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BRUCE COCKBURN > News > Interviews > “I Don’t Want to Stop”: Bruce Cockburn, 78, on Touring, Family and Why Older People Should Go to Concerts

“I Don’t Want to Stop”: Bruce Cockburn, 78, on Touring, Family and Why Older People Should Go to Concerts


Bruce Cockburn  photo by Nathan Denette

May 23, 2024 – Bruce Cockburn has been touring regularly since releasing his 27th studio album, O Sun O Moon, last year, and the legendary 78-year-old Canadian singer, songwriter and guitarist wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I don’t want to stop. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to,” he notes during a recent phone interview.

The outspoken political and environmental activist, known for such hits as Wondering Where the Lions Are, Lovers in a Dangerous Time and If a Tree Falls kicks off a run of 10 Canadian dates on May 24 in Lindsay, Ont. In November, he’ll head out on another U.S. leg.

The Ottawa native, who lives in San Francisco with his wife and 12-year-old daughter – he has a grown daughter from his first marriage – has been releasing albums since his 1970 self-titled debut. Along the way, he has amassed 22 gold and platinum records, including a 1993 holiday album, Christmas, that went 6x platinum, not to mention a myriad of other accolades and recognition.

With that sort of resumé, he’s been inducted into Canada’s top halls: the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Canada’s Walk of Fame and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was invested a Member of the Order of Canada in 1983 and promoted to Officer of the Order of Canada in 2003, and presented with Governor General’s Performing Arts Award in 1998. He also has 13 Juno Awards, the Allan Slaight Humanitarian Spirit Award, and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He was even featured on a postage stamp.

Bruce Cockburn - Walk of Fame - Hometown Star
Bruce Cockburn Walk of Fame Hometown Star

This summer, he will receive yet another academic award, this time an Honorary Doctorate of Music Degree on June 14 from Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. and, on July 7, will be inducted into the Mariposa Hall of Fame during the fabled folk music festival in Orillia.

But before that, Bruce Cockburn spoke with Zoomer about life on the road in your 70s, why older people shouldn’t dismiss the live concert experience, what Mick Jagger does on tour that he doesn’t, and why he won’t retire.

KAREN BLISS: Mick Jagger posts photos of himself on his Instagram during tours, where he visits local sites and even the occasional bar. Do you find time to do that when touring?

BRUCE COCKBURN: I was more like that in the 70s, when the pace of the work was much lower. You could do a cross-Canada tour, and it would be 12 shows, especially the early half of the 70s, we just drove ourselves around. So you could play Winnipeg and then take a month to get to Saskatoon. Winnipeg would pay for your life during that month, so back then, there was all kinds of time for exploring and having adventures. But at this point, to make it economically feasible, we have to work pretty steadily. That, combined with age [laughs]. I don’t have the energy to go wandering around now. I have to save it all for the show. But by doing that, I’m able to do the shows the way I think I should.

KB: In other careers, people often work in order to retire. In the music business, there are so many artists still touring in their 60s, 70s and 80s. It’s a fascinating art form and job because creatively, it’s solitary, but you need to share it to connect.

BC: Yeah, that’s absolutely true. But, it’s also a factor that the people who are working toward retirement are probably expecting a pension. We ain’t [laughs]. We’re not getting that. Musicians, athletes, anybody remotely connected to entertainment, unless you become rich enough that it doesn’t matter – which some people do, of course – there’s an incentive to keep working because you keep getting paid.

But you’re right about what you said, though. Nonetheless, I don’t want to stop. Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. I guess, technically I could, but my family and I would have to make some different plans. But I just see myself going until I drop, incapacitated, which could happen easily. I mean, at this this point in anyone’s life, you don’t know what body part’s going to give out [laughs]. Then I’m going to be retiring.

KB: Are you meeting fans on this round that tell you stories about what your music has meant to them?

BC: I haven’t been doing that so much lately, but before COVID I was going out to the merch table and signing stuff. I had a lot of conversations. I did that for years. But COVID put an end to that. When we started having shows again after COVID, after the shutdown, it seemed too risky to be shaking all these hands. And then, I just never got back into it. I do slightly miss that – not enough to start doing it again at the moment – but it was nice to hear some of the stories … Sometimes people had really touching stories of how the music had affected them or sometimes people were just so enthusiastic that it made you feel happy to meet them.

KB: I’m sure there are a lot of Zoomer readers who don’t go to concerts anymore. What would you say to them in terms of that connection you get from experiencing live music?

BC: If you like listening to music in the comfort of your living room, that’s fine. And if you have a good sound system, it can be a rich musical experience. But it’s not the same as being in a room full of people, sharing the time and space through the music. There’s a sense of community that develops. It includes me and the audience. It’s one of the things that makes me want to keep doing it, that feeling of everybody coming together, in effect, celebrating our existence. And I think people should give themselves a chance to experience that, if they can. I mean, some of us old folks don’t get out so much and it’s just hard work to do it. So there’s a reason why we don’t go out. But if it sounds appealing at all, it’s worth the effort.

KB: You have a young daughter. Does she appreciate what you do?

BC: Yeah, she does. She likes coming to my shows. She’s 12. She’s been coming to my concerts since she was two months old. So she’s very familiar with what a show is like backstage, front stage – the whole scene.

KB: When she does come on the road with you, I guess that’s an opportunity for you to do things in cities that you wouldn’t normally do, like find a great ice cream shop or check out a waterpark?

BC: No, we have a friend named Celia Shacklett, who is a children’s entertainer that lives in St. Louis. Celia and I have been friends since the late ’80s. She’s a free spirit and a freelancer. When we first started to bring [my daughter] on the road when was a baby, we got Celia to come along and help with her. So Iona grew up with our friend Celia. And when Iona comes on the road, one of the attractions is we try to get Celia to come on the road too and they get to hang out. I mean, Iona doesn’t need that kind of looking after now, but they’re such close friends so they go to libraries, they go to museums, they go to the toy stores, whatever’s around. But I don’t get to do that because my days are filled.

KB: You’ve got the soundcheck, press, sleep.

BC: Exactly.

KB: In two years, you will be turning 80. Do you have a plan of how you want to celebrate?

BC: Yeah, my wife’s gonna turn 50 and I’m gonna turn 80 within a couple months of each other. So I don’t know, we’re gonna cook up something.

Visit Bruce Cockburn’s website for tour dates and information.