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October 2, 2019
Roots Music Canada

Bruce Cockburn: The Roots Music Canada interview
by Ted Ferris

Bruce Cockburn’s 34th studio album, Crowing Ignites, was released on Friday, Sept. 20 on True North Records. The instrumental album contains 11 original songs and was produced, recorded and mixed by Bruce’s long-time confidant, Colin Linden. The album was recorded in a former fire hall located just a few blocks from Bruce’s home in San Francisco.

I recently had the privilege of speaking with Bruce about his latest album, the upcoming North American tour, and what comes next for a guitar legend.

Ted: The liner notes explain that the title, Crowing Ignites, was translated from Accendit Cantu, a Latin phrase that appears on the Cockburn family crest. I’m curious to know whether you’ve always been aware of this part of your family history or was this a more recent discovery?

Bruce: Not exactly recent, but it doesn’t go all the way back either. I’ve always been aware of, and always felt kind of connected to, my Scottish ancestry, but I had not ever particularly researched the family history. My Dad did that in the ’70s and ’80s … but I think it was actually my brother who came up with the family coat of arms with that motto on it. It was initially translated as music excites, which I thought was very exciting, and so does he, because what more appropriate (laughs) family motto could I have? But later on I came across other versions of it that weren’t – it was clear that none of these were actually translations. So I actually just went back and translated the Latin, and it came up “crowing ignites,” which I thought had a much better ring to it than the other versions in English. [It’s] just a strong poetic phrase. As far as the ancestry side goes, my Dad actually put it together in a kind of self-published book. He’s the one that did that work; not me. But the connection to Scotland has always been there and remains. It was in the ’90s when we discovered that motto, but the translation was only this year … I was looking at that Latin phrase and thinking … “It doesn’t say ‘music excites,’ and it doesn’t say ‘he arouses by crowing,’ and it doesn’t say a couple other things that people claimed it said. So I got excited and went after it and translated it. And then when I discovered what it really said, I got much more excited … Then my wife said, “You gotta use that for your album title.” So I did.

Ted: Was the concept for Crowing Ignites being an instrumental album in place before the selection of the album title?

Bruce: Oh yeah. It’s not a concept album other than the fact that it’s all instrumental, and that was the intention to do that. Instrumental music, for me at least, isn’t really about anything in particular. It’s about itself … It exists, and it has the capacity to touch you in whatever way it does, and that’s it. … Pieces get titles because you have to call them something, and sometimes you get lucky and think of a title that really fits the piece. Sometimes the titles are obvious right away, and other times you have to struggle with it for a while. But in terms of the album as a whole, the plan was to initially to make a Speechless Two. We were going to collect the various previously released instrumental pieces that weren’t on Speechless and then add some new pieces to that and basically do the same thing we’d previously done ’cause there seemed to be some interest on people’s part on having that, and it appealed to me. But then I started writing pieces, and they just kept coming. So it became Crowing Ignites instead of Speechless Two.

Ted: You recorded the album in a former fire hall in San Francisco. Did you encounter any challenges converting the space into a functioning recording studio? From the photos that I’ve seen online, it looked like there were several hard surfaces you may have had to contend with.

Bruce: No, actually, far from it. It was the easiest thing. Kind of the most hassle-free recording I think I’ve ever done. … The room sounds great as it is. It’s true when you look at pictures you see a cement wall, but the cement wall is very heavily textured so it doesn’t reflect the sound … at all. And there’s a lot of wood in the room, so it really sounded nice. I had heard music in there before, and so I knew that it sounded like it did, and it just seemed like the combination of that and its proximity to where I live and my daughter’s school and so on it made it very convenient. My friend, who owned the place, was very happy to let us use it. Colin … went out and rounded up the gear and brought it in and set it up. It didn’t take much. It came in suitcases and it set up on a table, and there it was. I brought in all my stuff that you can see in the pictures: chimes and Tibetan singing bowls and all sorts of things with strings on them, and then we just – we spent a great week making a record.

Ted: While it sounds like the studio came together quite well, did any particular song present any unique challenges? I understand that “Seven Daggers” and “Bells Of Gethsemane” were constructed in the studio, and you used a vast assortment of unique instruments on each song. Did you have any difficulty putting them together, micing and recording them?

Bruce: Well, … not beyond what you’d expect. Let’s put it that way. I mean, everything’s a challenge. You’ve got to get it right, but there [were] no real difficulties at all. The most complicated one is “Seven Daggers.” We constructed that one and “Bells of Gethsemane,” as you pointed out … in the studio. All the other pieces, I knew what I was going to do when I went into the studio. But with those pieces, all I knew was that I had an idea for certain kinds of layering that I wanted to do. In the case of “Seven Daggers,” I wanted to use little kalimba things that I have, and the charango. … The charango can be tuned so it will play in A minor with the kalimbas. So we created loops out of those and made a layer out of that and then just started adding things to it. [Then] Colin put on the baritone guitar part, and I played the 12-string over top. That was the most elaborate of the constructions. “Bells of Gethsemane,” I just put down a layer of singing bowls and then another layer of singing bowls and then a layer of chimes and some other stuff and just played over top, playing the baritone myself on that one. So I wouldn’t call them challenging. There’s a process, but the only real challenging part, which is always there, is to get past the conditions of the day … How tired are you? Or how imaginative do you feel at this moment? … Those kinds of things. But that’s always there.

Ted: I recognized a few of the musicians that perform on Crowing Ignites. However, one name that I didn’t recognize was Bo Carper’s. I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about him.

Bruce: Bo Carper is a guitar player that I’m acquainted with here in San Francisco – a very good guitar player actually. We met at a social gathering, and we ended up jamming together, so that’s how I found out what kind of guitar player he is. Because I don’t really know many people in the music scene here, I [contacted] him and asked him if he knew any percussionists, because I was interested in having somebody play percussion on some of the pieces. He gave me a couple of names. … One I didn’t get a hold of, and the other one … was already booked for the time period that we needed him for. So that didn’t pan out … I let Bo know that, and he said, “Well you know I’m a really great shaker player.” I had never heard anyone say that about themselves before, so I immediately perked up. And so he came in and played shaker. I thought this will be fun to try, or whatever. It’s not what I was exactly looking for, but it might work really well. And I think it does, and I think he did a fantastic job. A couple of the pieces we played live together, and then a couple of them he did as overdubs. Colin was involved in every aspect of the album, and he plays on the aforementioned “Seven Daggers” and also on “Blind Willie,” putting a great slide guitar part on that. And then Janice Powers, Colin’s wife, plays keyboards, as she’s done a lot of times before for me on other albums. She’s really great at coming up with these atmospheric keyboard kind of landscapy parts that I think contributed greatly to the overall effect of things.

Ted: Another person listed on one of the tracks is your daughter, Iona. What was it like including her in the recording of the album?

Bruce: It was fun. She got to clap along, and she was excited to be able to go in studio and clap her hands. I don’t know if it’ll mean too much to her in the long run, but it was fun at the time.

Ted: Let’s talk about a few of the songs from Crowing Ignites. The press release states that “Bardo Rush” came after a dream. Would you like to discuss the contents of the dream that inspired this particular song?

Bruce: The title was inspired by a dream. The piece is a piece. The piece wasn’t inspired by anything except I’m playing the guitar, I think … “This could be a piece [and it] sounds like a good idea.” All the pieces really are independent from other influences in that way. Sometimes I feel a connection … I’ll just sidestep here for a moment. A piece like “April In Memphis” was written on Martin Luther King day this year. “Easter” was written on Easter Sunday last year, and the fact that those pieces came on days that were sort of special days and had a certain mood that seemed to go with those days suggested that the titles should reflect that. In other cases, it was a matter of finding … a verbal phrase that somehow caught the feeling of the piece or that seemed appropriate to something in some way, some mysterious way. [Returning to] “Bardo Rush,” I do dream work. It’s sort of Jungian based dream analysis, you could say, and the Bardo plane is something that’s referred to in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, quite apart from Jung and everything. Jung used that, and other psychology uses that, as a metaphor in a way. The Bardo plane is where you end up when you die and don’t go to Nirvana, and it’s kind of analogous to being in limbo in Catholic terminology. It’s like kind of waiting, wandering in this dead place, and you can be drawn back into the Buddhist frame of reference, of course. You can be drawn back into other lives, new lives. What you want to do is try to get out of that, if you can, so that you can just not have to go through it all. So for the purpose of the Book of the Dead, it’s recited in the presence of the newly dead, assuming that they’re still hanging around and can hear this, and it’s intended as a kind of a … travel guide in a way to navigate the Bardo. … I liked “rush” because it’s a fast piece, and it seemed to fit … Wandering into Bardo is not necessarily associated with rushing, but because the piece was fast, it made a good phrase … “Angels In The Half Light” – that title did come from a dream. [It was] a specific dream, in which I was being girded for battle, basically by angels. The angels were in battle dress … They weren’t glowing figures with wings, but they were clearly angels, and they were getting me dressed up in some sort of bunker to go out and face some sort of adversary. I don’t remember what I thought was out there … It was a dark and spooky dream, but I had the clear support of this contiguous of angels, which made it feel pretty good. So there’s a case where a title actually was lifted from dream imagery directly.

Ted: The song “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz” was written for the Lawren Harris-inspired guitar that luthier Linda Manzer created as part of The Group of Seven Guitar Project. Did you play that guitar on this recording?

Bruce: No. I played my guitar, but I did play that guitar, Linda’s guitar, at the event that opened that show at the McMichael Gallery. All of the luthiers had somebody come in and play their instrument as part of the event. So I kind of wrote the piece for that event and then played it on her guitar then. But no, in the studio it … was an electric guitar. It was my big fat Gibson electric that I used on that.

Ted: The press release states that “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz” was originally slated to be included on the Bone On Bone album but wasn’t released.

Bruce: It was recorded and mixed then [and] with the band that appears on the rest of that album (Bone On Bone). It was a bit of an anomaly, but it seemed to fit well, and I wanted to put it out because I just loved Ron Miles cornet playing on it. It’s so beautiful, and I regretted having left it off Bone On Bone – not because it weakened Bone On Bone, because I think we did the right thing, but it was just too bad not to have it out there. So to get another chance to let people hear it was a good thing.

Ted: The song “The Groan” was originally composed for a Canadian documentary entitled La Loche. I recently watched the film about the aftermath of the shootings that took place in the northern Saskatchewan community in 2016. What lead you to the producer Les Stroud and this particular project?

Bruce: I had met him before …We were at some awards event together, and he performed in Toronto some years back … He got in touch and asked if I was interested in doing a score, and I was. But that piece, “The Groan,” as you would’ve seen, is not in the movie, but it was the first thing I thought of when we first started talking about it. He had used what he considered to be sort of stock stuff of his TV show that he had put in there as his kind of sample score, so we had a model to work to … It was a little bit bluesy and stuff, and I thought that was a good way to go, and that piece, “The Groan,” just kind of came to mind. But when I played it for Les he wasn’t sure about it in the film, and when I started really putting music together with film it was clear it wasn’t the right kind of thing for the context. But I had this piece … which I liked … The handclaps and the drums and stuff like that – it was just a guitar piece, but I did want Colin to play mandolin, old bluesy mandolin, and I kind of knew that going in. So I kind of had that in mind. But the handclaps and the drum thing were an add on.

Ted: Speaking of instruments, you used several instruments from quite varied origins on Crowing Ignites. As you previously stated, the concept for the album came before the title, but as a listener, I found it intriguing that an album titled after the motto of a Scottish clan would feature instruments from such places as Africa, South America, Nepal, France and the Appalachians.

Bruce: It is a bit weird because it’s everything but bagpipes (laughs). There’s no actual Scottish instruments there anywhere. But this is what I have. I have a room full of this stuff, and I wanted to use it all, or as much of it as made sense. So we just brought it all into the studio and set up. But the singing bowls and Tibetan element … there was [a] concept going in that I wanted to build a piece using those, because I love the sound … I had the same idea with the kalimbas and the charango. But Appalachian dulcimer … I don’t use it in the traditional way exactly. I’m playing it as if it’s a hammer dulcimer, but I don’t know how to play hammer dulcimer. So it just does a drone thing in “Pibroch.” … I’ve been interested in music from everywhere for as long as I can remember really seriously thinking about music … Over the years I’ve acquired these various instruments, and it’s nice to be able to put them to use.

Ted: Bernie Finkelstein (Bruce’s manager) mentioned that you’ve been rehearsing with a new sideman for the upcoming tour. I understand that you’ll be performing with your nephew, multi-instrumentalist John Aaron Cockburn.

Bruce: Yes. He was in the band on the Bone On Bone tour. But doing a duo thing is kind of a new thing for me. I did it once before … I’ve done isolated gigs like that here and there. Colin Linden and I have done a couple things where we played together … But the only other time that we really set it up as a tour that I can recall was Salt, Sun and Time. I toured with Gene Martynec, who plays on that album, and the album is … just guitar. There’s a few other little bits and pieces, but mostly it’s just the guitars playing on the songs, and we toured like that … You know, that’s like 40 years ago. It’s been a while. I’m looking forward to it quite a bit.

Ted: What can fans expect to see at any of the forty-plus dates on the upcoming North American tour?

Bruce: Well, we’re still working out exactly what we’re going to do, but it’s not going to be very different in terms of the content or the song list … from a regular show of mine. There’ll be some old stuff and some new stuff. There’ll certainly be some pieces from Crowing Ignites. But it’s not going to be a night of instrumentals. I think that people would be disappointed if they paid money for a ticket and that’s what they got. Most of the people that pay attention to me would want to hear lyrics, I think. And I do like singing songs. So it’ll be a mixture of things.

Ted: Looking to the future, any plans that fans should be looking forward to following the Crowing Ignites tour?

Bruce: I’ve never been very good at making plans, and I haven’t given it any thought at all other than the fact that this tour is going to run, and then we haven’t booked anything for the first part of next year at all. So I’ll be taking some time off. But what I’ll do in the time off, and any plans for future recording and all that sort of stuff remain unknown. I expect that, unless I’m incapacitated in some way, I’m going to keep on doing what I do … Eventually, there’ll be something else, but right now I’m just thinking about the stuff at hand.

Ted: Once again, congratulations on Crowing Ignites. I’ve listened to it several times while preparing for the interview, and I think it’s beautiful. It truly highlights your passion for the guitar. I wish you all the best on the upcoming tour, and I appreciate your chatting with me today.

Bruce: Well, thank you. I appreciate your interest, and thanks for the kind words. Nice to talk to you.



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September 19, 2019
South Bend Tribune

Bruce Cockburn wordless on instrumental 'Crowing Ignites’
by Andrew S. Hughes


Bruce Cockburn’s 34th album, “Crowing Ignites,” comes out Friday, a few days before he performs Tuesday at Goshen College.

His longtime fans may be surprised, however, to learn that it’s his second instrumental album, following 2005’s “Speechless,” because now would seem to be the perfect moment for a Cockburn album with lyrics.

The Canadian guitarist and singer-songwriter, after all, has written some of the most searing, poetic and incisive topical songs of the last five decades.

That includes three of his most popular songs: “Call It Democracy,” about the International Monetary Fund and how it creates insupportable debt in the Third World; “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” about military attacks on Guatemalan refugees; and “If a Tree Falls,” about the destruction of the Amazon.

But Cockburn has chosen, for now, not to use his music to address Donald Trump’s presidency or the general, global rightward shift away from democratic ideals.

“There’s so much blather out there that I’m not sure more words are the point,” he says by phone from San Francisco, where he has lived for the last several years. “What we need to find from a societal point of view is some bonding agent, whether it’s more words or something else. I could get up there and say all the bad things I feel about Donald Trump, but what’s the point?”

Cockburn (pronounced Co-burn) makes it clear, however, that he’s taken that position for himself, not everyone.

“That’s not to say people shouldn’t write great songs about whatever gets their attention,” he says. “It’s just not me right now.”

But he isn’t entirely “speechless” on the subject of current events when asked.

With the Amazon being ravaged by fires this summer, Cockburn acknowledges that “If a Tree Falls” is relevant again 32 years after its release, and that time is running out to protect the environment.

“I feel like we’re getting pretty close to that wall, not Trump’s wall, the real wall,” he says. “I’ve got a young daughter and grandkids. I’ve got a vested interested in this. … I’ll probably be gone when the (excrement) really hits the fan, but my daughter and grandkids will be here. It’s a daunting prospect.”

And Cockburn, who became a Christian in the early 1970s, says evangelical Christians who support Trump are “extremely misguided,” while the people who call the shots in the evangelical community “feed off power.”

“The world doesn’t need a theocracy,” he says. “It didn’t need one before, and it doesn’t now. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put God at the center of our lives; we should, but that’s personal. … I think any one-issue campaign is dangerous, no matter what the issue is, because it ignores a lot of other things.”

Cockburn has ignored little around him in his music career, and because of that, he’s never been easy to categorize.

A finger-picker, he has moved seamlessly through a number of genres, including folk, blues, world music, reggae, jazz, rock and pop.

His lyrics have been just as restless in their subject matter, including — but not limited to — love and romance, pastoral descriptions of nature, war and war zones, the environment, poetry and music, Native people’s rights, refugees, land mines, and general slices of life. Sometimes, he delivers them in French, rather than English.

After Cockburn became a Christian soon after the 1970 release of his eponymous debut album, Christian themes and imagery then became a hallmark of his lyrics — never in a dogmatic, preachy or proselytizing way but as an interrogation of faith and ethics.

As a result, he hasn’t enjoyed much commercial success in the United States — just one single, 1979’s “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” has made it into the Top 40, peaking at No. 21. “Call It Democracy” reached No. 88. That’s it for “hits” here.

But his concerts tend to sell out, because his fan base is devoted.

“I love them,” he says about his audiences. “I don’t have any problem. There’s no artifice. I’m grateful they’re there. I love the interchange of energy.”

Cockburn turned 74 in May, and he says playing guitar has gotten more difficult.

“I’m getting away with it so far,” he says. “But sooner or later, that’s another wall. It’s not here yet, but I have to play a lot. I used to be able to not pick up a guitar for four or five days and be just the same as the last time I held one. It takes hours of playing to get back to where I was if I take time off.”

And yet “Crowing Ignites” shows no diminution of his beguiling skills or his musical curiosity across its 12 songs.

Although primarily an acoustic guitar album, “Crowing Ignites” includes such other instruments as chimes, dulcimer, singing bowls and kalimba.

The music ranges from the jaunty, upbeat “Sweetness and Light” to the traditional Scottish-inflected style of “Pibroch: the Wind in the Valley,” from the electric jazz combo of “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz” with its yearning cornet solo by Ron Miles to the blues of “Blind Willie,” named for and in the style of Blind Willie Johnson, one of Cockburn’s main influences on guitar.

When he decided to make the new album, he thought it would be “Speechless 2” — an album of instrumental versions of previous songs with lyrics and a few new compositions.

Instead, it’s entirely new.

“There was lots left over from ‘Speechless,’ and lots of instrumental stuff had been recorded since ‘Speechless,’” he says. “Then I would write some new stuff, but I wound up with so much new stuff, that it just became its own album.”

For the “Crowing Ignites” tour, Cockburn has his nephew, John Aaron Cockburn, with him on accordion and guitar — he also had played in Cockburn’s band for the 2017-18 “Bone on Bone” tour. Together, they’ll play songs from the new album, as well lyric songs from throughout Cockburn’s career.

“I love the band, but I’m quite happy to be doing this scaled-down thing, because it’s different,” he says. “The relationship with the audience is different.”

The duo arrangement also is different for him.

“I’m not sure how this will feel,” Cockburn says. “But, generally, the less flashy the show is, the more the people get into the music and there’s more focus on the songs. I don’t know if this will be true with the duo, but there’s a feeling of more of one-on-one with the audience in a solo show.”

The album takes its title from the Latin motto on the Cockburn family’s Scottish crest: “Accendit Cantu.”

“I think the person who came up with it probably intended it to mean something like ‘Music excites,’” he says. “This is conjecture, but I think what they meant was the rush of martial blood that bagpipes have on people of Scottish descent. The pipes have a visceral effect on me. People who aren’t horrified by them find them to be quite beautiful.”

Of course, Cockburn says, there may be another, simpler interpretation: “Maybe the guy just liked to dance, swill that whiskey and cavort.”



September 18, 2019
City News

Bruce Cockburn avoids impulse to get political with lyric-less new album
by David Friend

TORONTO — If anyone is looking for activist folk singer Bruce Cockburn to deliver a passionate lyrical rebuke for our tumultuous times, they’re not going to find it on his newest album.

The 74-year-old musician has a respected history in the craft of protest songs, but he’s not taking the bait anymore. He doesn’t find inspiration in the anger that’s spewed by the U.S. president, he says, nor does he feel the necessity to acknowledge the latest outrage.

Half a century into his career, the songwriter behind “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” and “If a Tree Falls” might seem a little jaded — but he sees it differently.

“I’m more frustrated than fired up,” he explains while sitting in the lobby of a Toronto hotel.

“I’ve gotten angry so many times over so many things. Really the stuff that would make me angry now is all the same.”

Cockburn acknowledges that might be him showing his age. The energy that once fuelled his inner fire is being redirected, mostly to raising his young daughter. The Ottawa-born musician, who resides in San Francisco with his wife, also walks with a cane due to hip and foot problems.

Cockburn says he doesn’t want to recycle the agita that established him in the Canadian cultural canon. It seems he would rather seek solace from today’s political discord in the strings of his acoustic guitar.

On his 34th album “Crowing Ignites,” due for release on Sept. 20, Cockburn lets the music do the talking. The all-instrumental project is his first since “Speechless,” a wordless collection of mostly covers of his own songs released 15 years ago that firmly established Cockburn as a formidable picker. His latest further entrenches his skills beyond the written word.

But “Crowing Ignites” isn’t an island of work. The collection of 11 original tracks plays like a meditation on our careless existence, though it leaves most of its interpretation up to the listener.

Cockburn offers some direction in the song’s titles: “April in Memphis,” evokes the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and “Blind Willie” is an homage to pre-Depression era American gospel singer Blind Willie Johnson, whose troubled life led to an early death at 48.

“Seven Daggers,” named in reference to Roman Catholic imagery of the Virgin Mary, is a dreamy journey where Cockburn’s guitar lingers among the sounds of kalimbas. And the hypnotic “Bells of Gethsemane,” takes his instrument drifting along a sea of Tibetan cymbals, chimes and singing bowls.

“To me, the nature of instrumental music is that it exists on its own terms,” Cockburn explains.

“It may suggest things to you, or conjure up feelings, but you can’t really control how it does that.”

Yet it’s difficult to separate “Crowing Ignites” from the social fabric it’s built from, which makes Cockburn’s insistence on ambiguity all the more bewildering.

When asked about politics, he offers a clearer sense of what might’ve led him to return to instrumentals. He expresses dismay over how “polarization” and “fragmentation” have split people along political party lines and isolated both sides from each other.

“The whole idea that liberal and conservative have become pejorative — they’re not descriptive terms anymore, they’re labels to refer to people you hate. How can you have dialogue when the language can’t accommodate a different point of view?” Cockburn says.

“Maybe that was in the background somewhere in the choice of doing an instrumental album. It wasn’t conscious. But we have to do our best to promote community and dialogue.”

It’s one of the reasons he hasn’t released a song about Donald Trump, who he believes promotes “chaos.” He refuses to give the U.S. president any more oxygen.

“The world is talking about Donald Trump by his invitation — he doesn’t need any more attention,” he says.

Cockburn hopes for the sake of his eight-year-old daughter the world digs itself out of its troubled state.

“In a way, I feel guilty for having had a kid, not from the point of view of population, but for inflicting the future on that child,” he says.

“I worry about that. But I probably won’t even be here when she’s hitting the worst of that, so it’s kind of hard to think of it in concrete terms.”

Photo: Toronto, July 15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette


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September 17, 2019
Americana Highways

Interview: Bruce Cockburn On “Crowing Ignites,” Meeting Jerry Garcia, And ‘Little Ass’ Bells
by Melissa Clarke

Americana Highways recently spoke with Bruce Cockburn about his new instrumental album, Crowing Ignites, due to be released September 20th. Here is what transpired.

AH: The title of the album is Crowing Ignites. Tell us the story behind this title!

BC: My brother discovered that the Cockburn family motto as part of the coat of arms is “Accendit Cantu” which is a Latin phrase. We were all excited because it was translated for us as “Music Excites” which seemed like a really fortuituous circumstance, especially for somebody like me. But awhile later I was looking up information on the family and it was translated differenty; it was translated as “He Arouses Us By Crowing” and there were some other variations, so finally I looked it up myself, and translated it myself and it came out “Crowing Ignites”! And it was such a punchy phrase it was exciting. My wife suggested I use it for my album title and I thought “yes I should”!

AH: This album is instrumental, as was your earlier album Speechless. In the absence of spoken human language, what does music, on its own, convey?

BC: It’s unusual for music without a lyrical content attached to it to convey a specific idea. But it certainly carries feelings. And it contains the capacity, depending on how the listener approaches it, to transport the listener to a place of their choosing. If I listen to mournful sounding Baroque pieces, for instance, I get a tremendously wistful peacefulness from that music. And there’s music that gets you all fired up and other music that makes you uncomfortable and so on. So it has that capacity as well.

In making music, basically what you hope for is that a listener will get out of it what you put into it, but there are of course no guarantees there. Fundamentally everyone experiences any kind of art through their own filter, and they are going to bring their own understanding of how it fits into their lives to the picture.

You can steer them by your title. But even there, does “Sweetness and Light” mean the same thing to me as it does to everybody out there? Probably not. So you’re always at the mercy of that subjectivity. But that’s both a strength and a weakness. On the one hand you can be specific about what you want to say but on the other hand there is still a universality to the absence of words because nobody has to get stuck on language, which can be another source of various interpretation. And then half the time people don’t understand the words anyway either.

AH: The song “Seven Daggers” has these wonderful layers, and different world instruments. I wasn’t even sure what one of the was when I saw the instrument list. How did you come to choose them?

BC: It was constructed in the studio. As is the pattern for me, I generally don’t go into the studio to make an album until I know what’s going to be on the album. For this album this was the case, but there were two songs, and this was one of them, that existed in my mind as a concept and had to be developed in the studio, because it was all about the layers.

I had this charango. A charango is a stringed instrument that is a little bit like a mandolin but is native to the Andes region of South America. You’ll hear Bolivian street bands in Europe playing it. I came across this in Chile in the early ‘80s, and I had one and I got another one, and now I have a solid body electric charango which I got in the late 80s that was made by Linda Manzer whose guitars I also play a lot. It’s traditionally tuned to an open A minor 7 chord. And so I thought I also have this sansula, which is kind of like an African thumb piano, and this is a particularly nice version of that with a skin head and it plays so nicely. And its tuned to A minor.

So I had these two instruments that are built to play in A minor, and I thought I can make a pattern here, there’s a piece here. So that’s how it started. And there’s another African instrument in there too, the kalimba.

AH: What about the “little ass bells” you credit in the liner notes? How little are they?

BC: They are quite small! (laughs) Those are a variation of the Indian cowbells you see around in yuppie gift stores sometimes. There was a store in Vermont where I spent a lot of time. This particular store had an incredible array of these bells. The buyer for the store had gone out of her way to get really nice sounding ones, they weren’t clunky at all. These are not tuned in a Western way but they have a really pretty sound to them. So I bought all of them! One of each of the different pitches. Some of them were actually quite large, they were practically a foot long and a few inches around and others that were tiny. I bought a whole selection. And I strung the tiny ones on a metal rod, and you can shake them that way, and that’s what you hear on the record. There are ten of them strung on this thing and they work in a way like sleigh bells, except they don’t sound anything like sleigh bells. They are much prettier.

AH: About the song “Pibroch: the Wind in the Valley,” you say in the liner notes that the bagpipes there remind you of sipping whiskey from a scallop shell, which is really just poetic and an intriguing statement.

BC: Pibroch is the name for the classical bagpipe music of Scotland. It’s a very hypnotic ancient sounding music, you know Scottish bagpipes aren’t capable of playing very much of a melody. They can, but everything is in that 5 note scale and it’s limited. But the Pibroch music uses that limitation to create a hypnotic landscape where the pieces might last 20 minutes or more and there are these tiny variations and by end of the piece it’ll be quite complicated and ornamented but at the beginning it starts out this simple motif. So I was describing that sensation of being on some ancient Scottish coastline which is what I was experiencing for this song.

AH: You have a mix of religious themes in the album also, you have Tibetan Buddhism in some place, with “Bardo Rush” which is the lead track.

BC: The Bardo is from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which I read back in the 60s. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is designed to be read to the newly deceased so that their spirit will go where it needs to go and not be caught up in various demonic distractions. And the Bardo is the plane in which that spirit is wandering. This song is a reference to that. I think there’s a lot about Buddhist teachings that are very valuable but I don’t think of myself as a Buddhist. But that wanted to be the title of that piece.

AH: It’s very lively, it’s like a dance, which turns the Bardo into an uplifting idea.

BC: Yes, I think the low rumbling keyboard gives it a sinister quality but yes, it is a pretty peppy little piece. You could think of is as the Bardo meets the Day of the Dead. (laughs)

AH: You also have Judeo-Christian themes. We already mentioned “Seven Daggers,” which was named for a near a chapel.

BC: It’s named for a little chapel that’s in a convent next door to my daughter’s school.

AH: And then you have “Easter,” and “Bells of Gethsemane.” What inspired “Easter”?

BC: It’s called “Easter” because I wrote it on Easter. The slow part was written on Easter. That tempo seems to me to be in keeping with the idea of resurrection. When I’m writing these pieces I have a feeling in mind, and I think very mechanically about the music, about what note is going to be nice after that note that was just played. The concepts kind of come in after the fact. But because this song was written on that day, it just wanted to be called that.

It goes from a kind of a mournful little waltz into a more uptempo happier thing, and that seemed appropriate.

AH: You’ve been playing since the early 1970s. You weren’t really involved with the Haight-Asbury San Francisco scene, but then Jerry Garcia covered your song “Waiting for a Miracle.” And not just a little – that song is very widely associated with him, he played it a lot. Did you meet him?

BC: I did meet him, after he recorded the song. I was in New York doing PR for something and the Dead were about to start several shows at Madison Square Garden. And I got taken to meet Jerry. And he was doing what was described as meditating onstage. He had a tent set up onstage behind the backline of the amps and stuff. I had to wait until he came out of his tent. (laughs)

He did, in due course. And he was very friendly, we didn’t talk very long because he was getting ready to play. And apparently he was very nervous, he would get very nervous before those big gigs. He was trying to calm himself down so it was a short encounter. But he said “oh man, beautiful song, I hope I didn’t screw the lyrics up too much.” I said “actually I was going to wait until the second time I met you before I brought that up.”

When I first heard his version of the song I was kind of dismayed at that but then I realized he did that with everybody and that I was in good company. (laughs) I’m glad he did it.

In New York a couple weeks ago we did a thing for Relix magazine, it was in their office, and there were several young people in the office working on computers, nobody was paying much attention. But I sang that song because it seemed appropriate to the occasion. And all of a sudden they all stopped and they were all listening! And the guy who was recording said to my tour manager: “Why’s he doing a cover?” (laughs). None of them knew!

It’s an honor that the song found a favorite place with him. But that was so ironic!

AH: Your music does get very improvisational in style and a lot of fans of jambands like your music too. On this album, “The Mt Lefroy Waltz” is an example. Are you improvising? Or are those paths you’ve already worn.

BC: My influence and background is a 50/50 mix between the kind of folk music which is now Americana, and jazz. I’ve never considered myself a jazz player, I don’t think I have the chops or the knowledge to be an effective jazz player per se. But improvisation has always been a part of what I like to do.

“The Mt LeFroy Waltz” has a composed part, of course that’s the part where you hear the guitar and the trumpet playing together the same melody. That was written. But once the melody was stated, there is some improvising and then it returns to the melody again. A lot of the songs are like that, “Bardo Rush” is like that. It’s something that I can do better in an instrumental context than with a song. When there’s a song with lyrics, the lyrics want to be obeyed. They demand their rightful place in the song.

To return to a comparison with the Grateful Dead again, my approach is a little more rigid than I think they were. When there’s a song there’s a structure that must be obeyed, and sometimes that stucture allows for some improvising but in the instrumental pieces there is a lot more freedom.

AH: The songs sometimes have a tone of darkness or foreboding. What is your sense of the direction society is moving in? Because when you did “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” there was a specific message. Are there political messages to your songs on this album?

BC: Well that song in particular had a very specific trigger. Had I not been in the Guatamalan refugee camps in Mexico that inspired that song, I would have never written it. It wasn’t written as social commentary. It was written as a shocked emotional response to a situation. And most of my stuff is like that. “If a Tree Falls” was more commentary and a lament for the state of things.

I look around and I see a lot of beauty in the world but there’s also a precariousness to it that’s very worrisome. And I think of my young daughter, and my grandkids – my older daughter’s kids, and I think what a f—ed up world we are handing them.

And the world has never been a safe place, we know that. History is full of terrible events and terrible effects on people of those events. But that doesn’t change the desire to have it work better than it does, or to not have it get worse than it is. And so, a lot of the songs are coming from that place of concern.

AH: Are you a cyclist?

BC: I did a lot, yes, but I am not doing it so much anymore. Getting older is better than being dead I think (laughs) but it has its price.

AH: Are you reading a good book at the moment?

BC: I am reading a book my friend Greg King sent me called Hitler’s Priestess. I have not delved into this subject matter before but it’s basically the biography of a woman who was born of Greek-French-Indian parents, and she became kind of a spiritual figure for the Neo Nazi movement in the United States. She was a big Hitler fan in the 30s and moved to India and was all tied up with the Aryan mythology that she felt that Hinduism had preserved whereas she thought that it had been lost in Europe. There is a thread that runs into the modern Neo Nazi movement.

AH: What’s on the horizon for you?

BC: With the imminent release of Crowing Ignites there are a lot of tour dates. My nephew John Aaron Cockburn is coming with me, it’s a duo. He plays accordion and guitar. We’ll be rehearsing and then going on tour. I’m starting to feel an itch to write more songs too.




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September 16, 2019
Elmore Magazine

Bruce Cockburn - Crowing Ignites Review
by Jim Hynes

Most of us associate the brilliant Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn with memorable songs like “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” ‘Wondering Where the Lions Are,” “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” and so many more. Yet, Cockburn’s splendid guitar playing goes under appreciated by many. Crowing Ignites, a purely, stunning instrumental guitar album will certainly change those perceptions. These are 11 originals from Cockburn who plays acoustic guitar and other instruments throughout. He has done this before, in 2005 releasing the instrumental Canadian award-winning Speechless, which featured mostly previously recorded tracks, but this effort is totally new and rather awe-inspiring. There’s not a single word spoken or sung, but Cockburn’s composition skills still prove considerable. This, his 34th album was produced, recorded and mixed by Colin Linden in San Francisco, where Cockburn currently resides.

The album covers folk, blues, and jazz, all genres that Cockburn has done before, but he adds world music and nods to his Scottish heritage too. The latter is heard in “Pibroch: The Wind in the Valley,” in which his guitar’s droning bass strings and melodic high notes purposely mimic the sound of bagpipes, which Cockburn loves. “It seems to be in my blood,” he says. The world music pieces may even be more fascinating. The hypnotic, kalimba-laden “Seven Daggers” is also teeming with the sounds of bells and chimes, taken to even deeper level in “Bells of Gethsemane” that features Tibetan cymbals and singing bowls, like those found in Buddhist religious practices. On the former Cockburn plays a 12-string and on the latter a baritone guitar.

This is not just a solo guitar album. Linden joins on guitars and other strings, as does Linden’s wife Janice Powers on keyboards on select tracks as do a few others. Two of these pieces stemmed from other projects. “The Groan” is a bluesy piece with Linden supporting on mandolin, and six people, including Cockburn’s daughter on handclaps. It was composed for a Les Stroud documentary about the aftermath of a school shooting and the healing power of nature. “Mt. Lefroy Waltz” is a jazz-tinged piece written for the Group of Seven Guitar Project on a custom-made guitar originally recorded, with cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Roberto Occhipinti and drummer Gary Craig for Cockburn’s 2017 album Bone on Bone, but not released until now.

The other pieces with sparer instrumentation include the opening urgent “Bardo Rush” with Powers on keyboards, the contemplative “Easter,” composed on that very day and rendered solo. “April In Memphis,” composed on Martin Luther King Day, is a mournful piece with Cockburn adding chimes to his solo guitar. “Blind Willie” is named for Blind Willie Johnson and has fiery guitar dueling with Linden’s dobro. “Sweetness and Light” is perhaps Cockburn’s best display of his astounding finger picking technique. Finally, “Angels In the Half Light” takes on the somber, ominous tone of Cockburn’s memorable dark politically tinged lyrical songs but there are hints of spirituality and hope there too.

This, as you’d expect, is an album of deep uninterrupted listening with many moods, colors and breathtaking musicianship. It is highly varied and intriguing. Spend time with it—it keeps getting better with each listen.



September 5, 2019
Bend Bulletin

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Bruce Cockburn headlines 23rd Sisters Folk Festival
by Brian McElhiney


The Amazon rainforest is burning. Children are being held in makeshift camps at the southern U.S. border. And Bruce Cockburn is getting ready to release his second all-instrumental album.

Given the circumstances, some fans might expect something more topical from an artist who has made his career singing about social, political and environmental issues — often through the lens of his Christian beliefs, which he adopted in the ’70s. And the Canadian singer-songwriter has fielded that question more than once from fans and journalists about said instrumental album, “Crowing Ignites,” due out Sept. 20.

“The choice to do an instrumental album really wasn’t dependent on what’s going on around (the world),” Cockburn said recently from his home in San Francisco, a little more than a week ahead of his headlining performance at the 23rd Sisters Folk Festival on Saturday. “It was just a choice that seemed like a timely (thing) in terms of my own arc, you could say I guess. It just seemed like a good time to make an instrumental album.”

Not that Cockburn isn’t concerned with what’s going on — he brought up the Amazon fires specifically. But as he pointed out, he’s already written that song: “If a Tree Falls,” from his 1988 solo album “Big Circumstance.”

“For a while, it was not newsworthy because it looked like people were kind of getting it together,” he said. “But now, it’s a highly visible disaster for us. But I don’t really feel like I have to write another ‘If a Tree Falls’ because it’s already there, and it talks about the same things and the same issues. Actually for a while, it was not so appropriate because the rainforest destruction was about planting soybeans and stuff, but then, they’ve gone back to putting in cattle now.”

As far as the current political situation in the U.S., another topic he gets asked about often, Cockburn would rather not go there.

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“I don’t want to talk about Donald Trump; he gets enough attention; he doesn’t need mine,” he said. “We all know what we feel about it. I doubt there’s very many Trump supporters coming to my shows — it’s possible there’s some. People who’ve heard my music know where I stand on these kinds of things, and I’m singing the songs. I mean, I’m not ruling out anything either in saying this; it’s not like a policy of mine not to talk about these things. It’s just that there’s so much blather going on and so much of that kind of echo chamber thing.”

He’s more interested in presenting a unifying message (“What needs to be found is a bridge, or a bunch of bridges, really,” he said), which should be a key part of his set at his first Sisters Folk Festival

Unusually for the festival, which runs Friday through Sunday at 11 venues in Sisters, Cockburn will only play once, outside the Sisters Art Works building. The festival organization recently purchased the building through an ongoing capital campaign, creative director Brad Tisdel said.

“In the fall, we’ll start offering some programming, whether it’s workshops or after-school programming,” Tisdel said. “We’re really trying to serve an adult population, as well as underserved youth.”

In July, the organization welcomed new executive director Crista Munro, who will help oversee this year’s festival. The organization announced it would seek an executive director earlier this year after eliminating Managing Director Ann Richardson’s position.

The rest of the festival’s 52 performers this year have multiple sets or workshops throughout the weekend, including Peter Rowan and tejano rock band Los Texmaniacs, who perform together Friday as well as separate sets Saturday; folk/world duo Rising Appalachia, which performs Friday and Saturday; and Québécois group Le Vent Du Nord with four sets Friday and Saturday. (See the full schedule at sistersfolkfestival.org.)

“The experience of seeing great artists in small venues is one of the things that I think sets us apart as far as the festival goes,” Tisdel said. “Those venues are such beautiful environments as well, that I think it really lends an opportunity to see some really remarkable performances in a beautiful setting.”

Cockburn’s set could include some of his new instrumentals alongside well-known hits in the U.S. such as “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.” Touring in earnest behind “Crowing Ignites” will begin in Nashville the day it releases.

“I don’t know exactly what it’s gonna be yet,” Cockburn said.

While many of “Crowing Ignite’s” songs were inspired by specific things, they are open to interpretation as instrumental pieces, Cockburn said.

“The inspiration’s a tricky thing to assign to instrumental music, because it’s not really about anything,” Cockburn said. “It’s about what I discover on the guitar and feelings. It’s a little bit hard to say.”

The album was initially conceived as a direct sequel to 2005’s “Speechless,” a collection of instrumental songs pulling from Cockburn’s many solo releases since his self-titled, 1970 debut, supplemented with some new material. In the time since the record’s release, Cockburn recorded three more solo albums, including 2017’s “Bone on Bone,” which netted the songwriter his 13th Juno Award, for Top Contemporary Folk Album of the Year.

“There’s a whole bunch more pieces that hadn’t been collected together from other albums now, and then, I thought, OK, I’ll come up with two or three new pieces and then we’ll have ‘Speechless 2,’” Cockburn said. “But I ended up with so much new material that it wasn’t that anymore; it became its own thing.”

That title holds a personal connection to Cockburn’s family. It’s a literal translation of the Latin motto found on the Cockburn family crest: “Accendit Cantu.” Cockburn said his father and brother uncovered the crest while researching family history in the ’90s.

“Initially, ‘Accendit Cantu,’ the English version of that that we read, was ‘music excites,’ which just seemed like, that’s so cool,” Cockburn said. “Here I am doing music, and that’s the family motto. But then, I came across another English version of it that was, ‘he arouses us by crowing,’ or a phrase like that. It became obvious that neither of those things was an actual translation of the words, so I translated it myself using my translate app. What it literally says is ‘crowing ignites.’ And you can interpret that in a bunch of different ways.”

Cockburn wrote the album’s 11 pieces over a span of about a year. “April in Memphis” was written on Martin Luther King Day this year (the title references the date King was assassinated), while “Easter” was appropriately written on Easter Sunday last year. Meanwhile, “Pibroch: The Wind in the Valley” finds Cockburn inspired by Scottish bagpipe music.

Two pieces, “Seven Daggers” and “Bells of Gethesmane,” were constructed in the studio. The former builds up mournful acoustic guitar, baritone guitar played by Cockburn’s longtime producer Colin Linden and haunting bells, while the latter incorporates Tibetan chimes, cymbals and singing bowls.

“It was fun to do both those pieces really because the sense of discovery was mixed right into it all,” Cockburn said. “That happens if I’m sitting by myself coming up with a piece in a room. There’s a bit of this bloodhound-on-the-trail feeling that comes with getting an idea and chasing it down.”


August 26, 2019
Billboard

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Bruce Cockburn Nods to Scottish Heritage With 'Pibroch: The Wind In the Valley': Premiere
by Gary Graff

A funny thing happened to Bruce Cockburn as he started making his new album Crowing Ignites -- whose track "Pibroch: The Wind in the Valley" is premiering exclusively here.

The all-instrumental acoustic album was designed to be a Speechless II, a sequel to his 2005 instrumental set Speechless, again compiling instrumental tracks from his albums with a few new compositions. "I set about looking for ideas for new material and ended up with so much of it that (Crowing Ignites) became its own album," Cockburn tells Billboard. "I wasn't expecting to come up with so much (new) stuff. The ideas just kept coming. So it’s not Speechless II. It's its own thing entirely."

The new 11-track set, recorded in San Francisco, where the Canadian-born Cockburn now resides, and produced by Colin Linden, is titled after the translation of the Latin motto 'Accendit Cantu' that appears on the Cockburn family crest. It is, of course, markedly different than Cockburn's more traditional song-oriented releases, but he says the process is "equally enjoyable." "The big difference is the obvious one -- there are no lyrics," Cockburn explains. "The way I write songs, the lyrics generally come first, and then it becomes a question of finding the right music to carry those lyrics. With instrumental pieces it's more like, 'Here's an interesting riff on the guitar' and that suggests something else and it grows from there. It's a bit like scoring a film; You've got images, ideas, characters that need to be supported by the music but not overpowered by it. It's considerably freer."

Cockburn's playing on Crowing Ignites draws from in international array of influences, ranging from Mississippi Delta blues ("Blind Willie," a nod to Blind Willie Johnson) to Django Reinhardt's gypsy jazz to kalimba on the track "Seven Daggers" and Tibetan singing bowls, cymbals and chimes on "Bels of Gethsemane." The jazz-flavored "Mt. Lefroy Waltz" was originally recorded (in a different format, but not used) for Cockburn's Juno Award-winning 2017 album Bone on Bone.

"Pibroch," meanwhile, nods to Cockburn's Scottish heritage; the title refers to classic Highland bagpipe music, as do his droning guitar patterns. "It's music I find really hypnotic in a stirring kind of way," Cockburn says. "It gets in the blood. It's a very simple melodic motif, a four- or five-note swirl that repeats over the droning part of the bagpipe, and then add a grace note, one or two, over it. It’s quite busy sounding but it develops slowly. It's very meditative, nothing at all like the martial pipe and drum music we're more familiar with from Scotland."

Crowning Ignites is the 10th album Linden has produced for Cockburn, who found a converted firehouse which they turned into a studio for the sessions. "It was a challenge for me to make the record without leaving home," says Cockburn, whose seven-year-old daughter Iona is part of the hand-clapping chorus on "The Groan," which he composed for a Les Stroud documentary about the aftermath of a school shooting. "Colin was enthusiastic about it from the beginning, and we had a fantastic time."

With Crowing Ignites out Sept. 20, Cockburn kicks off a North American tour that night at the City Winery in Nashville, with dates booked into November. As for what's next, Cockburn has not idea -- but says that he's "starting to get the feeling that maybe there will be more writing of some kind coming up. There a point where there's kind of an energy buildup and I start getting antsy because I haven’t written a song for a while. When I feel that, it usually means there's something coming, sooner or later. I haven't thought about it, really, but we'll see."


August 7, 2018 (interview date)
The Edmonton Journal

Bruce Cockburn on Richard Thompson, Ronald Reagan in advance of Saturday Folk Fest set
by Tom Murray


There was a very brief period a few years back where Bruce Cockburn wondered whether he was still a songwriter.

“It was just after I released my memoir,” the singer-songwriter recalls over the phone from Trail, B.C., where he and his band are preparing for a theatre show. “I had invested all of the energy normally used in songwriting into my book (2014’s Rumours of Glory), and when I was done I looked around and wondered if I was still able to do it.”

That question, if anyone ever took it seriously, was laid to rest with Bone on Bone, which went on to win Contemporary Roots Album of the Year at the 2018 Juno Awards. Now the iconic folk-rocker (and guitar wizard), known for an eclectic range of hits like the incendiary If I Had a Rocket Launcher, the lilting Wondering Where the Lions Are, and the heart opening Lovers in a Dangerous Time, is preparing to follow up with an all-instrumental album called Crowing Ignites. We spoke with Cockburn about his new album, fellow guitar deity Richard Thompson, and Ronald Reagan.

Q: What was the genesis of Crowing Ignites?

A: My manager Bernie (Finkelstein) and I had come up with an idea to do what was going to be called Speechless 2. Speechless (which came out in 2005) was a compilation of previously recorded songs, with a few new tracks added on. We thought, okay, let’s do the same again, but I ended up writing so much that it became its own album. I had a lot of fun with it, and brought in these loosely structured songs with some improvisation, while others are less improvised. In the case of Seven Daggers I just played a charango (an Andean stringed instrument) pattern and then started putting stuff on top of that.

Q: It comes out in September; will you be devoting your fall tour to just instrumentals?

A: Not the whole show. I think people would be unhappy with me if I did that, and I know I’d be unhappy. There are a few that have made their way into the setlist, though. There’s a piece that was constructed in the studio with me playing all the parts; the band I’m touring with can play those parts, while I get to do all of the showoff moves.

Q: Because of your propensity for occasionally releasing instrumental albums, as well as your similar interests in mysticism, I tend to put you in the same category as Richard Thompson.

A: We’ve been on the same bill a number of times, and Richard is a great guitar player. We have different skill sets, and I’m definitely an admirer. I guess that’s my way of saying that I don’t mind being lumped in with him.

Q: You’ve been living in the States for a decade now, which must be very eye-opening for you.

A: I actually lived in the States the first time in the ’60s, during the Vietnam War, and that was similar in some regards. When I first started hanging out there again with my then-girIfriend and now wife it was a very different scene. It was Obama’s America, and it had a very different feel. In spite of what I felt were many flaws in that administration there was a generally positive atmosphere, and a kind of sense of hope in the air. That’s not so evident right now.

Q: It’s strange how the current government hasn’t quite galvanized the music scene in the same way that Johnson and then Nixon did.

A: Well, when someone like Kanye West is a big Trump supporter…it’s definitely weird. People are very polarized, though it’s hard to find Trump supporters in San Francisco. It can feel like an echo chamber at times, because of the degree of polarization. You can’t really have a conversation with anyone about this stuff unless it’s partisan.

Q: You’ve been around long enough to have seen the way the political pendulum swings through the decades. Is it that worrying to you?

A: I think of someone like Ronald Reagan, who had a very public smoothness. I once spoke with (then-Sandinista leader, now Nicaraguan President) Daniel Ortega’s wife Rosario about a trip they took to Washington to meet the Reagans. They were invited to this party where everyone was very hospitable and nice, but at this point Reagan was saying things like he supported the (U.S.-backed right wing rebel) Contras and saying “I am a Contra.” In a diplomatic context he was nice, but from a global perspective he was awful.

Q: You can’t really call the current U.S. President a very smooth politician.

A: I think his cosmic function is to create chaos and disorder. It’s one of his two talents; the other is getting attention. I mean, we have to give him that. Here we are talking about him, just as in every conversation I have, even of the most superficial kind, we always end up discussing him. That’s a skill!


July 19, 2019
Acoustic Guitar
From the September/October 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar

Video Lesson: Bruce Cockburn Teaches His Sophisticated Guitar Style
by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers


This session was recorded at the Acoustic Guitar studio in Richmond, California, on May 20, 2019 - DK


Over a career spanning five decades, Bruce Cockburn has traversed an extraordinarily wide landscape on the guitar, from fingerstyle folk, country blues, and gospel to edgy rock and exploratory jazz—all in the service of his songwriting muse. What’s even more remarkable is that he’s done all this not just as a bandleader but also as a solo acoustic performer. In Cockburn’s hands, the guitar becomes a true band in a box, delivering powerful grooves, riffs, melodies, harmonized lines, and improvised solos in real time.

And at 74, Cockburn is certainly not done exploring the instrument, as is obvious from a spin of Crowing Ignites, his 34th album and first-ever collection of all new instrumentals (2005’s Speechless compiled previously released instrumentals along with a few new tracks). The title Crowing Ignites is a rough translation of “Accendit Cantu,” which adorns the old Cockburn family crest. As does so much of his music, the album ranges across folk, blues, jazz, and shades in between, with virtuosic playing primarily on six-string, 12-string, and baritone acoustics. 

Getting a handle on Cockburn’s multilayered guitar style isn’t easy, even for Cockburn himself. “I don’t think about how I do it—I just do it,” he says on the phone from his home in San Francisco. “But it’s actually quite interesting to try and make it into something communicable.” That is exactly what Cockburn accomplishes in this lesson: He breaks down the key components of his style and demonstrates them through a series of examples drawn from his songs. 

Below, you can learn the core guitar parts from some of Cockburn’s best-known songs, such as “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and “Pacing the Cage,” as well as other gems from across his career. At acousticguitar.com, you can not only check out the video of Cockburn sharing excerpts from these songs, but you can see him perform a complete version of “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (transcribed on page 60 of the print/digital issue) as well as two instrumentals from Crowing Ignites. The result is perhaps the closest and clearest view ever of this guitar master at work.

The Alternating Bass

In Cockburn’s view, the logical way to break down his approach to guitar is not by style or genre—he’s always been dedicated to crossing stylistic boundaries anyway—but by picking-hand technique. Though the details and feel vary, most of his songs can be boiled down to a few right-hand fingerstyle techniques—one of which is the classic alternating bass style, as he learned especially from his early woodshedding with the music of Mississippi John Hurt. He began his video session, in fact, with a verse of Hurt’s “My Creole Belle,” in which the fingers double the vocal melody over the alternating bass—an idea that Cockburn has employed in many songs over the years.

In a similar vein, Example 1 comes from literally the beginning of Cockburn’s recording career: “Going to the Country,” track one on his self-titled 1970 debut. He plays in standard tuning out of G shapes, with his thumb holding down the sixth string at the third fret (more below on his extensive use of the thumb for fretting). The example shows the intro, where he picks a melodic line on the top two strings that harmonizes with the vocal. During the verses, his guitar doubles the vocal melody.

Before taping this session, Cockburn hadn’t played this song in many years and pointed out that he can’t fully reproduce the original recording, on which he used fingerpicks—an approach he soon abandoned. “When I first started using picks I liked the tone,” he recalls. “But I soon discovered that with fingerpicks on, you can’t really do downstrokes with your fingers, because the fingerpicks go flying into the audience’s drink.” 

Playing with bare fingers, as Cockburn has done ever since those earliest days, gives the flexibility to combine upstrokes and downstrokes, picking, and strumming. Bare fingers also help create the kind of warm, round tone that was characteristic of Hurt’s music.

Perhaps even more in the Mississippi John Hurt style is “Pacing the Cage,” a luminous ballad from Cockburn’s 1996 album The Charity of Night. In Example 2, capo at the fourth fret and use C shapes—as Hurt himself often did. In the song’s main pattern, alternate the bass between the fifth and fourth strings as the chords move from C to G/B to Fsus2/A. On the treble side, pick double-stops on the first and second strings for the C and G/B, and then add in the third string on the Fsus2/A. In measure 2, Cockburn uses a fourth-finger barre on top of the G/B chord, but you may find it easier (as I do) to use the third and fourth fingers together on those top strings instead.

The alternating bass is also at the root of “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” from his 1979 breakthrough album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws. With its infectious reggae-like groove (delivered in the studio with the help of a Jamaican rhythm section), “Lions” became a Top 40 hit in the US. Drop your sixth string to D, capo at the second fret, and try the main rhythm pattern in Example 3. For much of the song, your fretting hand stays five frets above the capo. 

Again, you need your thumb for fretting the G shape. “When I was first taking lessons eons ago, I was taught that it was a terrible thing to fret with your thumb,” Cockburn says. “But then I saw some great old blues guys doing it, and I thought, that doesn’t sound so terrible to me. So it just became part of my toolkit, and it eventually became an indispensable part.”

The Drone Bass

The other main picking-hand technique in Cockburn’s music is the monotone or drone bass, as heard particularly in blues—in which the thumb plays a rhythmic pulse on a single string, often with palm muting for a more percussive effect. 

At times Cockburn does use the drone bass in a straight-up blues context. Crowing Ignites has two great examples. In “The Groan,” he plays a steady bass on the fifth string, with a 12/8 blues shuffle feel, using what he refers to as Gsus tuning (D G D G C D). And in “Blind Willie,” a blues in A (for which he tunes the second string down to A), he plays a quarter-note pulse on the open fifth string for the entire song. Example 4, from “Blind Willie,” shows a sample of the kind of riffing that you can do up and down the neck over the open-string bass. 

The basic idea of playing over a drone bass, though, can apply far beyond blues, Cockburn notes. “Way back in the day when I was ‘studying’ jazz at Berklee—I’m putting the studying in quotes because I wasn’t a very good student—I discovered that I really didn’t like chords that much,” he says. “I don’t feel exactly like this now, but I was much more drawn to Asian music of various kinds that doesn’t use Western harmonies, where the intervals that you might think of in a harmonic way are measured against a droning bass rather than against each other as they move around. So a lot of what I do is informed by a desire to make use of that phenomenon.”

The new song “Bardo Rush” runs with this idea. Tuned to D modal or double dropped D (first and sixth strings to D), Cockburn plays a monotone bass on the sixth string for the entire song, adding all sorts of chord melody and jazzy riffs on top. Try an excerpt in Example 5. Play the harmonized melody with your fingers over the driving bass drone.

In learning any of Cockburn’s songs, whether with an alternating bass or a drone bass, the bass line is the best place to start. Practice the thumb until its movement is automatic, then work on adding the treble side. 

Drone Bass With Chords

Cockburn also uses the drone bass technique in songs that do change chords. A famous example is “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” written in response to Cockburn’s visit to a Guatemalan refugee camp in Mexico in the early ’80s. As you can see in the full transcription of his AG studio performance on page 60, Cockburn keeps a steady bass going throughout. In the instrumental section, he employs his thumb to fret the bass note under the C so he can continue to solo with his other fingers. 

In the videos you’ll notice that Cockburn often anchors his right-hand pinky on the pickguard—either keeping it planted or dropping onto the top when he digs in a little harder. This support, he finds, is essential for creating the kind of rhythmic momentum he’s looking for. “When you want to bear down on a bass rhythm, you kind of need [the anchor], whether it’s an alternating bass or a single-note bass,” he says. “I need that anchor to really crunch into it.”

Another song that uses a drone bass under changing chords is “Last Night of the World,” originally released in 1999 on Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu. That track featured full band backing, but as you can hear in the solo version on Slice o Life, or in Cockburn’s AG demo, the guitar part sounds complete on its own. In Example 6, drop your third string a half step to F#, and leave all the others at their standard pitches, for the signature tuning Cockburn calls drop F# (see “A Cockburn Tuning Sampler” below). Capo at the third fret. Thump out a rock rhythm with your thumb, staying on the open sixth string until the last phrase of each verse. The example shows the riff that serves as the intro and continues under much of the verse. As in so many of Cockburn’s songs, your fingers create a little melodic motif on top of the bass.

Mixing It Up

The last two songs in this lesson use a mixture of picking approaches. “After the Rain,” also played in drop-F# tuning, comes from Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws, and is a great example of Cockburn’s fusion of acoustic folk and jazz. Much of Example 7 uses a drone bass, with single-note melodies and jazz-flavored chords on top. There’s also a popping fingerstyle rhythm that Cockburn often uses, where you play quick, staccato bass notes and chords with a percussive slap on the backbeats, as in measures 7–8. At the end the chorus, there’s a bit of strumming—a rarity in Cockburn’s music. He is much more apt to pick multiple strings simultaneously than strum across them.

As an interesting aside, the inspiration for “After the Rain” came from an unexpected source: the Bee Gees. The song, says Cockburn, is “a very loose acoustic translation of the groove of ‘Stayin’ Alive.’” 

The final examples come from “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” which kicked off the 1984 album Stealing Fire—a period in which Cockburn’s songwriting became more politically charged and, not coincidentally, more electric and band-oriented, too. Cockburn played electric guitar on the original track with a full band, strumming power chord shapes. That sound works with a band but would be boring in a solo context, Cockburn feels. So instead, he uses the rolling picking pattern in Example 8,which bears some similarities to his part in “After the Rain.” In the instrumental section, as shown in Example 9, pick pairs of strings with your thumb as you play fretted notes up the neck alongside open treble strings. 

These examples are, of course, a tiny sampling of the music that Cockburn has created over the last 50 years. But the fingerstyle techniques at work here can be heard across his vast catalog, applied to various types of grooves, chord progressions, and melodies. As Cockburn puts it at the close of the video, “Other songs have different details, but the basic styles tend to rotate around that axis.”  

Beyond covering Cockburn’s work, you can also apply aspects of his style to your own songs and arrangements. Rather than using thick chords, try reducing your guitar parts—start by establishing a bass line, and then add single notes and partial chords on top. Focus on the groove, which really starts with the bass. Use tunings and capo positions that give you open-string bass notes, and therefore freedom to travel around the neck. And try doubling or harmonizing with the vocal melody on the guitar. The key is to think of the guitar as a multi-voiced instrument—rhythm section, backup singer, and soloist all at once.





July 11, 2019
BayToday


Music icon Bruce Cockburn in North Bay this Friday
by Bob Pipe

Legendary Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn shows no signs of slowing down after close to 50 years of exceptional music. He and his band hit the Capitol Centre in North Bay on Friday July 12.

photo-daniel-keebler


An icon of Canadian music brings his incredible songwriting and unparalleled guitar-playing to North Bay this Friday.  Bruce Cockburn, the man with ‘the hardest working right thumb in show business’ according to the New York Times, brings his band to the Capitol Centre, touring in support of his latest album, the Juno Award-winning Bone on Bone.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” laughs Cockburn over the phone while getting ready for a day of rehearsals with his band in preparation for the upcoming gig.  “We’re going to be playing a selection of some older and some newer songs. It’s always a mix of songs that I think people want to hear, and songs that I want them to hear.”

There is certainly a long list of excellent songs to choose from.  Bone on Bone represents Cockburn’s 33rd album.  His career stretches back to his self-titled debut album in 1970 and he’s steadily released acclaimed albums ever since.  As Exclaim! Magazine wrote in their review of Bone on Bone: “There must have been a "no bad albums" clause in Bruce Cockburn's contract with True North Records. Nearly 50 years and 33 albums later, Cockburn has yet to release even a less-than-great album.”

Over his career, Cockburn has been honoured with 12 Juno Awards, an induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, a Governor General’s Performing Arts Award, and has been made an Officer of the Order of Canada, not to mention numerous honorary degrees and humanitarian awards.

He’s also recognized as one of the finest, and most unique guitar players on the planet.

Throughout his illustrious career, Cockburn has also been an outspoken activist on issues such as the environment, treatment of refugees, and Indigenous rights.  He’s always been one to “kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight”, to borrow from one of his hit songs.

Politics have frequently played a role in Cockburn’s songwriting. When asked about the current political climate, Cockburn is clear.

“I worry about divisive politics. No one can really talk to each other anymore, everything is knee-jerk,” he said.  “Pulling people together is more important right now than it has been in my entire lifetime.  It’s important to find ways to bridge that gap.”

Cockburn isn’t about to change his messages for greater appeal, however.

“I’m not self-censoring,” he states.

As a 74-year-old icon, Cockburn shows no signs of slowing down.  While keenly aware of his mortality and the realities of aging (the title of Bone on Bone is a sly reference to arthritis), Cockburn is not in the least bit consumed by it. 

“I don’t give a shit about my legacy,” he laughs.  “It’s kind of neat to think that in 100 years someone might listen to my music and say ‘wow’ or ‘genius’ or something, but I have no control over that and neither does anyone else, no matter what they might think.”

“I’ve always felt like every album I make could be my last.  That was true of the first album and it’s still true.”

The only legacy Cockburn really concerns himself with is his young daughter.  A committed father, he changed his touring structure to be able to spend more time with his family.

“Children don’t understand things like an adult.  If I’m away for months at a time my child will have an unbalanced view.  Plus, I love my family and genuinely want to be with them.”

With a new instrumental album, Crowing Ignites, set for release in the fall, Cockburn will hit the road for intermittent touring again this fall.

For now, he’s looking forward to returning to North Bay, and recalls that the Gateway city played a role in inspiring one of his songs, Isn’t That What Friends are For, off his 1999 album Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu.

“I recall sitting on the shore of Lake Nipissing watching the waves roll in. The imagery of North Bay helped shape that song,” he recalls.

For any young musicians and artists looking for advice, Cockburn is modest, much more modest than his illustrious career requires.

“I don’t have very good advice because I don’t know what they are going through now,” he says.  Then offers two pearls: “Give the art your all and if you are a songwriter, don’t sell your publishing, it isn’t worth it in the end.”

Bruce Cockburn plays the Capitol Centre in North Bay on Friday, June 12, 2019, with his band featuring drummer Gary Craig, bassist John Dymond and accordionist John Aaron Cockburn.


June 27, 2019 (Interview Date)
GoBeWeekly

crowing-ignites-coverA Conversation with Bruce Cockburn: Headlining Jackson-Triggs Amphitheatre
by David DeRocco

If you were asked to name a Canadian artist who has, in the course of his or her career, released 34 albums to great international critical acclaim, the name Bruce Cockburn might not jump immediately to mind. That may be due in part to the fact he’s not an ever-present face in the media, has not been associated with salacious headlines nor has he ever been a guest judge on any number of cheesy talent shows. No, Bruce Cockburn is more like Canadian weather – sometimes heavenly, sometimes harsh and demanding, always changing and something all Canadians appreciate for its inherent unpredictable nature.

Since releasing his self-titled debut in 1970, Cockburn the singer-songwriter has delivered an incredible cache of songs, including “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” “Tokyo,” “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” “Lovers In a Dangerous Time,” “If A Tree Falls,” “Call It Democracy” and many more. Cockburn the musician, however, has also earned acclaim for his exceptional acoustic guitar playing, wonderfully showcased in his award-winning 2005 instrumental collection, Speechless. This September, Cockburn will be releasing a follow-up, Crowing Ignites, featuring 11 original acoustic compositions that deftly illustrate why he was acknowledged by the Canadian Folk Music Awards as Best Instrumentalist.

To promote his upcoming July 13th appearance at the Jackson-Triggs Amphitheatre, Cockburn took the time to chat with GoBeWeekly about going instrumental, winning awards and surviving earthquakes in his current home of San Francisco.

GoBe: An instrumental album at this time seems like a lost opportunity, because the world needs more words of wisdom from Bruce Cockburn. But on the flip side, it’s perhaps a perfect fit for the times given the way people are finding words so divisive and polarizing these days. What was your primary motivation for recording CROWING IGNITES and did the great response to Speechless play any factor?

Bruce: Our intention started out to be to make a sequel to Speechless. It was going to be a collection of previously released tracks that weren’t on Speechless and a couple of other old things that weren’t on that collection and some new material. But I wound up with so much new material that it became its own album, Crowing Ignites. Once we started doing it it took on a momentum of its own. With respect to the absence of lyrics, there’s lots to comment on in the world right now, but there’s also a lot of people commenting. I’m not sure that adding more clamour to the clamour is really that helpful. That’s not to say we shouldn’t all say what’s in our hearts to say, but I don’t think the world needs to hear more from anyone about Donald Trump for instance. Everybody knows what they think of him whether for or against.

GoBe: There’s 11 new original tracks on this release. Where does one start composing for an instrumental album. You have a blank slate – is that daunting not having lyrics to build around?

Bruce: It’s a different process. Your question kind of implies that you know this, that I generally kind of start writing songs with the lyrics and music kind of becomes the vehicle for the transmission of those. In the case of instrumental pieces, the ideas come from the guitar itself or from out of the air in a kind of way. There’s two pieces on the new album that were constructed in the studio. One of them started with Tibetan singing bowls and the other one started with a little riff on the triangle and started from there. With those exceptions the pieces were composed beforehand. They just came from practicing and just tooling around basically.

GoBe: So is there anything you had to learn or that you wound up learning as a musician in order to produce this album?

Bruce: Well, I always write a little harder than I can actually play. I’ve tended to do that over the years, not always but often I do. It’s part and parcel to the process. I discover something on the guitar that I didn’t know how to do before, or is a way of using something I know how to do but it’s a different application of it. So then there’s a learning curve involved that’s built right into the composition of the piece. In that sense, there’s definitely things I had to learn. I wouldn’t say a radical departure, I didn’t turn into Pat Martino or a classical player.

Bruce: When you pour your heart into a lyric there’s obviously an emotional connection to the song. Is there as much of that put into a song without the lyrical attachment, or is it strictly physical – or maybe metaphysical?

Bruce: I think there is as much. It’s not as specific obviously, because there’s nothing to attach to your ideas. Having that emotional content is one of the things that makes an instrumental performance effective. The capacity to contain that emotion is one of the things that makes a piece workable or a successful composition.

GoBe: The press materials around the new release mentions a makeshift studio that you and producer Colin Linden pieced together in a fire station in San Francisco to record in. What was involved in that process and what impact did the limitations or nuances of the studio have on the final results?

Bruce: You know it came out of a kind of self-interested intuitive flash on my part. Where I live in San Francisco is about four blocks from where my young daughter goes to school. I would walk her to school every day. In the process I became acquainted with and got friendly with a woman who owned this former firehouse that was half way between my house and the school. It was converted into a nice three-bedroom condo with mostly open space. I had been to a house concert there, they run concerts there and other kinds of special events. At one point I ran into my friend Anne who owns the place at a café. She didn’t use the place day to day on a regular basis. I asked her what she thought about using it as a studio and she took about half a second to say ‘that’s a great idea.” I checked with Colin to see if he could assemble the necessary recording gear and that’s how we proceeded. We spent a week in the place just setting up all the instruments and just started playing.

GoBe: Tell me you got to fulfill every young boy’s fantasy by sliding down the fire pole.

Bruce: (laughing) No, there’s no fire pole. I don’t know that there ever was. It a great space to work in.

GoBe: It’s been nearly five decades since your debut in 1970. You’ve seen the industry change dramatically through those decades, with your music welcome on almost all formats at one time or another. Did you ever consciously feel you needed to change to suit the industry, or have you always simply created what you needed to create such as your upcoming release?

Bruce: I can remember a couple occasions, for instance in the 80s, where we thought ‘everybody is putting out a single, maybe we should put out a single.’ As it turns out, we recorded “Coldest Night of the Year” with that in mind. By the time the record got finished and came out it was springtime and no one wanted to play it. It’s become kind of a seasonal thing on radio in Canada, but it was not a success as a single at the time. I don’t think about it much. Of course I’m as affected as everybody else by the trends that sweep through. If a thing is exciting for everybody it’s probably exciting for me too and I might want to do something like it. Really, I don’t feel like I’m in the business. I’m in the business of making music basically and I suppose I have a certain role as a commenter on things. That’s just how it’s developed over the years, but that wasn’t really intentional. The intentional part of what I do is to try and make music that I’m interested in, and write songs that say something I’m interested in saying.

GoBe: You say you’re in the business of making music. In doing my research and reacquainting myself with your catalogue, you had 10 albums released in the 70s, another 10 in the 80s. Does that enormous output seem ludicrous to you now – especially knowing that it takes artists today a year to produce a song?

Bruce: Well, it’s the other way around. I think taking a year to produce a song is ludicrous. There’s no point in pining for the old days, but in the 70s and 80s we recorded an album and we could put it out a month later. You could spend a couple weeks recording the record and it takes a couple of weeks to put stuff together and it’s out. So you could predict what the climate will be when you put it out. Now, because of the corporateness of everything, it takes forever. It takes a year to get an album out. In our case we’re doing it kind of fast, because we recorded the album in February and it’s coming out in September. We’re being speed demons with this one.

GoBe: And that included building a studio too!

Bruce: (laughs) Yes, including building a studio.

GoBe: You scored the 2018 Juno Award in the Roots category for your Bone on Bone album. What do such awards mean to you 34 albums deep into your career?

Bruce: You know, it’s an honour to be thought of highly by my peers and everyone else. It’s not something I take for granted. I like to get that kind of attention, but it’s not a measure of anything really meaningful. I don’t want to denigrate the process. If people want to celebrate what we all do, that’s great. More power to them. It’s an honour to be included, but it’s certainly not what I live for.

GoBe: There’s a couple awards that may hold more significant meaning – your Order of Canada and your induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Which of those two accolades holds more significant meaning to you?

Bruce: The Order of Canada is in some ways is the only significant accolade of that sort. Being made an Officer of the Order of Canada, a cynic might say what’s the difference, it’s just more PR. But I’d rather be associated with PR for the nation. I just feel that it’s something, because of the nature of how the Order was set up, it transcends politics, individual governments and it’s a reflection some way of the degree to which some aspect of Canada includes me. To be included and sort of embraced by that Canadian persona is very rewarding and meaningful to me. I have felt for decades that my life and the life of the country are connected some way. I was born there and spent most of my life living there. There’s some kind of way that I’m a part of Canada and Canada’s a part of me. To have that encapsulated in the medal that’s a symbol of the Order of Canada is very meaningful.

GoBe:  From where do you derive the greatest pleasure these days; in the writing and creating, or the performing of the music you make?

Bruce: It has always been two different things. It’s kind of schizoid. The writing on one hand, the process, whether it’s lyrical or instrumental, is like a treasure hunt and it’s fun. Once it gets rolling it can be exasperating at times too. But it’s like being on the trail of something and chasing it down and that’s fun. Performing, when it works well and all the conditions are right, is a whole different kind of fun. It’s more immediate, right then and there. If it works well it’s very enjoyable.

GoBe: It worked well the last time I saw you perform at Jackson-Triggs. For this show, will it be an entirely acoustic show in support of the album or will we be treated to a mix of songs and instrumental music?

Bruce: The album’s not even out yet, so we’re not really thinking about Crowing Ignites with respect to these shows coming up. There will be something from the album, but it’s not the emphasis. It’s a band show, the same band I was touring with for Bone on Bone, but this time a strictly acoustic format.

GoBe: Final question then. As a current resident of San Francisco, have you experienced an earthquake yet?

Bruce: I’ve only noticed one. There have others since I’ve been here but for some reason I don’t seem to notice them. I don’t know if it’s my own shakiness or the fact I happen to be in a car at the time. There have been no big ones. I do recall my wife and I were lying in bed one morning and there was a kind of cracking noise, not particularly loud. The whole building made a cracking noise and there was a ripple that ran across the ceiling. My wife said ‘that was an earthquake.’ It was a four on the scale, epicentre was down near San Jose. That was my only conscious knowledge of one so far.


June 13, 2019
BC News  Local 

How Bruce Cockburn Recharged His Songwriting
by Barry Coultier

Four years ago, Bruce Cockburn was wondering if he was still a songwriter.

After more than 300 songs, including many international hits, and more than 30 albums, the globally renowned Canadian singer-songwriter and pioneering guitar player has come to exemplify song-writing. But Cockburn found himself in a new place after the publication of his autobiography in 2014.

“The chief change was that I hadn’t written any songs for a long time — that’s where the question came from,” Cockburn told the Townsman, on the phone from San Francisco where he now lives. “It had been three or four years since I wrote anything that you could call a song.

“Does that mean that I move on into some other creative endeavour, which in the context it would obviously be prose writing.”

Cockburn’s memoir, “Rumours of Glory” (after a song from his 1980 album “Humans”), takes us on an intimate journey through his remarkable life of faith, activism and ground-breaking music over the past five decades. Cockburn offers readers a commentary on his life and work, and the stories behind his song-writing and best-known songs.

Nonetheless, Cockburn’s immersion in other than his usual medium of songwriting unleashed a completely different creative process.

“Writing a song is a short term phenomenon,” he said. “Even if it takes a relatively long time, sometimes, to put all the pieces together, the actual time spent working on it, for me, is minimal compared to writing prose. You either get an idea or you don’t.

“If something isn’t connecting or developing as an idea, then my tendency is just to wait for another idea, or to hunt through my notebook to see if there’s something that will take it somewhere.

“But with a book … you’ve got to sit down and work at it and get it done. That to me was at times a lot of fun, in the same way that when you’re writing a song, you sort of feel like a bloodhound on the trail of an idea, chasing it down. But a lot of time it was just a lot of lack of sleep, sitting up late working on this thing.”

Cockburn says he doesn’t hunger for a repeat of that experience, although he isn’t ruling it out either.

“If at some point in the future it seems like volume II of a memoir, or if something else occurs to me — but it’s nothing I’m actively thinking about.”

* * *

All writing is communication — but Cockburn revealed much of himself in such a different way in his memoir than through the poetry of his songwriting.

“People hear a song, and by definition, as with any art form … people bring their own experience to their encounter with that piece of art, and their response to it will be shaped by how they perceive it through their own filter,” he said. “It’s true of a song, and it’s true of a book too, but there’s so much more of a specific nature in a book.

“And part of the challenge of writing a book is to make it that way so that there’s less room for alternate interpretations.

“Whereas with a song, of course I want people to understand what I mean, but I also know from experience that their response is going to be whatever it is. With a book … there’s a greater need — and I made a greater effort — to make sure that what’s in the book is as clear as it can be.”

***

It wasn’t until after the release of the memoir, and an encounter with the late Canadian poet Al Purdy (1918-2000), that Cockburn’s songwriting reared its head again. He was invited to contribute some music to a documentary about the poet’s life and times (“Al Purdy Was Here,” 2015).

“So I said ‘well, this is the test.’ If I say yes to this, and I come up with something, it will be evidence that I’m likely to be a songwriter again, and if I don’t it will be evidence to the contrary. So I said yes, and what came out was “‘Three Al Purdys.'”

“Three Al Purdys” is a song that includes a spoken word component that’s drawn from two poems— one of Purdy’s early ones from the depression era about riding the rails across Canada, and the other is a much later piece, a philosophical speculation about the origins of language and its connections with spirituality.

Cockburn set out to read through Purdy’s collected works, but got an idea right away — a homeless guy who’s obsessed with Purdy’s poetry and who rants at people on the street with that poetry.

“It seemed like a good image for the coyote cheekiness and Purdy’s empathy with the working man,” Cockburn said. “It seemed to fit, so the song started from there. I immediately thought of that image, of a guy saying ‘I’ll give you three Al Purdy’s for a twenty dollar bill’ — so what else would he say?'”

The song “Three Al Purdys” proved to be the seed for Cockburn’s most recent album, “Bone on Bone.”

“Having discovered the songs that came out of Bone on Bone, I decided that I’m still a songwriter,” Cockburn said.

The album went on to win Cockburn his 13th Juno Award (he won his first Juno — Canada’s highest music award — in 1971).

* * *

The band coming on tour with Cockburn will include musicians who recorded on “Bone on Bone:” Gary Craig and John Dymond as the rhythm section, and Cockburn’s nephew John Aaron Cockburn on accordion and guitar.

The material for the shows isn’t fully determined, but will feature a representative range of Cockburn’s songbook, including massive, familiar hits from the past, songs like “When A Tree Falls In The Forest,” “Lovers In A Dangerous Time,” “Wondering Where The Lions Are” … Any audience, of course, expects, if not demands the familiar, the hits. A performer is likely of two minds about this expectation, Cockburn included.

“There are the songs that people have taken to heart, and of course that’s very complimentary to me, that anybody has done that at all about anything that I’ve done,” Cockburn said. “It’s not like I’m kind of grudgingly putting out these songs, I’m grateful for the fact that people want to hear them. But you can only sing a song so many times before they get stale — and sometimes you to have to let them lie fallow for a while. There was a period right after 911 that I didn’t play ‘If I Had A Rocket Launcher’ at all, because it just seemed like it was playing to the wrong sentiment.”

Even so, a Bruce Cockburn show generally “gets kind of hung on a framework of those familiar songs and whatever else I can think of that could work.

“The songs that I feel I’m obliged to sing in every show, I go through periods where I’m kind of sick of them, but I try to do them justice anyway, because people … have paid money and they want to hear what they want to hear. Which is fair enough.

“But I like to keep a bit of ferment going there. So there may be those ‘standards,’ for want of a better word, that will show up in almost every show. But around that is a rotating or fluctuating mix of whatever else is out there of the older stuff. That keeps it interesting for me.”

* * *

Then there’s the question everyone wants to know about every songwriter — do your lyrics come first, or the melody?

“It’s a lyric, almost always,” Cockburn said of his songwriting. “I can’t think of a single example, except for the instrumental pieces, of course. If I stumble upon a melodic riff like that it’s likely to end up becoming a guitar piece rather than a song. But because I can play with music more easily than with words, I don’t get word ideas as often or as clearly — generally there’s more labour involved with the lyrics.

“So I’ve never been comfortable bending lyrics to fit a melody. Some people can do that very well, but for me it starts with the lyrics, and it’s sort of easier to create music that provides a bed for those lyrics. That’s the general approach.”

That being said, Cockburn is working on a new album — an instrumental album, due out in September.

Bruce Cockburn plays the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook, Thursday, August 8, 2019. Tickets are available at the Key City Theatre.


June 12, 2019
Press Release
True North Records


Bruce Cockburn
Crowing Ignites

Release date: September 20, 2019


Listen to / share “Blind Willie” from Crowing Ignites and pre-order here.

In 2005, Bruce Cockburn released Speechless, a collection of instrumental tracks that shone the spotlight on the singer-songwriter’s exceptional acoustic guitar playing. The album earned Cockburn a Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Instrumentalist and underscored his stature as one of the world’s premier pickers. 

Already, The New York Times had credited Cockburn with having “the hardest-working right thumb in show business,” adding that he “materializes chords and modal filigrees while his thumb provides the music’s pulse and its foundation—at once a deep Celtic drone and the throb of a vigilant conscience.” Acoustic Guitar magazine was similarly laudatory in citing Cockburn’s guitar prowess, placing him in the prestigious company of legends like Andrés Segovia. Bill Frisell, Django Reinhardt and Mississippi John Hurt.

Now, with the intriguingly titled Crowing Ignites, Cockburn has released another dazzling instrumental album that will further cement his reputation as both an exceptional composer and a picker with few peers. Unlike Speechless, which included mostly previously recorded tracks, the latest album—Cockburn’s 34th—features 11 brand new compositions. Although there’s not a single word spoken or sung, it’s as eloquent and expressive as any of the Canadian Hall of Famer’s lyric-laden albums. As his long-time producer, Colin Linden, puts it: “It’s amazing how much Bruce can say without saying anything.”

The album’s title is a literal translation of the Latin motto “Accendit Cantu” featured on the Cockburn family crest. Although a little puzzling, Cockburn liked the feeling it conveyed: “Energetic, blunt, Scottish as can be.” The album’s other nod to Cockburn’s Scottish heritage is heard on “Pibroch: The Wind in the Valley,” in which his guitar’s droning bass strings and melodic grace notes sound eerily like a Highland bagpipe. “I’ve always loved pibroch, or classic bagpipe music,” says Cockburn. “It seems to be in my blood. Makes me want to sip whisky out of a sea shell on some rocky headland!”

While Cockburn reconnecting with his Gaelic roots is one of Crowing Ignites’ more surprising elements, there’s plenty else that will delight followers of his adventurous pursuits. Says Linden, who’s been a fan of Cockburn’s for 49 years, has produced 10 of his albums and played on the two before that: “Bruce is always trying new things, and I continue to be fascinated by where he goes musically.”

The album is rich in styles from folk and blues to jazz, all genres Cockburn has previously explored. But there are  also deepening excursions into what might be called free-form world music. The hypnotic, kalimba-laden “Seven Daggers” and the trance-inducing “Bells of Gethsemane,” full of Tibetan cymbals, chimes and singing bowls, are highly atmospheric dreamscapes that showcase Cockburn’s world of wonders—and his improvisational gifts on both 12-string and baritone guitars. Each track was wholly created in the makeshift studio he and Linden put together in a converted fire station in Cockburn’s San Francisco neighbourhood. 

Singing bowls, Cockburn explains, are an endless source of fascination to him, dating back to a trip he took to Kathmandu, as seen in the documentary Return to Nepal. There, Cockburn stumbled on a man selling the small inverted bells sometimes used in Buddhist religious practices and became instantly captivated by their vibrational power. “I had no particular attraction to them as meditation tools or anything,” says Cockburn. “I just thought they had a beautiful sound.” After buying half a dozen in Kathmandu and more since, he now has a sizeable collection.

Two tracks on Crowing Ignites had their origins elsewhere. “The Groan,” a bluesy piece with guitar, mandolin and some collective handclapping from a group that includes Cockburn’s seven-year-old daughter, Iona, was something Cockburn composed for a Les Stroud documentary about the aftermath of a school shooting and the healing power of nature. And Cockburn wrote the jazz-tinged “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz” for the Group of Seven Guitar Project on an instrument inspired by artist Lawren Harris and custom-made by luthier Linda Manzer. It was originally recorded, with cornet player Ron Miles, bassist Roberto Occhipinti and drummer Gary Craig, for Cockburn’s 2017 album Bone on Bone, but not released until now.

Cockburn doesn’t set out with any particular agenda when composing an instrumental. “It’s more about coming up with an interesting piece,” he says. “Who knows what triggers it—the mood of the day or a dream from the night before. Often the pieces are the result of sitting practicing or fooling around on the guitar. When I find something I like, I work it into a full piece.”

“Bardo Rush,” with its urgent, driving rhythm, came after one such dream, while the contemplative “Easter” and the mournful “April in Memphis” were composed on Easter Sunday and Martin Luther Day respectively. “Blind Willie,” named for one of Cockburn’s blues heroes, Blind Willie Johnson, features a fiery guitar and dobro exchange with Linden (Cockburn has previously recorded Johnson’s “Soul of a Man” on Nothing But a Burning Light). And the idea for the sprightly “Sweetness and Light,” featuring some of Cockburn’s best fingerpicking, developed quickly and its title, he says, became immediately obvious.

Meanwhile, “Angels in the Half Light” is steeped in dark and light colors and conveys ominous shades as well as feelings of hopefulness, seemingly touching on both spiritual and political concerns—hallmarks of Cockburn from day one. “It’s hard for me to imagine what people’s response is going to be to these pieces,” he says. “It’s different from songs with lyrics, where you hope listeners will understand, intellectually and emotionally, what you’re trying to convey. With instrumental stuff, that specificity isn’t there and the meaning is up for grabs. But I’m glad if people find a message in the music.”

More than 40 years since he embarked on his singer-songwriter career, Cockburn continues pushing himself to create—and winning accolades in the process. Most recently, the Order of Canada recipient earned a 2018 Juno Award for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year, for Bone on Bone, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from SOCAN, the Peoples’ Voice Award from Folk Alliance International and was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017. Cockburn, who released his memoir, Rumours of Glory, and its similarly titled companion box set the same year, shows no sign of stopping. As his producer-friend Linden says: “Like the great blues players he admires, Bruce just gets better with age.”

Photo: Daniel Keebler, Cover artwork: Michael Wrycraft

Track listing here.


May 28, 2019
The Real News Network

The program, Reality Asserts Itself, has posted the video and transcript of a nine part interview with Bruce by Paul Jay. Find the videos and the source of the following interview  here.

Interview Transcript

Part 1/9

[Clip of If I Had a Rocket Launcher – Bruce Cockburn]

PAUL JAY: Welcome to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. That was Bruce Cockburn singing If I Had a Rocket Launcher. Bruce is a prolific Canadian singer-songwriter and a guitarist. His lyrics addressed a broad range of topics, including human rights, environmental issues, and politics. Over the course of his 40-year career, Cockburn has written more than 300 songs on 33 albums, 22 of which received a Canadian gold or platinum certification. In 2014, Cockburn released his memoirs, Rumors of Glory. He broke through in the United States and around the world with his 1984 song If I Had a Rocket Launcher, which he wrote after visiting a Guatemalan refugee camp in southern Mexico.

Bruce Cockburn now joins us here in San Francisco. Thanks for making time for us.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Glad to be able to do it. And thanks for going all this way to make time for me.

PAUL JAY: So as people who watch Reality Asserts Itself know, we usually start very biographically off the top, and then kind of get into more of what guests think about the issues. But your story has been this weave of music and religion and politics. And I want to unfold that conversation.

But it starts with growing up mostly in Ottawa and Canada during Cold War years.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yes.

PAUL JAY: Talk a little bit about the atmosphere around you as you’re growing up in the midst of the Canadian version of the Cold War.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah, it’s interesting, because usually when we talk about the Cold War years, we don’t say that. We say “baby boomers,” or we say some some other phrase that indicates the post-war period.

But really, you know, I mean, after about 1950 when I kind of was old enough to become aware of my surroundings, it really was a Cold War atmosphere. And one of the … standout memories I have from that time–and, of course, when this took place I had no idea, you know, what would follow it–but I had a teacher in maybe third grade, something like that. I forget if it was second, third, or fourth, or what. But right in that period, a teacher named Ms. Beachum who was a friend of my great aunt’s, who also was a retired school teacher. And they were kind of hardy, Christian folk. But Ms. Beachum was terrifying. She was a real disciplinarian and just–I was in fear of her every day.

But every morning we had a show and tell, a kind of current events thing, and you had to bring in a newspaper clipping and talk about it. And somebody brought in a clipping about student radicals in Turkey demonstrating. Rioting. So Ms. Beachum says to us all: “What’s a radical?” No one knew. We knew what students were but, you know. Well, a radical is someone who really has a vision of how things should be, and wants to see the world changed in that direction. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically what she said.

And she said, “I hope you all grow up to be radicals,” to our little public school class.

[Clip of If I Had a Rocket Launcher – Bruce Cockburn]

BRUCE COCKBURN: What I got at home was was pretty apolitical. My parents voted liberal by reflex, because their families always had. And because I think they thought that was the right thing, also. I mean, it wasn’t completely unthinking. But you know, we generally approved of liberal things and not so much of conservative things. But, that said, socially speaking, it was a pretty conservative atmosphere. No one talked about sex at the table, or any other time, for that matter, for instance. But you know, and we went to church, kind of.

[Clip of Great Big Love – Bruce Cockburn]

My dad said later I … At one point I remember saying in public that we went to church because it was sort of the conventional thing to do, and it was the ‘50s, and people would think ill of us if we didn’t, the neighbors and so on. But my dad said, no, that that wasn’t the reason that we went to church. He and my mom were actually trying to be good Christians for a while, and then it kind of fell away, was how we put it.

PAUL JAY: You write in the book, “Ours was a secular household in spite of the exposure we all had to the surface ideals and imagery of Christianity. There was a need to observe the social norms to keep people from calling you a communist.”

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, there was that. Although, like I said, I may have been mistaken in attributing our going to church to that cause. There’s no question it was a fact. And, I mean, my dad didn’t as far as I know sit around worrying about anybody calling him a communist, because he was so far from being one. But he was also very disinclined to be judgmental of people. Outwardly, at least. I mean, he had his issues. But you know, people were allowed to be who they were.

I remember one time we went one summer, he had met an archaeologist on the, on the train somewhere. And I was interested in archaeology. I was a little kid at this point, and my brothers were tiny. But we all went to Manitoulin Island, which is kind of on the U.S.-Canadian border in western- the western part of Ontario. There was- where there was an archaeological dig looking at the Native history of living there, the Aboriginal history. And there’s a Native community that’s still there that at the time was very noticeable. And I remember driving through this and thinking–I was being judgmental. I’m thinking like, look at these houses, these … Here’s people living in shacks, but they’ve got Cadillacs out front, they’ve got TV antennas on top, but they’re living in these horrible houses. And I said something like that to my dad and he said: “You you can’t judge people for trying to make their lives feel a little better. You know, they’re stuck with what they’re stuck with, but they’re, you know, they’re doing their best to get through their lives and be happy.”

I said, “OK.” And that stuff, that piece of advice made–made its mark.

[Clip of Red Brother, Red Sister – Bruce Cockburn]

So as a sort of description of my dad, he was basically a socially conservative, politically liberal person. And I think the difference is there–I think what, what I take from that now, looking back, is that version of liberalism versus that version, the version that we could see of conservatism was really representative of a less selfish worldview. It was the idea that what happens to your fellows actually matters. It’s not just about you. The conservative point of view was why should I pay for somebody else’s whatever? Why should I do this, why should I do that? It’s all–because it doesn’t benefit me in any way. And this is a sweeping generalization, and we know that there are conservatives who are people of conscience and people of compassion. But the public statements that were made around these things tended to lean one way or the other. And Canada has always been a pretty liberal place, even if it had a conservative government, comparatively speaking, in the world. It’s always been a place where the … where a sense of community prevailed. Even though the community would be defined in different terms from era to era, or from government to government. There was still that sense. That’s threatened in the whole modern world by various elements, but in contrast, the United States, where I think that sense of community has–it comes and goes. It’s not always here. Right now it’s not.

[Clip of Bruce Cockburn – Together Alone]

PAUL JAY: Please join us for Part 2 of our series of interviews with Bruce Cockburn on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.


2/9

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. We’re continuing our discussion with singer-songwriter virtuoso guitarist Bruce Cockburn. Thanks for joining us again.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: Your dad, as your music unfolded and got more and more political, thought you were anti-American, or accused you of being anti-American.

BRUCE COCKBURN: He did.

PAUL JAY: It seems like you followed the path recommended by your teacher, perhaps, a little more than your dad.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, maybe, but I mean, I didn’t- I didn’t- I didn’t think about it much. I mean, I- to me that, that comment of his came up in a context of things I would say sometimes between songs or by way of introducing songs more than about the songs themselves.

[Clip of Call It Democracy – Bruce Cockburn]

That I’d be … I remember playing in Ottawa, an outdoor show that- within sight of the American embassy. And I could see the big- they had the biggest flag imaginable hanging on top of the embassy. And the embassy is like an armed camp, right. It was not like the- all the other embassies in Ottawa, which were just nice houses. The U.S. embassy is like this- this big fortress-like building.

And you can see it. And it- like, I’m looking over the heads of the audience and there’s this enormous American flag waving. And I made some crack about it. And it wasn’t intended to be, you know, a major statement of any sort. But is anybody noticing the fact that the American flag is waving bigger than everything else around here right now? Something to that effect. And I don’t know if that set my dad off or something, but he did comment on the fact that I was somehow anti-American. And he mentioned that a couple of times. And I heard it from other places, too. But I only ever heard from Canadians. No American ever accused me of being anti-American.

[Clip of Listen For the Laugh – Bruce Cockburn]

The Americans are- one of the wonderful things about this country is people are capable of self-criticism. And I mean, even-

PAUL JAY: Some.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Some. Well, even the people who vote for Trump are capable. I mean, theoretically, at least. I mean, they’re individuals. You have to be careful with any generalizations. But I think it’s one of the one of the really healthy things about American culture, is that capacity. So you know, you can criticize things- and it’s true, in this very polarized atmosphere we’re in right now, it’s a bit dicier. And it was probably this dicey in the ‘50s, if you said certain kinds of things. But in between-

PAUL JAY: People lost their jobs for-

BRUCE COCKBURN: –this golden age where- that we’ve lived in between, you know, 1950 and a year ago, we’ve been able to say pretty much whatever we wanted to. And I mean, people look askance at it, or they agree with it more than you wanted them to, or- I mean, there’s- there’s every shading of of reception [crosstalk].

PAUL JAY: But during the Vietnam War, there were certainly- people lost jobs, and-

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah, I mean, stuff happens. People lost jobs- a lot of people lost jobs and lives during the struggles of the ‘20s and ‘30s and- and before.

PAUL JAY: Some went to prison.

BRUCE COCKBURN: There’s- you know, it’s- it’s not a monolith. And that’s one of the healthy things, too, that I think when- once something becomes monolithic then it becomes easily manipulated in the other way than dividing and conquering creates an ease of manipulation. So that’s- it’s nice that the- that we have the contrast and the variety and the tensions that we have to- up to a point. At the moment I think it’s gone a little too far in the direction it has, but a dialogue, a, you know, a dialectic, dare I say, is healthy. You’ve got to have this going, this back and forth, to have- to have a healthy culture and country.

But … so, you know, I pointed this out to my dad-

PAUL JAY: You think think this- you think this is a healthy country?

BRUCE COCKBURN: I think it’s it’s one of the healthier countries in the world. Not in terms of healthcare, certainly, but in terms of the ideals on which it was based, and the degree to which people are still willing even now to try to adhere to those ideals. I mean, it comes and goes. It’s stretchy. It’s ugly at times and-

PAUL JAY: Because your music is is mostly a savage critique of U.S. policy.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, I wouldn’t say mostly. Well, I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think that.

PAUL JAY: The political [inaudible].

BRUCE COCKBURN: I think mostly my music is about God. But- but I- certainly there are those songs that are very critical of certain United States … certain events that involve the United States and certain attitudes that I’ve run across. Yeah. But those attitudes are not exclusive to the United States, and the events are … you know, they- I mean, you can take America to task for its international actions in lots of areas, but it’s not unique in that respect. History’s full of countries taking advantage of other countries that were less strong. So when I criticize the United States, it’s an act of love, really, because having grown up as a Canadian with the United States- we’re always are more or less good neighbors. I mean, there were times when it wasn’t so good, the Bomarc crisis and stuff, where American missiles were discovered to have been secretly placed- nuclear missiles- on Canadian soil without asking anybody. And you know, there were moments like this.

PAUL JAY: Or they, did they- Kennedy steps in and actually helps overthrow Diefenbaker as prime minister.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah, because he was really upset because Diefenbaker wasn’t going to have any of that. And Diefenbaker- that was the only thing about Diefenbaker that I liked. I thought he was terrible prime minister.

PAUL JAY: Well, he also kept- opened up that- opened up and allowed relations with Cuba. Even though Trudeau gets credit for that it was actually Diefenbaker.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah. I don’t think I even knew that. I was in my teens, you know, when Diefenbaker was in power. I wasn’t paying that much attention. But I kind of- My parents didn’t think much of Diefenbaker, so I didn’t either.

[Clip of Open – Bruce Cockburn]

PAUL JAY: You described school as a prison.

BRUCE COCKBURN: High school became a- I look back on that as feeling like a prison sentence. Public school is not … I liked public school, I liked going, I like learning, I liked all the stuff. You know, I liked the relationship between me and the teachers for the most part, some better than others. But in spite of being terrified of Ms. Beachum, I was- I liked most of my teachers, and even her, at moments. You know, I saw a side of her that was likable. But by the time I got to high school it was a combination of me hitting the kind of hormone-driven period of my life that adolescence is, and of the school itself, perhaps. So all of the social stuff, it was- it was not a good time. I learned a lot, still, but I kind of learned it by default. I wasn’t motivated to work very hard, or anything, and I was uncomfortable most of the time when I was in high school.

PAUL JAY: You said just a few minutes ago- couple of minutes ago- your songs are mostly about God. And we’ll get into the music. But your relationship to God and religion- you write in the book that you were kind of intrigued by some of the, in my words, crazy bible stories. Some of the bizarre stuff that’s on the Old Testament.

BRUCE COCKBURN: When I was young, we- yeah, I mean, you know, I was introduced to Christianity through Sunday school, and basically by rote, because that was the culture. We said the Lord’s Prayer every morning in school. That was just what we did. I mean, Americans stood up and had the Pledge of Allegiance. We said the Lord’s Prayer and we sang God Save the Queen. It was- it was very British and very, kind of, Victorian Christian, I think, might be a way to characterize it, just in the culture. I mean, I had lots of Jewish friends, I had Jewish- lots of Jewish classmates who seemed to … nobody ever complained. Nobody minded it. They did their own thing. And the one Jehovah’s Witness girl that I remember being in class didn’t have to stand up for the national anthem. But you know, that was- and she wasn’t very friendly. I mean, she seemed nice enough, she just wasn’t friendly.

[Clip of Put It In Your Heart – Bruce Cockburn]

PAUL JAY: But you write about the sort of salacious parts of the Bible intriguing you, from incest to murder …

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah, this is- this became, you know- when I got old enough to kind of go beyond the, you know, the pious stuff that we were getting in Sunday School and the- pious isn’t even a very good word for it because it mostly was just like, well, you know, this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened. And it never- I never really understood why we were paying attention to this stuff, particularly. But it’s what everybody was doing, so I did it, too. But later on, I needed to start- I don’t remember what triggered it, but I remember discovering something in the Bible. Maybe it was the story of Lot, or maybe- you know. But, you know, start digging through the Old Testament-

PAUL JAY: You write about Sodom and Gomorrah.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, yeah, I mean, there’s- and that’s, like, nothing compared to some of the other stuff that’s in there in terms of sex and violence and, and whatever, right. There’s- there’s really terrible things. And- that, of course, were exciting to discover back then. It’s like, oh yeah, then they did this, and then they did that, and look at this, holy- who knew that was in the Bible? You know, we were going- my friends and I just started doing this.

And so that became my way of relating to the Bible for the long- well, not for the longest time, I guess, but for a long time, until I was led elsewhere. But it- but it- it was just … you know, I mean, I rejected the conventions that I’d grown up with, like everybody does when they’re an adolescent. And part of the rejection was the enjoyment I got out of pointing out to my friends these outrageous things.

PAUL JAY: So, I mean, did you grow up in your own mind as sort of a believer, and then you get disenchanted, and then become a believer again?

BRUCE COCKBURN: No, I grew up as a kind of bystander. And when I got into that part of it I became an interested bystander. But it wasn’t till kind of in my mid-teens that I began to have a sense that there was a spiritual element to life that should be paid attention to. It had nothing- well, it had no direct relationship that I recognized between the Christian teachings I was given as a kid and that sentiment. But I, maybe there- I mean, it’s hard not to think that there was some connection. But I wasn’t aware of it. And so, you know, it was more from reading beat writers, reading about Buddhism and stuff, and you think, well, these guys are really interesting guys, and they’re talking about this stuff that- I started paying attention to that.

[Clip of One Of the Best Ones – Bruce Cockburn]

And you know, the word ‘existentialist’ got tossed around in those circles, so I started reading existentialist philosophers and I, you know.

So I’m wading through Martin Buber, and I’m reading, you know, for fun I’m reading Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. And it really started with that. And then- things move fast at that age. There is- when I look back at it I think, in a given year, so many things happened. Like, nowadays it seems like- it’s partly the internet culture, but mostly it’s just age- that everything happens fast. So I look at a year, and like, what happened in that year? Oh yeah, Iona was born in that year. Well, you know.

PAUL JAY: Iona is your- your daughter.

BRUCE COCKBURN: My 6-year-old.

PAUL JAY: 6-year-old.

BRUCE COCKBURN: So. You know, that- I mean, I can look at events. But when I look back at what happened the year I was 18 or 19, there’s all these things that happened. It seems like- like how could all that stuff have happened in only one year? So what I’m- why I’m saying that is that somewhere in that very few years, that two or three years of teenhood, and late- the second half of being a teen- I discovered the idea of spirituality. And I went through a whole lot of angles of approach to that, from rudimentary- I mean, I never became a Buddhist, but I paid attention to Buddhist stuff and I read Buddhist literature and I, and I- I read Alan Watts, and I- and the beat writers. And I took it seriously. And I read these philosophers, and I took that seriously. And I got into a kind of flirtation with the occult, and I took that seriously. And all of this was about finding out what spiritual reality might be, and if- and how I should relate to it.

I’m still, you know, working on that. But it’s a bit clearer now than it was then. So I went through all these- all these different things. And it’s not like I looked at Buddhism and then put that away. They synthesized. So my understanding of spirituality was shaped by exposure to all these things. And you know, that’s- the book talks a lot about that.

[Clip of Night Train – Bruce Cockburn]

PAUL JAY: Please join us for a continuation of our series of interviews on Reality Asserts Itself with Bruce Cockburn.


3/9

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. We’re continuing our discussion with singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn. Thanks for joining us again.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Glad to be with you.

PAUL JAY: You wrote about your 1975 song Gavin’s Woodpile: “The laments of Gavin’s Woodpile were real. The prisoner was real, the mercury poisoning was certainly real. The hawks eclipsed by a jet were real. The rapid transformation of a great Canadian West was real. And my anger was real.”

A little further on, you write: “Mercury occupies a keystone position in my evolution as an artist-correspondent,” meaning mercury poisoning.

So what was going on in your life? And is this kind of a … you seem, at least in terms of your writing, to get much more political at this point.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah, I would … In my mind that transition happens a bit later. But it’s probably a fair comment. What was happening was in 1970, I traveled West for the first time. I bought a van- well, it was a pickup truck and we put a camper on the back- and we just spent the next five years, basically, going back and forth across Canada during all but the hardest part of winter. And then we’d winter somewhere in Toronto, or Ottawa.

But in the course of these travels westward, I began to meet Native people, who I had never met growing up. At least not knowingly. And I- you know, I’m meeting my peers at folk festivals, other singer-songwriters that happened to be from First Nations backgrounds, and hearing about their experiences growing up. It was very different from mine. So that started me thinking. It just got my heart. So it’s like, you can’t not talk about this stuff, right. There’s a real- there was a song called Red Brother, Red Sister that came out of these kinds of thoughts.

[Clip of Red Brother, Red Sister – Bruce Cockburn]

But it also happened that, in the course of driving West, we would pass through northwestern Ontario. And it came out at one point that this community, Native community, in northwestern Ontario was suffering from mercury poisoning. And it was called Minamata disease back then; it was named after a Japanese town where it had been first identified as the result of industrial pollution. And sure enough, this community in northwestern Ontario, in a very remote area, was poisoned by industrial effluents from the wood processing industry. And they were eating contaminated fish. The government was saying things like, well, they should fish somewhere else. As if, you know, as if they had access to other places to fish.

They were- like, part of the, what was then the stereotype of the, among certain white people, of the drunken Indian was the result of this, because the symptoms of mercury poisoning are not unlike the symptoms of drunkenness. So you get, you know, you stagger, you stumble, you can’t see straight, you slur your words, et cetera. The people who were doing this in Kenora, for instance, some of them were drunk, because there’s always been an alcohol problem in the demoralized Native communities that resulted from the actions of the dominant culture. But along with that was mercury poisoning. And you couldn’t tell the difference.

So it just seemed to me to be a total outrage, because I was getting to know Native people personally. This shouldn’t be happening. And the stuff that was coming out of the government about it was offensive as all get out. And there was a general unwillingness to address it. That problem still exists now. It was in the paper again a couple years ago. It hasn’t gone away.

[Clip of Gavin’s Woodpile – Bruce Cockburn]

PAUL JAY: This kind of tension I see in your book, and your music, this sort of- as you said earlier in the interview, it’s all about God, and the religion and the spirituality. It’s kind of about forgiveness, it’s about the Buddhist part, letting go of emotions. But you’re using words like “outrage,” and you use the word here about you got angry about this.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah, I sure did.

PAUL JAY: The real world asserts itself.

BRUCE COCKBURN: You can say real world. To me it’s all the real world. The … It would be easy- well, I’m not sure if this is really true, but I’ll let it stand anyway- it would be easy for me to maintain an apolitical stance, in a certain way. But if I were to do that, I would also have to amputate the part of me that says I’m supposed to love my neighbor. That understands what is meant by that phrase. And you know, you can’t love your neighbor and watch your neighbor starve. You can’t love your neighbor and watch them succumb to mercury poisoning. That’s BS. How can you step back from these engagements that are put in front of you? I’d be a different person if I went around seeking these things out, if I was someone who went around looking for causes to embrace, for instance. I’m not that.

The stuff that’s come up in my songs is stuff that has confronted me in my life, that’s produced a strong enough emotional reaction to get the creative juices flowing. So you know, this was a case in point. The discovery that people who were just like my new friends were being subjected to this intolerable situation. That was one. And I didn’t write a song specifically about that; I mean, the song is really- that song, Gavin’s Woodpile, is a song about the relationship between people and God, people and the divine. But in talking about people, it talks about mercury poisoning, it talks about a prisoner I met when I played in a penitentiary a couple times in Manitoba, a medium security place.

And on one occasion met this guy who was in, was halfway through a five year term for dealing pot. This is in the ‘70s. And he said, you know, the worst thing is half the time I can’t remember why I’m here. It’s like there’s, the- and I had other prisoners, much more hardcore guys that were ringleaders. And [inaudible] I gave a guitar masterclass to some of the inmates who played guitar, but who were also the ones who could say “It’s going to me, you get out of here.” So a half a dozen guys who were murderers, and other things. And they all agreed on this, they said bring back the lash, as compared to solitary confinement. Because after a period of a time in solitary, everything became meaningless. You didn’t know why you were there. You just knew you were being put through the wringer. But they said, from every point of view that they could think of, immediate corporal punishment would be much more effective, and preferable. Prisoners talking, right.

I think the- this guy who hadn’t been subjected, as far as I know, to solitary confinement, he was probably on good behavior. But he was a mellow, kind of, not very physically impressive guy, so he probably was getting all kinds of terrible treatment from his fellow inmates. But the despair in his eyes was really disturbing. So he ends up in the song. But it’s in- this is stuff that’s going through my head. The song unfolds over a period of time in which I’m chopping wood at my ex-father-in-law’s place.

PAUL JAY: When you write “The anger was real”- you said before, love thy neighbor. But the message is also love your enemy.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah. It doesn’t mean don’t be angry. Nothing in there, in the Bible, that I know of that says don’t be angry. In fact, the opposite is true, everybody in the Bible that’s worth anything gets angry all the time, or at least enough of the time that it shows. There’s- if you turn your anger into an unthinking brutality, if you turn your anger into spitefulness, or any number of other ways it can go, then it’s better if you didn’t get angry. But it’s appropriate to be angry about things that get done in the world, about a lot of things. And you know, I guess it’s also appropriate not to let it run away with you. But I think that, as a source of energy and as a source of what sometimes might be a needed commentary on things, that’s perfectly legitimate.

PAUL JAY: OK. Please join us for the continuation of our series of interviews with Bruce Cockburn on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.


4/9

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself with Bruce Cockburn on The Real News Network. And we’re continuing our discussion with singer-songwriter virtuoso guitarist Bruce Cockburn. Thanks for joining us again.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: Bruce, you write, as I mentioned in the last part of this segment, “Mercury occupies a keystone position–mercury poisoning–in my evolution as an artist-correspondent.” I thought that was an interesting phrase, “artist-correspondent.” And you write a little bit later, “It has to be art. There’s an important line to be drawn between art and propaganda.” Now, where does that line fall for you, and what’s an artist correspondent, and where–and this issue of art and politics?

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, these words become … They’re all terms of convenience, really, because, yeah, I mean–hyphenated things. I mean, I’m an artist. That’s how I think of myself. As much as I think about it at all, which is not very much. But if somebody asked me. But the correspondent part applies to a lot of what I’ve done. And, well, in a certain way all of it, I suppose.

Because with hindsight, I didn’t start out this way. I didn’t start thinking about things this way. But I’ve come to see the process through which I work as kind of like making a film. And a lot of the films, a lot of the filmmaking, let’s say, that’s gone into my songs, has been documentary in nature. A lot of it. I mean, Gavin’s Woodpile is a case in point. Other–the songs that came later from Central America are, even more so. I think I can thank Allen Ginsburg for some of the influence on that, because the stuff he wrote in the ‘70s about traveling through America is very much like that, and influenced me.

But a lot of it is just an attempt to distill the emotional content of what I encountered into some communicable form, and one of the ways that I’ve found I can do that is by creating these pictures. So often a song will be a combination of more or less cinematic moments juxtaposed in some way that makes them add up to, I hope, something meaningful, and that aren’t in themselves necessarily directly related. I mean, there’s–I have lot of songs like that. The Charity of Night is three completely different scenes over a long period of time, united hopefully by the chorus that kind of pulls it all together.

[Clip of The Charity Of Night – Bruce Cockburn]

A lot of my songs, I rely on visual imagery very strongly, very heavily. So … nd on the feeling that the things I encounter visually produce in me. So it’s the feeling that, as I said, it kind of gets the juices flowing. But the content will end up drawing heavily from, from the visual side of things.

PAUL JAY: A lot of artists–musicians and otherwise, but particularly in music–went through the ‘60s, and wrote and continue to write about love, about–if they were on a spiritual path, they kind of wrote about the spiritual path. And to a large extent they wrote to make money. You increasingly wrote about real stuff. I’m not suggesting the spiritual path isn’t also a reality. But you wrote about politics. You wrote about what was going on in the world, what was wrong in the world. And one, it’s not the best way to make money in the music industry. It’s not the best way to break through in the U.S., although ironically, Rocker Launcher did. But generally speaking, political music is not what gets played on American radio.

BRUCE COCKBURN: No, it was a–it was an anomaly.

PAUL JAY: So you made some choices there that–that were down a certain road.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah. I mean, they weren’t very difficult choices to make. I never wrestled with any of it that I can recall. I mean, I was lucky enough to grow up in a household where material needs were taken care of without much–without me having to think about it. My dad, as a practicing physician, made good money, but he never talked about how much he made and never–would never tell us anything about it. And didn’t like hearing it even discussed. He didn’t want us to sit around talking about how much other people made. He was uncomfortable with all that. But the basic needs were always taken care of without any kind of question. So that gave me kind of a start in life that said to me money doesn’t matter very much.

PAUL JAY: But also, you know, a lot of musicians and writers, it’s more about self-realization. It’s more about how they feel.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah. It was for me, too.

PAUL JAY: You write in your music–was very much about, you know, having some influence and change–some effect on the world.

BRUCE COCKBURN: It was, it—well, yeah. But really, for me it started out the same way. If you listen to the songs that you could say are spiritual observations from the first album, second album, they’re very interior in their orientation, and – and they’re … they are all about me.

[Clip of Thoughts On A Rainy Afternoon – Bruce Cockburn]

BRUCE COCKBURN: But after, over time, I mean, I take my spiritual involvement very seriously. And I feel like I was led–somebody else might call it something else. But you know, I’ve been led into situations that produced different effects on me.

I’m in a marriage, and the marriage is great for a while, then it’s not so great, then it gets good again, then it’s not, just like any other relationship. But during those times when it’s not so great, well, you know, I could sit around writing bitchy songs about how terrible my relationship is. Or I could be looking for how to fix it, and writing about that. And realizing in the context of some of these kinds of moments, realizing my own insufficiency. I can’t do this without help. I can’t … I can’t be the person I imagine myself being by myself. God’s got to help. For me that’s what it came down to. Other people might be luckier and somebody right next to them would help. But for me it was–I knew I needed God to do that. So–and he did.

[Clip of God Bless the Children – Bruce Cockburn]

BRUCE COCKBURN: So, over time. A long time, right. And it’s still–it’s a work in progress, still.

But the big turning point came for me, really–the set up took longer. Like, you know, in the earlier part of the ‘70s it was started happening from travel, from encounters with new people, and people from different backgrounds. But really, when I got divorced, or when that relationship ended–it’s not really about the divorce, but just the end of the relationship was pretty traumatic for me. And it was traumatic partly because I had made a promise–as had my wife–to God to be together forever no matter what in the church. You know, church I didn’t take particularly seriously, especially as early as the actual wedding took place at the end of 1969. It was like–I liked the idea of getting married in a church because I was obsessed with the Middle Ages, and I liked the stained glass in the tower and stuff, you know, but the–and the stones. But later on it became not so much about the, the building, and much more about why people build buildings like that.

[Clip of Lovers In A Dangerous Time – Bruce Cockburn]

And so when we broke up it’s like I had to face this. It was like I made a promise, and God seems to be saying it’s OK to have broken it.

PAUL JAY: How did he say that?

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, he didn’t kill us, for one thing, right? We didn’t get struck by lightning. But-

PAUL JAY: But you didn’t have a fundamentalist view of God.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, no. I tried to at first, but it didn’t take. You know–because the first thing … I didn’t, we talked about this, I didn’t–having grown up surrounded by the trappings of Christianity, it didn’t really mean much to me until much later when I began to see my own spiritual growth and journey in terms of–in Christian terms. So OK, so I started going to a church eventually. And then I–then I’m sort of going, OK, well, you know, when this–the trauma associated with the breakup came along, it’s like, well, OK, what do you think about this, God? I’m–here I am. I felt terrible, as did my wife, you know, about having broken this promise.

And the feeling that came back from this was it’s OK. You know, this is life. Life is–life isn’t necessarily smooth.

[Clip of Going Up Against Chaos – Bruce Cockburn]

BRUCE COCKBURN: There was no judgment coming from God about this. There was no sense of being required to pay a penalty for it, or anything like that. It was just like, let’s move on. Let’s go to the next place. And the next place for me was, OK, you spent all this time talking about you and your interior, and your interior relationship with the divine, et cetera, et cetera. What does it mean to love your neighbor? I didn’t–I didn’t grow up–the word ‘love’ was never used in our household, really, growing up. It was there, the phenomenon was there, but not the word. And so, I mean, to love your neighbor, that took some digging. I embraced the community culture in a big way, and kind of consciously, because of that.

[Clip of Put It In Your Heart – Bruce Cockburn]

PAUL JAY: Please join us for the continuation of our series of interviews with Bruce Cockburn on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.


5/9

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. And we’re continuing our discussion with singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn. Thanks for joining us again.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: You wanted your art to be meaningful politically, but you weren’t quite sure how effective it was. Let me quote you.

BRUCE COCKBURN: OK.

PAUL JAY: “Still, at the time, I was skeptical about the ability of music to accomplish anything in a direct way. Music can have emotional impact and it maintains an important place in the nurturing of culture and of dissent. Pinochet’s shock troops understood that when they killed Victor Jara. But a song by itself does not foment change. It’s a harbinger or a chronicle, a spark.”

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah, I’ll stand by that, and I think I still feel that way. What I was doing when I wrote the songs that people think of as political songs … And I suppose I could put this in the present tense, too, because it could still be happening … I’m writing what touches me. I’m trying to share that with people. This is what I’m seeing. This is how I feel about it. Take a look. Maybe you’ll feel the same way. I mean, when you’re doing any kind of art you’re not, I don’t think–most people who do art are not sitting there thinking of their audience in such specific terms when they’re creating. I mean, they may be aware of the fact that people are going to like this, or will not like this as much, or maybe they’ll be stepping out on a limb with this, or whatever.

But you were aware. I mean, if you’ve been around for a while and you have a sense of an audience, you’re aware of that audience when you’re working. But at the same time, it’s in the background. It’s just a–for me, especially–well, I guess I can only talk about me, really. It’s in the background, that. But I’m aware. I want the language to be intelligible that I use. I want people to understand what words I’m using and why, kind of. And I want to communicate those–those things that touched me with enough force that that desire to communicate is triggered. You’ve got to–you’ve got to see what this is, you can’t … We’re all familiar with that feeling. Little kids have it in spades. I mean, “Daddy look at this, look at this.” You know, and it’s basically that same sentiment. It’s just that lies behind the writing of a song. So if I go–if I’m standing in a refugee camp in the south of Mexico surrounded by a thousand Guatemalans, or 3,000 Guatemalans, who fled from horrendous things that they’re telling us about, and these people are telling us these horrendous stories with a great feeling of dignity, and of a … a kind of rise above it calm that it seems unbelievable to me, but there–but here it is, all the same, it became very poignant.

And in the case of If I Had a Rocket Launcher, I didn’t witness the attacks that were taking place. But one had happened the week before I was in this camp, and happened again a week after, I found out. But you can hear the helicopters patrolling the border. And it could have come up over the camp any time. It was only a few hundred meters away. And I just thought, in the face of all of this poignancy, that these people who are perpetrating the stuff that they were doing had forfeited any claim to humanity. And that was a very disturbing feeling. It went along with the sense of outrage, this … But I couldn’t, I noticed even then at the time, that the people who were telling me these stories did not show the same evidence of the outrage as I was feeling. They were calm. They were … They just wanted it to go away.

Now, there were other Guatemalans, of course, who chose an aggressive response to that stuff. But it’s, it was pretty interesting, the contrast there. And I ended up writing the song out of my sense of outrage and out of a sense of compassion for the people. But what made me record it–because I almost didn’t. I thought, you can’t put a song like this out in public. You know, people are going to think you’re telling them to go kill each other. And that’s not what I wanted to say to the world. But then I, you know, I had heard enough, I’d had enough discussions with Latin American writers about self-censorship that I was like–I was hesitant to not do it, also, because there it was, it was a real thing, I had done this thing and it came from a real place.

And in the end I decided, OK, the reason–what I want to share about this is, along with drawing people’s attention to the situation itself, is how easy it is for me, coming from a position of luxury, to–where nobody is threatening me–to embrace a feeling like this, that’s willing to go out and shoot people, or blow somebody’s helicopter up, in this case, you know–though I didn’t want to shoot anybody. Didn’t want to be that personal. But just–you know, to do this–these–to do an act of violence, that would have seemed to me completely legitimate.

In the big picture, you know, is anything like that ever legitimate? Sometimes it’s inescapable. But I don’t know if it’s ever legitimate. But the–in fact, I kind of don’t think it is. But the … the feelings, all feelings, are legitimate. Feelings are just feelings, if we have them. So you know, how do you go–what do you do with a feeling like that? And that’s really, you know, it was putting that song out there and inviting a discussion or a set of speculations along those lines that that justified recording the song for me.

PAUL JAY: Had you thought of yourself as a pacifist up until that point?

BRUCE COCKBURN: No. I never thought of myself as anything with an -ist or an -ism, really. I mean, I call myself a Christian, but that’s gone through many, you know, permutations. I think there was, when I was in my late teens and just starting to get into music, it made a big difference whether somebody called you a folk singer or a blues singer. Like–you know. And people used to worry about stuff like that. But once I got past that stage of my life, I–it really, you know, the definitions became kind of abhorrent, actually. I don’t–I don’t like the idea of being pinned down to an -ism, or an -ist, or being some kind of -ist.

So no, I mean, you don’t have to be a pacifist to recognize that peace is better than war. You know, I mean, anybody with a brain can see that.

PAUL JAY: But the song is saying people in affluence should not be rendering judgment on people fighting for liberation.

BRUCE COCKBURN: That’s the hope. That’s the hope, is don’t … don’t write off this component of people of, in that case Guatemalan society, that happens to have taken up arms against the oppressor of the–of their government. Don’t write them off as a bunch of radical flakes, because they come by their position very honestly. And you know, if there’s a way we can mitigate that struggle and make it less necessary for them to do that stuff, and make it end quicker, then we should do that.

PAUL JAY: The song is a real repudiation of U.S. policy in Latin America. And you write about that in the book.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah. And I mean, you know, like it or not, I mean … I grew up thinking of the United States as our friendly neighbor. And in the case of Canada it has been that, almost throughout our mutual history. Not completely, but mostly. But you know, you look south and you see that since the era of the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has been up to its hips in Latin American bloodshed, basically. We–because I can say ‘we,’ because I live here, and I’ve been accepted here as a, as a resident alien. The, you know, we’ve exploited the injustices that the culture of those countries has latently or actively have for our own benefit, and perpetuated them for our own benefit. And when they didn’t–when things didn’t work out too well, and things looked like they might be getting a little better for the folks down there but it was going to cost us some money, we go in there and we blow them up.

We’ve been doing this, you know, for generations. So, you know–and this is this is what’s behind the current influx of people trying to escape their situation in Central America coming to the States. And it’s–you know, we tend to downplay that aspect of immigration at this moment. But you know, in the ‘80s it was–it was active. It was real. I mean, Reagan was saying there’s no war in Central America, so there can’t be any real refugees.

But you know, it was obvious that there was war in Central America. Everybody else in the world knew it. And there were real refugees. And you know, yeah, people would like to–if they’re going to flee the place they’re in, they’d like to go to a place where they could–might have a better life. Why would you not do that? But the reasons for fleeing the place they’re in are pretty profound, and very visible if you go there.

PAUL JAY: And I think we should add Canada’s hands are certainly not clean when it comes to Latin America, from gold mining companies, to supporting the U.S.

BRUCE COCKBURN: No, I mean nobody’s hands are clean. I mean this is the thing, this is one of the reasons why it’s not good to get a swelled head about anything. We’re all in it together. We’re all–we’re all wading through the same crap and we all come out of it with the same kinds of scars. And it’s the–this is what unites us. We’ve got to recognize this. Yeah, yeah, you’re up to no good. And I’m up to no good, and we’re up to no good, but we shouldn’t be.

PAUL JAY: But it’s also a class question, no? I mean, it’s the elites of the United States that profited from all this policy in the U.S., even if there was public opinion-

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah, but who votes–who voted for the current elite? You know, I mean, people are–everybody is complicit. You can’t–you know, it’s true that there are people in positions of influence who could change things, who could do things a different way. And if they’re smart enough they could pull it off, and the rest of us would be happy to go along. But that isn’t what we see. Most of the people who are in the position to call the shots act out of self-interest. And they manipulate popular opinion for the furtherence of that self-interest. But—you know, the nobodies.

I like to quote–I forget his name, now. There’s some French anarchist from the late 1800s who at his trial was, you know, confronted by the judge. He said, well–he’d blown up a theater. And the judge said, well, what about all the innocent bystanders? He said: “There are no innocent bystanders.” And I mean, that’s a horrible position to take-

PAUL JAY: That’s what Bin Laden says.

BRUCE COCKBURN: That’s what?

PAUL JAY: That’s what Bin Laden says.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, yes, that’s what ISIS says. That’s what–I mean,it’s warped. But in the same way, though, none of us can stand back and say that we’re completely free of complicity in the bad things that go on in the world. And in recognizing our complicity, we have something in common with everybody else. We have–we have grounds for communication there.

PAUL JAY: And also stop the complicity.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, That’s the hope. Would be nice. But I–you know, I mean, that’s a long shot. But in the way it kind of shakes down for me is that you can-

PAUL JAY: Isn’t that what your music is to a large extent, to spark–stop the complicity?

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, you know, in a perfect world my music would – you know, I’d write a song, and everybody’d wake up and go, “Oh, yeah, he’s right, let’s fix this.” You know, that isn’t going to happen. But what happens if you don’t do anything is that everything just gets worse faster. At the very least that’s–you’re acting against that current.

And so it matters to me to try to further the good, I think. I come by that from my upbringing and I come by that from my spiritual inclinations and experiences. And that’s–that’s my job. To the extent that it … that my job is more than just putting words on paper and then putting them to music. It’s about that. But I don’t expect it to have great impact by itself. In concert with a lot of other stuff going on that other people do it might be effective.


6/9

PAUL JAY: OK. Please join us for the continuation of our series of interviews with Bruce Cockburn on Reality Asserts Itself on the Real News Network.

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. We’re continuing our discussion with singer-songwriter and virtuoso guitarist Bruce Cockburn. Thanks for joining us again.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: And you really are a virtuoso guitarist. We’ve been talking about politics, and the words in all this. But I just need to say that when I listened again to Rocket Launcher-

[Clip of If I Had A Rocket Launcher – Bruce Cockburn]

PAUL JAY: I was really kind of blown away with just how beautiful the music is, never mind all the politics of the words.

BRUCE COCKBURN: You know, that’s, that’s the whole point. You’re going to make the music interesting.

PAUL JAY: It’s the art that makes the words work.

BRUCE COCKBURN: You know, it doesn’t always have to be beautiful, but it always has to have its own weight, you know, and to offer something. Otherwise you might as well just put out a page with words on it.

PAUL JAY: Talk about Planet of the Clowns, 1981.

BRUCE COCKBURN: I wrote that in the Canary Islands. And I was there with my then-girlfriend, and just having a holiday, but exploring the place. And one night out on the beach, just looking at the waves, looking at the sky, feeling like that beach was a beach on the whole cosmos, like that dark ocean, which you could only make out the whitecaps of the breakers, merged with the sky. And it was–it was really this island, Earth, that old sci-fi movie. And I had been reading Doris Lessing’s Shikasta, which is a dystopic–well, I mean, almost anything you can say about it shrinks it in an unfair way. But it’s a really interesting and not very happy look at kind of a sci-fi view of world history and where we’re going. And she didn’t pull any punches. It’s Earth’s history, basically viewed from an alien perspective, by aliens who are continually interfering in the affairs of the planet.

And it’s–anyway, I’d been reading this, and there I was, standing there in this, ind of confronted by the cosmos. And out of it came this song about standing on the beach being confronted by the cosmos, basically.

And Planet of the Clowns, it’s like we just–the evil that we do is, I mean, some of it is overtly and intentionally evil. But mostly it isn’t. Mostly it’s just a bunch of people bumbling. It’s people doing stupid things, rather than evil things. And the stupid things have disastrous effects on others, and sometimes on the perpetrators themselves. But this is, this was a kind of … the aspect of humanity that struck me at that time. So it’s–there we are, all are just these unintentional clowns with our shoes wet from the cosmic sea.

PAUL JAY: In ’85, you write People See Through You.

Some saw Reagan as a clown. But he’s also–under his watch, at the very least–a lot of the atrocities that you witnessed in Latin America-

BRUCE COCKBURN: He was a kind of sinister clown.

PAUL JAY: But is still deified in this country.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Rosario Murillo, Daniel Ortega’s wife, who was at the time that we had this conversation the head of the artists’ union of Nicaragua–this is back in the ’80s–said that they had been to the White House. And they had actually been to see the Reagans. And she said they were received with great grace and hospitality, and that they had a really good time. So you know, you have to–have to take all the pronouncements about everybody with a grain of salt.

But Reagan, yeah. It was–he was called the Great Communicator. What he was was a great deliverer of scripts. And he was good at that. Can’t take that away from him. He had a, he had a style that I kind of wish we had now, because he at least was gracious, and no matter what drivel he was speaking.

But in that era–this is , Canada’s refugee laws changed as a result of the same thing, that there were many people coming. There was a big increase in people coming from Central America trying to get into the States, and trying to get through the States to Canada. Because that was–it was an underground railroad that ran from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. And a lot of people were taking advantage of this. A lot of churches were involved in running it. And this was important to the powers that were. So there were break-ins of churches. There was a kind of subtle terrorism. And it wasn’t blowing people up or assassinating anyone, but it was a break-in where things were totally trashed, but nothing was taken, of the churches that were involved in the sanctuary movement. And this–and the intimidation of people, of individuals, of–you know, having them interviewed by the FBI, or whoever. This was going on. And at the same time there were these official pronouncements coming out of Washington that none of these refugees had any legitimate claim to that status, that they were–it was all about just looking for a better job. They just couldn’t wait to come here and be a maid, or something. Right.

So that that prompted the writing of People See Through You.

And at the time I was also–a friend [laughs] a friend of mine had given me a subscription to Soldier of Fortune magazine, which was kind of fashion magazine for mercenaries that you don’t see around anymore. It might still be in existence. But they got to–they always had some, like, somebody in a very cool-looking uniform with cool-looking weapons on the cover. And in the back you’d find want ads for, you know, anything anytime anywhere, any job done by some ex-military person that was looking for work along the lines he’d been trained for. And in one the magazine got sued, because one of one of the buyers of these ads got hired by somebody who wanted someone murdered, and they got caught before the crime was committed, I think. Anyway, there was a major lawsuit because of these want ads. So they stopped doing those want ads.

But at the time this is–I used to buy the magazine because I was interested in both the military stuff that they talked about, and in the fact that at the same time as Reagan was saying there was no war in Central America you could read articles in Soldier of Fortune by veterans coming back from Central America telling you all about the exploits that they performed, and the kinds of stuff they’d run into. So it was interesting to read from many points of view, for me. So here were these–the death fetish mercenaries that are referred to in the song come from Soldier of Fortune magazine.

But I mean, I remember them advertising a t-shirt that had a picture of a guy in a, I think a U.S. Marine uniform, but something like that. And at his feet are kneeling peasantry from different cultures. A guy in a sombrero, a woman that looks like she may be Polynesian, you know. And it says … I think it was the U.S. Marines. And I–forgive me, Marines. As an institution I have respect for you. But this t-shirt, I’m pretty sure it said ‘U.S. Marines: Stabilizing the third world through conquest.’

I mean, how much more blatant and how funny–how much funnier can you get in the dark–very dark way? And you know, I just–I can picture that ad. So this was the death fetish mercenaries. But it was all–the song was all about the intimidation of, or the attempted intimidation, of people who were trying to help their fellow human beings by people who had no interest in the welfare of any human beings other than their immediate family, presumably, or their–whoever they saw as their peers.

PAUL JAY: The song Where the Death Squad Lives is part of this.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah, it’s part of–it’s from the same time period. In that case I had been down–I have friends who are both Presbyterian ministers, a couple. And they had been living in Honduras for an extended period doing agricultural work, mainly, with people in the back country who were traditionally the–because they were forced to live on land that couldn’t produce enough food for them to feed themselves, they were a source of cheap labor for plantations at harvest time. And that relationship was the product of a system which was being maintained by force. So any time those people tried to live on better land, they were forced off. In some cases they were murdered. In other cases they were just scared off.

And the land that–all the good land was owned by either plantations, or by big cattle ranchers, or whatever, who didn’t even live on the land.

PAUL JAY: You write Stolen Land around this time?

BRUCE COCKBURN: No, that came later. That’s just–that was in response to something, to Haida Gwaii, and what was happening on the Northwest coast of British Columbia.

But Where the Death Squad Lives, I went to Honduras twice in that period; once to visit my friends, who were doing work with very disadvantaged people in the countryside, and one to a refugee camp, a U.N.-run refugee camp in a little village called Colomancagua, that for the first time in the history of the U.N. had been the subject of an attack by the army of the host country. So the Honduran army had raided this camp. They were trying to. Honduras was very worried about refugees from El Salvador. Not for the same reasons that the U.S. is worried about refugees from El Salvador, but because in the ’60s, I guess, there was a war between the two countries called the soccer war. They actually fought over a soccer championship. The countries went to war with each other. El Salvador beat the crap out of Honduras. So the Hondurans were very nervous about attracting heat from El Salvador. So they were making–trying to make sure that the FMLN, the guerrilla movement in El Salvador, was not able to take root among this refugee population. That’s why there was a raid. You can see the logic. But it was still a precedent that–it was a very unfortunate one in U.N. history.

And nobody knew about it. This Canadian church group had been there right when it happened, or right after, and they came back and they talked about it. And I happened to be at their report of this. It was a press conference with, you know, a dozen journalists, and Meyer Brownstone was head of Oxfam Canada at the time. And me and some others–and I happened to be sitting beside Meyer, and we heard this story being told of what had happened. And he turned to me and said, “We gotta get down there.”

OK. Let’s do it. Let’s go. So this was on a–as I recall, maybe a Tuesday. Or maybe a Thursday, something like that. And then the following Tuesday we were on our way to Honduras. Nobody else could move that fast. The U.N. was going to send a delegation to look into this. But you know, take–there’s all these gears that have to start turning, and whatever. So we just went. It was Meyer and me and a Toronto immigration lawyer named Jeff House who did a lot of work with Central Americans.

Interestingly, there–Canada had a Consul General in Tegucigalpa who was a retired banker, and very well-placed in Honduran society, and knew all the generals, and he knew all the top people. And we had a very nice meeting with him.

A congenial meeting. And he said, “Well, I think the general in command of the armed forces, I think we can get him to give you the paperwork to get into the camp.” So so he did. There’s a whole–some convolutions involved. But we ended up in this little place almost on the Salvadoran border where, sure enough, they had gone in, they had killed two people, they shot an old guy. And they stomped an infant to death. And they shot up the houses. I mean, there’s little–the kind of shacks that everybody was living in had bullet holes all over the place.

But that was–those are the only actual casualties. But this–at this time, because the whole idea of the raid on the camp was to suppress the actions of of any Salvadoran guerrilla fighters that might be in the area, they had a curfew, as well. And if you violated the curfew you would have your head cut off in the jungle. I mean, that’s what farm families were living in.

The song talks about this. Farm families were literally living in fear after 5:00 at night. I mean, you dare not go out of your house for any reason whatever. And even if you stayed in your house, if they thought there was the wrong people in there with you, you were subject to attack. So–and my friends were living not in this immediate area, but in similar … surrounded by a similar vibe in the back country in Honduras, where they were regarded as subversives because they were teaching people to feed themselves. Or, I should better say, helping people discover how to feed themselves. And so, you know, it just seemed like there was something worth talking about there.

PAUL JAY: Please join us for a continuation of our series of interviews on Reality Asserts Itself with Bruce Cockburn.


7/9

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. We’re continuing our discussion with singer songwriter Bruce Cockburn. Thanks for joining us again.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Glad to be with you.

PAUL JAY: So what’s the story behind Pacing the Cage? This is–you’re sounding frustrated.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah, trapped. You know, stuck. I mean, it’s something everybody goes through sooner or later. And hopefully less than more, you know. But at this particular point, I was in a situation that I felt that was kind of going nowhere, and I felt like …

PAUL JAY: This is personally, musically?

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah, personally. Not–well, no. Not musically, no.

PAUL JAY: Because Pacing the Cage is a wonderful song.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Thank you. But the–no, I wrote that song and a song called Night Train almost at the same time.

And Night Train was a kind of, a kind of personal manifesto, in a way. But Pacing the Cage was more a lament about just being stuck. And I think the … just looking at where I was and thinking, you know, I want to get out of this somehow. I had a fan accuse me of having written a suicide note when he heard that song. Which it wasn’t intended to be, at all. But it was certainly an expression of there must be some way out of here. And it was a while before there actually was. But you know, that was what the song was trying to talk about. And you know, I mean, I’ve done this stuff for a long time. I know when I feel an impulse to write a song whether or not it’s likely to have any kind of application beyond my own circumstances. That one obviously did, right from the get go.

PAUL JAY: I should mention I used it in my film Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, Pacing the Cage, of course, had a very specific reference for Hitman Hart the wrestler, because they refer to the ring as the cage, which I didn’t know when I wrote the song, and wasn’t thinking about that. But I just pictured a kind of angsty ennui, a feeling of just being, being trapped where you are, but having put yourself there.

PAUL JAY: In terms of your spiritual, religious path you were stuck?

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, I was–no, that wasn’t so much … It was more day-to-day than that. But I suppose I don’t have to–I’d have to spend more time than we probably have thinking about it to give you a good answer to the spiritual side of it. But it’s, it’s basically a plea, I suppose, to be relieved of the that sense of being trapped. Of pacing the cage. It’s like, I felt like an animal that’s where it doesn’t want to be.

PAUL JAY: When did that stop? Or did that stop?

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yeah. It stopped when I got out of the situation I was in. Which happened later, a little bit later. But it’s been one of the songs that people have requested a lot over the years since it was released, because of, I think, the degree to which everybody goes through that sometime in their life. You get a job you think is going to be a great job, and after a while it gets really boring or it gets really, you know, it weighs on you heavily. And much of your life is about a search, not just for meaning, but to live a meaningful life.

PAUL JAY: You felt stuck, in terms of that?

BRUCE COCKBURN: Yes, I felt like I didn’t know what to do next or where to go with it, or what. It’s like–I felt like I was treading water.

I mean, I was treading water in a pond of my own creation, but treading water nonetheless. And it felt like I really wanted some relief from that, I guess. That’s the feeling that the song tries to express. It’s like, I’ve done all this stuff. I’ve proven who I am over and over again. I’ve–You know, and by the end of the song I’m sitting there. It’s like, almost like a scene from a spaghetti western. There’s just the–there comes the stagecoach way in the distance, and it’s coming this way, and eventually it’s going to get here, and it’s the stage out of here. But it’s way over there right now. Very far away.

PAUL JAY: Do you want to talk more about what the situation was?

BRUCE COCKBURN: Not especially. I mean, it was personal. It was the circumstances I was in that were the immediate cause of it. But I think anybody going through midlife crisis, for instance, might find themselves feeling the same way. I don’t think that’s what I was going through at the time. It might have been. But I mean, it might have been bigger than just the immediate situation, is my point. But certainly, you know, I felt it to be a product of the more recent choices that I had made up to that point.

PAUL JAY: OK. Please join us for the continuation of our series of interviews with Bruce Cockburn on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.


8/9

PAUL JAY: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself. I’m Paul Jay. And joining us again is Bruce Cockburn. Thanks for joining us.

So what you write is that there is an existential threat to humans, to our whole civilization, to human society. And it’s something that is barely being talked about. All we hear about is, like, Russiagate, and we hear about Trump tweets, and there’s practically no conversation about the real threat to humans and the planet.

BRUCE COCKBURN: Well, this is–this is the thing. And I mean, the topic comes up. But it comes up in the context of is there climate change? And if there is, is it a Chinese conspiracy? Or is there no climate change, and it’s some other kind of conspiracy? Because there’s always a conspiracy in this conversation somewhere, right?

BRUCE COCKBURN: And it’s it’s so off the mark. It’s like, yes, climate change is happening, whether it is due to human agency or not. It’s happening. That’s incontestable, it seems to me. And whether it’s due to human change or not, human behavior has an effect on it. Whether we caused it or–doesn’t matter. I think we did.

PAUL JAY: And almost every climate scientist in the world thinks so.

BRUCE COCKBURN: And I believe the thousands of scientists who also say that. But you know, even if you don’t accept that, the change is happening. That’s measurable. It’s all over the place. And if there’s something we can do to mitigate that change that will give us a bit of an edge in terms of figuring out how to deal with it, let’s do it. It’s a no-brainer. If carbon emissions have anything whatever to do with it, even the tiny amount, fix it. Don’t leave it. I mean, how much brain does it take to figure that out? But here’s people going, oh, carbon this–and you know, the people whose income is jeopardized by controlling carbon emissions, of course, are going to tell you that it’s not them. I didn’t do it. I’m not doing it. It’s these other guys doing this other thing.

But–and there’s always the finger pointing. But really what it comes down to is there’s a whole–it’s a broad picture. The world is, as we have known it, is changing. And if we want to stay on top of that and don’t want to become victims of it, we better get our act together faster than we have shown any inclination of doing so far.

I get asked sometimes, you know, well, what’s the issue you’re interested in right now? I mean, Central America was in the ’80s, and blah blah … There’s only one issue, and it comes up in two ways. The issue is our relationship to the planet, and our relationship to each other. Those are the issue.

Both of those relationships are heavily affected by greed, by self-interest that comes out in the form of greed, or by fear in the form of, you know, my livelihood might be jeopardized if I agree that there’s climate change, or something. I mean all of these things come into it. But really there’s only those–that is the issue. It’s just who are we, and how do we relate to the systems that give us life?

And they do give us life. And if we take them–if those systems go down, we will not have life. It’s that simple.

PAUL JAY: Tell us the story of False River.

BRUCE COCKBURN: I got asked by a woman named Yvonne Blomer, who is the poet laureate of the city of Victoria in British Columbia, to contribute something to a collection of poetry that she was putting together in protest of the Trans Mountain pipeline thing that’s going on. And I thought, well, yeah, I’ll try something. So I wrote what was supposed to be just a piece for the page. I kind of imagined it as being kind of rap-like, and I just wrote a bunch of stuff about oil. And about oil and water. Basically oil and seawater.

The issue with–it isn’t just a pipeline. The issue is all the tankers that will be going in to offload that oil, or to load that oil to ship it elsewhere. So all these tankers are going to be traveling in waters that have not been subjected to that much of that kind of traffic, and wildlife will be threatened, human life is threatened, or at least the quality of human life is threatened big time. So I wrote a bunch of words about this, and then I thought, you know, this should be a song. This is not, like, I don’t want to just leave it as a contribution to Yvonne Blomer’s book. It did end up being that, as well. But I ended up kind of creating a chorus, or at least a repetitive part of it, and putting some music to it, and we recorded it.

PAUL JAY: Please join us for the continuation of our series of interviews with Bruce Cockburn on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

Part 9 transcript was not available at the time of this posting.


May 2, 2019
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel

Lucky Clark On Music: Bruce Cockburn

Legendary Canadian musician to take the stage May 11 at the Watervllle Opera House. 


After an incredible half-century-long career as a singer/songwriter/guitarist, Bruce Cockburn (Coe-burn) is still going strong with numerous awards and 33 albums under his belt, as well as a 526-page memoir and nine-disc boxed set (both titled “Rumours of Glory,” 2014), and he’s coming back to Maine to perform at the Waterville Opera House on Saturday, May 11. To that end, I requested a telephone interview to reconnect with this talented gentle man once again. He kindly agreed and called me from a recording studio in Nashville, Tennessee, on the 16th of April. I began by asking him how things were going?

Cockburn: Oh, things are going actually really well right now. We’re just putting the finishing touches on a new instrumental album. We’re mixing it now, and we’ll probably get done by the end of today. And, I’m quite excited about that, actually. Otherwise, life goes on and I don’t know if I had my second daughter yet when last we spoke.

Q: I had even had my first and only daughter at that time!

Cockburn: (Laughter) So, some of us have been sort of saving it up, right? Anyway, my younger daughter’s 7 and in second grade and can write and speak fluently in English and French.

photo-by-daniel-keebler

Q: Oh, Lord!

Cockburn: Yeah, it’s pretty impressive, actually, and my life is a lot of getting her to and from school. In between those missions (chuckle), then I get to do what I do, which — at the age I am now — half the time is going to doctors and the other half is sort of trying to get work done.

Q: Speaking of work, and the fact that you’re getting ready to complete a new instrumental album, let me ask this: have you done many such albums over your career?

Cockburn: Just one previous one and that one is called “Speechless.” It came out at the end of the ’90s or the beginning of the 2000s, I forget what year. And, it was a compilation of previously released instrumental tracks from throughout the passage of time, with several new pieces, as well. The intention with this album was to do kind of a Volume 2 of that — we wouldn’t have called it that, necessarily.

Q: Was it going to be set up the same as its predecessor, format-wise?

Cockburn: Well, we ended up with so much new stuff that it’s just an album of new pieces, so it’s not “Speechless 2” at all. It will be called “Crowing Ignites,” which is the translation from the Latin of the Cockburn family motto.

Q: Now, just out of curiosity, are instrumentals easier to write than lyrical songs?

Cockburn: It’s a whole different thing. In some ways, yes. There’s one less step involved really, because the songs that I write, most of them have a pretty important instrumental component to them. It’s not like just writing words and a melody for me; there’s always some sort of relationship between the sung part of the song and the guitar. So, in that sense, it’s simpler, because there’s only part of it that you have to worry about, but at the same time it involves the same kind of waiting around for a good idea. In the case of instrumental pieces, the good ideas will come out of practicing. I mean, they don’t come out of the air so much as they do from having your hands on a guitar. You stumble on something that sounds like it could go somewhere, and then you wrestle that into a piece. These pieces are, for the most part, kind of structured like a jazz piece with a head and an improvised section, and then you’ve got the head again. Most of them are like that, but not all. Some are more folk-y and some are — I don’t know what to call them — they’re certainly not jazz. It’s not a jazz record, but there’s a fair amount of improvisation on the record.

Q: What are you playing on this album?

Cockburn: It’s mostly acoustic guitar, and, in terms of the kinds of structural choices you make, it’s really whatever you think of. For me, I’m not constrained by any particular genre. I’m only constrained by my own technique. I guess (chuckle), it’s certainly a constraint, but basically I can do whatever I think of.

Q: Now, when you come to the Waterville Opera House, oh, I’d better ask this first: Have you ever performed there before?

Cockburn: I don’t think so.

Q: Well, then you’re in for a treat, that’s for sure. Now, when I saw you in the past, you had backing musicians. Will that be the case this time ‘round or will you be solo?

Cockburn: This will be solo, yeah. And, I mean I’m not going to be stacking the show with pieces from the new instrumental album. There will be time for that when the album’s actually out.

Q: Will you do any of that new material?

Cockburn: I don’t know what I’m going to do. But, there’s a chance I end up pulling out a couple of those pieces, but it’ll be a cross section of newer and older, typical of my shows.

Q: Now, when you go into a solo show like this one in Waterville, do you make up a set list or just wing it?

Cockburn: I have a set list — I don’t trust my memory.

Q: And with 33 albums out, how on Earth do you create a play list out of all that material?

Cockburn: Well, it’s a balance. It’s like, here’s a bunch of songs that I want to do and then there’s a bunch that people in the audience are attached to, and if you don’t play them, they will feel like they didn’t get their money’s worth. So, those go in a show. So, I try to do a mix of old and new, so that some of it is still fresh for people. The last album, which is now a couple of years old, was “Bone On Bone,” and there will be stuff from that, for sure.

Q: I have one last question before we bring this chat to an end. Is there anything, Bruce, that you would like me to pass on to the folks reading this?

Cockburn: Well, just “hello” and “come to the show,” I guess.


May 2019
Issue 100
Image Journal

Life After Thirty | Death, Change and Time: Bruce Cockburn

Image turned thirty years old this April. As we reflect on what’s ahead, we asked fifteen visual artists and two singer-songwriters to tell us what they learned and how they changed after turning thirty.

I don’t miss my thirties. Maybe the energy. I had a little more energy then, and it was a little easier to come by. But I prefer my understanding of the world now.

to fit in my heart

Creative energy becomes more tenuous as time goes on—not because I’ve run out of ideas, but I’ve run out of time to have the ideas, and time to develop them when I do have them. In my thirties, I never felt any pressure to get anything done except my own pressure. I’d start feeling a kind biological urge to create. It builds up in your system and eventually reaches a point where you have to deal with it. It would come with a sense of excitement, like I’m a bloodhound on the trail. When I get the idea, I want to chase it down. It’s the thrill of the hunt.

As I’ve gotten older, the pace of that buildup has slowed some. But what I’ve lost in energy I’ve gained in perspective.

I could never have written a song like “To Fit in My Heart” in my thirties because I didn’t have the capacity to feel what that song is trying to point to—when the hugeness of everything and the lovingness of it just overwhelms you and falls on you like rain. There was a kind of availability I had to learn in order to create a song like that. A capacity for a kind of ecstatic contact.

The potential for the contact is always there, even in pain. You have to be open to it, and it’s easy to ignore. It is the still, small voice. But if you happen to stumble on it when you are feeling receptive, it doesn’t feel small at all. But when you’re not, it’s hard to hear that voice. But it’s there all the time. All you have to do is say yes.


April 26, 2019
music ‘n other drugs

“SAINT” BRUCE COMES TO BABEVILLE: A CONVERSATION WITH BRUCE COCKBURN
by David Hens

Imagine having a 50-year career as a musician without ever feeling the need to acquiesce to industry demands. You could write what you want, play what you want, and remain completely unencumbered by outside expectations. The only requirement is that you follow your muse and believe that style only matters if you have the substance to back it up.

Such a scenario could be difficult to envision given how much life has changed in 2019, but that’s exactly the kind of impression that Bruce Cockburn has left on the world since releasing his self-titled debut in 1970. His expressive playing, acerbic songwriting, and willingness to dive deep into the heart of the human condition have made him one of the most treasured artists in the history of Canadian music.

It’s not his fault that American audiences are fickle and yet to fully appreciate the breadth of his talent, because great songs are like Ray Kinsella’s baseball field. If you write them, people will eventually come, and Cockburn has written a ton of them throughout the years.

He’ll put some of them on display when he stops at Babeville on May 8 for his first show in western New York since 2015. I had the honor of speaking with him recently about his career and other projects he’s been involved with as of late, so, if you haven’t gotten your ticket yet, now’s the time.

MNOD: Your upcoming album “Crowing Ignites” is an instrumental collection. What was the inspiration for that?

Cockburn: We actually did an instrumental record called “Speechless” back in 2005, so the new album felt like Volume 2 of that. We had so much new stuff that we were working on that the inspiration just came from the music itself. I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

MNOD: You’ve had a great musical relationship with Colin Linden for many years. What does he bring to the table as a producer that works so well

Cockburn: I’ve been working with Colin for 25 years now and our friendship has been great. We have a familiarity with each other that works well and he’s also a great guitar player.  We had one track where I played slide guitar and he played mandolin, so it’s easy to construct duets. He’s fun to work with in the studio, because he’s knowledgeable about many of the technical aspects of recording that I’m not.

MNOD: Will you be playing any of the new tracks on the upcoming tour?

Cockburn: Possibly. I haven’t decided yet, but there’s certainly a chance that some of them will pop up. The album is scheduled to come out in September and the ensuing tour will definitely feature them. As for the upcoming shows, they’ll be structured to feature a cross section of my career. In addition to the Buffalo show, I also have some festivals across Canada lined up for the summer.

MNOD: Growing up in the Buffalo area meant that I was exposed to your music early on through a lot of Canadian radio stations and “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws” was one of the first albums I ever got into as a kid. How do you feel about that album today?

Cockburn: It’s a good album. I don’t sit around listening to my old stuff today, but I’m certainly proud of the way it turned out. They say that you get one great album per decade and “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws” was a great way to cap off the ’70s for me.

MNOD: You’ve always had an intricate picking style on the acoustic guitar and I was wondering if you’ve been forced to alter your playing at all as you’ve gotten older.

Cockburn: A little bit. I have arthritis and certain joints have begun to seize up, but my style hasn’t changed all that much. My doctor told me that I have however many years left to play and that was a few years ago already. I always thought that I would have to learn to play slide guitar at some point. I can still play most of my early material the same way I always did, though.

MNOD: People often refer to you as an activist, but that label tends to get tossed around a lot. Was writing about humanitarian causes something that you were naturally drawn to or did you become interested in politics later on?

Cockburn: I was somewhat aware of the world when I was younger. I grew up in a politically liberal household and my interest in social causes came along bit by bit as I got older. The more I traveled, the more I began to realize that other cultures didn’t necessarily benefit from the same things that I did. I became acquainted with people from different backgrounds who began to influence my way of thinking about the world and critics tend to label you as an activist without really understanding that it all starts with a song. I write about what naturally moves or interests me and not necessarily with activism in mind specifically.

MNOD: What did you learn about yourself from traveling to places that most people never get to experience in their lifetime? 

Cockburn: The biggest thing I learned is that your baggage goes with you. The obvious element is that I learned about my relationship to the world and how certain people are forced to live in various circumstances. I spent the first half of the ’70s traveling across Canada, which was much different than what we had always learned as children. The truth about how the First Nations of Canada were treated was the beginning of it for me. Traveling also brings you face-to-face with the fragility of democracy and the fragility of nature. A lot of economic and environmental policies have come back to bite us big time, and the impact of development on the natural world is something we can’t ignore.

MNOD: How did you come to live in San Francisco?

Cockburn: My wife got a job here, so it wasn’t my choice. We’ve been out here 10 years now and it’s our home. I never really thought of myself as living on the west coast and maybe the economy will eventually push us out. The scene has changed. When we first moved here, I felt like we arrived just as the last vestiges of the old San Francisco were dying off. Now, the cost of living is very expensive and it’s become culturally one-dimensional in a lot of ways.

MNOD: “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” is a song that has stood the test of time and continued to assume a deeper significance along the way. What does the song mean to you today?

Cockburn: That’s one of the songs that people have latched onto, because it says something worth saying. Its popularity shows that other people feel the same way. My original motivation was thinking about what kind of world I was passing along to my daughter, who was 7 at the time. I grew up with The Bomb and air raid drills. The teacher would blow a whistle and we would have to hide under our desks. If you think about it, we would have been killed by the shredded glass alone, which makes the whole thing ridiculous. The threat of atomic war never went away and then the AIDS crisis happened to add another layer to the song’s premise. It was essentially asking the question of how we find love in a world where the person we love could be infected with a fatal disease, but there’s also a sense of hope that can’t be ignored. There’s always room for hope.

MNOD: What are your thoughts on how the music industry has changed since you first started out?

Cockburn: I don’t pay any attention to the industry today, so I can’t really answer that. I just do what I do and that’s it. My daughter will play songs on Spotify that I’ll inevitably be exposed to, but I don’t really know if I like any of it. I’ve heard Katy Perry and she seems to have some substance. I’ll also hear songs while driving or passing by somewhere, but I can’t say whether or not they’re really any good. If anything, the current industry has illustrated how large the social gap between the stinking rich and the rest of us has really become. You have the Kardashians or other tabloid people who have a hunger for notoriety and that has nothing at all to do with me. They couldn’t care less if I’m listening or not. If I had to give advice to someone getting started today, I’m not sure that I could, because it’s not 1964. The way we communicate in civilized life has changed completely due to the Internet and social media. Then again, I’ve always enjoyed the luxury of having a very capable manager who knows the ins and outs of the industry, so I don’t have to worry too much about the changes.

MNOD: Christianity has often been an important source of inspiration for you. What is your relationship to religion today?

Cockburn: I became a Christian in the early ’70s and it’s kind of been waxing away through the decades, but spirituality is still important to me.

MNOD: Is there anything that you’d still like to accomplish in your career?

Cockburn: I’ve never looked at my career in terms of accomplishments. I just want to keep on making music. What I’m doing now isn’t worlds away from what I’ve always done, but I can continue to incorporate different styles. That’s about the closest to ambition that I get.



April 17, 2019

From Bernie Finkelstein’s Facebook page.

























April 16, 2019
The Winnipeg Sun

Cockburn highlights series of events commemorating 1919 strike
by Scott Billeck


A Canadian music legend is among several artists who will headline a free concert to help commemorate the centennial one of the country’s largest and most influential labour movements. 

For 40 years, Bruce Cockburn has been writing and signing about the human experience. In June, the multi-time Juno Award winner and member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame will join Grammy winner and feminist icon Ani DiFranco along with several others for Rise Up 100: Songs for the Next Century Concert, one of four events being put on by Manitoba’s unions to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

“We want to welcome people of all generations, all backgrounds, all abilities — everybody in our city — to join us and celebrate the Winnipeg General Strike together, with music, as a community,” said Winnipeg Folk Festival executive director Lynne Skromeda at a launch event on Tuesday. “Folk music has long been tied to the labour movement, advocating for social justice and providing a sense of connection to one another through divisive times, and we need this connection now more than ever.”

The free concert will take place in Old Market Square on June 8 between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Celebrations kick off with the already-sold-out 1919 Social on May 11 at the Ukrainian Labour Temple. The social will be followed by the Winnipeg General Strike Centennial Gala Dinner on May 15 at the RBC Convention Centre. Tickets for the dinner are priced between $100 and $200. The penultimate event comes on May 25 with the Solidarity Forever Parade & Community Concert. The parade will run from the Exchange District to Memorial Park from 11 a.m. to noon, followed by a concert from 12:30 to 6 p.m.

“We want to invite Winnipeggers, Manitobans and Canadians to come and party with us,” said Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck. “Come listen to some excellent music and celebrate our shared legacy of the Winnipeg General Strike, which played such an important role in forging the city, the province and the country we all know today.”

The MayWorks Festival of Labour and the Arts began on Sunday and will run through to June 21st with a host of events including book launches, art exhibitions, concerts and other events.

Husband and wife duo Nolan and Sharon Reilly have also updated their 1919 Winnipeg General Strike driving and walking tour, allowing anyone to pick up one of their brochures and walk or drive to important locations and learn about their significance to the Strike.

More information, including tickets for the gala dinner, can be found at mfl.ca/1919


February 7, 2019
Park Record

Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn finds balance in his 50-year career
by Scott Iwasaki


Bruce Cockburn tries to find a balance between what he wants to perform and what he knows his audience wants to hear.

brucecockburn-photo-daniel-keebler

Doing that can sometimes be a challenge because the Canadian singer-songwriter, who will perform February 7 to February 9 at the Egyptian Theatre, has been playing and recording music for nearly 50 years.

"There's a bit of strategic thinking in getting a show together," said Cockburn (pronounced KOE-burn). "It's between knowing people will feel ripped off if they don't get to hear some songs and me wanting to play what my own particular interests are at any one moment."

Cockburn said he also looks at songs that will go well with his newer songs, some of which are from his most recent album "Bone on Bone," which was released in 2017.

While the solo shows are more scarier, they are more satisfying, because you know the song is being heard...

While the solo shows are more scarier, they are more satisfying, because you know the song is being heard… Bruce Cockburn, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee

"Bone on Bone" marks Cockburn's 33rd studio album.

"The answer to writing a good song is always coming up with a good idea," he said. "I feel there is something about the visceral sense that deals with the flow of ideas. Ideas come from the culture around us, encounters with other people or from the things we live through. Those things are shareable, and the sharing is important. I feel what I do is at the service of that idea."

Still, the older he gets, Cockburn knows there is a danger of repeating himself.

"Sometimes I'll get an idea that I think is great, and then I'll start working on it only to realize that I wrote about it 30 years ago," he said with a laugh.

Another challenge is keeping his older songs interesting, he said. Playing solo sets is one way to do that.

"It's just me, a guitar and a voice," he said. "While the solo shows are more scarier, they are more satisfying, because you know the song is being heard. But just like when I'm playing with a band, I still have to execute the guitar parts, and remember the words."

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The solo performances also give Cockburn more one-on-one time with his audiences.

"One of the obvious things about playing solo is that it gives me great flexibility that isn't always available with the band," he said. "I don't have to deal with numbers of people, the crew, lighting cues and all sorts of stuff that are of less consequence."

In 2014, Cockburn embarked on a project that required a lot of recollection – writing his memoir "Rumors of Glory."

"That was really hard work," he said. "Unlike songwriting, writing a book was not natural to me. There were long periods when I would get bogged down. My editors were flexible with me and I stood them up a bunch, with respect to deadlines."

When Cockburn was 100 pages into the first draft, he enlisted the help of his friend, journalist Greg King.

"I got stuck and I didn't know how to tell the stories that I remembered," he said. "Greg provided the organizational backbone of the thing."

The book documented Cockburn's family life, relationships, his religious convictions and his social and political views that find their way into his music.

"It was interesting looking back on my career, because I don't spend a lot of time thinking about it in the day-to-day," he said.

Some of Cockburn's milestone events in his career have occured even since the memoir was published.

In 2017, he was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2018, he won a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for "Bone on Bone." That year, he also won the Canadian Folk Music Award for Top Solo Artist.

"Awards are very gratifying, and they're meaningful in a practical way, which means there's publicity," he said. "That, on a good day, can translate to being hired for more shows, or being able to have a band."

The next project Cockburn is preparing for is a new instrumental album.

"We did one called 'Speechless' a few years ago that was a mixture of previous recorded stuff and new songs," he said. "This one will be similar, but the weight will be toward the new music."


January 29, 2019
Bend Bulletin

Bruce Cockburn will headline Sisters Folk Festival
by Brian McElhiney

IMG 1773


It may not be the season yet, but Central Oregon’s festivals are heating up with initial lineup announcements. This week, it’s all about Sisters:

Multiple Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn will headline the 23rd Sisters Folk Festival on Sept. 7.

The festival organization announced Cockburn this week. More artists will be announced in an initial lineup to be revealed in early March, according to an email from festival creative director Brad Tisdel. This year’s festival will take place Sept. 6 through 8 at various venues in Sisters.

Cockburn, known for his thoughtful lyricism and mix of blues, jazz, folk and rock, launched his solo career in 1970 with his self-titled debut album. He found acclaim in the U.S. with his 1979 album, “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws.” He most recently released “Bone on Bone” in 2017.

Tickets cost $170 plus fees for all-event passes or $55 plus fees for youth ages 18 and younger, and can be purchased at sistersfolkfestival.org, eventbrite.com or by calling 541-549-4979.

Though dates have not yet been revealed, the Sisters Rhythm & Brews Festival has its headliners for its second year. They include gospel/blues guitarist Mr. Sipp The Mississippi Blues Child, country-blues songwriter The White Buffalo, blues-rockers The Eric Gales Band and young guitar shredder Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. Visit sistersrhythmandbrews.com for more information, and stay tuned for more artist announcements and festival dates

© Daniel Keebler 1993-2019