3 November 2017 – Bruce Cockburn is a prolific Canadian singer-songwriter and recording artist with more than 300 songs in his catalog. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Dan Fogelberg, the Jerry Garcia Band, Barenaked Ladies, Ani DiFranco, Jimmy Buffett, k.d. lang and many others. This interview discussed many things including his most recent 33rd album “Bone On Bone.”
Friday 27 Oct 2017 –
Paris. Mesopotamian exhibit @the Louvre.
Photo by Mike Mermin, who called it “No Longer Wondering”
Published on Sep 20, 2017 – q on CBC – Tom Power interviews Bruce a few days before his induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Iconic singer/songwriter, Bruce Cockburn talks to Tom about how he feels about his iconic hits, and how living in the US has influenced his songwriting.
The Bluegrass Situation – By Amanda Wicks
Oct 20, 2017
Life in Trump’s America doesn’t end at the country’s borders. The present-day era’s global scope means that, sonar-like, the current U.S. president’s impact tears across the world, including upward to the country’s endearing northern neighbor. Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn wrote his new album, Bone on Bone, under the unnerving atmosphere that has settled like grey ash over contemporary life ever since the 2016 presidential election. Several songs, including “Café Society” and “States I’m In,” touch on the agitation rippling through communities and individuals, while “False River” decries a more specific issue: pipelines. “Life blood of the land, consort of our earth, pulse to the pull of moonrise, can you tally what it’s worth?” he sings against a locomotive rhythm that practically pulses with exigency. Trump, specifically, doesn’t pop up on the album, but his influence can be felt in the at-times brooding reflections which spur Cockburn’s latest songs.
The LP marks Cockburn’s 33rd and arrives seven years after his last effort, Small Source of Comfort. The time in between took his attention to other places, including fatherhood and his 2014 memoir, Rumours of Glory. It took contributing a song to the documentary Al Purdy Was Here (about the Canadian poet) to spark his songwriting once again. Cockburn has long pointed his weapons of choice — namely, his pen and his guitar — at issues impacting the world, and Bone on Bone makes clear that his song-based activism hasn’t eased any. If anything, he doubles down, impressing upon listeners the detrimental forces propelled by division, isolation, and more. Cockburn tapped Ruby Amanfu, Mary Gauthier, Brandon Robert Young, and even singers from the church he regularly attends — known on the album as the San Francisco Lighthouse chorus — to offset his dusky vocals and paint an inclusive picture of community, even while his song’s subject matter toed a more solitudinous line. His lyricism, as pointed and precise as ever, proves that the septuagenarian still has important messages to share, and will do exactly that — so long as his mind and breath and energy allow him. A new inductee to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, the timing couldn’t be more aligned.
It feels more important than ever to have messengers like you.
Thank you for saying that. It does feel like a time when we have to emphasize communication, because everything is so polarized. We’re all looking at slogans and talking in slogans all the time, but it seems really important to share an experience with each other.
Yeah, in keeping with that idea of slogans — even thinking about the way social media packages thought — how do you feel your songwriting has had to change to reach across the aisle, so to speak?
I don’t really have a good answer for that. It’s a legitimate question, but I feel I haven’t really changed my approach to songwriting. I think it’s a question of maintaining some sort of footing in reality. We all have our own idea of what reality is, but social media creates a false reality. I’m not very involved in social media, so I’m not the best person to be passing judgment on it. At the same time, I’m not involved with it because I don’t trust it, because I don’t like it. There’s a great usefulness to it, granted — it’s really great when you can communicate with people at a distance quickly, and if you have something sensible to communicate — but it doesn’t stop at that. For me, it’s a world of BS and I don’t really want to spend time in that world.
Sure. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “If there was a sensible message.”
It’s not very hard to find opinions being passed off as news that really are offensive, whatever your perspective. Most of the time you don’t learn anything, because you just get annoyed. That’s a problem, because it could be a forum for greater understanding.
You touch on a bit of that with “States I’m In,” and I love the title’s play on words: Noddings toward the division people may now feel as individuals and as a country. What’s the most significant message you think listeners need to hear today?
Well, I don’t think the song offers an answer, really, except a spiritual one. I didn’t design the album to have a particular theme, but there is that underlying theme that the spiritual world is one where we can actually meet — or where we need to go, whether we meet or not. It puts things in a perspective that is less prone to being blown this way and that by the winds coming out of various high-profile people. [Laughs]
“States I’m In” is a kind of capsulized dark night of the soul experience. The song unfolds with a sunset and it ends with dawn and, in the meantime, there’s all this stuff — it’s not all autobiographical, although the feelings are. I think the feelings that the song expresses are feelings a lot of us experience, so it has that application for somebody other than me. You can get swept away by all the stuff, but in the end, what’s essential is that relationship with the divine. That’s the whisper welling up from the depths and, if you can shut up long enough to listen for that whisper, it’s there.
Speaking about the album’s spirituality, the number 33 has a powerful religious and spiritual connotation. Does the fact that this is album number 33 hold any meaning for you?
That’s an interesting question, too. I hadn’t thought of that, so I guess the answer’s “no,” but maybe subliminally it did. The number that I did think of is the [song] “40 Years in the Wilderness,” and that’s more specific, both as a reference and in my own life.
And there’s also the fact that it’s been seven years between albums, and seven is a potent number, as well.
Yeah, I know, we’re getting all numerological here.
And I don’t necessarily mean to!
It’s not a belief system that I adhere to, particularly, but I do find it interesting when those things show up. There are certain years in my life … I mean, a year that adds up to four is almost never a good year for me, and almost all the other ones are. So what does that mean? Maybe it’s totally subjective or maybe it’s not.
Or, if you head into those particular years with that mindset, you create your own issues.
Right, it’s impossible. I can never stand back far enough to be sure I’m not doing that. I think all of those kinds of esoteric ways of trying to understand things — whether it’s numerology or the tarot or astrology — they all have some functionality. They all work in some way. But what I’ve thought over the years is that they seem to operate as enhancements to your own sense of contact to the bigger reality, so it doesn’t really matter which one you use, if it helps you. If you have a sensitivity to that kind of listening state, those things help you listen, and they might help you listen — in the case of the tarot — to somebody else’s condition.
Once anything becomes a belief system that can be passed on and you can train people in it and so on, it’s kind of like training musician. I haven’t been to Berklee in some time, and really appreciated it as a great school, and it still is, but the problem with that and the problem with any system of education is, you teach people to be the same as each other. The geniuses will transcend that; they’ll learn all the stuff and then they’ll go on and be themselves. But the people that are not geniuses will end up being very good at what they do but sounding like each other. And I think the same thing applies to spiritual training: You can learn all that stuff and it doesn’t make you gifted.
It doesn’t, and I wonder how much “genius” here applies to a sense of bravery.
Yeah, maybe so, whether it’s bravery or necessity. Some people are brave and step out in spite of their surroundings or themselves, and others of us just luck into it. This is what I know how to do, and I kind of care what people think about it, but I’m not going to let their opinions stop me.
Right, and then speaking of another individual in that sense, your song “3 Al Purdys” … what is it about his use of language that holds such magic for you?
He had great insight for one thing — into people and the historical place of things. And, as a young poet, he’s kind of raw and brash and very Canadian, very colloquial, very rough around the edges, but interesting as all get-out. And then, as he gets older, as the poems become more recent, he becomes more speculative and thoughtful and more international, also. His thought processes are beautifully articulated and communicable, therefore.
He’s got some really visceral introspection’s.
His hit is the poem where he’s in a bar in Ontario, and he tries to get somebody to buy him a beer in exchange for a poem and it doesn’t work, and he reflects on what poetry is really worth, when it won’t even buy you a beer. And of course that’s the side of Al Purdy that my song is thinking of. Everybody who knows Al Purdy knows that poem, and it’s so archetypically Canadian. You kind of had to be there to appreciate it. I don’t know how it would seem to somebody from the U.S. Nonetheless, it captures some aspect of Ontario culture thoroughly. He’s basically my dad’s generation, and he spent the ‘30s riding the rails back and forth across Canada, looking for work like everybody else. Both of the spoken word sections in the song are excerpts from his poetry.
Congratulations, by the way, on being inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. I know the country has honored you in a few different ways, but what did it mean to be recognized for your songwriting?
It means people are listening. It’s gratifying and humbling, and I’m very grateful for it. An award is a thing, an event, and the event has its own meaning, and it had meaning. It was nice to be part of it, and then, you know, I have a thing to take home and put somewhere that I’ll have to dust. [Laughs]
What a way to look at it!
But what it represents, like I said, is that people are paying attention, and an artist can’t ask for anything more.
Very true. Well, my last question is admittedly silly. You’ve been called the “Canadian Bob Dylan,” so who would you say is the American Bruce Cockburn?
Um, I’d like it to be Tom Waits, but …
Alright, let’s just make that claim!
I don’t think anybody’s anybody except themselves, but I remember way back in the day being described in more than one review of a show as the Canadian John Denver, and the only similarity is that we both have round glasses. It’s such a cheap way to try to describe something. It’d be better to describe me as not the next Canadian this or that: He’s not the Canadian Bob Dylan. He’s not the next Leonard Cohen. He’s not the next Joni Mitchell. If you do enough of those, you can kind of get to what the person might be. If I had to be some American singer/songwriter, Tom Waits would be high on my list. Lucinda Williams would be high on my list, too. And Ani DiFranco is a terrific songwriter and closer, in a certain sense, to what I do. I forget where it was, but I was described as Ani DiFranco’s uncle.
It’s better than being described as “the next Canadian something or other.” It was actually kind of an honor, but these comparisons … if they’re not amusing, then they’re sort of not very nice.
Credit: The Bluegrass Situation – Counsel of Elders: Bruce Cockburn on Serving as Messenger By Amanda Wicks – Oct 20, 2017.
On Saturday September 23. 2017 Bruce Cockburn along with Neil Young, the group Beau Dommage, and Stéphane Venne were inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Scroll to the end for Bruce’s acceptance speech in his own hand.
(The following is from Billboard article by Karen Bliss)
The impact of four life-changing Canadian songwriters — Neil Young, Bruce Cockburn, the group Beau Dommage, and Stéphane Venne — was the common thread at the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (CSHF) induction ceremony over the weekend at Toronto’s Massey Hall, where professional musicians of all ages — and one former astronaut — expressed their respect and gratitude for their music.
This was the first induction ceremony in six years. The CSHF was created by music publisher Frank Davies in 1998; the inaugural gala was held in 2003 with six more to follow. The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers (SOCAN) purchased it in December 2011 and has been working to update the brand and educate the public about its inductees and mandate.
The historic Massey Hall, which opened in 1894, was the perfect setting for such esteemed honorees. Both Young and Cockburn have recorded live albums there and the late Jonathan Demme’s final doc on the folk-rocker, 2011’s Neil Young Journeys, culminates in two performances at Massey. It’s a venue many Toronto artists dream of headlining — our Carnegie Hall.
The four-hour show, which ran an hour over schedule, was a bilingual affair, giving equal time to the two Quebecois legends, even if, truth be told, many of the Anglophones in the audience found their own grade-school French studies proved absolutely useless. Each artist was feted with covers of their songs and stories about their influence, plus the customary tribute video.
The evening began with an cappella group Eh440 singing and beat-boxing Cockburn’s “Lovers In A Dangerous Time” from the back of the hall, down the aisle to the stage, right past the songwriter himself, as well as Neil Young with “true love” Daryl Hannah; Buffy Sainte-Marie sitting next to Randy Bachman; Venne, and members of Beau Dommage.
(Excerpt from David Friend’s article on CTVnews.ca)
A performance of Cockburn’s “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” by Blackie and the Rodeo Kings added another notch to the political tone of the event. Lisa LeBlanc joined them for Wondering Where the Lions Are.
It was followed by Buffy Sainte-Marie who offered her perspective on the songwriter’s career as she introduced him onto the stage.
“Bruce is an agitator, an activist, a protester,” she said.
He writes “words that move the needle of public opinion” and that “shine the light on injustices,” Sainte-Marie added.
And here is Bruce’s handwritten speech:Bruce Cockburn - Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame speech 2017 -pdf
To view above speech in standard pdf viewer click here.
Here’s the text version:
Thank you, Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Thank you SOCAN.
I spend so much time playing and singing my own songs — it’s very interesting, very moving, to hear them performed by others! And on an occasion like this — to be so honored in the company of these wonderful artists.
I’ve been at my craft for a long time — long enough that the beginning seems like yesterday.
Under the influence of those who were a bit quicker on the draw than me, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Buffy Sainte-Marie among others, I was seduced away from the pursuit of an education in jazz composition by songs…creations that combined music with something like poetry.
Though I didn’t understand it at the time, I came to realize that art, including the art of songwriting, is about sharing the human experience. Music is a spiritual bonding agent, a means of sharing deep feelings of all times. When you add words, the sharing becomes pointed — specific. A song can offer inspiration, distraction, solace, solidarity – a sense that we are not alone in our feelings. The human ability to create songs is precious and vital. We have always done it and I think we always will — the artifice of machines (and ISIS) not withstanding.
I’m immensely grateful to have been allowed to live a life centered around songwriting. And immensely grateful for the attention my efforts have received. To be able to do this and make a living at it is truly a great gift.
Re “Making a living at it,” I want to offer a word of thanks to Bernie Finkelstein, my friend and long-time manager, from whose asute ears and talent for strategizing I have benefited greatly. So too, all the excellent producers and musicians I have worked with, some of whom are here tonight, who have helped give my raw material the power to appeal to the world at large.
In a world increasingly defined by its fakery, we’ve together pulled off the greatest trick ever — we spread truth.
Bruce was recently interviewed on the tv program The Agenda with Steve Paikin.
Click through to watch.
Sep 12, 2017
From his humble beginnings on a farm near Pembroke Ontario,[this is an incorrect statement-and is discussed in the interview] to the streets of San Francisco, Bruce Cockburn’s music has provided an acoustic backdrop to generations of Canadians. He joins Steve Paikin to discuss his career, activism, Donald Trump, and latest album, “Bone On Bone.”
Catching Up With Bruce Cockburn;
by Brittney McKenna – No Depression
8 September 2017 – Bruce Cockburn is one of Canada’s most beloved songwriters, earning 12 Juno Awards and spots in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame over the course of his storied career, which spans nearly five decades.
It’s been six years since Cockburn released a studio album — 2011’s Small Source of Comfort — but the songwriter announced earlier this year his plans to release a 33rd LP, Bone on Bone. The new collection of songs, produced by Colin Linden, touches on many subjects close to Cockburn’s heart, including the poet Al Purdy, life in Trump’s America, and the complexities of personal spirituality.
7 September 2017 – by Andrea Warner – CBCMusic
“Take up your load, run south to the road,
Turn to the setting sun,
Sun going down, got to cover some ground,
Before everything comes undone.”
The gentle lilt of his guitar, that familiar voice a little more road-worn but still warm and wise, and those words. This is his first studio album in seven years, but few lyricists help us to know ourselves more deeply than award-winning singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn.
Above is the chorus from “40 Years in the Wilderness,” the third track off of Cockburn’s new record, Bone On Bone. CBC Music has the advance stream playing a week ahead of its Sept. 15 release. Order the album here and get a list of his Canadian tour dates here.
A week after Bone On Bone drops, Cockburn will be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame on Sept. 23 in Toronto, alongside Beau Dommage, Stéphane Venne and Neil Young. It’s a fitting honour for Cockburn, who, over the course of almost five decades in the music industry, has penned some of the most thoughtful and enduring folk and pop songs of the 20th and 21st centuries, including his U.S. breakthrough, “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” and the gorgeous “Lovers in a Dangerous Time.”
But after writing his 2014 memoir, Rumours of Glory, Cockburn wasn’t sure if he’d ever be able to write anything ever again.
“I didn’t write any songs until after the book was published because all my creative energy had gone into three years of writing it,” Cockburn said in a press release. “There was simply nothing left to write songs with. As soon as the book was put to bed, I started asking myself whether I was ever going to be a songwriter again.”
Three years later, Bone On Bone is here.
Cockburn spoke with CBC Music over the phone from his home in San Francisco about writer’s block, finding his faith again and how the late Canadian poet Al Purdy helped kick start the making of Bone On Bone, his 33rd album.
The fifth song on the record is called “3 Al Purdys” and I love the fact that he was an entry point for you after your break with songwriting. What was your relationship to him and his poetry?
I actually didn’t have any relationship with him or his poetry really, until the invitation came to contribute to the film [Al Purdy Was Here]. I was aware of him certainly and I was aware of his reputation but I hadn’t really gotten into his stuff at all. When the prospect of doing something for the documentary was raised I went out and got his collected works and I was completely blown away and amazed that I’d missed it all those years. And regretful, because it would have been great to have met him, or at least to sort of been able to track the development of his work over the years. You can kind of do that looking at the book as a retrospective, but he really was an incredible poet and so Canadian. I can’t think of anyone other than Stompin’ Tom Connors who so exemplified a certain aspect of Canadian culture.
And there’s so much pathos and humour in his work.
When I got asked to write a song, I had not written anything for a while. All the time I was writing my memoir and I couldn’t really get into the concept of songwriting because all the creative energy was going to the book. I was kind of wondering, “Am I going to write songs again?” The invitation came to do this and it was like, “OK, this will be the kickstarter.” I immediately thought of this image of this homeless guy who comes across as being penniless for his art. I pictured him kind of in the wind, coattails blowing and he’s ranting on the street. Well, not really ranting, he’s reciting Al Purdy’s poetry, he’s obsessed with his poetry. The chorus is “I’ll give you three Al Purdys for a 20-dollar bill,” I think Purdy would’ve approved of that, probably.
I think so too.
Basically the guy’s like, “You look at me, you see a homeless bum, you think I’m ranting. But you’ve got to pay attention to this, ’cause you can spit on the prophet, but pay attention to the word.”
I think a lot about those themes, and they’re in your work, too, the obligation of humanity to see a little bit deeper than we sometimes want to.
I agree with you. When you encounter the surface of something, there’s a massive depth behind it. Allow for that even if you don’t know what’s in there, so that you have the chance to discover more. It’s important to kind of approach everything in life like that.
Can we talk a little bit about ‘Forty Years in the Wilderness’? I think this is one of the most extraordinary songs I’ve heard this year and I’d love to know a little bit about what went into writing it.
I was in church one day and the sermon was about Jesus descending from heaven and he realizes who he is, or what his mission is let’s say. One of the gospels basically describes him as kind of jumping up and running off into the desert. He spends 40 days in the desert and in the story he’s tempted by and being offered all sorts of great worldly things, which he rejects. This [sermon] happened right about the time, not to the date, but more or less 40 years since I’m a churchgoer. And I’m back in church and I’m hearing this, and I’m thinking, well — it’s not quite correct to say why, but a large part of me not being a churchgoer was learning about the world.
It hit me at the end of the ’70s, way back when, that if I was going to love my neighbour as myself I’d better find out who my neighbour was. I embraced urban life at that point, which previously I’d been very suspicious of, and I made a point of kind of socializing myself in a very different way from how I had been before that point. And over time, I mean, didn’t just happen overnight, but ah, you know, I had a lot of adventures. I met a lot of great people and some not-so-great people and I travelled to some amazing places and I pretty much fell away from going to church, although I did not fall away from my belief in God and my desire for a relationship with God.
My wife who was going through her own spiritual searching was kind of steered toward this particular church [in San Francisco] and had gone pretty regularly for several months before she managed to convince me to actually go and I went and I completely fell in love with the place — well, not with the place but with the people and the spirit that’s there.
Your guitar playing is really the centrepiece for so much of the record and I was really curious about how the guitar has helped shape you as a storyteller over the years. It seems like it’s an extension of your storytelling.
I almost think of it the other way around. I’m a songwriter because I wanted to be a guitar player. I started off wanting to play rock and roll guitar, under the influence of Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent and Elvis. I never did end up playing that music, per se, but that got me wanting to play the guitar and, you know, over the years, the earliest years of playing I began to imagine myself being in the jazz world and playing, you know, composing music mainly, but playing on the guitar. I never got the chops together to be a jazz musician.
Well the reason I didn’t is that I felt after I got to know it more, that it wasn’t really where I was being invited to go. I was interested in all kinds of other music as well by the time this kind of turning point, decision-making wise. I was heavily under the influence of Bob Dylan and singer-songwriters/folk music of the ’60s. My mother said, “Well, you’re gonna have to sing, you know. Play guitar and sing too.” And I’m going, “Nah, no way, I’m not singing.” She had a lot to do with convincing me that that singing was something I could pull off, even though I was terrified of doing it.
Once I was learning folk songs and blues tunes, it wasn’t a very big step to start writing songs. It was the guitar that started it all. And I’ve always loved the instrument and loved making music on the instrument, whether there was a song to be sung or not, you know?