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March 7, 2014
The Bruce Cockburn concert, held February 15 at the Sanderson Centre in Brantford, Ontario, raised $21,000 for Freedom House Church’s Kidness Project. The downtown church hopes to use the money to provide additional resources for its new Kindness Centre located in Market Square Mall and toward drafting a kindness curriculum for schools. Pictured from Freedom House are pastor Dave Carrol, left, and Kindness Project chair, Phil Gillies.
Bruce Cockburn may be the only person in southern Ontario happy about the weather.
The iconic Ottawa folksinger who has been living in California for the past four years and is embarking on a short “tour-ette” of the province, said he welcomes the mid-February freeze.
“It's the major beef I have about San Francisco,” Cockburn said from Toronto. “It doesn't have any winter.”
The condensed tours -- this time with eight dates, including a Saturday night performance at the Sanderson Centre -- fit into Cockburn's changed lifestyle. At age 66, he became a father for the second time to daughter Iona, who is now two. His eldest daughter, Jenny, is 36 and mother to four children.
The composer and virtuoso guitarist whose music is often rooted in his humanitarian concerns has spent the past year reflecting on his life in order to write his memoir -- tentatively titled Pacing the Cage, also the name of a documentary film released last year.
“It was both agonizing and fun,” he said of the writing process. “I have been approached a number of time since the early 1980s by people who wanted to write my biography. But I felt it was my story to tell and I didn't want someone else to do it. And, until now, I didn't feel there was enough life to write about.”
After 40 years in the music business, 31 albums, and a load of politically- and spiritually-charged hits to his credit, Cockburn said it has been an interesting ride.
He was about 14 when he found his first guitar in his grandmother's attic and used it to play along to radio hits. He attended Berklee School of Music in Boston for three semesters in the mid-1960s before joining an Ottawa band.
Cockburn's first solo appearance was at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1967 and, in 1969, he was a headliner. The following year he released his self-titled, first solo album.
Through the 1980s, Cockburn's songwriting became first more urban, more global and then more political as he became heavily involved with progressive causes.
If I Had A Rocket Launcher, Call It Democracy, Stolen Land, and If A Tree Falls, some of Cockburn's most successful songs, are also the most politically charged.
He says it was his travels that inspired him to write lyrics that reveal his passion for human rights, political issues and Christianity.
“My personal motivation was travelling and meeting people and seeing the crap people have to deal with,” said Cockburn. “We live the way we do because other people don't live that way. It became important to mouth off about that.”
Saturday's concert at the Sanderson will support the Kindness Project of Freedom House, a non-denominational downtown church. The concept behind the project is simple: to change cities with kindness.
The first fundraising concert for the Kindness Project was held last year when Canadian rock band Lighthouse performed, raising $12,000 for the charity.
“I think it's great,” said Cockburn of the cause. “I'm glad to be able to help. A sense of community increasingly is all we've got. If we can further and foster a sense of community that's really good.”
Cockburn's music and his humanitarian work have brought him a long list of honours, including 13 Juno Awards, an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and a Governor General's Performing Arts Award. In 1982, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Officer n 2002.
Cockburn, who says he is itching to get back to songwriting after focussing on his book writing for the past year, said his love of performing has grown as he ages.
“I was afraid of it in the beginning. I hated the thought of getting up in front of people. I had to get over it. Now it's a privilege to share myself and my life with people who are interested.”
AT A GLANCE
What: Bruce Cockburn concert in support of the Kindness Project of Freedom House.
Where: Sanderson Centre
When: Saturday at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $45. Limited availability at the box office, 88 Dalhousie St., by calling 519-758-8090 or at www.sandersoncentre.ca.
February 5, 20014
Two Row Times
The Two Row Times was fortunate enough to have an exclusive telephone interview with Bruce Cockburn from his home in San Francisco. Cockburn just got back from an extended tour of dates to rest up and visit with his family before heading out on the road again on a new string of dates including a stop at the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts in Brantford, February 15th.
The Canadian troubadour was born May 27th, 1945, in Ottawa, Ontario. At age 14, he picked up a guitar and began his life’s journey of mastering both his instrument and his craft as one of the most important songwriters of our age.
Since those early formative years, he has amassed an astounding 32 Juno Nominations of which he has won 11. Cockburn has also earned a list of awards too long to mention and has appeared on Saturday Night Live, the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday celebration among many other high profile events.
But, Cockburn is not just a very successful singer songwriter. He is also one of the world’s more outspoken celebrity humanitarians, environmental and Native Rights activists today.
Cockburn grew up in the hippy movement of the 1960’s and cut his musical teeth, and his social and political awareness on the so-called, “protest” bands and singer/songwriters of the era, which still seems to drive his creativity today, albeit in a deeper and at times more intense way.
TRT asked him if he feels any different from those days when racial equality and the Vietnam War were the topics of the new radical youth movement known as the ‘New Left’.
“I hope I have changed some,” he said about those early days. “In some ways we are always changing. In other ways we don’t change because we carry so much baggage with us when we go into anything. We hope that with life experience, and people we meet, we manage to change our perspective on what people are dealing with. I think it certainly happens to me and happens to everybody, unless they need some help or are impaired in some way. When we start out in life we feel like we are the centre of everything and we gradually have to unlearn our centrality. To some extent, time has softened me too,” he admits. “I’m more capable in recognizing other points of view than I was.”
But his social and environmental awareness actually began some years earlier.
“My parents, especially my father – although he wasn’t inclined to be what we call an activist today – was very aware of the world around him. I guess I was encouraged by example to be aware of what’s going on around me which gave me a bent towards social justice.”
He also points to one in particular, Elsie Beachant, his Grade 3 teacher, as being important to his own political curiosity and appreciation and openness to other points of view.
“She used the classroom at least once a week to read clippings from the newspaper and talk about them,” he recalls.
“One day, somebody brought in a clipping that talked about demonstrations by student ‘radicals’ in Turkey,” he remembers. “Somebody asked, what’s a radical, and nobody knew the answer. She said a radical is someone who thinks things need to be changed and is willing to get out on the street and make a public statement about that.”
He recalls his class reading about the U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy trials during the Communist witch-hunt of the late 1950’s.
“She was talking about Pete Seeger and what a hero he was,” Cockburn recalls.
He has since had the opportunity to meet and play on the same venue as Seeger more than a few times, the latest time being the “Free Leonard Peltier” concert in New York a couple of years ago when Seeger was still performing into his 90’s.
Seeger died in New York City, January 27th, only days before we spoke with Cockburn.
“He was a powerful force for good in this world,” he says.
Cockburn says he can’t really point to anything in particular that started him singing about and speaking out on issues of concern and against the unfairness of racism and corporatism, but rather, he says all of those seeds cast throughout his life, even at a very young age, fell on fertile ground.
Cockburn has had his finger on the pulse of the world for a very long time, and that includes Aboriginal Rights and Treaty Rights for North, Central and South American Indigenous peoples.
“I started to become aware of Native issues when I started touring out west,” says Cockburn. “Growing up in Ottawa, if I knew any Native people, I didn’t know they were Natives.”
Like most non-Native kids in Canada, he grew up recognizing both the positive imagery of Native life, like campfires and an affinity for nature, as well as the negative Hollywood stereotypes.
“Out west, I started to meet some Aboriginal people and got pretty friendly with a couple of them,” he says.
They started telling the singer about things that were foreign to most Canadian’s image of a Native’s place in society.
Through these relationships, Cockburn also began to learn about the real history of Canada, which he and his generation had not heard of before.
“I was getting acquainted with individuals who had lived the experience that opened up my eyes about that,” Cockburn says. “And once you got your eyes opened, you start seeing it everywhere.”
As one might expect, Cockburn is very supportive of Neil Young’s recent “Honour the Treaties Tour,” which focused on both the ecological disaster of the Alberta tar sands, and the protection of the Native people living downstream from the site whose rights have been bulldozed away for the love of money.
“I think, good on him,” says Cockburn about Young. “It’s good that he is drawing people’s attention to that issue, and in particular, to the whole question of Aboriginal people in North American society. I think the urgent stuff is all around the treaties and around large Native urban centres. And there are issues around that too, like poverty and substance abuse.”
As far as he is concerned, “one cannot give these issues too much attention.”
“If you are a person with any kind of moral concern and you care about what happens to your fellows, then you have to take a position on that,” he challenges. “And there is only one position to take. They say that people need the jobs. That’s colonial thinking. It’s like saying, well let’s take all the ivory out of the Congo because we can. Jobs are not justification for what they are doing to the land and the Aboriginal people on it.”
In our conversation, we told Cockburn about the Great Law of the Haudenosaunee, and the wisdom found within it. He showed definite interest in finding out more and said he would look it up online and do some reading about it.
February 5, 2014
In conversation with Bruce Cockburn-
Famed Canadian performer, songwriter set to headline Kindness Project benefit concert
by Colleen Toms
The last time Bruce Cockburn was in Canada, he was stranded in Toronto for three days after wind chill temperatures of -40 C caused a "ground hold" at Pearson International Airport.
“We were sitting on the tarmac for six hours waiting to take off,” Cockburn said. “As soon as they said we weren’t going anywhere, my wife got on the phone and booked us a hotel room. It was chaos, a lot of people were getting displaced from flights.”
Still, Cockburn, who was born in Ottawa and now resides in San Francisco, looks forward to returning to the ice and snow.
“I’m enjoying being here, but I still feel very much like a Canadian” he said during a telephone interview from his home. “I’m looking forward to a little hit of winter.”
Cockburn will headline the second annual benefit concert in support of the Freedom House Kindness Project at the Sanderson Centre on Saturday, Feb. 15. Funds raised from the concert will be used to develop kindness-based curriculum for area schools.
“(Bullying) seems to be more and more prevalent these days,” Cockburn said. “I went to school a long time ago and experienced some bullying, but I don’t feel it was the same as the way it is portrayed in the media these days.”
Cyber-bullying is a much more relentless and vicious form of bullying that victims are unable to escape from, he added.
“When bullies were ganging up on you physically you could avoid it by taking a different route home or by going out the other door,” Cockburn said. “With the internet, kids can’t do that, and when you get to an age where you start worrying about your reputation, it becomes a big problem. Whatever we can do to mitigate that is important.
“I have a two-year-old daughter growing up in this atmosphere that is now considered the norm and I’m concerned about the possibility of her being impacted by that.”
Becoming a father again at age 68 has made Cockburn look at life differently. He also has a 36-year-old daughter and several grandchildren.
“In some ways, it’s a different perspective than when I was in my 30s,” he said. “A lot of things mattered to me then that don’t matter now. I felt pressure to perform, to pay attention to the world and I’ve done a lot of that over the years. Now I can still pay enough attention, but I don’t have to be driven crazy by it the same way. I think I have a greater capacity to love and be loved. I think I might be a little bit nicer.”
Well-known as a staunch activist, Cockburn said he feels a lot of satisfaction in the ability to use his music as an impetus for change.
“The ability to travel and experience a lot of the world, not just touring to perform but through invitations to go to interesting places that comes with the public visibility that I have, that has made a big difference in my life,” he said. “Performing for people gives me a great sense of satisfaction, if I do it right.”
Using his music as a means to effect change is important to Cockburn, but he believes every person has a role to play when it comes to protecting the planet.
“I think it comes down to everybody to do what they can,” Cockburn said. “I heard over and over again as a kid to leave the campsite the way you found it. Because I have an audience I am able to communicate to a lot of different people. What I can do to leave the campsite better is to share what experiences I have.”
Over his 40-plus year career Cockburn has released more than 30 albums – which included hits like Lovers in a Dangerous Time, If I had a Rocket Launcher and If a Tree Falls – won 13 Juno awards, was named an officer of the Order of Canada and a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
His most recent album, Small Source of Comfort, was released in 2011 and Cockburn recently released a documentary titled Pacing the Cage. In November 2014, his first memoir will be released by Harper Collins.
“It’s the first time I felt like it was appropriate,” Cockburn said. “It always felt 'too soon.' I mean, Avril Lavigne has a biography out – what’s with that? She hasn’t had a life yet. To me, I had to wait until I had a story to tell and I felt it was my story to tell.”
Cockburn’s solo performance at the Sanderson Centre will include a collection of songs from his early days, as well as his recent works. Tickets cost $55 for orchestra seats and $45 for balcony seats and are available through the Sanderson Centre box office.
February 3, 2014
Cockburn helps Conrad Grebel celebrate golden anniversary
by Robert Reid
WATERLOO — When Conrad Grebel University College decided to present a concert in celebration of its 50th anniversary, the alumni committee searched for an artist who reflected the Christian liberal arts college's teaching philosophy.
They found the perfect representative in Bruce Cockburn.
Cockburn returns to the familiar digs of the Humanities Theatre to perform a solo concert Feb. 13. A small number of tickets remain unsold.
Fred Martin, the college's director of development, said acknowledged that the renowned Canadian singer/songwriter was "at the top of the list."
"His music has always been popular with students and alumni, and his humanitarian work and voice for social justice … have always struck a chord."
As it turns out, the chord resonates both ways.
In an interview from behind the wheel of a car travelling somewhere in California, Cockburn confirms he has always enjoyed performing in front of students.
"The energy and sense of imagination are palpable," Cockburn acknowledges, adding he doesn't design repertoire specifically for college or university audiences.
Cockburn maintains a number of associations with institutions of higher learning.
McMaster University conferred an honorary doctorate on Cockburn to add to his Order of Canada, multiple Junos and numerous awards and accolades. The 68-year-old artist donated his archives to the university.
With a career extending back to the mid-1960s, frequent world travels (both music and humanitarian tours), and more than 30 albums to his credit, there isn't much Cockburn hasn't done professionally.
Still, after nearly 50 years in the public eye, new insights into the man and his music continue to emerge.
In a recent DVD, Bruce Cockburn: Pacing the Cage, the singer/songwriter reflects on his life and career as a film crew follows him around while on tour.
The behind-the-scenes, up-close-and-personal documentary features appearances by Bono, longtime collaborator Colin Linden, longtime manager Bernie Finkelstein, author Michael Ondaatje and retired Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, among others.
Initially, Cockburn thought the idea was "horrible," but concedes the project "turned out pretty well."
Describing it as "a sweet, little film," he suggests "it is less colourful than it might have been" had it "been grittier."
He has a chance to provide a grittier picture of himself this fall when Harper Collins releases his memoir which, incidentally, is also called Pacing the Cage (originally a line from his song of the same title).
"It wasn't my first choice for a title, but people seem to like it," he admits. "I didn't want people getting confused. The book is quite different from the film."
Written with the assistance of a co-writer, the 500-page memoir ends in 2005.
"I didn't have any trouble writing the early stuff, but I needed perspective on the adult stuff, since a lot of people I write about are still alive."
He solicited the help of a longtime, American journalist friend to "help (me) make sense of things" and "provide a structure."
Because the memoir ends prematurely, room is left for a sequel, but Cockburn says he is "in no rush" to tackle a companion volume.
"This has been difficult enough," he asserts with a laugh.
Cockburn has been approached many times by authors who wanted to write biographies, but he always rejected the idea.
"I thought I hadn't lived long enough to develop an overview of my life."
When the proper time arrived, he decided "it was appropriate for me to tell my own story."
When Pacing the Cage hits the bookstores, one of Canada's greatest singer/songwriters will continue to be a creative pilgrim in progress.
January 29, 2014
M.I.A., Tegan and Sara, Neko Case to Headline Canadian Music Week-
Annual festival brings over 1,000 artists to Toronto
by Ryan Reed
On May 6th, Canadian Music Week will kick off its 32nd year with an eclectic lineup that includes Tegan and Sara, Neko Case, M.I.A., Television and Ellie Goulding as headliners. The five-night festival will run through May 10th and include over 1,000 artists performing at 60-plus venues around downtown Toronto.
Other notable acts include City and Colour, the Dodos, No Age and Flashbush Zombies. CMW 2014 will also include interviews with such artists as Nile Rodgers, deadmau5, Amanda Palmer, Bruce Cockburn and City and Colour, along with keynote speeches from industry figureheads.
CMW was created in 1981 to increase exposure for emerging artists and form a networking platform for industry professionals. In its three-decade run, it's rapidly grown into one of the most influential media conferences in the country and featured appearances from Slash, Gene Simmons, Public Enemy, Alan Parsons and Sir George Martin.
In addition to its musical performances, awards ceremonies (including the Industry Awards and Radio Music Awards) and other industry-related events, CMW 2014 will also include film and comedy festivals. For full details, check out the official CMW website.
January 12, 2014
Bruce contributed his voice to the song, Hellbender, by a band called Fire Dog. The song is a tribute to a salamander of the same name. You can listen to the track and purchase the music at the Fire Dog website.
January 17, 2014
Cockburn's 15 Minutes of Fame
by Luke Hendry
Bruce Cockburn is doing what many dream of doing: quit his day job to become a writer.
But it's really only a sabbatical.
Cockburn, 68, is at work on his memoir and daydreaming about meeting his deadline and returning to songwriting. In the meantime he'll perform Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. at Belleville's Empire Theatre.
“Pretty sure I'll be able to think about music again,” he says through static on the phone.
He's walking around his neighbourhood San Francisco, where he now lives with his wife, M.J., and their two-year-old daughter, Iona.
With chronically self-deprecating humour – and apologies for the poor reception on his phone – Cockburn sounds relaxed but soon describes the pressure of writing his memoir. It shares a title, Pacing the Cage, with a Cockburn song and a new documentary film about him. It's set for a November release.
“Then I'll just have to go around justifying it,” he says, chuckling.
There are notes of optimism and relief in his voice as he talks about the possibility of writing music again and explains he simply hasn't had the headspace or time.
“The book's taken up all the creative energy and imagination for now.
“The book has turned out to be much more of a burden than I imagined it would.
“It started off easy because I started off writing about my early childhood. That far away in time, the memories are concise. They're sharp, they're clear, they're short, and they're not complicated by concerns for the feelings of people I don't know anymore.”
But the term “tell-all” isn't something that'll appear on the jacket.
“I'm not naming people if I feel it's going to compromise them somehow.”
Cockburn says he'd written 100 pages himself but then called for help as he “got bogged down” and struggled with the book's structure.
He recruited fellow Northern California resident Greg King as co-author. King's photos have appeared in Newsweek, Rolling Stone and Smithsonian magazines; he's also president of Siskiyou Land Conservancy.
King now writes a chapter in Cockburn's voice; the artist then tweaks the text, ensuring it still sounds like him.
“It sounds like it is me talking – and it is, in fact, me talking.”
Cockburn's also the focus of the documentary film – also called Pacing the Cage – covering his 2009 tour.
“The process of making it was fun.
“It's a bit of an ego stroke, having this camera follow you around.
“I think they caught they flavour of me on tour very well.”
He compared it to hearing your recorded voice for the first time.
“It doesn't have the kind of automatic humiliation factor that it did in the beginning.
“Then you realize how it's everybody sees you anyway.”
The only problem: “I think there's some bad hair in the film,” says Cockburn, laughing.
He says he's now much more comfortable in the spotlight, but it took years of work.
“Some people are lucky enough to have the show-off gene.
“I'm sure I have the inflammation as much as anyone, but the way I was raised, it wasn't appropriate behaviour.
“In the beginning I was very, very reluctant to be exposed at all.
“I wanted to people to come to the music. I wanted people to come to the shows. I didn't want to be a 'personality' in public. I wanted to be anonymous.
“Of course it doesn't really work like that.”
He says he'd never been called “sir” and found it “so embarrassing” to be recognized and treated as a celebrity.
“I felt like I was being drawn into this class hierarchy.”
Yet now, he joked, “if somebody doesn't do it, you're offended.
“There's a sort of insidious element to it in that way.”
Cockburn says he isn't keen to invite his fans into his private life and is “not a fan of social media.” Manager Bernie Finklestein, however, maintains his client's busy Facebook page.
Though some are billing his current tour as being in support of his 32nd album, 2011's Small Source of Comfort, Cockburn says the tour's setlists are “all over the place,” mixing old and new tunes.
His live act didn't have much of a band component until the 1980s and he's again performing alone.
And soon, he says, there may be more music to play.
“I'd love to write another song,” he says, “but when I think of ideas, I have to put them in the book, because the book has to get done.”
And in the meantime, he says, all the attention feels pretty good.
“Hey, man. It's my 15 minutes of fame,” he laughs. “It's great!”
Tickets: $57.82 at the theatre, 321 Front St., 613-969-0099 ext. 1 or theempiretheatre.com