July 4, 2017
Rock ‘n’ roll poets are few, but Bruce Cockburn is one of those rare legends of both instrument and word.
His songs have been quoted in books and movies and even in other songs (by U2 in God Part II). Cover versions of his songs have catapulted other acts to stardom (Barenaked Ladies). And his name has been evoked in global conversations for humanitarian efforts and social development.
Other stars like Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffett and Emmylou Harris are outspoken fans. Steve Bell, one of Canada’s most notable Christian performers, did an entire album of Cockburn covers.
Cockburn is, by any estimation, a master of the guitar. He plays a finger-style that was honed on jazz at the Berklee School of Music but the raw material was carved from the blues found around his Ottawa upbringing, then steeped in international concepts he picked up along the way. When Cockburn travels, he always brings a little something home.
He also has a healthy appetite for poetry, from which his abundant lyrics emerge.
He’s written some lightning bolts, the most famous of which is “gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight” found tucked in the folds of his classic hit Lovers In A Dangerous Time.
It is hardly alone. Sizzling metaphors and turns of phrase engorge the sails of his music career.
He told The Citizen that he studies master poets and reads it for fun as well, but he knows his place on that bookshelf.
“In a way, writing songs gives you an out. You can get away with – and sometimes you’re obliged to get away with – things that wouldn’t really stand up on the page very well, because they have to go with the music,” he said.
“I can say yeah, I’m a pretty good guitar player for a songwriter, or I’m a pretty good songwriter for a guitar player. It’s not really poetry, what I do, but it’s so much like it I hold myself to that standard.”