Bruce Cockburn - March 2019 - Firehouse SF - keebler
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Bruce Cockburn says Canadians need to face up to their country’s treatment of Indigenous people

Bruce Cockburn on Day 6 – podcast/interview
by Brent Bambury – CBC radio

‘To think that we can absolve ourselves of having exercised cultural genocide is completely foolish’

15 June 2019 – Bruce Cockburn has been writing songs about conflicts in the lives of Canada’s Indigenous people for decades and he has no quarrel with the use of the word genocide.

“I don’t have any problem allowing that word to be applied to the interaction between people of European extraction and people of native extraction in North America,” Cockburn said on Day 6.

Bruce Cockburn March 2019 photo Daniel Keebler

The National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) sharply divided the country when it declared the oppression of Indigenous people to be “persistent and deliberate” and concluded it was genocide. Cockburn agrees with the conclusion.

“Whether it was intentional or not, and at times it certainly has been, the effect has been to destroy a culture,” he said.

Canada’s legacy media rejected the claim of genocide and so did some prominent Canadians. For them, Cockburn doesn’t hide his contempt.

“To think that we as Canadians can absolve ourselves of having exercised or attempted cultural genocide is completely foolish,” he said.

Bruce Cockburn has never been one to suffer fools.
‘A sense of outrage’

There’s a lot going on in Bruce Cockburn’s music and lyrics. His songs are too complex to be merely polemical. But when his anger flashes, you notice.

In his song Gavin’s Woodpile, he zeroes in on a deadly bureaucracy:
Some government gambler with his mouth full of steak
Saying, “If you can’t eat the fish, fish in some other lake.
To watch a people die — it is no new thing.

Cockburn is writing about mercury poisoning, a deadly blight linked to industrial contamination that’s afflicted some First Nations and their land for half a century. He wrote Gavin’s Woodpile in 1975.

“At the time, the mercury poisoning was not widely known,” Cockburn said. “I mean, it still isn’t.”

“But it was about their bones falling apart and their teeth falling out and I mean … mercury poisoning is a terrible affliction. And the government was willing to do absolutely nothing about it. That made me feel a sense of outrage and that ended up in the song.”
A global voice

That theme of oppression magnified by official indifference is present throughout his songbook in Call It Democracy, If a Tree Falls and, famously, in If I Had a Rocket Launcher, a hit for Cockburn in 1985.

How many kids they’ve murdered, only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher, I’d make somebody pay.

This song, one of Cockburn’s best known, was written after he met Guatemalan refugees who’d taken fire from their own government. It marked the first of his many visits to war zones.

“It seems possible to view the genocide against Mayan people as an extension of the historic U.S. policies of extermination at home against Native Americans,” Cockburn wrote in his memoir, Rumours of Glory.

Cockburn will release his latest record, Crowing Ignites, in September. (True North Records)

One of the criticisms against the MMIWG’s use of the word genocide is the idea that it might impede Canada’s moral responsibility to condemn foreign atrocities; that voices like Cockburn’s could be dismissed for denouncing foreign injustices while Canada’s record on Indigenous issues goes unaddressed.

Has he ever been called a hypocrite?

“In fact, no,” Cockburn said. “No one ever did, because I think people recognize that this happens all over the place.”

“To me, when I hear somebody say things like that, it sounds like BS anyway. It sounds like they’re just making excuses for wanting to keep the status quo going without causing too much of a disturbance.”

“And that stinks of hypocrisy to me.”
A reckoning for Christians

In his 2014 memoir, Cockburn writes, “When Jesus came into my life in 1974, he also made it into the music.” But there’s ambivalence in his song Red Brother, Red Sister as Cockburn balances his faith against the legacy of Christian missions on Canada’s Indigenous people.

Went to a pow wow, red brother
Felt the people’s love, joy flow around
It left me crying just thinking about it
How they used my saviour’s name to keep you down.

Cockburn is thoughtful, weighing the particular responsibility Christians face reconciling with the damage inflicted primarily, but not exclusively, through residential schools.

“If a person identifies themselves as a Christian, it seems to me [that] job number one is to love everybody. That’s a challenging thing. It’s not simple,” he said.

Cockburn says the obvious solution — ending the disappearances and slaughter of Indigenous women; stopping a genocide — is a shared responsibility.

“That would be job one,” he said. “I think right before anything else, before we get all hung up quibbling over what word is the best word to apply to all these things, I mean let’s fix the frigging problem.”
‘A low grade fever’

Cockburn ends his 1990 song Indian Wars with a question: “Will there never be an end to the Indian wars?”

And how does he answer that question today?

“Well there’s always reason to hope,” he said. “But I think it’s an ongoing thing.”

“And you know, it’s like having a low-grade fever, like our whole culture has this low-grade fever that affects everybody, even though we may not be very aware of it from day to day. Some people that affects much more directly and much worse,” he said.

“We have to be aware of that. We have to be sympathetic and then try and address these things.”

Bruce Cockburn’s 34th album, Crowing Ignites, will be released in September on True North Records.

~from Day 6 – CBC radio – To hear the full interview with Bruce Cockburn, download our podcast or click ‘Listen’.

The date of the interview was June 12, 2019.

CBC Radio · Posted: Jun 14, 2019 6:53 PM ET | Last Updated: June 15


Crowing Ignites – Bruce’s 34th album – all instrumental

Bruce Cockburn’s 34th album
Crowing Ignites
True North Records
Release date: September 20, 2019

Listen to / share “Blind Willie” from Crowing Ignites and pre-order here.

In 2005, Bruce Cockburn released Speechless, a collection of instrumental tracks that shone the spotlight on the singer-songwriter’s exceptional acoustic guitar playing. The album earned Cockburn a Canadian Folk Music Award for Best Instrumentalist and underscored his stature as one of the world’s premier pickers.

Bruce Cockburn's Crowing Ignites album cover

Already, The New York Times had credited Cockburn with having “the hardest-working right thumb in show business,” adding that he “materializes chords and modal filigrees while his thumb provides the music’s pulse and its foundation—at once a deep Celtic drone and the throb of a vigilant conscience.” Acoustic Guitar magazine was similarly laudatory in citing Cockburn’s guitar prowess, placing him in the prestigious company of legends like Andrés Segovia. Bill Frisell, Django Reinhardt and Mississippi John Hurt.

Now, with the intriguingly titled Crowing Ignites, Cockburn has released another dazzling instrumental album that will further cement his reputation as both an exceptional composer and a picker with few peers. Unlike Speechless, which included mostly previously recorded tracks, the latest album—Cockburn’s 34th—features 11 brand new compositions. Although there’s not a single word spoken or sung, it’s as eloquent and expressive as any of the Canadian Hall of Famer’s lyric-laden albums. As his long-time producer, Colin Linden, puts it: “It’s amazing how much Bruce can say without saying anything.”

The album’s title is a literal translation of the Latin motto “Accendit Cantu” featured on the Cockburn family crest. Although a little puzzling, Cockburn liked the feeling it conveyed: “Energetic, blunt, Scottish as can be.” The album’s other nod to Cockburn’s Scottish heritage is heard on “Pibroch: The Wind in the Valley,” in which his guitar’s droning bass strings and melodic grace notes sound eerily like a Highland bagpipe. “I’ve always loved pibroch, or classic bagpipe music,” says Cockburn. “It seems to be in my blood. Makes me want to sip whisky out of a sea shell on some rocky headland!”

While Cockburn reconnecting with his Gaelic roots is one of Crowing Ignites’ more surprising elements, there’s plenty else that will delight followers of his adventurous pursuits. Says Linden, who’s been a fan of Cockburn’s for 49 years, has produced 10 of his albums and played on the two before that: “Bruce is always trying new things, and I continue to be fascinated by where he goes musically.”

The album is rich in styles from folk and blues to jazz, all genres Cockburn has previously explored. But there are also deepening excursions into what might be called free-form world music. The hypnotic, kalimba-laden “Seven Daggers” and the trance-inducing “Bells of Gethsemane,” full of Tibetan cymbals, chimes and singing bowls, are highly atmospheric dreamscapes that showcase Cockburn’s world of wonders—and his improvisational gifts on both 12-string and baritone guitars. Each track was wholly created in the makeshift studio he and Linden put together in a converted fire station in Cockburn’s San Francisco neighbourhood.

Singing bowls, Cockburn explains, are an endless source of fascination to him, dating back to a trip he took to Kathmandu, as seen in the documentary Return to Nepal. There, Cockburn stumbled on a man selling the small inverted bells sometimes used in Buddhist religious practices and became instantly captivated by their vibrational power. “I had no particular attraction to them as meditation tools or anything,” says Cockburn. “I just thought they had a beautiful sound.” After buying half a dozen in Kathmandu and more since, he now has a sizeable collection.

Bruce Cockburn - March2019 - recording - photo Daniel Keelber

Two tracks on Crowing Ignites had their origins elsewhere. “The Groan,” a bluesy piece with guitar, mandolin and some collective handclapping from a group that includes Cockburn’s seven-year-old daughter, Iona, was something Cockburn composed for a Les Stroud documentary about the aftermath of a school shooting and the healing power of nature. And Cockburn wrote the jazz-tinged “The Mt. Lefroy Waltz” for the Group of Seven Guitar Project on an instrument inspired by artist Lawren Harris and custom-made by luthier Linda Manzer. It was originally recorded, with cornet player Ron Miles, bassist Roberto Occhipinti and drummer Gary Craig, for Cockburn’s 2017 album Bone on Bone, but not released until now.

Cockburn doesn’t set out with any particular agenda when composing an instrumental. “It’s more about coming up with an interesting piece,” he says. “Who knows what triggers it—the mood of the day or a dream from the night before. Often the pieces are the result of sitting practicing or fooling around on the guitar. When I find something I like, I work it into a full piece.”

“Bardo Rush,” with its urgent, driving rhythm, came after one such dream, while the contemplative “Easter” and the mournful “April in Memphis” were composed on Easter Sunday and Martin Luther Day respectively. “Blind Willie,” named for one of Cockburn’s blues heroes, Blind Willie Johnson, features a fiery guitar and dobro exchange with Linden (Cockburn has previously recorded Johnson’s “Soul of a Man” on Nothing But a Burning Light). And the idea for the sprightly “Sweetness and Light,” featuring some of Cockburn’s best fingerpicking, developed quickly and its title, he says, became immediately obvious.

Meanwhile, “Angels in the Half Light” is steeped in dark and light colors and conveys ominous shades as well as feelings of hopefulness, seemingly touching on both spiritual and political concerns—hallmarks of Cockburn from day one. “It’s hard for me to imagine what people’s response is going to be to these pieces,” he says. “It’s different from songs with lyrics, where you hope listeners will understand, intellectually and emotionally, what you’re trying to convey. With instrumental stuff, that specificity isn’t there and the meaning is up for grabs. But I’m glad if people find a message in the music.”

More than 40 years since he embarked on his singer-songwriter career, Cockburn continues pushing himself to create—and winning accolades in the process. Most recently, the Order of Canada recipient earned a 2018 Juno Award for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year, for Bone on Bone, received a Lifetime Achievement Award from SOCAN, the Peoples’ Voice Award from Folk Alliance International and was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2017. Cockburn, who released his memoir, Rumours of Glory, and its similarly titled companion box set the same year, shows no sign of stopping. As his producer-friend Linden says: “Like the great blues players he admires, Bruce just gets better with age.”

~ True North Records. Photo Daniel Keebler. Cover art Michael Wrycraft.



Songs at the Center – Master Series Episode

Songs at the Center - Master Series Episode

10 June 2019 – Bruce taped a wonderful show on 24 October 2018 while in Cleveland for an American Public Television show called Songs at the Center.

It was taped at the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewwod, Ohio. He played three songs: Forty Years in the Wilderness, If I had a Rocket Launcher and The Gift. The program is 27 minutes long and includes interview segments by Eric Gnezda.

You can view the episode here.

With thanks to Bernie Finkelstein and Daniel Keebler.

Bruce Cockburn - Songs at the Center


Recording Celebration

On Sunday March 17 Bruce started recording his latest instrumental album in San Francisco with Colin Linden producing.

This past week, April 17, they finished the production at Colin’s studio in Nashville.

Celebration !!

Bruce Cockburn & Colin Linden - San Francisco - 22mar19 - photo - Keebler
Bruce Cockburn & Colin Linden – San Francisco – 22mar19 – photo – Keebler

An all new instrumental album, Crowing Ignites, is completed with tentative release date in September 2019.

Bernie Finkelstein - Bruce Cockburn - Colin Linden - 17april2019 - Nashville
Bernie Finkelstein – Bruce Cockburn – Colin Linden – 17april2019 – Nashville

Rise Up – Cockburn highlights series of events commemorating 1919 strike

Cockburn highlights series of events commemorating 1919 strike
by Scott Billeck

Rise UP

A Canadian music legend is among several artists who will headline a free concert to help commemorate the centennial one of the country’s largest and most influential labour movements.
Rise Up Smaller Poster

For 40 years, Bruce Cockburn has been writing and signing about the human experience. In June, the multi-time Juno Award winner and member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame will join Grammy winner and feminist icon Ani DiFranco along with several others for Rise Up 100: Songs for the Next Century Concert, one of four events being put on by Manitoba’s unions to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

“We want to welcome people of all generations, all backgrounds, all abilities — everybody in our city — to join us and celebrate the Winnipeg General Strike together, with music, as a community,” said Winnipeg Folk Festival executive director Lynne Skromeda at a launch event on Tuesday. “Folk music has long been tied to the labour movement, advocating for social justice and providing a sense of connection to one another through divisive times, and we need this connection now more than ever.”

The free concert will take place in Old Market Square on June 8 between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m.

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