The National Music Centre in Calgary has been the physical home of three Canadian Music Halls of Fame—the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame Collection—since opening in 2016. Members of all three Halls of Fame have visited their plaques, such as Sarah McLachlan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Tom Cochrane, Burton Cummings, Bob Ezrin, Randy Bachman and The Tragically Hip, to name a few.
January 22, 2018 – Bruce Cockburn is not in the habit of listening to his old songs. But he did find a unique way to review his canon of music a few years back.
It was when he drove his daughter to preschool in San Francisco. He became his own captive audience.
“She would always insist on hearing my stuff in the car,” said Cockburn, talking to media on Sunday evening at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre. “‘Can we put on your music in the car?’ Every day this would repeat itself. ‘Do we have to? Can I not play somebody else?’ Nope. So I’d play me. It’s like looking at an album of snapshots in a way. It brings back all the feelings. Not all of the details, some of those are lost to the murk of time. But, certainly, that brings back the feelings that went into those songs.”
Cockburn was in a bit of a reflective mood Sunday evening at the National Music Centre, where he participated in the plaque ceremony held in honour of his 2017 induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. It found him placing his plaque on the wall, which already holds the names of artists such as Leonard Cohen, Hank Snow, Joni Mitchell and Wilf Carter.
Now housed at the National Music Centre alongside the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, the organization is overseen by the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN). The honour seems long overdue. Somehow SOCAN managed to find more than 50 songsmiths to induct before honouring Cockburn — a songwriter’s songwriter who wrote If I Had a Rocket Launcher and Lovers in a Dangerous Time — this year, alongside Neil Young, Beau Dommage and Stéphane Venne.
But he was gracious and had high praise for his fellow songwriters from the Great White North.
“I think Canada punches well above its weight in terms of the quality of songwriting that comes out of this country relative to the size of the population,” said Cockburn, who will play the Jack Singer Concert Hall on Tuesday night. “When you think how much we were influenced by English pop music in the ’60s and American pop music forever, there’s a lot of American pop music that is actually Canadian. And a lot of it that is not pop but has more serious intent than what often gets called pop music comes from here and I’m proud of that.”
It’s a small battered notebook, filled with scribbled lines, multiple revisions and the frayed edge of a page that has been mysteriously ripped out.
It also represents the inner workings of one of Canada’s most beloved songwriters and the early glimmers of one of his most beloved songs. Bruce Cockburn’s handwritten lyrics for Lovers in a Dangerous Time are currently on display as part of The National Music Centre’s temporary exhibit in Studio Bell to honour Cockburn’s 2017 induction into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“You can see things have been scratched out and ideas are written around,” says Adam Fox, director of programs for the National Music Centre. “You can almost get a sense of their compositional method; just how they are crossing things out and putting things in different order.”
The notebook, which also includes handwritten lyrics for Cockburn’s politically charged hit If I Had a Rocket Launcher, is on display, as is his lyrics from 1988s If A Tree Falls. They are both on loan from McMaster University, where many of the songwriter’s archives have been housed since he donated them in 2013.
The temporary exhibit, which will be on display on the fifth floor of Studio Bell until the fall of 2018, celebrates a new batch of inductees to the Canadian Songwriter’s Hall of Fame and the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame. Both now have a physical home at the National Music Centre, as does the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.