stories of the Canada to which we aspire.

They allow us to proudly say to the world who we are and what it means to be Canadian. They are stories of ideas and, more important, they are stories of actions. Because the best stories are stories of action. Stories of everyday people using their everyday hands and their everyday voices to make extraordinary change. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Let’s start with us—our actions as individuals.

When I first became mayor, I pulled together a group of super-volunteers and gave them what I thought was a simple task: figure out a way to get more people involved in the community and report back in 30 days. Forty-five days later, they came back and said “great news, mayor! We’ve come up with a name for our committee!” They could not have done worse. The Mayor’s Committee on Civic Engagement. (They’ve since changed it, I kid you not, to “The Mayor’s Civic Engagement Committee.”)

A few days after that, they came to me with a simple idea: Three Things for Calgary. A social movement that encourages every citizen, every year, to do at least three things for their community. Three things, big or small.

I thought this idea was crazy. It’s paradoxically too simple and too complex, I said. It’s too simple because we’re not telling people what to do. I’m a researcher, and I know the research shows that the number one reason people don’t volunteer is “nobody asked me.” We have to match people with non-profits. We have to give them ideas.

It’s too complicated because we want to lower the barriers. Why ask people to do three things instead of one small thing?

I was wrong.

It turns out the weaknesses I saw were the strengths of the idea. In not telling people what to do, we allowed them to answer two questions for themselves: What do I care about? What am I good at? It’s at the nexus of these two things that people figure out the right thing to do.

And they do things I would never have thought of. Like the mum who had the terrifying experience of rushing her child to the children’s hospital and spending the night in the emergency room. She didn’t get any sleep, of course, and felt awful in the morning as she took her daughter to various tests and appointments.

When they were all safely at home, she reflected on the experience. And now, every year, she conducts a toothbrush drive for the Alberta Children’s Hospital ER. Not kids’ toothbrushes—adult ones. This is so that parents, having gone through the scariest night of their lives, can brush their teeth in the morning and feel just a little more human. And as they brush their teeth, they are reminded that they live in a community that cares about them—that has a stake in them. For that mum, it was the right thing to do.

And, of course, it’s not really about doing three things every year. It’s about setting up an expectation for a lifetime of service. It’s about creating a habit of service. It’s about internalizing the right thing to do and doing it.

And that habit manifests itself every day in a million little ways. This was never on display as much as during our community’s greatest challenge: the 2013 floods. I won’t dwell on the crisis—that’s a whole other speech—but I’ll share a couple of, you guessed it, stories.

Very early on during the flooding, we were inundated with people asking simply, “how can I help?” We weren’t quite sure what to do, and eventually invited everyone who wanted to assist with the cleanup to meet one morning at McMahon Stadium. My colleagues at the City of Calgary didn’t give much notice—just a couple of hours. When I asked why, they said “well, your worship, we don’t really know what we’re doing. We figure that if we keep this low-key, only a hundred or 200 people will come, we’ll figure out what we’re doing and be ready for more tomorrow.”

I was skeptical, but I went to the stadium to meet the few volunteers I expected. You’ve probably seen the pictures. I was greeted by thousands of people—some in work boots and some in flip-flops—united only in their desire to help strangers in their community.

There was no PA system. I climbed up on a folding table, reached into the driver’s side window of a fire vehicle, and used the radio attached to the sirens. My city colleague yelled up at me, “Send them home! We’ve run out of forms!”

I took a deep breath, visions of municipal lawyers danced before my eyes, and I said “We’ve run out of forms. There’s no more room on the buses. But you’re here to help. Just go help. You know what neighbourhoods have been badly hit. Just go. You may have to go door to door, but it will probably be clear what to do. Just go.”

And they went. And they went. And they went. In the hundreds and thousands, they went. The largest outpouring of humanity I have ever seen. Not organized, driven only by the very real, the very Canadian, desire to help. Because it was the right thing to do.

I got into a habit during the flood of just taking quiet walks in the flood-impacted neighbourhoods. If I could steal away from the emergency operations centre for an hour, I would. No fanfare, just a chance to talk to people about what had happened and how they were coping.

On one of those walks, on a quiet street in Rideau/Roxboro, just down from the Mission Bridge, I met Sam and his mum, Lori. They were kind enough to invite me into their home, or what was left of it. Everything was gone; it was stripped down to the studs.

“We’ve had a tough few days,” she said. “There’s nothing left in my house. I have no stove, no fridge, no cabinets. I have no way to prepare meals for my family. But you know what, Mayor? Tonight, for dinner we have hot shepherd’s pie.”

I often think about that shepherd’s pie. When I’m having a bad day, I think of the anonymous hands that made it. The hands that boiled the potatoes and peeled them, that mashed them and turned the mixture into a casserole dish and covered it tightly in foil. The person who stopped and thought: “I’m never going to see my casserole dish again. But you know what, it doesn’t matter. Somewhere out there, there’s a family that hasn’t had a hot meal in days, and they have to get this shepherd’s pie while it’s hot. It’s the right thing to do.”

I think of Bev. Bev, like so many others in Calgary, went to help a friend. Then she helped the friend’s neighbour, and the neighbour’s neighbour. One day, she found herself in a stranger’s basement and she saw the one thing that finally knocked her to her knees. It was a beautiful photo album—“Our Baby”—and it was ruined.

She stopped short, and she thought: “We can replace people’s furniture. We can replace their appliances and their flooring and their drywall. But how do we replace their memories?”

And she made a decision. Bev has a hobby. She’s a quilter. And she decided that she would make a quilt. She would make it good, and she would make it strong. And she would give it to a family that had lost everything.

And they would make blanket forts with it. And they would curl up under it to watch a movie on cold nights. And the kids would want it when they left home.

And that one family would have a new heirloom and create new memories.

Word spread about Bev’s project. People started talking; they wanted to help. A group of senior ladies wanted to help, but didn’t have any materials. Someone organized a small fundraiser and got scraps of fabric and cotton batting.

I had no idea any of this was happening until I got a call in September. They were going to distribute the quilts, door-to-door in the flooded areas. Could I please come and say thank you to the volunteers?

So, on a sunny and crisp autumn Saturday morning, I went to the Inglewood Community Hall to see 1400 quilts.

They had come, not just from a few senior citizens in Calgary, but from across Canada and the world—as far away as Brazil. And every one of them had a card attached. “In this difficult time, please know that you are part of a community.”

It was the right thing to do.

And my dream for Canada, my dream for this nation in the world, is that simple. That we do the right thing.

Can you imagine if for 2017, for the sesquicentennial of this great nation, we give Canada a birthday gift? Can you imagine if Canada gives the world a birthday gift? Can you imagine Three Things for Canada? Let’s make the commitment today to each do three things for our country, for the world, starting now and continuing through our 150th birthday. Showing everyone the right things to do.

But the real answer in crafting an ideal Canada—the Canada to which we aspire—lies in engaging muscularly with the past and the future. It means a thousand simple acts of service and a million tiny acts of heroism. It means acting at the community level: on our streets, in our neighbourhoods, and in our schools. It means refusing to accept the politics of fear.

And then it means exporting the very best of Canada, that ideal and real Canada, to the rest of the world.

I want to leave you with one last story. One I tell all the time. One that I will keep telling, since it encapsulates who we are and who we aspire to be.

I had the chance a couple of years ago to visit the 100th Anniversary of a school in Calgary. It’s called Connaught School, named after the Duke of Connaught—the Governor General of Canada, the son of Queen Victoria.

Now, the population of the school looks different than when it first opened. Because it’s right downtown, it’s often the first point of arrival for newcomers to Canada. There are 240 students. They come from 61 different countries. They speak 42 different languages at home.

I spoke to some of those kids and their parents. I heard horrible things. I heard stories of war and unspeakable poverty. I heard stories of degradation and loss of dignity. I heard stories of violence so horrific I could not imagine one human being doing that to another, let alone in front of a child.

I looked out at those kids, sitting on the floor in the gym, wearing their matching t-shirts celebrating their school’s birthday.

I looked beyond them, at their parents, in hijabs and kanga cloth, in Tim Hortons uniforms and bus driver caps, in designer suits and pumps.

At that moment, it would have been so easy to feel despair, to mourn for our broken world.

But I didn’t.

Because in that second, I had a moment of extraordinary clarity. I knew something to be true beyond all else.

I knew that regardless of what these kids had been through, regardless of how little they have or had, regardless of what wrath some vengeful God had visited on them and their families, they had one burst of extraordinary luck.

And that luck was that they ended up here.

They ended up in Canada, they ended up in Calgary, they ended up at Connaught School. They ended up in a community. They ended up with people who would catch them if they fell. They ended up in a community that wants them to succeed, that has a stake in them, that cares about them.

And I knew at that moment, that those kids, right here, right now, would live a great Canadian life.

That’s the promise of our community. That’s what I have the humbling responsibility to make real every day.

And that’s the opportunity you have. Because it’s the right thing to do.

September 15, 2015

[Woodpile editor's note: Bruce is among many who signed the Leap Manifesto]

Leap manifesto: bold climate and economic vision for Canada
by Andrea Harden-Donahue

We could live in a country powered entirely by truly just renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.

Canada is not this place today – but it could be.

These are the inspiring words of the leap manifesto, a bold 15 point vision for Canada, launching today. Maude Barlow will be one of several high profile speakers alongside David Suzuki, Naomi Klein, Stephen Lewis, Tantoo Cardinal (and more) attending a press conference at the Toronto Film Festival for the manifesto.

You can read, and sign the manifesto at, download a useful graphic outlining the 15 demands and supporting research paper from the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives on why we can 'afford to leap.'

Here are the manifesto's 15 demands.

  1. The leap must begin by respecting the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land, starting by fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  2. The latest research shows we could get 100% of our electricity from renewable resources within two decades; by 2050 we could have a 100% clean economy. We demand that this shift begin now.
  3. No new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future. The new iron law of energy development must be: if you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard.
  4. The time for energy democracy has come: wherever possible, communities should collectively control new clean energy systems. Indigenous Peoples and others on the frontlines of polluting industrial activity should be first to receive public support for their own clean energy projects.
  5. We want a universal program to build and retrofit energy efficient housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities will benefit first.
  6. We want high-speed rail powered by just renewables and affordable public transit to unite every community in this country – in place of more cars, pipelines and exploding trains that endanger and divide us.
  7. We want training and resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs, ensuring they are fully able to participate in the clean energy economy.
  8. We need to invest in our decaying public infrastructure so that it can withstand increasingly frequent extreme weather events.
  9. We must develop a more localized and ecologically-based agricultural system to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, absorb shocks in the global supply – and produce healthier and more affordable food for everyone.
  10. We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects.
  11. We demand immigration status and full protection for all workers. Canadians can begin to rebalance the scales of climate justice by welcoming refugees and migrants seeking safety and a better life.
  12. We must expand those sectors that are already low-carbon: caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public-interest media. A national childcare program is long past due.
  13. Since so much of the labour of caretaking – whether of people or the planet – is currently unpaid and often performed by women, we call for a vigorous debate about the introduction of a universal basic annual income.
  14. We declare that “austerity” is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth. The money we need to pay for this great transformation is available — we just need the right policies to release it. An end to fossil fuel subsidies. Financial transaction taxes. Increased resource royalties. Higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy people. A progressive carbon tax. Cuts to military spending.
  15. We must work swiftly towards a system in which every vote counts and corporate money is removed from political campaigns.

This transformation is our sacred duty to those this country harmed in the past, to those suffering needlessly in the present, and to all who have a right to a bright and safe future.

Now is the time for boldness.

Now is the time to leap.

Andrea Harden-Donahue's blog



September 12, 2015
D. Keebler

We Are as the Times Are

Ken Rockburn's book regarding the history of the famed Ottawa musical venue, Le Hibou, can be purchsed here. Bruce played many a show at Le Hibou in the 1960s and early 1970s.

More online info can be found at Denis Faulkner's website. He was the founder and first owner of the venue from October 1960 to December 1968.








September 11, 2015
The Ottawa Citizen

Coffeehouse nights: New book remembers Le Hibou
Review by Parick Langston

Book review: We Are as the Times Are
By Ken Rockburn

In town: The author will launch his book at Irene’s on Bank Street on Sept. 14, 2015.

Ken Rockburn’s many nights at Café Le Hibou, the legendary Ottawa coffeehouse that between 1960 and 1975 showcased an extraordinary lineup of musicians and other artists, included one which left him bemused.

The veteran broadcast journalist and author of the newly published We Are as the Times Are: The Story of Café Le Hibou recalls being 16 and squiring an attractive young lady to the coffeehouse for a concert by American blues great John Hammond. After his first set, Hammond made a beeline for the couple’s table and started chatting up Rockburn’s date.

Says Rockburn: “I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Am I pissed because John Hammond is hitting on my date or am I in awe because John Hammond is sitting at my table?’ I chose the latter.”

Le Hibou was, in other words, a spot where expectations might be rattled, where almost anything could happen thanks to a cavalcade of culture that included not just nervy performers like Hammond and the voodoo-influenced Dr. John the Night Tripper and the up-and-coming Gordon Lightfoot but also poetry readings (by Irving Layton among others), theatre (including Too Many Guys For One Doll, an original musical satire on municipal affairs and then-Ottawa mayor Charlotte Whitton), film (English and French), and dance (including a lecture and demonstration of modern dance by the now-renowned Elizabeth Langley).

With entertainment options few and far between, “People saw Hibou as this kind of oasis where things were happening outside their (life) in Alta Vista,” according to Rockburn who’s known for his work with Cable Public Affairs Channel (CPAC), CBC, and others.

The idea for his comprehensive, highly readable book, which he launches Sept. 14 at Irene’s Pub, came from Rockburn’s friend Paul Kyba. Realizing that all the former owners of the coffeehouse were still living, Rockburn set out to record the memories before it was too late.

The memories include those of Denis Faulkner.  A University of Ottawa student at the time, he co-founded with three others the coffeehouse at its first location above a Rideau Street chiropractor’s office just east of Coburg Street. Faulkner says he had no inkling at the time that “a little place for people to meet and talk and have good coffee and listen to folk singers or flamenco would morph into an almost-iconic institution.”

Just how iconic is clear from Faulkner’s website Café Le Hibou Recollections  ( In addition to a history of the place and a comprehensive list of its 15 years of bookings, the website includes a slew of recollections from fans. Those memories range from a first date at the club that blossomed into marriage to a posting from someone who says hanging around Le Hibou transformed him from a respectable student with good grades to a grungy guy barely eking out a pass but who, in retrospect, “wouldn’t trade those days for anything.”

Such heartfelt posts, says Faulkner, prove that not just the club with its red checked tablecloths and candle-stuffed Chianti bottles but the entire era was meaningful to many. “It was a remarkable time. It was the 1960s; the future was wide open.”

Judging from the performers, it was an inclusive future at Le Hibou. Folk singers Judy Collins and Murray McLauchlan played there as did bluesmen Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. So did jazz guitarist Lenny Breau. Ditto a nascent Neil Young.

A very young Joni Mitchell landed a three-week gig for $150 a week in 1967. While there, reports Rockburn, she hooked up with musician Bill Stevenson, and the two dropped acid in Strathcona Park.

Rockburn also quite rightly dedicates considerable space to poet/songwriter William (Bill) Hawkins. He was a regular at Le Hibou and a member, along with Bruce Cockburn, Sneezy Waters and others, of the Ottawa band the Children which played the venue. A troubled man from whose poem Gnostic Serenade the title of Rockburn’s book – We Are as the Times Are – is taken, Hawkins was, says Rockburn, “an intellectual magnet” in Ottawa’s counterculture scene. But substance abuse sapped his creative drive, and Hawkins vanished from the scene in 1974 to drive a cab for years before finally re-emerging with new music and poetry. It’s an especially poignant section of the book.

Le Hibou was also a locus of live theatre for several years. Saul Rubinek, Luba Goy and others performed at the club after it moved to Bank Street in 1961 and after its final move to Sussex Drive just over three years later. Productions were eclectic, from original pieces to John Webster’s 17th century tragedy The Duchess of Malfi.

None of which made the owners wealthy. “I never intended it to be, but it was non-profit,” says music promoter and former Treble Clef music store owner Harvey Glatt. He was a partner in Le Hibou from 1961 to 1968 and booked the music acts.

Glatt also recalls the respect paid to performers. “It was very important that people be quiet; if they weren’t, we’d ask them to leave.”

Sneezy Waters, whose first gig at Le Hibou was in that show about Charlotte Whitton, recalls the community-building aspect of Le Hibou. “It wasn’t a drug den or a bar. For me, it was like a library: you’d go to learn something.”

Waters was also there when Le Hibou closed in the spring of 1975. It was the victim, as Rockburn details, of everything from increased competition from licensed clubs (Le Hibou was basically dry) to the coup de grace: a leap in rent at the National Capital Commission-owned Sussex Street address from $450 a month to $2,000.

“I was there on the last day,” says Waters. “There was gnashing of teeth and wailing and a pretty heavy sadness. There were people on the street looking through the windows. It was hard to imagine it would be gone.

A Le Hibou timeline

October, 1960: Café Le Hibou opens at 544 Rideau St. Owners: Denis Faulkner, Andre Jodouin, Jean Carriere and George Gordon-Lennox. It serves coffee and light food, and hosts poetry readings and occasional impromptu concerts.

October, 1961: The club moves to 248 Bank St. and hires its first paid entertainer: local folk singer Tom Kines.

February, 1965: Le Hibou moves to its final home at 521 Sussex Dr., a heritage building with a 15-foot, stamped tin ceiling.

June, 1965: Gordon Lightfoot, who had not yet released his debut album, plays the first of several dates.

November, 1968: John Russow, the coffeehouse’s night manager, and his wife Joan buy Le Hibou.

June, 1968: Newly sworn-in prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau pays a late-night visit to Le Hibou accompanied by his chauffeur and a single bodyguard. He misses the show but signs a poster.

October, 1969: Van Morrison and his “jazz rock band” play a multi-night gig.

Spring, 1972: Pierre Paul Lafreniere, the final owner, buys the club.

May 3, 1975: Le Hibou closes.

Sources: Denis Faulkner, Ken Rockburn,


September 11, 2015
The Star

Al Purdy Was Here exposes Canada’s cultural roots

Al Purdy Was Here
, Brian D. Johnson’s documentary about the deceased, highly combative Canadian poet, is not only one of the engaging treats in this year’s TIFF Docs program; it’s multi-dimensional.

Part warts-and-all investigation of how a rebel poet created his own myth and part total-pleasure songbook, the film will have its world premiere on Tuesday, Sept 15 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. And 15 years after his death, this should remind a lot of people that Al Purdy was indeed here.

From the perspective of fall 2015, this is not just nostalgia but a timely reminder of those golden pre-Harper years decades ago when culture played a key role in Canadian nation-building, and poets led the charge.

Just as striking for many is the emergence of Johnson, best known for more than two decades as the film critic at Maclean’s, as a hot director.

No one is more surprised — almost apologetic — than Johnson himself.

“I know this sort of looks like a man-bites-dog case about a long-time film critic deciding to reverse engines,” he told me one recent evening at a Yorkville cafe.

True, he had retired from Maclean’s in early 2014 and had time to do something completely different.

“But it wasn’t a career choice. I got pulled into this thing gradually and before that I didn’t know a thing about Al Purdy.”

It was Marni Jackson, the talented author, who lured her husband into this project, one chapter at a time.

“Marni had interviewed Purdy and she had written about him,” says Johnson. “I owe the film to her.”

Jackson knew all about the legendary A-frame cabin that the back-to-the-land poet and his wife, Eurithe, had built out of discarded lumber in Ameliasburgh. That’s in Prince Edward County, which later became a high-end rural favourite of Ontario’s social elite.

Indeed, Eurithe, at 90, emerges now as one of the great strengths of the new film, with sheer star quality. Terrific songs and a surprise Act 3 plot turn are the other ingredients that make this a breakthrough not just for Purdy followers but for many who know little or nothing about the poet.

Along the way we get performances by Bruce Cockburn, Tanya Tagaq and Sarah Harmer, as well as insights from Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Leonard Cohen.

“Marni was well down the Purdy road,” Johnson says. She worked on a 2013 event at Koerner Hall: a fundraiser to restore the A-frame house and keep it going as a mecca for writers, while raising money to maintain a poet-in-residence program there.

The event was filmed and Jackson asked Johnson to edit the footage.

“I found this guy enchanting and charismatic,” he recalls. He was also boisterous and an entertaining raconteur.

But there were many sides to this hard-drinking, high-school dropout who hopped a freight train, heading west during the Depression, and worked in factories before pioneering the idea a guy could earn a living writing poems.

A lot of bad poems came before the good ones, such as his best known work “At the Quinte Hotel,” in which beer drinking looms large. He won the Governor-General’s Award twice.

Songwriters agreed to contribute to the Purdy legend. The obvious next step was a documentary film about this larger-than-life character.

Asked for his advice, Johnson replied that maybe there could be a half-hour for TV.

It was the music that later made him think this should be a full-length documentary. And since he had previously made a seven-minute short film in which other poets read a book by Dennis Lee, Johnson was the right guy to direct this movie.

It was the CBC, through its documentary channel, and film distributor Ron Mann (of Films We Like) that drove the project forward. Now the film is likely to have a limited theatrical release before reaching TV screens in 2016.

For CBC management, this was a great opportunity. The public network was enduring scandal, crisis and cutbacks.

It helped that the team for this film included Jackson as co-writer, Nicholas de Pencier as cinematographer and a young co-producer, Jake Yanowski, who, according to Johnson, wound up mentoring his much older partner.

“This is a tale about Al Purdy and his legacy, but people are bringing more to it,” Johnson told me. “This is about our cultural roots. It evokes nostalgia for a time when poetry mattered, when Canadian culture was still being invented and this activity was a key part of nation-building. Today that seems like a far-fetched ambition for anyone to entertain.”


August 25, 2015
Wicked Local Beverly

MUSIC REVIEW: Bruce Cockburn performs 'gem of a show'
by Blake Maddux

Bruce Cockburn, a 2001 Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee, treated a general admission audience to gem of a show at The Cabot last Friday night.

Performing a total of 20 songs, Cockburn drew from 14 albums, the best represented of which was 1997’s "The Charity of Night."

If there was a pattern or strategy to his song selection, it was apparent only to him.

Thankfully, this was no mere greatest hits show. In fact, anyone who knew only the contents of the 1979-2002 singles anthology that was available for purchase in the lobby would have been able to sing along to only five songs. And those familiar with the 1970-1979 collection, which was not for sale that night, would have recognized two others.

However, a performer as seasoned, versatile, prolific and dependable as Cockburn would have done a disservice to both long-time fans and newcomers -- not to mention himself -- by serving up only the “hits,” which I put in quotes because he has reached the U.S. top 40 only once in his 45-year career.

The fact that Cockburn was perfectly free to eschew playing it safe was evidenced by the myriad requests that those in attendance shouted out, as well as the surprising number of times that the audience registered familiarity with a given song immediately after he started plucking his guitar and before he sang a word.

Speaking of the guitar, Cockburn has clearly retained all of what one is justified in calling his virtuoso mastery of the instrument. Having attended the Berklee College of Music in the mid-60s, he is rarely, if ever, satisfied to simply select the few chords that are necessary to accompany his words.

In fact, three of the evening’s numbers were instrumentals, including the first song that he played after taking the stage and the one that opened the second set following the 30-minute intermission.

The first instrumental was “Bohemian 3-Step,” from the 2011 release "Small Source of Comfort," which is Cockburn’s latest album, but one that he acknowledged is “not very recent.”

Before diving into “The Iris of the World,” also from "Small Source of Comfort," he explained that he had spent the time since that album’s release writing an autobiography (titled "Rumors of Glory" after a song from 1980 that he played early in the first set) and being the father of a daughter who is about to turn 4 years old.

Given the time and energy required for those hefty endeavors, he said, there was “nothing left over for songs.” Reassurance that something still remained came in the form of a song that he introduced as a new one, of which he said “there aren’t very many,” but that he was “happy to have any."

This suggested that he remains a devotee of the Christian faith that he has embraced on a personal level for several decades, but from which he has also distanced himself due to his disapproval of the use of Christianity to advance political agendas, with which he disagrees.

I should note that Cockburn did not neglect all of his better-known songs. “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” which Cockburn released in 1984 and the soon-to-be hugely popular Canadian band Barenaked Ladies covered seven years later, appeared in the first set. He saved the aforementioned lone top-40 entry “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” which prompted a call-and-response sing-along, for the second spot of the two-song encore.

Other crowd-pleasers included “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” and “Call It Democracy,” two politically forthright compositions that he played back-to-back.

Last month, I reviewed a show about which I wrote that two septuagenarians – namely, Brian Wilson and Rodriguez – had set the bar pretty high for all of the younger acts currently on tour. Having turned 70 in May, Cockburn may now join that distinguished company.

Photo by Blake Maddux

August 13, 2015

Bruce Cockburn Accepts His Folk-Hero Status
by Nicole Pensiero

Bruce Cockburn - who will give a solo acoustic performance at 9:05 p.m. Saturday - recalled a time, early in his career, when he would "vehemently deny" he was a folksinger.

"I didn't want to mislead people, and I was fussy about labels like that," said the 70-year-old Canadian-bred, San Francisco-based singer-songwriter. "But if Ani DiFranco's a folksinger, then I guess I am, too."

Cockburn, who last year released his well-received "spiritual memoir" Rumors of Glory, has lasted more than 40 years in the fickle music business, and has dozens of albums - ranging from jazz-influenced rock to worldbeat to, yes, what's probably best termed folk - to show for his efforts.

A word-of-mouth favorite in the United States, Cockburn's something of a national treasure in his native Canada, where his face has adorned postage stamps. (He has also been honored with 13 Juno Awards - the Canadian version of the Grammys - has 21 gold and platinum records, and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.)

But accolades mean far less to Cockburn than the durability of his music.

"My songs, from an emotional point of view, are like a scrapbook of a place and time," he said. Singing the intense, overtly political "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" from 1984, can be "outright painful." It takes Cockburn back to his state-of-mind at the time he wrote it in response to the appalling conditions at Guatemalan refugee camps. But, Cockburn noted, there are times when performing that very song is "necessary or appropriate," depending on current world events.

"It's part of the process of performing from the heart," he said. And regardless of a song's topic - love, politics, or spiritual connection - Cockburn always welcomes the opportunity to play for his fans, as well as hopefully attract some new ones.

"I like people to listen to what I'm doing," Cockburn said, adding that he also gets to be a music fan himself at outdoor festivals, always discovering "something interesting and new."

This Philadelphia Folk Festival appearance will afford Cockburn the opportunity to sing his best-known songs - like 1979's "Wondering Where the Lions Are" and the haunting "Pacing the Cage" - as well as introduce some new material, "depending on how confident I feel."

August 10, 2015
The Western Star

Cockburn to play two shows at Woody Point literary festival
by Gary Kean

If a tree falls in the Newfoundland forest next month, there’s a chance Bruce Cockburn just might hear it.

The stalwart of the Canadian music scene for the past four decades is coming to Newfoundland and Labrador and plans to drive between shows in St. John’s and Woody Point.

He’s played the capital city before, but this will be his first time venturing outside of St. John’s to play or to take in the scenic landscape.

“I hear there’s a lot of spruce and moose,” he said in a recent interview from San Francisco.

Cockburn’s visit will feature appearances at two folk festivals. He was scheduled to play the 39th annual Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival in St. John’s this past Saturday, before trekking to the Writers at Woody Point literary festival.

Cockburn will open the festival with a pair of concerts at the Heritage Theatre in Curzon Village on Tuesday and Wednesday. On the third day, he will be interviewed before a live audience at the theatre by Canadian novelist, essayist and memoirist Lawrence Hill.

His albums have sold more than seven million copies worldwide, but Cockburn has more than his well-known music to discuss. Last November, he released his memoir, “Rumours of Glory,” at the request of publisher HarperCollins.

He said he had been asked to write a book before, but the time just wasn’t right until now.

“We’ve all seen coffee table books about 20-year-old rock stars and 25-year-old hockey stars and stuff like that that say ‘here’s the life of so-and-so, but there’s no life there to talk about really,” he said. “It’s just an excuse to sell people something.”

Cockburn, who was born in 1945, said he didn’t know what the publisher meant when they asked him to pen “a spiritual memoir.” Others have also expressed interest in the background stories of his songs and his life of humanitarian work and advocacy.

The end result is an intimate peek into the inspiration behind all of his work.

“I thought it was worth trying to do the book because there was room in between the songs for a more concrete statement about the kinds of things the songs talk about and about my own life,” he said.


July 9, 2015
Winnipeg Free Press

Excerpted from the article Good Times, Great Music by Melissa Tait & Joe Bryska

Last month, the Free Press sat down with Winnipeg Folk Festival legend Mitch Podolak and asked him to flip through a pile of archival photographs of the event he founded 41 years ago.

"We owe the Winnipeg Folk Festival in a lot of ways to Bruce (Cockburn), because people did not have any idea at all what a folk festival was — none. We knew we had Bruce and we used Bruce in a way we didn’t use anybody else.

"We said, ‘There’s a free Bruce Cockburn concert in the park,’ and 14,000 people showed up the first night to see that, and what they got was the folk festival. Thank you, Bruce."

Photo 1975, David Landry Collection, Archives of Manitoba



Posted June 30, 2015

Bruce Cockburn

Montreal Folk Festival Friday 19th June 2015
Ottawa Jazz Festival Saturday 20th June 2015

Reviewed by Richard Hoare

When it was announced that Bruce was appearing at The Montreal Folk Festival and Ottawa Jazz Festival with Gary Craig and Roberto Occhipinti I experienced an adrenalin rush. This was followed by return to rational thought, “Leave it Richard, you live in the UK”!

Something clicked in me that the drummer/percussionist that is Gary Craig coupled with the versatile bassist that is Roberto Occihpinti would make Cockburn’s performances incandescent. Bruce has known Roberto since the days that he lived in Toronto, once sat in with one of Roberto’s R’n’B bands in that city and has wanted to work with Roberto for some time but calendars clashed. Roberto is the brother of Michael Occhipinti who recorded a CD in 2000 of Cockburn’s songs as jazz instrumentals. The album was entitled Creation Dream and the musicians included Hugh Marsh, Jon Goldsmith and Bruce himself on one track. I reviewed this fine work for Gavin’s Woodpile when it was still a paper newsletter [Issue number 52, August 2002].    

The nagging draw continued until, on Friday 19th June, I strolled out of Monk metro station, Montreal, in the bright sunshine to walk the length of Monk Boulevard trying to find the Theatre Paradoxe where Cockburn was headlining the festival that night. At last I spotted the vertical sign on the side of the historical Church Notre-Dame-du-Perpétuel-Secours, now a community centre. I had arrived. Before the sound check started Bruce introduced me to his daughter, Jenny, who lives in Montreal.

The new trio had just spent two days in a rehearsal studio in Toronto. The sound check in Montreal was largely able to be a rehearsal, as the crew had ironed out the bugs in the PA. Roberto and Gary were already subtly jamming when Bruce arrived on stage to sing a few lines of Fever over their riff! Playing a vintage double bass Roberto has drive, subtly, solos, a violin bow and diverse talent to bring it all together. Gary’s playing with Cockburn goes back to the early 1990s involving both recordings and concerts. Craig brings that magical combination of beat and percussion without drowning out Cockburn’s amplified acoustic instruments. Fresh life was being blown through a back catalogue that was not specifically tied to an album release. Bruce selected instruments for different songs from his collection of two Manzer guitars, a 12 string guitar, the metal bodied Dobro and a charango made by Linda Manzer.

This trio brought an urgency and vibrancy to the Cockburn catalogue. Bone In My Ear, with Bruce on charango and Roberto on bowed bass, was absolutely amazing. There were tears in my eyes. Occhipinti even asked to try various “chugging” numbers before the close of the sound check.

The evening concert had had a variety of start times banded around in advertising and the media so by the time the musicians walked on stage at 9pm the audience in this 700 person capacity theatre were more than ready for the show.

The back catalogue tracks, After The Rain, Rumours Of Glory, Lovers In A Dangerous Time and Tokyo were well received. Mango, Open and Bone In My Ear all benefitted from Roberto’s bowed bass. Slow Down Fast enabled the trio to stretch out and Waiting for a Miracle brought the first half to a close.

The interval was over when the guys returned to kick off with Comets Of Kandahar, almost more appropriate for the double bass than the recorded violin version. City Is Hungry employed some jazz chops before settling back into songs like Iris Of The World, Strange Waters, Rocket Launcher and Let The Bad Air Out. Wondering Where The Lions Are gave a boost to the proceedings and the fire of Call It Democracy and Put It In Your Heart brought the second half to a close.

The last new album was 2011’s Small Source of Comfort, and for the last three years Bruce has been writing his Memoir. During that time, song writing has taken a back seat but Cockburn has started to write again. When the trio came back for encores Bruce explained that he was surprised to have written a gospel song before launching into the urgent Jesus Train “heading for the city of God” and this was the first time he was playing it to a concert audience. The show concluded with the timeless God Bless The Children. The day had been very enjoyable with just a faint hint of energy loss from the trio halfway through the second half.

It was late, the merchandise line was long and the metro would close soon for the night so I headed back to my hotel without seeing the band. At the end of the sound check that day Bruce had invited me to join the tour bus for the two hour drive to Ottawa tomorrow.

Saturday was another bright sunny day and the tour bus left midmorning from the hotel downtown that the trio and crew had stayed at on Friday night. The bus banter included films, other music projects and family. Before I knew it the bus was pulling into Ottawa up to the backstage area of the jazz festival. While the stage was being set up Gary and I took a walk passed the parliament buildings, The Rideau Canal locks and took in a couple of markets for snacks. As we wandered, Gary said to me - Today we have to avoid the “sophomore slump”.   The Laurier Avenue Canadian Music Stage was housed under a tall marquee tent with a reputed 500 person capacity. With two of the tent sides rolled up for an additional standing audience on the left and back, the atmosphere was expectant for the earlier start of 7.30pm.

Cockburn grew up in Ottawa and the Ottawa Sun newspaper billed this show as a homecoming gig. Bruce’s two brothers, who still live in the area, were chatting with him in the bus when Gary and I returned from our walk and we were introduced.  We were even very close to the various locations of Le Hibou where Cockburn started performing all those decades ago.

The sound check was largely that, getting interference out of the PA system. However I was entertained with three instrumental jams along the way.   

As a festival date there was no interval, the set was slightly shorter than the day before but the audience and trio interaction maintained a vibrancy throughout the set. In fact this home crowd gave several standing ovations during the set. Comets Of Kandahar and City Is Hungry nailed the trio’s jazz credentials to the stage and Bruce played some wonderful guitar solos on Rocket Launcher, Jesus Train, Put It In Your Heart and Slow Down Fast. If you think it’s just Richard raving about Bruce again check out the review in the Ottawa Sun on line [Or see the article just below this one].

I waited at the end of the merchandise line to thank Bruce and his road manager for a great visit. “See you in October in the UK” they both said in unison!  

I really hope that any new work incorporates the talents of Gary Craig and Roberto Occhipinti. A while ago Cockburn was quoted as saying he would like to record with Sunn O))), Seattle drone metal band. Scott Walker has recently done that. What we need now is the new twist to Cockburn’s music that is Bruce, Roberto and Gary.

My thanks to Daniel Keebler, to my wife, Mary, our family and my employer for their blessings, which enabled the dream to become reality


June 20, 2015
The Ottawa Sun

Bruce Cockburn diehards packed the tent for hometown hero
by Aedan Helmer

As odd pairings go, it was a doozy.

Ottawa-raised Bruce Cockburn making a celebrated return to his hometown -- tucked away in a full-to-bursting Laurier Ave. tent -- while the Philly-bred Roots crew invaded TD Ottawa Jazzfest's Main Stage, taking a Saturday night off from their house gig under the bright late-night television lights of The Tonight Show.

You could almost sense the spirit of Pete Seeger at the side of the stage, vowing to yank the plug.

But once Questlove, Blackthought and company took the stage, they left no doubt they were right where they belonged -- though some of the jazz traditionalists in the crowd may have disagreed, once their lawn chairs were evicted from prime dancing ground.

And while Tonight Show viewers are only treated to snippets around commercial breaks The Roots got to strut their stuff in front of a packed Confederation Park.

Launching into their signature The Next Movement -- with its acid jazz-infused Rhodes hook putting The Roots in a class of their own when they broke out with 1999's seminal Things Fall Apart -- the band did proceed to rock the mic with Proceed, The Fire and Mellow My Man, barely pausing to take a breath through the entire 90-minute set.

A late addition to the festival's star-studded roster -- and one that would have been circled on calendars of the young, urban crowd who might otherwise give Jazzfest a miss -- The Roots ended up bumping Bruce Cockburn to a side stage, and an earlier time slot, after he was originally announced as a Main Stage headliner.

It was a shame Cockburn's throng of fans didn't get to see him in all his glory, and while it's always a delicate dance at festivals, a wiser scheduling move may have seen the celebrated songwriter playing the Main Stage in the early evening slot, shifting Duchess and their Andrews Sisters-style torch songs to the tent.

As it was, the Laurier tent was already swelling to the seams by the time Cockburn emerged.

And so cherished is Cockburn, especially around his old stomping grounds, simply striding onstage earned his first of several standing ovations from the lucky 500 fans who crammed in to the standing room-only show.

Dressed head-to-toe in black, capped by a grey tuft and trademark round-rim glasses, Cockburn dug into his acoustic guitar on the instrumental opener Comets of Kandahar, his gruff and wonderfully strained vocals making their first appearance on The Iris of the World, both drawn from his latest studio offering, 2011's Small Source of Comfort.

But as Cockburn acknowledged, the songs are "from my most recent album, which is not very recent."

"I got involved in writing a memoir, and it took up all my creative energy, so we're not here promoting an album, we're just here to play some music," he said to more applause.

He did just that, delighting his long-serving faithful with songbook staples like If I Had a Rocket Launcher, Rumours of Glory and Lovers in a Dangerous Time, with its unmistakable opening chords ringing, setting things in motion for one of the all-time great lyrical entries into the Canadian canon.

Accompanied by the excellent Roberto Occhipinti, who has won Junos of his own as a renowned bassist, and drummer Gary Craig, Cockburn shone as an instrumentalist as well as a gifted wordsmith, with his acid-laced, politically-charged lyrics propelled by some absolutely menacing guitar work.

And, this being Jazzfest, he left plenty of room for Occhipinti to explore, which he did expertly, walking the length of the upright bass or breaking out the bow for the uncharted waters.

And while Duchess were delightful, with their Andrews Sisters-inspired torch song harmonies -- which they saucily trademarked as girl-on-girl harmony -- they may have been better suited to the cozy confines of the tent, if only to allow Cockburn and company to truly stretch out on the Main Stage.


June 16, 2015
The Ottawa Citizen

Bruce Cockburn: Back to his musical basics
by Lynn Saxberg

After spending the better part of the last three years writing a memoir, Bruce Cockburn has little desire to continue working to the kind of schedule required by a publisher.

“I’ll be happy if there are no deadlines at all,” declared the Canadian Music Hall of Famer by phone from his home in San Francisco.

“The actual writing, the sitting down and coming up with language was fun, as much fun as writing songs. I always feel like Sherlock Holmes on the trail of something: I’m tracking down the next line. That was true of the book, but the presence of deadlines made it very stressful.”

The memoir, Rumours of Glory, was published last year (accompanied by a nine-CD box set), freeing Cockburn up to get back to his first love, writing songs. He has three new tunes in the works, none of which are ready to perform, and no deadline to finish them. As is his preference.

“I went through a brief phase early on where I thought real writers write every day so I thought I should try that,” explains the 70-year-old Ottawa-born singer-songwriter-guitarist. “After about a year doing that, I ended up with about the same amount of usable stuff as if I had just waited for the good ideas so I opted for waiting for the good ideas, and it’s been that way ever since.”

It’s been four years since his last studio album, Small Source of Comfort, long enough to see further changes in the ever-shifting music landscape. Even a legend like Cockburn, known for hard-hitting topical songs like If I Had a Rocket Launcher and Lovers in a Dangerous Time, has to wonder where he fits in.

“I’m still trying to figure out how to approach coming back to being a songwriter,” he says. “I did gigs through that period so I was not completely away from the scene, but I didn’t write anything. It’s different now than it was even five years ago, and it’s moving fast. By the time I feel like I’m ready to make a CD, will I make one or will I sprinkle out a bunch of tracks online?”

In the next breath, he answers his own question: “I still think in terms of making CDs, and I know lots of other artists do, too, and not just old guys. I don’t think the medium is dead. I think that there is a place for a collection of songs, and I don’t really sympathize with the trend, which is to just put out these things one-off without any kind of background or connections.

“An album is kind of like a book, a collection of poetry, and so where that will fit in in the current scene, I don’t know if it does at all. But I’m not worried about it until I have enough songs to worry about it.”

In the meantime, there are plenty of gigs, including a hometown show at the Ottawa Jazz Festival. He’ll be playing with longtime drummer Gary Craig and a new sideman, Toronto bassist Roberto Occhipinti, who’s known for his jazz chops. “I’m hoping there will be some jamming and stuff in the set, but I won’t really know ’til we do some rehearsing,” Cockburn says, describing the jazzier configuration as a new adventure.

Another factor influencing his life these days is his three-year-old daughter, Iona, who frequently travels with her parents when Dad is on tour. Needless to say, there are no journeys planned to war zones.

“It makes for a slightly more complicated balancing act with respect to touring,” Cockburn says. “That’s the biggest single effect. It’s also harder to get time. I’m living the life of a young family man and I’m not a young family man. I’m an old family man. There are energy requirements that I manage to meet but it’s hard work sometimes.”

Except for lack of sleep, Cockburn says he’s in good health. Retirement is a long way off.

“I’ll retire when I have to. If my hands stop working or my brain stops working and I recognize it, then I’ll retire, I guess, but I don’t have any expectations of quitting voluntarily.”


June 1, 2015
United Church Observer

Interview with Bruce Cockburn
by Mardi Tindal

Q You gave your memoir the same title as one of your songs, Rumours of Glory. What does that title say about your religious journey?

A I’ve certainly gone through different perspectives on the whole issue of God and Jesus and what it is to be a seeker. I think what that song is attempting to portray is the hint of God — “rumours.”

The hints are around us all the time, yet we tend not to see evidence of God’s presence as readily as it’s presented. At least I don’t. But once in a while it hits you, and this song was triggered by what’s described in the first verse. I was in New York, looking up between the buildings at the part of the sky that was visible, at dusk in winter. It was crossed by two vapour trails, and they were lit by the setting sun, which wasn’t visible because it was behind the buildings.

The streets were darkening and filling with people coming out of their jobs. It was that — the contrast between the relatively grumpy-looking crowd of people leaving work and trying to get on the subway, the grit of New York streets, and then this glorious image in the sky. It seemed like one of those hints.

As a title for the book, it’s ironic more than anything. My career has been pretty good, but is it glorious? I’m not glorious enough to be featured in the tabloids.

Q You write that the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton has influenced you. Merton embodied a spirituality of paradox, as do you. You say you’re living your life as best you can in line with the word of Christ, and yet you’re not necessarily taking that word as gospel. You say that praying in the company of others can be nurturing, and yet question the value of religious worship or affiliation.

A I see a pattern full of that contrast. It’s full of ambiguity and dichotomy and slipperiness. Just look at people in any context — it could be at a cocktail party or a worship service or a war. You’ll see all this stuff going on. There’s beauty and grace, and there’s spite and ugliness. What I see is that God’s there in that relationship. It’s for me to be open to him and receptive. That’s what I work at. A long time ago, when I was new to the game so to speak, the forms [of religion] were valuable. I still like ritual, but the ritual has to be about that relationship to God.

Q Much of this seems beyond words at all.

A I think there’s a trap inherent in taking words at face value. Sometimes that’s what you have to do, and it’s appropriate, but other times you have to read the heart of the person speaking and look past the actual words. If I hear a minister preaching, I have to try to hear past the literal words if I’m going to take him seriously. I’m not saying that the words don’t matter, because they do. But if you want to know whether or not to admit those words into yourself, you need to feel the heart of the person delivering them. It’s about the relationship with God.

Q You describe your early days in The United Church of Canada in your book, and tuning in to a sermon when you were 10 or 11 and noticing that the minister was talking about “real stuff” — “he was nailing something.”

A I was sitting there with my parents and had my pad of paper and my pencil, getting ready to occupy myself during the sermon. For some reason, that day I listened to [the minister] speak, and it really made sense to me. In this case, I don’t think I was looking past the words. I was looking at the words for the first time, and grasping that it wasn’t just a guy up there telling you to wash your hands and pray or whatever.

Another powerful experience was my acquaintance with Peter Hall, the organist at Westboro United [in Ottawa], who taught me theory and piano. He was a real mentor, helping me appreciate music and get deeper into it.

Then in the 1980s and ’90s, through my travels and connections with charitable work in various parts of the world, I was aware that the United Church was very active and very outspoken on some issues I thought were really important. The United Church has stood out as an agent for positive social change.

Q You’ve said that people who maintain a relationship with the Divine bear a special burden of healing. How do you see that call of Christ today?

A There are some obvious worldly examples. How do you exercise compassion and forgiveness to ISIS, for example? I have trouble with that. I want to kill them all, but I don’t think that’s what I’m supposed to do. That’s probably the most extreme example.

I feel like the world’s getting screwier and screwier and there’s a kind of entropy taking hold. The challenge is to respond to that increasing madness from a godly base.

It’s tricky. That one-to-one relationship with God becomes really important, although it can get off balance too. People do all kinds of horrible things thinking that God told them to do it. So you need some community around you to bounce off, to keep you moving in the right direction.

Q How do you maintain that relationship with the Divine?

A I struggle with a lack of trust, which I didn’t know back in the day. When I was a more active churchgoer, I felt like I had a pretty solid faith. But I had a conversation with a Presbyterian minister friend of mine who said, “Do you believe in an all-powerful, all-seeing God?”

I said, “Yeah, I do, but I don’t trust him. I don’t want to be available to him, because he’s going to ask me to do [things] I don’t want to do.” This is a totally wrong-headed way to think about it, but this is my default position, and I struggle with that. I’m winning, little by little — or God’s winning. It’s getting better. The period of doubt I’ve gone through has been an exercise in going deeper.

I’ve been doing Jungian-based dream work for a long time, and through it I’ve come to find myself; I’m able to feel love from God and receive it.

MJ [my wife] recently started going to a Pentecostal church, but it doesn’t conform to my previously held stereotype of a Pentecostal church. It’s full of spirit and brains and fun, a real sense of joy. I was shocked to discover this and finally let MJ persuade me to go with her. Then I got invited to play with the band. So I go now and sit in the church band as a guitar player. It’s an unfolding process.

Q You’ve had a lot of labels in your day — including psalmist and prophet.

A And some less complimentary ones!

Q Which seem to fit now?

A You know, I’m just a guy trying to live. I don’t have a convenient label for myself, but I can look with hindsight and see prophetic bits in the songs. I’ve written three songs since the book came out, and the most recent is a gospel song. So where is that going? I don’t know. Part of the job of being human is just to try to spread light, at whatever level you can do it. Songs are one level, and it’s not simple. You can spread light with dark songs, because they invite people to notice and respond to what’s around them. They are invitations to look.  

This interview has been condensed and edited.


May 13, 2015

Music review: A life in music and words: Bruce Cockburn explores range of human emotion at Iron Horse show
by Steve Pfarrer, Staff Writer

When you’ve been writing and playing songs for 45-plus years, you have a lot of material to work with. In fact, you might have so much that you’d need to write a memoir to put it all in context.

That’s just what Bruce Cockburn, the venerable Canadian songwriter and guitarist, has done. “Rumours of Glory,” which was published late last year, recounts his long career as a musician, human rights activist, and spiritual explorer. With 31 albums and a raft of musical and humanitarian awards to his credit, Cockburn — who turns 70 May 27 — has a lot of ground to cover.

He brought copies of his book, as well as a new boxed set of CDs, to Northampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall last Friday, the first of two nights he would perform there before a sold-out house. He also brought four guitars — two six-string acoustics, a resonator guitar and a 12-string acoustic — to showcase his inventive finger-style work and the jazz, world music, blues and folk sounds he incorporates in his songs.

Cockburn is by his own admission a pretty shy, introverted person — though he’s become somewhat less so over the years — and he joked that he’d felt a little self-conscious when he’d visited Northampton’s “local bookstores” to see if they had copies of his memoir.

“My manager, Bernie, always used to tell me to visit local record stores when I was on tour and check out what they had of mine,” he said. “I never liked to do that.” He added that he’d looked as unobtrusively as possible for his book in Northampton’s stores “but I didn’t see any. But maybe they bought 100 copies and sold them all.”

Not to worry. As one woman at the packed Iron Horse called out, “We have it, and we love it!”

The crowd also loved Cockburn’s songs, which he plucked from throughout his long career: 1973’s “All the Diamonds in the World,” “Hills of Morning” from 1979, “Understanding Nothing” from 1987, and 1995’s “Pacing the Cage.” There was also the beautiful guitar piece “The End of All Rivers,” one of the tracks from his 2005 instrumental album, “Speechless.”

As good a guitarist as he is — Cockburn often lays down a thumping rhythm with his thumb and plays melodic leads with his first three fingers — he’s won much of his acclaim as a lyricist, and his songs have been covered by a wealth of artists, from Barenaked Ladies to Jimmy Buffett. Whether writing about his own spiritual explorations or the injustice he’s witnessed around the world, he brings a poetic intensity and sense of the mystical to many of his songs. He’s a Christian, he says, who has moved away from organized religion but still stresses the importance of what he calls “the divine” in his life.

Case in point: For the second song of his set, he played “Strange Waters,” which is built around slow, chiming chords and observational lyrics about a journey that could be both literal and metaphorical: “I’ve stood in airports guarded glass and chrome / Walked rifled roads and landmined loam / Seen a forest in flames right down to the road / Burned in love till I’ve seen my heart explode.”

At the Iron Horse, Cockburn’s voice sometimes strained when he approached the top of his range. Yet that lent a sense of urgency to songs like “Call It Democracy,” a full-throttle attack on the International Monetary Fund and its role in bracketing poor countries in debt: “Padded with power here they come / International loan sharks backed by the guns / Of market hungry military profiteers / Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared / With the blood of the poor.”

It was one of Cockburn’s more impassioned moments during an otherwise fairly low-key set; he played the song on his 12-string guitar, giving it some added drive and volume and bringing the crowd to its feet at the end.

“I guess not a lot has changed since I wrote this,” he said about the 1985 song. “I’m not sure when the revolution is going to come.”

Then, when someone called out, “Let’s start it now,” he paused for a moment, then quipped, “I’m in danger of making a speech.”

In search of humanity

Cockburn, born and raised primarily in Canada’s capital of Ottawa, took up the guitar in his late teens and studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the mid-1960s, though he left without a degree. He later played with a number of rock bands in Canada before concentrating on songwriting, releasing a series of folk-oriented albums beginning in the early 1970s.

In the 1980s, though, his music began to embrace wider influences, and he also developed a reputation as a “political” songwriter, in part from songs like “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” That 1983 tune was inspired by his visit to a camp of Guatemalan refugees on Mexico’s border, people who had fled the attacks of Guatemala’s military — many of whose leaders had been trained by the United States — during the country’s 30-year civil war. Furious about the refugees’ plight, Cockburn imagined shooting down Guatemalan helicopters that buzzed the area.

Over the years, he’s traveled to countries such as Nicaragua, Mozambique and Iraq as part of his activism, playing benefit concerts and jamming with musicians in other nations. He’s also worked with organizations such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders and Friends of the Earth.

Yet in his memoir, Cockburn, who now lives in San Francisco with his second wife, says his songs “tend to be triggered by whatever is in front of me, filtered through feeling and imagination. I went looking for humanity in all its guises ... the love, the meanness, the artists, the farmers, the juntas ... the conflicts, the peace, the music. That’s why I don’t think of the things I write as ‘protest’ songs.”

Indeed, although the crowd at the Iron Horse applauded all his tunes, the ones that seemed to bring out the warmest feelings were the ones exploring the range of human emotion, from regret and sadness to wonder and faith. He had the audience singing along with the chorus of “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” a lilting folk tune about a sudden feeling of optimism that he introduced by saying, “Here’s one that came back into the repertoire recently after being out of it for a long time.” The tune, from 1979, was Cockburn’s only Top 40 U.S. single.

Though he played solo, Cockburn added unusual textures to some of his songs by activating, through a foot pedal, a pair of heavy steel chimes positioned on either side of the stage. The chimes lent a particular resonance to “The End of All Rivers,” the instrumental track, which Cockburn played with reverb, echo and digital delay on his guitar, allowing the song’s hypnotic central riff to repeat as he added a long solo over the top.

He also closed the show with two songs, “Mystery” and “Put It In Your Heart,” that speak to the power of love and beauty to offset the worst the world and humankind can show — or the problems that can bedevil a single person. On the gentle “Mystery,” which included a pretty solo, he sang “Come all you stumblers who believe love rules / Stand up and let it shine.”

As the song ended and applause rang out, one woman seemed to speak for many when she called, “I don’t want the show to end!”


May 2, 2015
D. Keebler

Bruce and The Hellbender Salamander

I recently contacted Mark Pagano of the St. Louis-based band, Fire Dog, which also includes Celia on bass guitar and Mike Schurk on drums. Bruce contributed a few lines via telephone for the song, Hellbender. It first appeared on the CD, May These Changes, in 2012. Bruce later phoned in to particpate in a revamp of the same song, which appears on the CD, For the Kids, to be released in May 2015. Also of note, Fire Dog covers Bruce's song, For The Birds, on the latter CD. The following is from Mark Pagano.

As for Bruce's part on "Hellbender"... It was indeed a phone call to Sawhorse Studios. He delivered the lines that I had researched and written: "It's true that since the 1980's the Hellbender population has been devastated due to rising temperatures, water pollution, and the mysterious chytrid fungus. The Hellbender is now an endangered species." He said them a couple of times and we just cut them in.

We recorded the song in 2011 after a friend brought me to the Hellbender Breeding Center at the St. Louis Zoo earlier that year. Shortly after recording the track, the St. Louis Zoo announced that after ten years of work they finally had fertilized eggs.

In 2013, I began using the song in St. Louis Public Schools as a teaching tool in my songwriting residencies. I also began using another line that is a direct quote from Jeff Briggler of Missouri Department of Conservation: "What happens to the Hellbender, happens to us." Kids really connected with this line so when we revamped "Hellbender" on the "For the Kids" album, I asked Bruce to call it in again, which he did this past November [2014].

It was really a great moment for me to have Bruce in studio even if it was via phone. I love his delivery of the lines... it's so Bruce Cockburn!

One detail...  The friend who brought me to the breeding center, Mikal Shapiro (Kansas City, MO), was working on a project called Go-Go Global Girls. The song "Hellbender" was originally produced for this project.

Visit the Fire Dog website


May 1, 2015

Parting Shots: Bruce Cockburn
by Dean Budnick

In his new memoir, Rumours Of Glory, Bruce Cockburn shares stories from a career that began in the mid-1960s, following a stint at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. The Canadian troubadour also offers accounts of his world travels, social activism and spiritual life. There are plenty of musical memories as well, which are reinforced by a 9-CD box set of the same name, with tracks selected by Cockburn from his 31 albums to offer
parallel audio accompaniment.

In your book, you describe your rather unique reaction to hearing yourself on the radio for the first time back in 1970.

I had been writing songs for a few years in a bunch of different bands. So I had these bodies of songs and I felt choked up on them. I felt that having to carry all these songs in my head was getting in the way of writing new ones. So I wanted to make a record, and in my imagination, that record would allow me to forget about those songs because they would have been there and accounted for, so I could get on to writing new ones. Of course, what I didn’t realize was that it doesn’t work like that—when you record those songs, then everyone wants you to play those songs.

On the day my album came out, I was in the Yorkville area, which was the Toronto equivalent of Haight-Asbury or the Village in New York, and was the center of the counterculture scene. This was at a time when free-form FM radio was really just taking off and all the stores in that area would listen to this particular radio station called CHUM. So I’m in a store and they were playing my music. No one knew me but I felt like I had a big finger pointing at me. It was terrifying.

So I left the store and went into a different store that had the same radio station on and they were playing the whole album. You could do that kind of thing back in those days. I felt like I would never have a sense of privacy again. It was a very excruciating experience and I felt I had to duck and hide.

While we are on the subject of hearing yourself, Bono references your song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” in U2’s “God Part II” [“Heard a singer on the radio late last night/ Says he’s gonna kick the darkness till it bleeds daylight”]. Do you recall the context in which you first heard that? Was it obvious that he was referencing you?

I think the album was out for a year or two before I actually heard it, but it was obvious when I heard the song. I had met Bono in the late ‘80s or very early ‘90s at a Christian festival in England. We had a chat and he expressed his approval of that song at that time, but nobody ever called me to tell me that they had done it. I kind of heard it through the grapevine and eventually I did hear the album, and there it was.

Did you have any exchanges with Jerry Garcia over the years, and what was your response to hearing him perform a song of yours [“Waiting for a Miracle,” which became a Jerry Garcia Band staple in 1989 and appears on the group’s selftitled 1991 live album]?

I heard from audience members that his band was doing the song live. Then his record company applied for the mechanical licenses that are part of the process. I was very excited, so I got the album and I put it on. It was a beautiful version, musically, and it had great energy, but the lyrics were unrecognizable in places. Right after that, a Bob Dylan song came on [“Simple Twist of Fate”] and the lyrics were quite altered in Garcia’s version as well, so I felt better. I told myself: “Well, if he is doing it to everybody, then I am in good company.” [Laughs.]

Sometime that same year, the Dead were doing one of their week-long extravaganzas at Madison Square Garden. I happened to be in New York, and somebody said, “Let’s go put you together with Jerry.” So I was ushered up onto the stage behind the amps where his tent was, and Jerry came out. He was very gracious and a lovely guy. We shook hands, and he said, “Man, it’s great to meet you! That’s a beautiful song, I hope I didn’t screw up the lyrics too much!” And then I said, “Well, I was going to wait till the second time I met you to bring that up, but it’s OK you did it your own way, and I’m glad you did…”

Speaking of iconic rock guitarists, you once shared a bill with Jimi Hendrix and you nearly shared a stage with him.

I was in a band that was originally called The Flying Circus but, because of competition from another band, we changed it to Olivus. We thought the name was terribly clever and we got a job opening shows, including some big ones like Wilson Pickett, Cream and Jimi Hendrix.

The Hendrix one was in Montreal in an arena and, after the show, there was a party in which all the participants were invited to a studio downtown. Hendrix had done an amazing show and, after a while, Mitch Mitchell came in and I got to talk to him. Then Hendrix came in and there was a stage with instruments and equipment but no one was using them. So he looked around at the people in the shadows and he said: “I don’t know what they are staring at. I want to play some music.”

Then he got up onstage and there were open jam sessions. I could have played, but I felt that I wouldn’t have anything to contribute to this jam session, so I would be better off not to reveal that to anyone present. I listened to a little bit, then I left. It was very interesting. He had a natural vibe about him. He just seemed like a regular guy and he seemed to expect other people to act like him, too.

What is the most inspiring live performance that you have ever witnessed as an audience member?

It would be a toss-up between the first time I saw Ani DiFranco and the only time I have ever seen Laurie Anderson, for very different reasons. I saw Laurie Anderson when she was touring the Mister Heartbreak album, and that was an incredible union of art, technology, humor and thoughtfulness. Then years later, the first time I met Ani, we were both playing at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival [in 1995]. At the time, I had never listened to her music, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I chose to answer in terms of pop performances, but nothing could top hearing John Coltrane on a Saturday afternoon at The Jazz Workshop in Boston in ‘64.

April 21, 2015
Canada Newswire

Term extension benefits Canadian artists, music companies and the economy: Music Canada

OTTAWA and TORONTO, /CNW/ - Music Canada applauds the Government of Canada's 2015 Budget for announcing the intention to amend the term of copyright for sound recordings from 50 to 70 years.

"By proposing to extend the term of copyright in recorded music, Prime Minister Harper and the Government of Canada have demonstrated a real understanding of music's importance to the Canadian economy. Thank you. We look forward to seeing the full details when the Budget Implementation Act is tabled," says Graham Henderson, President of Music Canada.

"With each passing day, Canadian treasures like Universal Soldier by Buffy Sainte-Marie are lost to the public domain.  This is not in the public interest.  It does not benefit the creator or their investors and it will have an adverse impact on the Canadian economy," adds Henderson. 

Leonard Cohen reinforces the urgency of the problem, "In just a few short years, songs we recorded in the late 1960s will no longer have copyright protection in Canada.  Many of us in our 70's and 80's depend on income from these songs for our livelihood.  We would deeply appreciate any adjustment that would avert a financial disaster in our lives." 

This change will rectify the long-standing competitive disadvantage that Canadian artists and Canadian music has had by not being aligned with our international trading partners.  A 70 year term of copyright has become the norm internationally.  More than 60 countries worldwide protect copyright in sound recordings for a term of 70 years or longer, including all of Europe, the U.S., and Australia.  Across Europe, Canadian artists are denied to the full 70 year term of protection due to Canada's shorter term of protection.

"The world has changed since our original copyright laws were drafted," says Bruce Cockburn.  "Every piece of music is, at least theoretically, with us forever. Extending the copyright term is an eminently sensible response to this new situation, and a welcome one!"

"I support extending the length of copyright for sound recordings in Canada to 70+ years," adds Jim Cuddy.  "The copyright of a creative work should not expire in the lifetime of an author." 

Term extension fosters increased investment in new artists.  With a significant average annual investment by music companies of over 28% of revenues in developing talent, the next generation of performing artists will benefit from this copyright amendment now and well into the future.

"I'm glad that Canada has extended our copyright term, so we can continue to use the proceeds from classic Canadian recordings to invest in great Canadian talent," said Kardinal Offishall.        

Music Canada is a non-profit trade organization that represents the major record companies in Canada, namely Sony Music Entertainment Canada, Universal Music Canada and Warner Music Canada.  Music Canada also works with some of the leading independent record labels and distributors, recording studios, live music venues, concert promoters, managers and artists in the promotion and development of the music cluster.


April 10, 2015
Excerpt from the
Tallahassee Democrat

Words & music: Welcome to the very first Word of South
by Mark Hinson

“When Mark Mustian told me of the concept of Word of the South, I leapt at the chance to invite Bruce (Cockburn) down to Tallahassee,” Robert Olen Butler said.

The novelist is teaming up with Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn (“Wondering Where The Lions Are”) on Sunday afternoon. Cockburn will play guitar while Butler reads a short story. The two first worked together in 1997 during the SummerStage Festival in New York City’s Central Park. Butler admits he is a longtime fan of Cockburn.

“I had loved Bruce Cockburn’s music since the very early 70s, a decade before I began to publish,” Butler said in an email. “I loved his music so much that when I published my first novel, ‘The Alleys of Eden,’ in 1981, I immediately sent a signed, adulatory copy to him through his management. I never heard back from him, though I certainly didn’t expect to. Sixteen years later it turned out he’d read and loved ‘The Alleys of Eden’ and he’d been following me since.”


April 8, 2015

Released in October 2014, this book contains a contribution from Bruce. More on the project here. You can preview some of the book, including Bruce's part in it, at Amazon.

Global Chorus: 365 Voices on the Future of the Planet 
by Todd McLean


Global Chorus is a groundbreaking collection of over 365 perspectives on our environmental future. As a global roundtable for our times, in the format of a daily reader, this book is a trove of insight, guidance, passion and wisdom that has poured in from all over the Earth. Its message is enormously inspiring, and ominous in its warnings. And yet, united in a thread of hope, its contents are capable of helping even the most faithless global citizen to believe that we have the capacity to bring about lasting positive change in our world. Places at this roundtable are occupied by writers, environmentalists, spiritual leaders, politicians, professors, doctors, athletes, businesspeople, farmers, chefs, yogis, painters, actors, architects, musicians, TV personalities, humanitarians, adventurers, concerned youth, concerned senior citizens, civil servants, carpenters, bus drivers, activists, CEO’s, scientists, and essentially those who have something thoughtful and visionary to say about humanity’s place upon Earth. Compiled for your reading as a set of 365 pieces, Global Chorus presents to you a different person’s point of view for each day of your year.

January 26, 2015
Converge Magazine

An Interview With Bruce Cockburn - Discussing his spiritual memoir, Rumours of Glory
by Craig Ketchum

At four p.m., Canadian singer-songwriter legend Bruce Cockburn strides into the hotel lobby in his signature black Doc Martens and shakes my hand warmly. At age 70, he is slighter than he appears in his old music videos. He’
s here to talk with me about his spiritual memoir Rumours of Glory. The book narrates his journey of faith and activism, explaining the stories behind his songs and his choices.

We take the elevator to a business lounge, a cozy gold-tinted room outfitted with two computers and nearly-trendy transparent plastic chairs. Despite his big name and stack of music awards, the setting seems luxurious, since Cockburn’s international activism has been far from first-class; he’s been to war zones in Mozambique, Guatemala, Honduras, and Iraq, where set up camp amongst refugees and in decrepit hostels.

“Writing the book was like writing a song,” Cockburn says as we each take a seat in our respective plastic chairs. “I feel like a bloodhound sniffing out a trail and sensing that there’s something there to discover.”

And in essence, Rumours of Glory is just that: its pages mirror Cockburn’s songwriting. Part personal narrative, part social commentary, part didactic, the memoir allows the audience to learn by posing questions.

When I read the book, I tell him, I was so fascinated by the history of the issues and places he unearths; the logical next step was to explore them for myself.

As I say this, he chuckles. “I’m certainly not the only one who’s mentioned those things, but the invitation is out there,” Cockburn says. Wryly, he smirks. “I guess it’s proof it’s the same guy writing.”

Originally, Cockburn says he was going to arrange the book in vignettes, with various scenes that add up to a whole. It was his co-writer Greg King’s idea to arrange it chronologically; Cockburn says King urged him to put in a lot more of the political background that drives the book. When HarperCollins asked for a spiritual memoir, Cockburn says he hadn’t considered pairing it with so much of the political tensions that have driven his travels. But it makes sense that the two twine together, just as they do in his songs.

In high school, Cockburn discovered his grandmother’s guitar in his attic. He was then inspired to become a musician, and was eventually initiated into the Ottawa music scene in the mid-1960s. Cockburn played with a number of outfits, even opening for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968, until he decided to pursue a solo career.

In the 1980s he started to pursue international activism; his songwriting became infused with deep concerns for human rights, the environment, and faith. During this time he spent a good deal of his shows explaining his songs to the audience. “Specifically, it was the song ‘If I Had a Rocket Launcher,’” he interjects as I mention the time period. “When I first came up with the song I felt it could be so easily misconstrued; I didn’t want people to take it wrong and think I was telling them to go down and kill Guatemalan soldiers. I wanted to make sure people got it right.”

I ask him whether he still finds himself needing to explain those stories. “Not very often, and not very much,” he says. “I think I’ve said enough in print about it, and now there’s the definitive version in the book,” he says. “So I’ll tell people to read that!”

One of the strongest themes in Rumours of Glory is his dismay at social elites who ignore alarming truths about systemic violence. He uses the example of The Washington Wives’ self-appointed censorship that prevented Cockburn’s songs about poverty and injustice from being aired. All because of a single profanity in “Call It Democracy.” Ironically, this line accused social elites for being calloused towards the marginalized.

Though he weaves stories from all areas of life into both his book and his song lyrics, Cockburn has been adept at keeping his personal life out of the spotlight of the press. “The memoir ends before my second daughter was born,” he says. “And that’s a start of a whole new story, which would have taken another 200 pages and taken us past the publisher’s deadline!”

He pauses. “If anything, it’s a set-up for volume two, just in case I ever forget how bad it was writing one book, or, more to the point, if my wife ever forgets; she thought the book was ruining my life.”

The memoir closes with a recognizably spiritual afterword on the responsibility of all people to nurture a relationship with the divine, and to practice healing of our world. From the language Cockburn uses, some readers may come away with a sense that he has undermined the singularity of the Christian faith by preaching universalism.

When I ask him about it, he is pleased to elaborate. “I’ve flirted with so many tribes over the years. A lot of people’s lives have converged with mine for a time,” he says. “You can get picky about other religions — take Shinto, for example — and call them all superstition. Or you can honour the profound things that are expressed through that belief system. And you can walk away thinking, ‘I could learn something from these people,’” says Cockburn.

“I don’t claim to be an authority on anything, and I really don’t think anyone should be claiming to be an authority on anything.”

Cockburn says he is grieved by the deep scars that have been inflicted upon humanity when people dig their heels into exclusive claims to truth. We witness it, he says, in the inability of “a significant portion of the right-wing Christian community” to see that they are of the same persuasion as those they call radical in the Middle East.

“Above all, you can’t go around killing people because they don’t agree with you. We need to pull the plank out of our own eye and our own psyche before we try to fix someone else’s wiring,” he says.

“When I look around at the mystical traditions, filled with people who have been reticent to share their knowledge, nowadays they are just throwing it out there. Maybe it’s an impulse from God encouraging us to get together, to love each other, to love the planet, and see miracles happen,” says Cockburn. 

He speaks with the experience of age, where little is shocking, and yet he does so without much cynicism. I see the hope instilled in him by good gifts that cause him to wonder: his daughter, his friends, and his faith.

I can’t help but think that the world needs a few more Bruce Cockburns, keeping us wide-eyed enough to stop destroying the world, one another, and ourselves. Around us is a world filled with violence because we refuse to really see and hear people who are different.

Because, like Cockburn, we need to be lovers in a dangerous time.

Photos courtesy of


February 11, 2015
Belfast Telegraph

Sounds of Nashville are coming to Belfast with Jim Lauderdale, James House and Max T Barnes, and Bruce Cockburn joining festival line-up
by Rebecca Black

There is a treat in store for country music fans as some of the world's most renowned artists prepare to perform in Belfast.

US performers Jim Lauderdale, James House and Max T Barnes, Canadian Bruce Cockburn along with local talent Foy Vance, Cara Dillon and Peter McVeigh are among the names already confirmed among the highlights at the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival.

The event was officially launched yesterday ahead of the first chords being played on Wednesday March 4.

"Belnash" gigs will be taking place at the Holiday Inn and the Empire Music Hall in Belfast until Sunday, March 8.

With more than 40 events and showcases and the Song Writing Convention, the annual event has become a well-established part of the Belfast music scene.

The festival also hosts two new international shows from Nashville, The Bluebird Café Live @BelNash and The Music City Roots Show that will be broadcast into 60 million homes across America.

This will be the 11th year of the event which attracted visitors to Belfast from across Ireland last year.

Organisers have said the event has "just kept growing and growing each year".

Belfast and Nashville, Tennessee, have links that go right back to the founding of the US city in 1780 by two Co Antrim families, the Robertsons and the Donelsons.

By the time Nashville was settled, 250,000 people had left these shores for the New World, with many making Tennessee their home.

The two cities officially became sister cities in 1994. The music festival has helped these historical links to grow into modern times.

Tickets are available from and Visit Belfast Welcome Centre on 028 9024 6609.