Big Circumstance

Bruce Cockburn - Big Circumstance - 1988 / 2005
Big Circumstance 1988 / 2005

RELEASE DATE: 1988
REISSUE: 2005
PURCHASE: iTunes | True North (deluxe edition)

Rain forest
Mist and mystery
Teeming green
Green brain facing labotomy
Climate control centre for the world
Ancient cord of coexistence
Hacked by parasitic greedhead scam –
From Sarawak to Amazonas
Costa Rica to mangy B.C. hills –
Cortege rhythm of falling timber.

What kind of currency grows in these new deserts,
These brand new flood plains?

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
Anybody hear the forest fall?

Cut and move on
Cut and move on
Take out trees
Take out wildlife at a rate of species every single day
Take out people who’ve lived with this for 100,000 years –
Inject a billion burgers worth of beef –
Grain eaters – methane dispensers.

Through thinning ozone,
Waves fall on wrinkled earth –
Gravity, light, ancient refuse of stars,
Speak of a drowning –
But this, this is something other.
Busy monster eats dark holes in the spirit world
Where wild things have to go
To disappear
Forever

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
Anybody hear the forest fall?

April 7, 1988 – Toronto, Canada

Also On:
Anything Anytime Anywhere – 2002
Slice O Life – 2009
Rumours Of Glory box set – disc 1 – 2014

The man who twirled with rose in teeth
Has his tongue tied up in thorns
His once expanded sense of time and
Space all shot and torn
See him wander hat in hand –
“Look at me, I’m so forlorn –
Ask anyone who can recall
It’s horrible to be born!”

Big Circumstance comes looming
Like a darkly roaring train –
Rushes like a sucking wound
Across a winter plain
Recognizing neither polished shine
Nor spot nor stain –
And wherever you are on the compass rose
You’ll never be again

Left like a shadow on the step
Where the body was before –
Shipwrecked at the stable door

Big Circumstance has brought me here –
Wish it would send me home
Never was clear where home is
But it’s nothing you can own
It can’t be bought with cigarettes
Or nylons or perfume
And all the highest bidder gets
Is a voucher for a tomb

Blessed are the poor in spirit –
Blessed are the meek
For theirs shall be the kingdom
That the power mongers seek
Blessed are the dead for love
And those who cry for peace
And those who love the gift of earth –
May their gene pool increase

Left like a shadow on the step
Where the body was before –
Shipwrecked at the stable door

Also On:
Rumours Of Glory box set – disc 4 – 2014

Tabloids, bellowing raw delight
Hail the return of the Teutonic Knights
Inbred for purity and spoiling for a fight,
Another little puppet of the New Right

See-through dollars and mystery plagues
Varied detritus of Aquarian Age
Shutters on storefronts and shutters in the mind –
We kill ourselves to keep ourselves safe from crime.
That’s the gospel of bondage…

We’re so afraid of disorder we make it into a god
We can only placate with state security laws
Whose church consists of secret courts and wiretaps and shocks
Whose priests hold smoking guns, and whose sign is the double cross
But God must be on the side of the side that’s right
And not the right that justifies itself in terms of might –
Least of all a bunch of neo-nazis running hooded through the night
Which may be why He’s so consipicuously out of sight
Of the gospel of bondage…

You read the Bible in your special ways
You’re fond of quoting certain things it says –
Mouth full of righteousness and wrath from above
But when do we hear about forgiveness and love?

Sometimes you can hear the Spirit whispering to you,
But if God stays silent, what else can you do
Except listen to the silence? if you ever did you’d surely see
That God won’t be reduced to an ideology
Such as the gospel of bondage…

February 22, 1987 – Toronto, Canada

Also On:
Rumours Of Glory box set – disc 4 – 2014

In front of a newborn moon pushing up its glistening dome
I kiss these departing companions – take the next step alone
I just said goodnight to the closest thing i have to home
Oh – and the night grows sharp and hollow
As a junkie’s craving vein
And I don’t feel your touch, again.

To be held in the heart of a friend is to be a king
But the magic of a lover’s touch is what makes my spirit sing
When you’re caught up in this longing all the beauties of the earth don’t mean a thing
Oh – and the night grows clear and empty
As a lake of acid rain
And I don’t feel your touch, again.

The last light of day crept away like a drunkard after gin
A hint of chanted prayer now whispers from the fresh night wind
To this shattered heart and soul held together by habit and skin
And this half-gnawed bone of apprehension
Buried in my brain
As I don’t feel your touch, again.

June 1987 – Toronto, Canada

Through rutted winding streets of Kathmandu
Dodging crowded humans cows dogs rickshaws –
Storefronts constellated pools of bluewhite
Bright against darkening walls

The butterfly sparkle in my lasered eye still seems
To hold that last shot of red sun through haze over jumbled roofs
Everything moves like slow fluid in this atmosphere
Thick as dreams
With sewage, incense, dust and fever and the smoke of brick kilns and cremations –

Tom Kelly’s bike rumbles down –
we’re going drinking on the Tibetan side of town.

Beggar with withered legs sits sideways on skateboard, grinning
There’s a joke going on somewhere but we’ll never know
Those laughing kids with hungry eyes must be in on it too
With their clinging memories of a culture crushed
By Chinese greed

Pretty young mother by the temple gate
Covers her baby’s face against diesel fumes
That look of concern – you can see it still –
Not yet masked by the hard lines of a woman’s
Struggle to survive

Hard bargains going down
When you’re living on the Tibetan side of town.

Big red Enfield Bullet lurches to a halt in the dust
Last blast of engine leaves a ringing in the ears
That fades into the rustle of bare feet and slapping sandals
And the baritone moan of long bronze trumpets
Muffled by monastery walls.

Prayer flags crack like whips in the breeze
Sending to the world – tonight the message blows east
Dark door opens to warm yellow room and there
Are these steaming jugs of hot millet beer
and I’m sucked into the scene like this liquor up
This bamboo straw

Sweet tungba sliding down –
drinking on the Tibetan side of town

March 1987 – Toronto, Canada

Also On:
Live -1990 / 2002
Slice O Life – 2009
Rumours Of Glory box set – disc 5 – 2014

High above valley,
Above deep shade coloured with the calls of cuckoos,
The ring of coppersmith’s hammer high in the hiss of the wind
Wind filled with spirits and bright with the jangle of horse bells
After a crisp night crammed with stars
It’s morning

Over the scratched-up soil, scorched-earth wasted,
Long shadows lead women bearing water
I watch the sway of skirts,
Think of moist spice forests –

Too many pictures
Swirling
Vertigo
Momentum of civilizations
Threw me too far over this time-simple landscape
And I hang here
In this mountain light
A balloon blown full of darkness –
Got to let this ballast go
Got to float upward
Till I burst

Weavers’ fingers flying on the loom
Patterns shift too fast to be discerned
All these years of thinking
Ended up like this
In front of all this beauty
Understanding nothing

Rhododendrons in bloom, sharp against
Spring snow
Remind me of another time
In japanese temple –
There was a single orange blossom
At the wrong time of year –
Seemed like a sign –
When I looked again
It was gone

Weavers’ fingers flying on the loom
Patterns shift too fast to be discerned
All these years of thinking
Ended up like this in front of all this beauty
Understanding nothing

October 26, 1987 – Toronto, Canada

Also On:
Rumours Of Glory box set – disc 4 – 2014

Goons in blackface creeping in the road —
Farm family waiting for the night to explode —
Working the land in an age of terror
You come to see the moon as the bad news bearer
Down where the death squad lives

They cut down people like they cut down trees —
Chop off its head so it will stay on its knees —
The forest shrinks but the earth remains
Slash and burn and it grows again
Down where the death squad lives.

I’ve got friends trying to batter the system down
Fighting the past till the future comes round.
It’ll never be a perfect world till God declares it that way
But that don’t mean there’s nothing we can do or say
Down where the death squad lives

Like some kind of never-ending Easter passion,
From every agony a hero’s fashioned.
Around every evil there gathers love —
Bombs aren’t the only things that fall from above
Down where the death squad lives
down where the death squad lives

Sometimes I feel like there’s a padlock on my soul.
If you opened up my heart you’d find a big black hole
But when the feeling comes through, it comes through strong —
If you think there’s no difference between right and wrong
Just go down where the death squad lives

This world can be better than it is today
You can say I’m a dreamer but that’s okay
Without the could-be and the might-have-been
All you’ve got left is your fragile skin
And that ain’t worth much down where the death squad lives

January 28, 1986 – Toronto, Canada

Also On:
Rumours Of Glory box set – disc 4 – 2014

They’re hosing down trucks at the border under a rainbow sign —
The raindrops falling on my head burn into my mind
On a hillside in the distance there’s a patch of green sunshine
Ain’t it a shame
Ain’t it a shame
About the radium rain

Everyday in the paper you can watch the numbers rise
No such event can over take us here, we’re much too wise
In the meantime don’t eat anything that grows and don’t breathe when the cars go by
Ain’t it a shame
Ain’t it a shame
About the radium rain

Big motorcycle rumbles out of the rain like some creation of mist
There’s a man on a roof with a blindfold on and a hand grenade in his fist
I walk stiff, with teeth clenched tight, filled with nostalgia for a clean wind’s kiss
Ain’t it a shame
Ain’t it a shame
About the radium rain

A flock of birds writes something on the sky in a language I can’t understand
God’s graffiti — but it don’t say why so much evil seems to land on man
When everyone I meet just wants to live and love, and get along as best they can
Ain’t it a shame
Ain’t it a shame
About the radium rain

May 8, 1986 – Cologne

Also On:
Rumours Of Glory box set – disc 4 – 2014

Listen to the rain on this mountain town
Listen to the night bird’s lonesome cry
listen to the scratch of pen on paper
That’s the sound of sleep denied

Hear the sleepers toss and turn
Dreaming whatever they’re dreaming of
The wind that’s clearing the heat from the air
Can’t clear my heart of these pangs of love

Pangs of love
That’s the price you pay
When you give your love
But don’t give all the way
Pangs of love
Won’t let me go —
I came so far around the world
To hear the night say
I told you so

April 9,1987 – Pakhara

These shoes have walked some strange streets
Stranger still to come —
Sometimes the prayers of strangers
Are all that keeps them from
Trying to stay static
Something even death can’t do
Everything is motion —
To the motion be true

In this cold commodity culture
Where you lay your money down
It’s hard to even notice
That all this earth is hallowed ground —
Harder still to feel it
Basic as a breath —
Love is stronger than darkness
Love is stronger than death

The gift
Keeps moving —
Never know
Where it’s going to land.
You must stand
Back and let it
Keep on changing hands

Hackles rise in anger
Heat waves rise in sex
The gift moves on regardless
Tying this world to the next
May you never tire of waiting
Never feel that life is cheap
May your life be filled with light
Except for when you’re trying to sleep

The gift
Keeps moving —
Never know
Where it’s going to land
You must stand
Back and let it
Keep on changing hands

February 9, 1988 – Toronto, Canada

You could have gone off the Bloor Street viaduct
I could have been run down in the street
You could have got botulism anytime
I could have gone overboard into the sea

Anything can happen
To put out the light,
Is it any wonder
I don’t want to say goodnight?

I could have been hit by a falling pane of glass
You could have had shark teeth write “finit”
We could have been nailed by some vigilante type
In a case of mistaken identity — obviously

Anything can happen
To put out the light
Is it any wonder
I don’t want to say goodnight?

We could have been lynched and tarred and feathered
Been on a plane that crashed in flames
Could have done the neutron melt together
But here we are just the same!

You could have been daggered in the dead of night
You could have been gassed inside your car
I could have been walking in the open fields
And been drilled through the head by a shooting star

Anything can happen
To put out the light
Is it any wonder
I don’t want to say goodnight?

December 29, 1980 – Toronto, Canada

Also On:
Rumours Of Glory box set – disc 7 – 2014

Rain forest
Mist and mystery
Teeming green
Green brain facing labotomy
Climate control centre for the world
Ancient cord of coexistence
Hacked by parasitic greedhead scam –
From Sarawak to Amazonas
Costa Rica to mangy B.C. hills –
Cortege rhythm of falling timber.

What kind of currency grows in these new deserts,
These brand new flood plains?

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
Anybody hear the forest fall?

Cut and move on
Cut and move on
Take out trees
Take out wildlife at a rate of species every single day
Take out people who’ve lived with this for 100,000 years –
Inject a billion burgers worth of beef –
Grain eaters – methane dispensers.

Through thinning ozone,
Waves fall on wrinkled earth –
Gravity, light, ancient refuse of stars,
Speak of a drowning –
But this, this is something other.
Busy monster eats dark holes in the spirit world
Where wild things have to go
To disappear
Forever

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
Anybody hear the forest fall?

April 7, 1988 – Toronto, Canada

Acoustic Version on the 2005 remastered edition of Big Circumstance.



The result of three years of global traveling. 1989’s Big Circumstance reflects Bruce Cockburn’s heartfelt reaction to war, repression and environmental abuse.

On this album Cockburn fires off some of the most politically potent material of his career, including “If A Tree Falls,” which tackled the issue of the rain destruction.

The remastered version of Big Circumstance features a bonus track, an acoustic version of “If A Tree Falls.” Sharpened rather than dulled by the passage of time, Big Circumstance remains a powerful testament to one man’s social conscience and artistic vision.


Album Info:

People who fed, or found their way onto these songs:

e.e. cummings, Bob and Gracie Ekblad, Tom Kellyji, Brennan Manning (“Lion & Lamb”), Dan Russell and Alison Ottman, Lewis Hyde (“The Gift”), Heather MacAndrew, Ursala LeGuin (“Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight”), USC Canada, Susan Walsh, Nirmala Pokharel, the plant manager at Chernobyl…

That’s all. If anyone’s missing, thank you too. Bruce

All songs written by Bruce Cockburn
© 1988 Golden Mountain Music Corp. (SOCAN)
All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.
Produced by Jon Goldsmith for True North Productions
Recorded at Manta Sound, Toronto, July-August 1988.
Engineer: John Naslen
Assisted by Mike Colomby
Mastering: Bob Ludwig, Masterdisk, New York

The musicians are:
Bruce Cockburn – vocals, guitars and harmonica
Jon Goldsmith – keyboards and electric auto harp
Fergus James Marsh – stick and bass
Michael Sloski – drums and percussion
Background vocals: Judy Cade, Margaret O’Hara (appears courtesy of Virgin Records), and Mose Scarlett
Hugh Marsh – violin (appears courtesy of Duke Street Records)
Myron Schultz – clarinets

Art direction: Bart Schoales
Photography: George Whiteside