April 15 2015 – In our current issue, Andy Whitman interviews legendary Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn, who is this year’s recipient of Image’s Levertov Award and will play a live concert on April 23, 2015 at 8:00 p.m. Read the full interview in issue 84.
Image: The late seventies and early eighties were a time of profound change for you. Looking back on that transformation, what advice would this newly enlightened Bruce Cockburn offer to the old Bruce Cockburn? And, turning it around, what cautions would the old Bruce Cockburn offer to the new Bruce Cockburn?
BC: The new Bruce Cockburn would say, “Lighten up,” and the old Bruce Cockburn would say, “How?” That’s the gist of the inner battle that was taking place.
I had a conversation at one point with an artist in Toronto whose studio space we were using. We were shooting a video, I think. We were chatting, and he said something like, “Having fun is what it’s all about, after all.” And I just looked at him like, “What?” “Well, isn’t it?” he said. And this other guy with a heavy German accent said, “We’re supposed to be having fun.”
It had never occurred to me that anything was supposed to be about having fun, other than very specific things like watching a movie.
At the time, my conclusion was that this was a worldview that this guy had embraced. And my worldview was about duty. It was not about fun at all; it was about doing what you were supposed to do. If I stepped back from the idea of duty, from the perhaps neurotic or unduly Victorian element of it, for me, life was ultimately about doing the next appropriate thing. Whether I thought of it is as duty or embracing the possibilities, appropriateness had a lot to do with it.
But being hung up on duty can interfere with your appreciation of the appropriateness of something that comes up spontaneously, and that would be a caution that the new Bruce would offer the old Bruce. The old Bruce would say, “It’s all about doing what you’re supposed to do. There’s a job to be done, and the job is to be the right kind of human being. People who have no moral base, or who don’t have one that I can see easily, are wasting their energy and time and pissing away their God-given talents and souls on having fun.” The new Bruce would say, “Yeah, but they’ve got something you don’t. They’re open to others and they can hear each other, and you’re not, and you can’t.”