For those who don’t know Bruce Cockburn, he is a Canadian folk / folk-rock singer / songwriter / political activist, who between the years of 1970 and 2019 has released 36 albums.
There were a couple of things that first attracted me to him. He was someone who said he was a follower of Jesus, but had an expression of faith that looked very different to my right wing view of the world. I saw someone who had thought long and hard about what he believed, sought to learn more, and acted on what he had learned. While we were at very different places to begin with, I wanted to be open to what he had to say, and have come to understand many things through very similar eyes.
I had been asked by an Internet Monk reader, who shared my love for the music of Bruce Cockburn, to come up with a list of my top ten Bruce Cockburn songs. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be an impossible task.
Instead I decided we needed a list of the top ten Bruce Cockburn albums, and I thought that a dialogue between two devoted Cockburn fans would be the best way to come up with this list.
The first fan, Peter Heath, won a game of Jeopardy at his own wedding reception, where every category was related to an aspect of Bruce Cockburn and his music. He won despite the Quiz master having fed some of the answers to his competitors in advance, just to make the game a little more “fair.” The second fan is yours truly, Michael Bell, and in fact I created the game for the wedding reception. Peter and his wife Krista celebrated their 28th anniversary on Saturday so congratulations to you both!
Peter and I attended our first Cockburn concert together with friends when he came to our University in 1983. The music was absolutely transfixing, and I must admit I was in awe of Bruce’s silver parachute pants. I had heard some Cockburn music before, but after the concert I was totally hooked.
Let the dialogue begin…
Mike: Peter, give me your list of your top fifteen Cockburn albums. He has 25 studio albums, the rest are compilations or life albums, so let’s limit ourselves to the 25. I will do my own ranking and then combine into a composite score.
Peter: Yeah, that would be fun.
Narrator: Twenty minutes pass
Peter: Here you go!
Mike : Wait! I am still doing supper dishes! Ok I won’t look at your list until I have my list done.
I’ll put some random stuff here
To shift my list
Mike: Let’s also include a list of our favourite songs
Peter: Sounds like scope creep…
Narrator: Here is what they came up with along with their comments. They will discuss the first five albums this week, concluding with Peter’s favourite album.
Next week they will cover Albums 6 – 10, along with some honourable mentions.
Finally, in the third part of this series they will discuss some of the songs that are important to them that are important to them, but are on albums other than their top ten and honourable mentions. Mike might just attempt his own rendition of a song or two!
Number 1 – Humans – 1980
(Mike’s # 1, Peter’s #2)
Mike: Humans was an album born out of difficult circumstances. In 1980, his marriage with his wife Kitty ended, and you can hear the anguish and grittiness expressed throughout the album. Several of the songs lament the end of the relationship. From the cry of “What about the bond? What about the mystical unity?” to “Something jeweled slips away… laughing at the hands I hold out… Gutless arrogance and rage… Burn apart the best of tries.” We hear him as he tries to make amends in “Fascist Architecture of my own design.” He concludes with a lyric like “so I find out what the luxury of hate is… telephone snarls don’t touch me”.
And we observe his grey, raw world expressed in Grim Travellers and Tokyo. Tokyo, incidentally was just the second song I learned how to play on the guitar. (John Denver’s West Virginia was the first.)
Peter: While much of this album covers hard themes, there are scattered moments of hope. Rose Above The Sky may be the most amazing song Cockburn ever wrote, full of desperation and haunting and yet clinging to a faint hope. Rumours of Glory hunts for hope through pain, “You plunge your hand in, you draw it back scorched. Beneath it’s shining like gold.” Even More Not More points toward the good, like “more current more spark, more touch deep in the heart” while balancing that off against “not more thoughtless cruelty, not more being this lonely”.
Musically, Humans Cockburn sticks with his acoustic guitar but brings a very fine band along and starts walking away from any sort of folk music sensibility. In hindsight, it’s the last primarily acoustic album he did before leaping into electric guitars with The Trouble With Normal. Who would have guessed?
Some of the most meaningful songs for Peter or I:
- Rose above the Sky
- Grim Travellers
- You get bigger as you go.
- Rumours of Glory
- What About The Bond
- How I Spent My Fall Vacation
- Fascist Architecture
Number 2 – Stealing Fire – 1984
(Mike’s #2, Peter’s #4)
Peter: The pinnacle of Bruce’s commercial heyday, Stealing Fire sees him rocking out after a life changing trip to Central America. Lovers and Rocket Launcher are classics. Lovers includes maybe Cockburn greatest single turn of phrase (Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight). Rocket Launcher is 5 minutes of rage propelled by electric guitars (one hundred thousand wait to fall down from starvation, or some less humane fate). Frankly, I question the wisdom of recording a song so focused on murderous vengeance, but for all that, it does kick down the door on the suffering of warzone life, and reminds us to be skeptical of power brokers and political solutions. Fortunately, Cockburn shows us the beauty of that trip on Nicaragua and the rolling Dust & Diesel (I feel like I’m in the back of a pickup just from the music alone).
Mike: This album, along with Trouble with Normal, really introduces us to Bruce’s full throated political activism. Nicaragua was clearly pointing a finger at the U.S. policy and action in the area. Those who remember Oliver North and the Iran-Contra affair will remember how this story played out.
Lovers in a Dangerous time would be in my top ten list of Cockburn songs if I had one. I like to think of this song being about Christ and his Church, even if that may or may not have been Cockburn’s original meaning. It came out just as Music videos were starting to come into their own. Let’s just say it was a developing art, and Lovers went in a very unexpected direction.
Dust and Diesel did make it into the Jeopardy game with the cryptic clue “small particles with a petroleum product”.
- Lovers In A Dangerous Time
- Peggy’s Kitchen Wall
- Maybe The Poet
- If I Had a Rocket Launcher
- Dust and Diesel
Number 3 – Inner City Front – 1981
(Peter’s #3 Mike’s #5)
Peter: Bruce leaves the countryside and parks himself in urbania, grabs an electric guitar and a band, and gives us ICF. Cockburn paints a nuanced and detailed portrait of downtown life and invites us to tour it with him, especially with Pay Your Money and All’s Quiet. Radio Shoes is unique among his instrumentals as it showcases the whole band. Eventually tourism gives way to anger at governmental and individual savagery in Justice (Can you tell me how much bleeding it takes to fill a word with meaning?) and a challenge to live as light in Broken Wheel (Lord, spit on our eyes so we can see how to wake up from this tragedy). He closes by retreating to longing and observation in Loner (men’s faces, women’s bodies on the magazine stand), heightened by Hugh Marsh’s violin. And we are left wondering … whatever happened to Chucky?
Mike: What happened to Chucky? I want to know why he was being chased down the street! What did he do? A very visual song if there ever was one.
The song that has really stood out to me over the years is “The Strong One”. I just sent it to our HR manager as a show of support after she had to lay off a third of the company. It would be one of my go-to songs when I am feeling burdened.
You help your sisters, you help your old lovers,
you help me but who do you cry to?
‘Cause isn’t it hard
To be the one who gathers everybody’s tears
Isn’t it hard
To be the strong one.
- Broken Wheel
- All’s Quiet on the Inner City Front
- You Pay Your Money And You Take Your Chance
- The Strong One
- And We Dance
- Coldest Night Of The Year *on rerelease
- The Light Goes On Forever *on rerelease
- Radio Shoes
Peter: Do you realize that between us, we have chosen every single song on the album as a top song?
Mike: As you will see this won’t be the only album that this happens for!
Number 4 – In the Falling Dark – 1976
(Mike’s #4, Peter’s #5)
Mike: This album is significant in that it is the first album in the list that predates both of us. That is, it was recorded long before either of us had our first interaction with Bruce Cockburn. It is also interesting that these first four listed albums made it into both of our top five selections.
Peter: Meeting an artist and becoming interested in their work can really depend on when you meet them – where you are in your own life and tastes, where the artist is as well. Falling Dark would not have been an entry point for me into Cockburn’s world, but once I got interested in his music, I am glad I backtracked a bit and gave this album a listen.
Mike: Lord of the Starfields is probably the most meaningful song to me of all the Cockburn songs. The refrain, repeated over and over, “Oh Love that fires the sun, keep me burning” is what I cry out over and over when spiritually I am in a dry and desolate place.
Peter: Like Mike, I love that key line from Lord of the Starfields, as it opens up how I think about God’s love. The musical setting, especially the intro riff, sets you up for something positive without being formulaic.
Mike: Gavin’s Woodpile is still very apropos when we look at the high rates of incarceration of African-Americans in the U.S., and indigenous people in Canada:
I remember a bleak-eyed prisoner
In the Stoney Mountain life-suspension home
You drink and fight and damage someone
And they throw you away for some years of boredom
One year done and five more to go —
No job waiting so no parole
And over and over they tell you that you’re nothing…
Peter: Gavin’s Woodpile gives an acoustic voice to Cockburn’s (barely) simmering rage at injustice within the justice system. Other Canadian songwriters like Steve Bell have taken on this theme as well. We’d all benefit from listening to this song every now and then.
Mike: Steve’s album “My Dinner With Bruce” is my favourite Cockburn tribute album, and he gives you quite the insight into his own journey with Bruce. Plus he has a great preview of all the tracks of his cover songs!
The song incidentally was written at a penitentiary just south of Ottawa in 1975. I was invited into that same institution in 1987 to help lead the music for their Chaplaincy service. I don’t think I had made that connection until just now.
Festival of Friends is one of two songs by Cockburn that I would like played at my memorial service. (The other is Joy Will Find A Way from the album of the same name in our honourable mentions section). He wrote it for friends who had just lost a child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Like an imitation of a good thing past
These days of darkness surely will not last
Jesus was here and he’s coming again
To lead us to his festival of friends.
Peter: Silver Wheels foreshadows future travelogue songs that put the listener right in the car/train/truck with Bruce. His description of the outskirts of any Canadian city still rings true: “The skin around every city looks the same, miles of flat neon spelling well-known names: used trucks, dirty donuts, you you’re the one”. You’d think we’d have done something different in 45 years! And Vagabondage provides a wonderful twist to the “band on the road” song, putting all the lyrics in French (“Toujours en route, Nous sommes encore en route”). I miss the French songs that formed a consistent element of his earlier work.
The title track, In The Falling Dark, also taps into frustration, grasping the willfully earthbound ways we live:
Light pours from a million radiant lives,
off of kids and dogs and the hard shell husbands and wives.
All of that glory shining around and we’re all caught taking a dive.
And all the beasts of the hills around Shout, ‘such a waste,
don’t you know that from the first to the last we’re all one in the gift of grace.’
For those with eyes to see …
- Silver Wheels
- Gavin’s Woodpile
- Lord Of The Starfields
- Water Into Wine
- I’m Gonna Fly Someday
- Festival of Friends
- In The Falling Dark
Number 5 – Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws – 1979
(Peter’s #1, Mike’s #9.)
Peter: Wondering Where the Lions Are is a wonderful song, Cockburn’s first real entry on pop charts, bouncing along while mocking militarism and “pointing a finger at eternity”. But what I really love is the way all the other songs hold together thematically and musically. It’s like Bruce and the band got into one musical headspace and just ripped through all the songs at once. It’s something you don’t hear very often. And lyrical gems pop up throughout … Centred on silence, Counting on nothing, I saw you standing on the sea … Maybe to those who love is given sight, To pierce the wall of seeming night, And know it pure beyond all imagining … But everything you see’s not the way it seems, Tears can sing and joy shed tears. This album is a masterclass in writing and assembling an album as an album, not just a collection of songs.
Mike: For me, Creation Dream is wonderful imagery of Christ calling the world into being. And the guitar work that accompanies it is so full of energy, that it meshes beautifully with the lyrics.
Centred on silence
Counting on nothing
I saw you standing on the sea
And everything was
Dark except for
Sparks the wind struck from your hair
Sparks that turned to
Wings around you
Angel voices mixed with seabird cries
Fields of motion
Questions that contain their own replies…
- All of them … seriously
Peter: Mike, thanks for inviting me to join you on this journey. It’s great to relisten to these albums and recapture why they captured my imagination over the years.
Mike: Peter, thanks for your contribution. You made this post so much better than I could have created on my own.
So that is it for Part One. Five amazing albums. All very much worth purchasing and listening to. Stay tuned for the next two Mondays as we do some further exploring into the music and world of Bruce Cockburn. There are some real gems in our next list as well.
As always your thoughts and comments are welcome.
59 thoughts on “The Consummate Cockburn Collection – Part One”
See the album, “Nothing but a burning Light”….
From “Mighty Trucks of Midnight”, I listened to this album in February driving from Taos to Chama, wanted to hear the Kit Carson song……
I believe it’s a sin to try and make things last forever
Everything that exists in time runs out of time some day
Got to let go of the things that keep you tethered
Take your place with grace and then be on your way
He is simply, a modern prophet………
That’s probably where it came, from a friend who volunteered at a radio station. But I’m still baffled as to why they would give me a Bruce Cockburn radio demo tape, unless… unless… God pre-ordained this moment 34 years ago!!!
Was it from a friend who works or volunteers at a radio station? My wife has some “demo” CDs. She co-hosts a jazz show, and the station receives tons of free promotional CDs. Somehow I ended up with an autographed copy of a Peter, Paul and Mary CD (all three signatures!). But then, Noel (Paul) Stookey is one of the founders of WERU.
Looking at it more closley…
It has DEMO stamped on its side. Other than that, it looks legit, with some liner notes, etc. The front of it says, “Double Tape Value.” Lol. I wish I could remember who gave it to me….
Rick Ro, that is probably the very pirated cassette that I have. I recognize most of those song titles. I ripped it off a friend’s paid-for tape probably around 1988, and copied several other ones he had, until he started to feel guilty for depriving the artists of revenue. And he shamed me a bit, but I justified the act by saying that “if it had not been for my exposure to these artists I would not have gone on to buy their cassettes and CDs, or to recommend them to others.” Which is true. But we can justify anything.
There is a real variety from his best years on there. 35 songs on a double CD. Not sure how many are on the cassette. Persist through it I think the better stuff is towards the end.
i first meet bruce when we were both singer songwriters in the early 1970’s at folk festivals and he would camp out at my farm on the outskirts of winnipeg when on tour … i recall a day when he showed up to camp for a concert and i was mowing the lawn and lost the end of a finger in the mower blade … after a visit to a hospital for stitches and hard core pain medicine i went to his concert after which we went over to the lounge that my trio was playing at and did two sets of music with my guitarist and bass player … well after some time i decided to go into entertainment transportation and bruce decided to use my first tour bus on a north american tour … wow … i not only drove him and his amazing band and crew but also got to do spotlight duty most nights … i spent the next three decades as an entertainment coach driver including many stints as bruce’s driver … he remains one of my favourite songwriters along with john prine and leonard cohen and gordon lightfoot … i am so grateful to have had so much time shared with him and his music
–> “I wish I could be him…”
Why? What’s appealing about a guy who doesn’t give a rat’s nethers what you think? I mean, sure… people who like a-holes will admire ya, but no one else.
Agreed. That’s like Dennis Miller level humor.
Okay, so just a moment ago this little worm of a memory came wiggling up from the back of my mind… “Hey, you dodo, you HAVE a Bruce Cockburn album.”
So I went rummaging through my collection of cassette tapes (many of you remember those) and lo and behold, I found THIS buried in the pile!!!
Now… I have absolutely ZERO memory of having bought the thing. I’m pretty sure it was given to me by a Bruce Cockburn fan way back when I first became a Christian (1986). The only vague memory I have is enjoying “If I Had a Rocket Launcher,” but maybe as a new Christian the left-leaning and political slant turned me off… ??? I just don’t remember why I didn’t give him more of a shot, considering that I’m sure I would’ve appreciated him and his music more as time, and my walk with Jesus, morphed into what it is today.
I’ll give this a listen and take everyone’s recommendations above into account!
Stuart Adamson. Stevie Ray Vaughan. Jimi.
Or look up Humans or Dancing in the Dragons Jaws on YouTube.
Got your note, thanks so much! Definitely jump on board. It will be worth the effort!
Very well said. His mystic sensibility is particularly what draws me in (beside the fact that he is a special musician and lyricist)
I’ve seen Bruce in concert and number of times. Maybe the last time I saw him was here in Dallas. That night he was feeling particularly anti-American and it turned me off. I thought to myself, why bother coming here if you hate us so much. But of course he doesn’t hate every American. That would be absurd and he’s an intelligent human being. Nonetheless, I was pretty put out by it. Had I never embraced his music before that, I may not have ever listened to the guy again but there is just too much gold in there not to do a little mining.
EH Looney, AKA The Viking Manx, is Tradition-minded Catholic, an unapologetic monarchist, Trump supporter, believer in old-school masculinity, and if not a White supremacist, at least very pleased in having a White family of the Ozzie and Harriet stripe.
He’s a Texan and he doesn’t give a rat’s nethers what you think. I wish I could be him but I’m getting very long in tooth and can’t kick anybody’s ass anymore, and it’s getting harder to keep a decent sight picture.
Just noticed this is only “Part One” of The Consummate Cockburn Collection. Looking forward to more.
John Prine. Utah Phillips.
The more Mule described her the more I thought, “I think I know her.”
Great line by Mule: “Her church operates one on those damned liberal mainstream Protestant food banks. I really should send a check.”
Well – If I had to “buy” one album, or listen to it on Spotify, my first choice would be the compilation album “Waiting for a miracle”, and my second choice would be “Mummy dust”.
I miss David Bowie. I miss Leonard Cohen.
wind in the trees
shaking out the sunlight
making room for night
Then she’s done well. Many, on every side, cannot say as much.
Rick perhaps you simply need a way “in”. His catalog is daunting.
I always privilege the live gig so look for a mid 70s live set call CIRCLES IN THE STREAM. If you don’t favor that no need to venture further.
Yes but what else does youth have but self-righteousness since they neither posses a self nor know what righteousness is? Soon enough that fervor cools and they turn into their parents. Let us not be too joyful at this.
The Viking Manx eh. I enjoy the way your many allusions tax my mind. Occasionally I understand some of them. Not that one though. Please keep’em coming.
She’s grown into her views.
Not the same targets as these guys, either, I know.
“….he never said a mumbalin’ word….”
Oh, they are actually putting their money where their mouth is. Hardly a poser with nothing but easy words to commend her woke views. Maybe she even tithes, though perhaps not to institutions you would approve.
Maybe the woman was Mule’s old Sojourners friend.
I’ve stayed in touch with my friend. She’s a mother and a grandmother and a pastor in the ELCA with one of those awful rainbow stoles. She still pesters me.
But she is a legitimate complainer, as is her husband who spends three months a year in Central America filling teeth.
Her church operates one on those damned liberal mainstream Protestant food banks. I really should send a check. If only there wasn’t so much need here locally.
“They Call It Democracy” is one of Cockburn’s best, and it dovetails with “Rocket Launcher.” I love ’em both, but then, I subscribe to Sojourners…
Incidentally, I met a woman years ago who had been with some mission group in Nicaragua during the time of the Contras, I believe. She got mixed up getting people across a river escaping from US-supplied attack helicopters. I have her book here somewhere. It’s exactly the story in Rocket Launcher, but Cockburn told it in only about four minutes instead of a whole volume. One of the takeaway lines in the book was when the author was telling her story to US authorities stateside and corroborating what had been told by the Central Americans, she was told that the story was now at least “verifiable.” The poor brown brothers, apparently, were not to be believed.
Slightly off-topic, but Sting had a song about that time called “They Dance Alone” about the Pinochet regime in Chile and the disappeared people.
Be nice please:) (aimed at the comments on this thread.)
Should legitimate complainers wear a sign that says, “I TITHE”, so you can tell them from the posers? What about Bruce Cockburn, who is Christian and seems to hold to the same woke values as this friend you’re talking about? Where is his “I TITHE” sign?
Yet you seem to see his face as a sign of his authenticity, earned during a lifetime of hard experience. But how old was your friend back then? And how do you know she doesn’t now, after all these decades of life, have the same kind of authenticity on her face that you see on Cockburn’s? Here, I’ll answer for you: You don’t.
It signals something, but not virtue.
I understand what he’s trying to say all too well. I’d have different targets, though.
What irritates me is that I could take that kind of talk from a starving and trembling Francis or Seraphim, someone who has followed the logic of that kenotic walk to its final point. It would be a spur to greater ascetic struggle and selflessness.
To hear it from a well-fed. smart, pretty Midwestern girl who was not offering any particular solutions other than to dislike Republicans (and the lion’s share of Democrats) made me think that she had no other goal but to make me feel unhappy and guilt-ridden without improving the lot of those for which she professed to care so deeply either a jot or a tittle.
But then, that has been the goal of Puritans and moralists of whatever stripe since forever.
I’m kind of a mind with my TradCath brother the Viking Manx; if you aren’t at least tithing, I don’t wanna hear your vast plans for the moral regeneration of my Hannity-listening neighbor via government action.
Steve Bell’s album is great (I tagged him on facebook). Joy will find a way, adn Salt, Sun, and Time didn’t make our top 10 but we will discuss some songs from them in part 3.
I suppose you think “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” is virtue-signalling too?
What probably got Mule so irritated it still echoes to this day was she was probably so Righteous about it.
Christians invented Virtue Signalling long before it had that name.
I remember that one.
In this season of isolation and especially today which is wet and grey I have been playing alot of Bruce and my other Canadian favorite Steve Bell. Today it’s Cockburn’s albums, ‘Joy will find a Way’, and ‘Salt, Sun and Time’ as well as ‘My Dinner with Bruce’ by Bell.
For a minute I thought that was Adam Sandler.
He could be like Bowie or Cohen, and do some remarkable work in his fourth quarter. It’s so inspiring when an artist does that.
It’s never too late.
I’ve always had this feeling I would really, really enjoy Bruce Cockburn music, but I’ve always felt “that train has already left the station” so I never got on board. Maybe this will spur me to jump on regardless of how late I am to the station!
Like a lot of American fans Bruce first appeared on my radar with DANCING IN THE DRAGON’s JAWS. I’ll just list a few of his more meaningful songs to me over the years. In no particular order…
1. After the Rain (“Maybe to those who love it’s given to hear music too high for the human ear”)
2.Loner (equal parts hope and futility, a place where many of us spend much of our lives)
3.In the Falling Dark
4.Red Ships Take off in the Distance (aside from Bruce’s other skills he is a monstrous finger picker)
5.Down in Yon Forest (a mystical medieval cover on an album that is astonishing because it is a contemporary Christmas album that is not a piece of crap!)
6.Tibetan Side of Town (one of Bruce’s ‘travelogue” songs. Sometimes what you need most is a drink!)
7.Pacing the Cage (perfectly captures a mood most of us feel but can’t express)
8.Child of the Wind (everyone grows old but sadly not everyone holds on to the child they once were)
9.Pangs of Love (in my opinion Bruce’s most beautiful song. About the realization that no matter how far you go, when you’ve left hearth and home, friends, lovers, family, tradition, the thing you’re really trying to escape from is the one thing you can never leave behind.. yourself.)
10.Understanding Nothing (A simple little song about one of the most profound experiences we can have, when you’re rocked back on your heels and all your “wisdom” and “book learning” is blown clean away and all you’re left with is being here now in this moment…understanding nothing.)
Ten seems enough but now that I’ve started this list I realize all I left out. (Homme Brulant, All the Diamonds, etc) Ok I’m a fan. There’ll always be more.
One last thing and I’ll shut up. It would be a shame to tag Bruce’s work as simply political and socially aware. He is that and sure he can preach with the best of them but be aware he is also a thorough going Christian mystic. He has expressed emotions and perspectives rarely attempted in popular music. Like Merton he can’t let his mysticism preclude his social activism and his social activism preclude his mysticism.
What your friend told you was true then, and still true now; Cocburn was right then, and still right now. Mostly brown people are processing our meat and shipping our packages — and getting sick and dying from coronavirus for their trouble — without any meaningful choice in the matter, since they are poor and need to work just to survive, and their health care benefits are tied to their jobs. Oh, sure, they could quite their jobs, but then they lose their unemployment benefits along with their income and healthcare, and no chance of finding any of it again in the current economy — as I said, a choice on paper only, not a meaningful choice. The more things change, the more they stay the same. “They Call It Democracy”.
Looking at the photo of Mr. Cockburn at the top of the article, and comparing it with the guileless young man depicted on his ‘Humans’ album, the phrase immediately leapt to mind; ‘this is a man who has earned his face – every line’
Never was very familiar with Cockburn’s impressive body of work. I’ve had an irritable relationship with left-wing Christians since a close friend went to intern for Sojourners in the early ‘eighties. She recommended Cockburn to me and let me borrow “World of Wonders” when it was released. The lead song ‘They Call It Democracy’ irked me worse than ‘Lawyers In Love’ or anything Bono ever sang. Every time I hear Cockburn mentioned now, I see her pretty, earnest Sojourners face explaining how my comfortable Late Imperial existence was paid for by the pain of innumerable little brown people living and dying in unspeakable misery.
It’s no less irritating for being mostly true.
I wasn’t introduced to Bruce’s music until graduate school in the early 90’s on a church retreat/campout. Some very talented musicians had brought guitars, a fiddle, etc. and a spontaneous rendition of “Lord of the Starfields” broke out around a campfire under a cloudless night sky. I was enraptured and bought “In the Falling Dark” the following week.
“Silver Wheels” is also one of my favorite Cockburn songs:
High speed drift on a prairie road
Hot tires sing like a string being bowed
Sudden town rears up, then explodes
Fragments resolve into white line code
So evocative of many road trips from my childhood, staring out the back window as we drove west across vast expanses of the Dakotas and Montana or the northern route across Saskatchewan and Alberta.
Hittin’ and missin’ here. The song Creation Dream still brings me tremendous pleasure even after hearing it a gazillion times. Great guitar work. Cool xylophone. Lyrical joy.
Great post, Mike. Thanks. I haven’t heard enough of Bruce Cockburn, but I have a pirated cassette tape from the ‘eighties with Rocket Launcher, Wondering Where The Lions Are, and Lovers in a Dangerous Time. Great album.
Here’s another Canadian–Neil Young–with a song about the Kent State massacre, which happened fifty years ago today. “Ohio.” I think this dovetails with Bruce Cockburn.
I was first introduced to Bruce’s work in 1982 I think. Humans and Dancing in the Dragons Jaws are probably the most listened to albums in my life, no exaggeration. In other fronts, once in awhile if I want to get my dander of righteous indignation up I play Rocket Launcher. Love Peggys Kitchen Wall. Funny! Unfortunately I can’t comment further right now as I myself am going into the studio this morning. Of all days not to have time for imonk! Ugh! There’s probably another 40 or 50 songs I’d like to discuss.
My earliest Bruce Cockburn memory would be as a young child (maybe 4 or 5) flipping through my dad’s vinyl collection and seeing those native art album covers… they fascinated me to no end. I can say they fueled a love of that art that I still have to this day.
My recent Bruce memory would be from a few years ago (10 is a few right? I’m 42 now years are passing at an alarming rate!) bottoming out in one of my depression cycles… I was in a really scary, hopeless, dark place and I remember listening to the radio (I think I was going to work… but I might have been on my way to church to preach) but that lyric got through:
“Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight / Gotta kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight”
It connected with me instantly. It gave me so much hope. I listened to that song endlessly and struggled my way through that time. Those lyrics become a prayer and mantra for my life.
To this day I listen to that song almost daily (it is needed – but also a regular on the radio station they listen to at work… Cancon for the win.) It’s hope and grace has helped me walk through many more down cycles and dark times… every time giving me a reason to say “I’m still kickin”.
He comes, ‘kicking holes in the darkness’.
“Live as children of the Light”