December 22, 2010
Bruce Cockburn sets new album release
Bruce Cockburn has completed work on his new recording, his first studio album since 2006's "Life Short Call Now."
The album's title is "Small Source of Comfort" and the record is scheduled for a March 8, 2011 release, world-wide on the True North label.
At the present moment the album contains 9 vocal numbers and 5 instrumentals. The CD features performances from violin player extraordinaire, Jenny Scheinman (Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux), recording artist Annabelle Chvostek and long time collaborators Gary Craig, Jon Dymond and producer Colin Linden.
The main recording sessions were done in the Tragically Hip's Bath House studio in Bath Ontario, with additional recording at Pinhead Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, and the album was mixed at Fantasy Studio in Berkeley, California.
Following the release of the record Bruce will embark on a tour with dates beginning in Canada towards the end of March and into the US in May and then will continue on to the end of the year including a possible return to UK, Europe and points further afield.
October 12, 2010
Finkelstain Management Press Release
Bruce Cockburn Forced to Cancel Upcoming Tour Due to Pneumonia and a Partially Collapsed Lung
Sadly Bruce Cockburn has been forced to cancel his upcoming tour of The Maritimes and a date in Quebec City.
Bruce was advised to cancel all of the concerts by his physicians due to his current bout of pneumonia that has also resulted in a partially collapsed lung.
Bruce was recently diagnosed after being admitted to a hospital in eastern Ontario shortly upon his return from a personal trip to Bolivia.
He is expected to make a full recovery and is currently resting well in Ontario.
Bruce had this to say: “I’m very disappointed to have to cancel this tour and know how inconvenient it is to many but I’m just unable to perform in this condition. I hope we will be able to reschedule all of the dates in the not too distant future. I’m looking forward to getting back to each of the cities and towns on the tour as soon as possible.”
The following are the cancelled dates:
OCT 14 QUEBEC CITY QC LE PALAIS MONTCALM
OCT 15 SUMMERSIDE PE HARBOURFRONT THEATRE
OCT 16 ST. JOHN NB IMPERIAL THEATRE
OCT 17 FREDERICTON NB THE PLAYHOUSE
OCT 19 MONCTON NB CAPITOL THEATRE
OCT 20 HALIFAX NS REBECCA COHN
OCT 22 MEMBERTOU NS MEMBERTOU CENTRE
OCT 23 PORT HAWKSBURY NS STAIGHT AREA REC CENTRE
OCT 25 WINDSOR NS MERMAID THEATRE
OCT 26 ANNAPOLIS ROYAL NS KINGS THEATRE
OCT 27 LUNENBURG NS PEARL THEATRE
OCT 28 TRURO NS MARIGOLD CENTRE
October 7, 2010
Brothers in a Dangerous Time
by Paige Aarhus
Bruce Cockburn is an artistic warrior of the 1970s and '80s, one of Canada's first and best-known activist musicians, but these days he sounds, well... a lot mellower.
The man who first turned heads in Canadian folk music with his self-titled solo album in 1970, the first of nearly 30, still has strong political beliefs, but he's not yelling from the mountaintops anymore.
"I don't know if there's been much of a shift in my politics. The songs come as reactions to the stuff I encounter, and unfortunately that same stuff keeps repeating itself," said the 65-year-old Ottawa native.
Cockburn's been on the scene since the late 1960s, but made a name for himself with 1979's Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws, which spawned his first Billboard hit, Wondering Where the Lions Are. An appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1980 showcased Cockburn's spiffy guitar work and songwriting skills, making the Canadian upstart a hit on both sides of the border.
Though much of his early work contains subtle Christian references, Cockburn is better known for hits like Lovers in a Dangerous time and his political activism, which expressed itself throughout the 1980s in songs like If I Had a Rocket Launcher, the result of a visit to a war-torn refugee camp in Mexico.
Since then he's travelled the world, visiting countries including Mozambique, Iraq, and most recently, Afghanistan to play for the Canadian Forces.
Though Cockburn continues to use his music and celebrity for causes like David Suzuki's Songs to Save the World, he admitted he's calmed down a little bit over the years. Speaking about his activism now, Cockburn sounds neither angry nor totally resigned. For him, it's all about focusing on the good as well as the bad.
"Fortunately, there are still beautiful things all around us. I don't even know what hope means, I don't know if I'm hopeful or hopeless, but I sure value the small interactions between people that happen all the time. Those things are treasures," he said.
It's been six years since Cockburn released a studio album, due in large part to his more relaxed attitude - the pressure has eased and he's taking his time.
"That's the way it works. Nobody's pressuring me to do this now. Back in the day we used to expect an album a year, but it's been a long time since that scenario. Now it takes a year and a half to do the touring, plus it takes longer to write songs. I'm as stuffy as I ever was and I don't want to repeat myself," he said.
And even after all these albums, songs, tours and causes, he's still got a few tricks up his sleeve - listen for a song called Call Me Rose from his upcoming album A Small Source of Comfort at a trio of shows he has planned in New Brunswick.
"I woke up one morning with this song in my head almost complete. Richard Nixon is singing in person, having been reincarnated as a single black woman. The song was in my head and I had to write it down," he said.
On Canadian politics: "Look at poor old us, there we are with Harper, who is like Bush Jr., he wishes. He has more of a brain than Bush, but the same sort of policies, and there's nobody to vote him out - unless you're in Quebec. But they're on the wrong side in a federal election. I'm very distressed at the state of the opposition. The Conservatives have been very good at throwing up distractions. Just when they're about to lose a big vote they'll throw up something like the flag or the national anthem, and it's important, but it's not top priority." On the political climate in the U.S.: "The problem is there's a terrible cynicism these days. You can't spend any time in the states and not be aware of it. There's some really amazing examples of the worst of human idiocy, and it's kind of shocking actually how polarized it is and along such stupid lines. There's no debate, there's no reaching out to communicate with each other. Which is of course nothing new." On the Obama administration: "The economy's put people on edge, which is understandable. But during the elections, there was that heady atmosphere of hope, we heard about the people who were hopeful and excited, but we didn't hear about the rumblings from the other side. There are people who were genuinely uncomfortable with an African American president. The Tea Party is people taking things into their own hands because they're getting screwed by a distant government. It's a difficult situation and Obama hasn't followed through on everyone's expectations. It would've been impossible for him to fulfill the expectations entirely, but at the same time he could've done one or two things." On the war in Afghanistan: "There's our soldiers dying and putting themselves on the line in a very impressive way; I was very proud of them, but look at what they're doing. They're fighting a fight that they think they could win if they had long enough, but no one's going to give them 30 years. I have no sympathy whatsoever for the corrupt assholes who run the place or the Taliban."
If I Had A Rocket Launcher.... And the time that he did.
Cockburn's most famous hit, 1984's If I Had A Rocket Launcher, established him as an outspoken political activist, even if it was censored on Canadian stations. The song was inspired by Cockburn's OXFAM-sponsored visit to Guatemalan refugee camps that had been hit by helicopter attacks after dictator Efrain Rios Montt was overthrown. In it, Cockburn gets salty with the lyrics, vowing that "some son-of-a-bitch would die," if he could take matters into his own hands. Expect this song at any of Cockburn's concerts; his upcoming tour will feature a selection of his greatest hits as well as lesser-known tracks. But there's a funny story about If I Had a Rocket Launcher-while visiting Afghanistan in 2009, he actually got a chance to live his dream. Sort of.
After his last performance for the troops, which included a rendition of If I Had a Rocket Launcher, Cockburn was surprised when a general actually presented him with one-live and loaded.
"It seemed like a good song that they would get, and they did, and the appreciated it. Then as I'm finishing the song, the general in command comes up behind me and hands me a rocket launcher. Obviously it was just a photo op, but I was fiddling around with the buttons and whatnot, and it was in a war zone and the thing was actually loaded, so they took it away from me," he recalled.
September 21, 2010
True North Records
True North announced they are re-releasing Stealing Fire, World Of Wonders, and High Winds White Sky on limited edition 180 gram vinyl. The albums are due out in November, 2010, but they can be pre-ordered now. Go to their website and navigate to the TNR store to place your order.
September 15, 2010
In a personal email on Bernie Finkelstein said:
The album is due for release on True North worldwide March 1, 2011.
Working title is "Small Source of Comfort.
It's very acoustic and very rhythmic and very much a small ensemble work. It features the wonderful Jenny Scheinman on violin. Jenny is very well know for her work with Bill Frisell, Norah Jones and Madeleine Peyroux.
Also, the fabulous Gary Craig on percussion. Gary has been on past Bruce records and often travels with him when Bruce is in a band mode.
There are 14 pieces so far on the record, 5 of which are instrumental.
It's a take-no-prisoners album and owes nothing to no one, currently, in the past, or anywhere.
It's Bruce being Bruce and it's wonderful.
August 23, 2010
Press release form True North Records
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Bruce Cockburn Continues Work On His New Studio Album
Toronto, ON - Bruce Cockburn continues to work on his new recording, his first studio album since 2006’s
Life Short Call Now
At the present moment the album contains some 15 songs and instrumentals.
The music being recorded is very acoustic, very rhythmic, and highly evocative.
The CD features performances from violin player extraordinaire Jenny Scheinman (Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux), recording artist Annabelle Chvostek and long time collaborators Gary Craig, Jon Dymond and producer Colin Linden.
The sessions have been done in Bath, Ontario; Nashville, Tennessee; and San Francisco, California.
The album’s current working title is
Small Source of Comfort
and the record is now scheduled for a March 1, 2011 release world-wide on the True North Records label and will mark six years between studio releases.
Following the release of the record Bruce will embark on a tour with dates beginning in Canada towards the end of March and into the US in May and then will continue on to the end of the year including a possible return to UK, Europe and points further afield.
August 12, 2010
Song Sung Green
by Nicola Ross
This year’s recipient of Earth Day Canada’s Outstanding Commitment to the Environment Award, Bruce Cockburn is a singer/songwriter and activist. An Officer of the Order of Canada and the honorary chair of Friends of the Earth, Cockburn has used his music to oppose degradation of the environment – from destructive logging practices to the Exxon oil spill. “Everything comes down to the human heart and how we treat each other,” Cockburn told Alternatives editor-in-chief Nicola Ross when she interviewed him in advance of Earth Day Canada’s 7th annual gala. Ross’ conversation with Cockburn began with a question about his environmental anthem - “If A Tree Falls.”
Nicola Ross: Where did your inspiration for “If A Tree Falls” come from?
Bruce Cockburn: I heard a documentary on a university radio station about the destruction of the rainforest in Borneo and the displacement of the Penan people. It was quite moving and thought-provoking. At that time I had not been in a tropical rainforest, but I had been in the coastal rainforest in BC, and I had a sense of what it’s like to be in an environment where the vegetation looms that large. The system is so complete and apparently so unaffected. I had a bit of a feel for what was being talked about having had an encounter with Aboriginal people. After that I got motivated to write the song because the radio show got me going. I thought about the idea of building a song around that Philosophy 101 cliché because everyone knows it. They’ll all get the song. Then it was a question of what kind of song this was going to be. I hadn’t done very much spoken word then, but it seemed like it was the way to go. It was a question of finding the imagery that was powerful to create a rant. It’s typical of the type of song where there is a spoken word component and then the chorus goes around that.
Ross: Did you expect that song to do what it did?
Cockburn: Not particularly. I thought it was catchy and it had enough of a pop feel that it might be radio-friendly, but nothing is radio-friendly any more. Radio’s the really expensive, highly promoted stuff, and the CBC, which is everybody else.
Ross: What do you think about the relative effectiveness of subtle environmental messages (“A Dream Like Mine”) versus blunt ones (“If A Tree Falls”)?
Cockburn: It’s a question of degree. When I write a song, I’m not very theoretical about it. I get an idea and I chase it until I can turn it into something. “A Dream Like Mine” is based on a book about a mythical Native spirit character reminiscent of King Arthur of the Round Table. That’s what drove the song – I had enough knowledge of Native history that I could relate – and Native concerns often overlap with environmental ones. They used to be able to live in the world the way it was made, not the way we’ve made it. So the song is harkening back to this; that it will be back again as long as we get rid of ourselves, which is entirely possible.
Ross: What is the environmental issue that concerns you most?
Cockburn: Water is a really big one. It’s not just about the environment; it’s also connected to very big political and military movements. That’s already started, but it’s going to get way bigger. Nobody’s going to stop bottling water just to stop it though.
Ross: If you were putting together a CD for the planet what would you put on it? Cockburn Well, I’d probably suggest “If A Tree Falls,” but I also might put in something like “Hard Rain” by Bob Dylan.
Ross: Do you support Greenpeace?
Cockburn: I’ve been a Greenpeace contributor since they started. I was actually in an action with them in Thunder Bay once. At the end of the 1980s, they did a Great Lakes cleanup campaign. They had a day when they were doing a raid on a plant that manufactured wood preservatives and had a toxic blob. So I drove the boat dropping off people who were chaining themselves to the gear. It was really fun.
Ross: Did you get arrested?
Cockburn No, the cops came and it was, fortunately, handled very well. They took a very hands-off approach.
Ross: Not like the Rainbow Warrior?
Cockburn: No, no. They didn’t give me cannons or anything.
Ross: So you were good at being the one driving the boat but not jumping off it?
Cockburn: For things to be catalyzed and motivated and for there to be attention, I think that the people who are willing and able to put their bodies in the act should do it and we should be appreciative. They are the heroes.
Ross: But you end up being the hero and the people in the trenches don’t get the glory.
Cockburn: Yes exactly, but what I’ve tried to do in the songs and conversations around the songs is draw attention to that exact thing. I’m trying to support and celebrate and express appreciation for the people who are really doing the work. The more of us who sound off about this stuff, the more people are likely to pay attention.
Ross How do you harness the inspiration of environmental politics and channel it into your music?
Cockburn It’s not very conscious. Songwriting is essentially an emotional process. Obviously there is a brain part, but the initial impetus to write is almost always the strong reaction to something and then having a verbal idea that somehow connects this to that. I see it. It’s visual. It starts with words.
Ross: Do you write the lyrics or the music first?
Cockburn: The lyrics. The words will suggest the music they want. I think I’m relatively alone in doing it like that.
Ross: It makes sense because your lyrics are poetry.
Cockburn: I’ve always liked poetry. I like poetry that I feel has some meat in it and some weirdness. I don’t like the stuff that is too transparent. I like the stuff that leads your mind down alleys that you wouldn’t normally go down.
Ross: Has the BP oil spill encouraged any songwriting?
Cockburn: If I hadn’t been in the BC rainforest, I wouldn’t have been able to write about it. Writing about something like an oil spill, I have to be there. To feel what it feels like to be there; to be horrified in more than an abstract way to generate a song. It’s my reaction to things that becomes a song.
Ross: Who would be the target of your rocket launcher?
Cockburn: Oooh, there are a lot of contenders for that. I wouldn’t know where to stop. The people who are in those positions are destroying things, but they aren’t the only ones. We’re all crapping in the same creek.
Financial Post Magazine
July 27, 2010
Labours of Love
by Andy Holloway
If everyone had their childhood dream job, we'd be awash in firefighters and ballerinas. Fortunately, such fantasies change as we grow up, but that doesn't always make them any more obtainable. Being a captain of industry is only some consolation for not being able to sail the seas. But a fortunate few get to do exactly what they want to do. It's not easy, but it can be done with perseverance and a little bit of luck. Sometimes you can even make a buck.
LINDA MANZER TAKES IT ONE GUITAR AT A TIME
Linda Manzer picks up a guitar that's in her downtown Toronto studio for minor repairs. Manzer knows every inch of this particular instrument, how it's being played, and the changes that have been made. She built it several years ago for singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, but he didn't like it and quickly exchanged it for another. Manzer could have sold the instrument to someone else, but she kept it, believing that Cockburn was its rightful owner, even if he didn't know it yet. She was right. Cockburn later picked up the guitar and fell in love.
In her 36 year as a luthier -- building guitars for the likes of Pat Metheny, Carlos Santana and Liona Boyd, among many others -- Manzer has come to believe that every one of her creations eventually finds its rightful owner. That same sense of destiny is true of her own career. Raised in a middle-class Toronto household, she was initially set on being a folk singer, like her idol Joni Mitchell. But a harsh encounter with a record company exec convinced a teenage Manzer that perhaps her real talent laid elsewhere. That talent was uncovered when she wanted a dulcimer, but couldn't afford one. A store owner convinced her to buy a kit. Soon Manzer was building other instruments and teaching others how to do it. She then convinced Jean Larrivee to take her as an apprentice, the first woman the famous Canadian luthier had ever hired.
Today, Manzer's reputation has spread worldwide. But like painters, luthiers, particularly those specializing in custom instruments, generally don't have lucrative paydays. They do it for the love of art. "Even if you make crap pay, you've still had a great day," Manzer says. And her determination eventually paid off; Manzer doesn't worry too much about finances these days. Even though she only makes a dozen or so guitars a year, she can charge top dollar for her creations -- all of which generally appreciate in value if properly cared for.
If that sounds like a tempting investment, forget it. Manzer closed her public order book five years ago. She was getting too much work and a lot of stress. But she hasn't slowed down, keeping busy with special projects or work for select clients. "My problem is I have so many ideas," Manzer says. "I'll work until my fingers fall off.
July 17, 2010
The London Free Press
by Jennifer O'Brien
His name alone drew thousands — by far the largest turnout London's Home County Folk Festival has seen in years — but it was Bruce Cockburn's voice and his intricate guitar playing that captivated the crowd at Victoria Park.
On lawn chairs and benches, and sprawled out on blankets the audience filled the bandshell area Saturday night, and then spilled out beyond it, even onto the grass beyond walls of vendors out for the annual festival.
And it was a mellow, appreciative crowd that enjoyed Cockburn on the warm serene night . Most of those standing swayed to Cockburn's crystal clear repertoire, which included Slow down fast, Child of the wind, Lovers in a dangerous time, How I spent my fall vacation, and Strange waters. Up at the front, a couple danced lovingly, seeming oblivious to the crowd around them.
Even those who weren't lucky enough to see Cockburn, were happy.
"This is incredible, it's amazing," said Jeff Scott, a fan who came with his wife Sandra from Toronto for the free event. Though the couple had been at the park all afternoon, they ended up catching the show from a bench with a Funnel Cakes vendor between them and the stage. "I catch glimpses of him, through the both," he laughed. "The sound is amazing, the guitar playing is so good . . . you don't hear that in his recorded stuff."
Cockburn is the biggest name Home County has featured in years, and the crowd clearly loved him.
"This is the biggest turnout I've seen and I've been here many, many years," said volunteer Irene Kozak. "It's the name, and the weather doesn't hurt either," she said.
As she spoke, other volunteers agreed, and praised the sea of people for being so respectful, despite their massive numbers.
In the moments before Cockburn appeared on stage, you could have heard a pin drop, some said.
"I'm a fan, this is awesome," said Lori Joseph, who stood at the side of the bandshell. "I just wish he'd step out a little, so I could see his face."
June 25, 2010
Where have all the protest songs gone?
by Greg Quill
Sometime in the late 1960s, Pete Seeger — in his prime with just a banjo and a 12-string guitar — stepped up to a single microphone on the concert stage of the Sydney Town Hall in Australia, and started singing.
One after another, the simple yet profoundly affecting songs that moved a generation — a couple of generations, actually — poured forth like some kind of healing sacrament.
“Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” “Turn, Turn, Turn.” “We Shall Not Be Moved.” “Amazing Grace.” “We Shall Overcome.” “Little Boxes.” “Guantanamera.” “If I Had a Hammer.” “Joe Hill.” “Waist Deep In The Big Muddy.” “Bring ‘Em Home.” “Irene Goodnight.” The hymns filled the 3,000-seat auditorium.
Audience voices raised in unison, in harmony, in joyful dissonance, accompanied every one, with Seeger’s energetic encouragement. This was the soundtrack of an era, accompanied with his musical contemporaries Joan Baez, Bob Dylan.
Two hours later, the exhausted but jubilant folk singer made his final exit, waving his instruments above his head. The crowd dispersed into the warm night, still roaring out the songs we were convinced could and would make the world a better place. Maybe they did. For a while.
The protests accompanying this weekend’s G20 summit in Toronto might be remembered for their noise and fury, but probably not for songs.
Protest songs — at least the kind that galvanized thousands at a time during the labour struggles of the 1920s and ’30s, anti-nuclear and civil rights marches in the 1950s, the anti-Vietnam war rallies in the 1960s and the economic upheavals in Britain during the Thatcher years — seem to have disappeared from the landscape.
At least they have from the commercial airwaves. But their spirit drives much of the best contemporary music, Bruce Cockburn says.
“They haven’t disappeared, we just have to hunt them down,” argues Cockburn, who has never wavered in a 40-year career from an almost obsessive devotion to taking on war-mongers, empire builders and environment polluters with narrative-based songs of often brutal outspokenness.
Protest songs are alive and well, he says. They are just hiding in plain sight. “We just don’t hear them. We don’t hear anything worthwhile these days unless we go looking for it.”
The erosion in the Internet age of conventional mass media may have given everyone and everything a chance to shine, adds Cockburn. “But there are so many kinds of exposure, so many formats, and so many different ways to find an audience, so many places you have to look.”
He isn’t keen on reviving protest songs as a niche genre.
“The words ‘protest songs’ give me the willies,” Cockburn says. “They conjure up the worst music of the 1960s – songs like ‘Eve of Destruction,’ which I hated when I first heard it. It’s pretentious posturing, manufactured nonsense, bad songwriting and just plain ignorant, compared to Dylan’s work in the same period. ‘A Hard Rain’ and ‘Masters of War’ are beautifully constructed and artfully created. They hit the right emotional buttons and they nail their targets.
“To have value, a song has to impact its topic. It can’t be propaganda or exploitative pop music.”
Cockburn singles out American songwriter and activist Ani DiFranco for special praise.
“She’s a beautiful singer, a great guitarist and a brilliant lyricist. She doesn’t close her eyes to what’s going on around her, and she’s not afraid to speak up. And I don’t discount punk and reggae as breeding grounds for some of the best politically intense songs ever recorded — from the Clash and Bob Marley right up to the present.
“Some people say songs and politics don’t mix. I don’t agree. It’s an artist’s job to talk about his or her life, unless you live in a place where your neck is on the line. War and politics are part of life. Nothing is taboo.”
Even so, the absence in the public arena of songs of conscience may well be an effect of the wired age, along with so many previously cherished forms of social interaction, suggests guitarist Brian Gladstone, the proudly unreconstructed hippie founder and artistic director of Toronto’s annual Winterfolk Festival and its non-profit offshoot, the Association of Artists for a Better World. The association encourages, compiles and distributes collections of contemporary protest songs to radio stations and activist organizations around the world.
“People concerned about the issues that have always troubled us are more likely to turn to Facebook to find a like-minded community than to sing songs in the streets, the way we did in the 1960s,” he says.
“There are plenty of protest songs out there, but they just aren’t part of the cultural mainstream any more. Radio doesn’t play them, and people don’t seem to do things together, as a community. We’re all connected individually to some kind of device, working alone, amusing ourselves alone, enlightening ourselves alone.”
Gladstone started the association 10 years ago — the effort has since been replicated in half a dozen North American cities — because “not enough young songwriters were using their voices for the common good.
“We’ve issued eight or nine compilations since we began, and the response has been intense and gratifying.”
Neil Young came to the same conclusion after the release of his 2006 album, Living with War, a toxic indictment of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, when he complained publicly about the lack of contemporary songwriters willing to step up to the protest plate. At 64 then, he felt forced to do their work for them.
He was subsequently inundated with recorded proof to the contrary and now runs a page on his web site, Living with War Today, that has links to some 3,280 songs and 630 videos answering his original challenge.
It has been said that Bruce Springsteen’s 2007 album Magic, with its hallucinatory vision of an America gone mad with war lust, consumerism and revenge, was the New Jersey rocker’s response to Young’s challenge.
Three years earlier, American punk rocker’s Green Day’s American Idiot album, now also a hit Broadway musical, was praised by many for its brave, satirical take on modern America and its powerful endorsement of love and humanist ethics.
Long before that, roots rocker Steve Earle forsook his chance at country music’s brass ring by writing songs that skewered America’s version of history, many of its icons and values.
“It’s not that the issues needing attention are more numerous or complex than they were a couple of generations ago,” says Canadian folk music veteran Ken Whiteley. He cut his teeth on the anti-war and union songs of Seeger and Woody Guthrie, and on the plaintive blues of American field workers and gospel singers.
“You can look at 150 different issues and reduce them to just two things: greed and the abuse of power.”
Protest songs still have meaning and cachet, Whiteley adds. Many contemporary songwriters — among his favourites are Welsh composer/activist Martyn Joseph, Kingston’s Sarah Harmer and Vancouver-based James Keelaghan — have the ability to create provocative social commentary from simple narratives “and solid, memorable melodies, the key to the survival of any great song.”
The worst protest songs are “simplistic reductions” of complex ideas,” Whiteley believes.
“The best are personalized stories in which you can see the larger picture unfold. Or sometimes they can be nothing more than a simple, resonant phrase. My friend Pat Humphries (an Ohio social activist, singer and songwriter) composed a classic rally song from three words and an elegant little tune – ‘Peace, Salaam, Shalom’.”
Some rap music contains elements of social consciousness, he points out, part of a continuum of commentary and protest that goes back to the earliest blues forms, “but there’s a disconnect between rap and what went on before.
“If you’re my age, you can probably trace a line between (1950s folk group) the Freedom Singers, (American gospel group) Sweet Honey in the Rock, (American R&B/gospel band) the Blind Boys of Alabama and (Canadian rapper) K’Naan. But I don’t think the young people who are rallying around his song ‘Waving Flag’ are conscious of these connections.”
Toronto songwriter Jon Brooks, a winner in this year’s New Folk competition at the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, has earned a devoted following among his peers for soulful, topical narrative songs that invoke powerful feelings about the horrors of war, human greed and the absence of the guiding principles — what we called, in another age, peace, love and understanding.
“The closest thing I heard to protest songs in my adolescence were Roger Waters and Pink Floyd,” says Brooks, who gave up his budding musical career in the 1990s after visiting Bosnia, Poland, Ukraine and Russia.
“I saw real politics in action after the wall came down and I felt ashamed to be seeking people’s attention behind a microphone in the middle of all that suffering. So I quit for eight years.”
In those days, folk and protest music of the 1960s “seemed laughable, a cliché, something in the back of the record store to be avoided,” Brooks says. “After I came back from Europe, I was convinced songs would work no better now to benefit humanity than they did back then.
“Now I’ve come full circle. In complicated, distracted times, I’ve learned that timely songs performed in the right manner, accompanied by humour and common language, can really get inside people.”
Brooks has studied the work of his predecessors — Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Canada’s Buffy Sainte-Marie, whose bitter indictment of the patriot warrior, “Universal Soldier,” is a standout feature of his performances — and found many of them wanting.
“I think Ochs represented the best and the worst of that era, and Dylan was just too young to have a fully formed world view, but they were capable of writing powerful social and political commentary,” he says, citing Dylan’s “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” and “A Hard Rain” and Ochs’ “Days of Decision” as favourites.
“The purpose of songwriting, for me, anyway, is to unite people through stories, through empathy. Direct, shouted protest has never worked for me as well as indirect story telling.”
Now, that would put a smile on Pete Seeger’s face.
Ten great protest songs
• “Universal Soldier,” Buffy Sainte Marie: For its bravery in laying the blame for the pain of war at the feet of those who make themselves available as weapons and cannon fodder.
• “Fortunate Son,” Creedence Clearwater Revival: For smacking privileged Americans in the face for avoiding the draft and forcing those less fortunate to be conscripted during the Vietnam war.
• “Blowin’ In The Wind,” Bob Dylan: The mother of 1960s peace anthems.
• “Shipbuilding,” Elvis Costello: For drawing a line between the economic benefits of war and the end result.
• “Beds Are Burning,” Midnight Oil: For pricking the conscience of imperialist interlopers, not just in Australia, over their abuse of the rights of indigenous people.
• “Brothers In Arms,” Dire Straits: For illuminating the folly of the Faulklands war and inflated patriotic urges.
• “Clampdown,” The Clash: For its empathetic portrayal of the poor as a criminal class on Thatcher’s watch.
• “If A Tree Falls,” Bruce Cockburn: For its powerful indictment of the logging industry’s stripping of virgin rainforests.
• “Lives In The Balance,” Jackson Browne: An acidic account of American meddling in the politics of Central America.
• “If I Had A Hammer,” Pete Seeger: For its inclusive, joyful humanity.
— Greg Quill
June 16, 2010
The Toronto Star
Bruce Cockburn and friends barrelhouse all night long
by Greg Quill
In the song business, they say the most convincing proof of a composer’s skill is in the adaptability of his or her work. The better the song, the more likely it is to cross genres, to bridge cultures and generations — in other words, to endure.
And though Bruce Cockburn probably won’t ever be able to buy a manse in St. Tropez with royalties from the scant number of cover versions of hundreds of his compositions — they’re just too tough, too profound, too complex for mass consumption — the quality of his craftsmanship over 40 years and some 30 albums was stunningly evident last night in an all-star celebration of his life’s work at Massey Hall, in the third annual edition of the Luminato festival’s Canadian Songbook.
About two dozen of the Ottawa-born songwriter’s gems — some well known, others not so — proved themselves perfectly ready for reinvention in genres as diverse as rap, rock, country, jazz pure pop, folk and blues, performed by an astonishing array of virtuoso Canadian musicians and singers, including acoustic guitarist Jason Fowler, jazz guitarist Michael Occhipinti, folk-rapper Buck 65, country rockers Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, country-folk singers Sylvia Tyson and Amelia Curran, popsters the Barenaked Ladies and Hawksley Workman, and folk-pop trio The Wailin’ Jennys.
That no song suffered in being transformed had a lot to do with the concert’s attentive and empathetic musical director and longtime Cockburn admirer, guitarist/arranger Colin Linden, who led a brilliant five-piece band that accompanied just about every performer, and stepped occasionally — donning a vivid embroidered jacket — into Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, alongside Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson.
Cockburn himself was front and centre for a burn-down-the-house version at the end of the first of two hour-long sets of his biggest “hit,” “If I Had A Rocket Launcher,” in which Cockburn performed a punishingly percussive solo on acoustic guitar, and a blistering “Tie Me At The Crossroads,” backed by both bands. “The only thing better than three guitars is four guitars,” Linden quipped before counting in the gutsy rockers.
Earlier the audience had been treated to much more subtle reinventions of favourites in the Cockburn oeuvre:
• Fowler, a classically trained guitarist, served up a graceful, finger-picked version of “Sunwheel Dance” at the top of the show, referencing several other Cockburn songs in passing.
• Buck 65 complimented Cockburn on his “rapping skills” before performing “Slow Down Fast” and “If A Tree Falls,” accompanied by drum loops on his laptop and tasty guitar licks from Linden.
• Sylvia Tyson, after a lengthy introduction by CBC Radio personality Jian Ghomeshi, whose tongue seemed to tire before intermission from enunciating an abundance of superlatives describing the evening’s stars, served up a plaintive “One Day I Walk.”
• And Newfoundlander Amelia Curran performed two uneasy pieces — “Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long,” a slow, menacing shuffle that required the voice of a serious belter, and a breathless, almost inaudible “All the Diamonds.”
But the real star of the first set — the deadline for this review precluded taking in the second — was Occhipinti and his brilliant jazz ensemble. Their ethereal take on Cockburn’s “Homme Brûlant,” all shimmering guitar spikes and golden trumpet tones, was unforgettable.
Photo: Richard Lautens/Toronto Star ... Bruce Cockburn, right, sings Lovers in a Dangerous Time with Barenaked Ladies members Ed Robertson, left, on guitar, and Jim Creeggan, on bass, at Massey Hall on Wednesday evening (June 16, 2010).
June 16, 2010
from CBC Arts
Cockburn's musical legacy to be celebrated-
Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn will be celebrated in a tribute concert in Toronto Wednesday night.
The man who's been called "a rocker with a mission" and "a troubadour for the common man" will hear his songs played by some of Canada's top musicians in the Canadian Songbook concert, part of the Luminato Festival.
Unlike Neil Young, who was similarly honoured in 2009, Cockburn will take to the stage during the tribute.
Singers such as Buck 65, the Barenaked Ladies, Sylvia Tyson and Hawksley Workman will perform works he's created over the last 40 years.
"It's fun to be feted in this sort of way - I'm looking forward to the bits of collaboration that I expect to get to do with some of the people performing and I look forward to hearing the peculiar things they do with my songs," Cockburn told CBC News.
Cockburn, who was honoured just last week on Earth Day for his commitment to the environment, has been outspoken about environmental and human rights issues throughout his songwriting career.
One of his biggest hits was 1984's If I Had a Rocket Launcher, a song he said he wrote in Chiapas, Mexico, after spending three days in Guatemalan refugee camps.
"The Guatemalan army was prone to making forays by air or land and raiding those camps and shooting them up and kidnapping people and butchering them in the forest, so there was this incredible sense of outrage and pain," he recalled.
"If I Had a Rocket Launcher had an unexpected impact because ... I didn't ever imagine it would get on the radio," Cockburn added.
Cockburn grew up in Ottawa and began his career as a folk singer at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 1967. His first self-titled album was released in 1970.
His hits include Wondering Where the Lions Are, Lovers in a Dangerous Time, Rumours of Glory and Last Night of the World.
"A concise way to describe how I get inspired is just to say God does it but it doesn't feel exactly like that," he said. "It's more complicated - it's beauty, it's an emotional response to stuff whatever it is ... it can be horror at something that's been done to someone or to the planet, it can be sex, it can anything at all."
Participants in Wednesday's tribute say he has had an enormous influence on a new generation of musicians.
"Bruce Cockburn for me was a pinnacle moment in my musical development," Workman said. "It came at a time when I was open to the ideas of absorbing poetry and newness and images and ideas."
Workman said he admires Cockburn's legacy as an activist.
"I think he's probably one of the last adversarial voices - it's not fashionable to write protest music any more that's for sure and as the world gets more and more corporate it's even dangerous for your career to step out," he said.
Colin Linden, a guitarist who has had a long association with Cockburn, said he should be recognized as the great musician he is, as well as for his strong lyrics.
"I think Bruce's songs strike just a chord of truth to so many people for different reasons," Linden said.
"The lyrics to his songs continue to haunt you and inspire you. Sometimes with a great songwriter like Bruce or Bob Dylan the lyrics are so strong that people forget that the melodies and musical component is so incredibly powerful as well."
Cockburn said the reminder that he's been a singer for 40 years is both "amazing" and sobering.
"There's only a finite amount of time left to do whatever it is that's next," he said "I can't take any of this for granted. I don't know if my eyesight will hold out or my hands, or my brain will hold out - anything can happen."
CBC Radio 2's Canada Live is recording the Bruce Cockburn Tribute at Massey Hall and it will air on Wednesday, June 30.
June 16, 2010
Toronto Globe and Mail
Bruce Cockburn set for Luminato honours
by Brad Wheeler
On Wednesday at Massey Hall, iconic recording artist Bruce Cockburn and guest stars will perform some of his best-known material. Cockburn talks over the set list with Brad Wheeler
On Wednesday evening at Massey Hall in Toronto, Bruce Cockburn will be honoured by the Luminato Festival for his 40 years of songwriting. Cockburn and others (including Sylvia Tyson, Hawksley Workman, Colin Linden and Amelia Curran) will perform a selection of the iconic recording artist's songs, including the ones discussed here by the man himself.
Slow Down Fast
From the album Life Short Call Now, 2006's Slow Down Fast could be construed as a musical version of an "end-is-nigh" sign. Cockburn explains: "I have a lot of songs like that, really, over the years. Trickle Down and Call It Democracy, I would put in the same league. It's a song where I'm saying, 'Look at the things that are going on - are we going to address this or aren't we?' The answer is yes, a little of both, but I'm afraid not enough."
If a Tree Falls
Written in 1988, the hit single and video from the album Big Circumstance raised awareness of the destruction under way in the Amazon rain forests. Cockburn speaks about the issue, and whether anything has changed. "It shifts all the time. When I wrote that song they were cutting down the Amazon rain forest to put in cattle. But that didn't work out, and the next thing you know they're planting soybeans. But they're still cutting down the forests, and they're still displacing the natives. Corn for the biodiesel trade, that's the new big thing. You can't win. You create all this awareness about one aspect of the problem, but as soon as you think you have a foot on top of that, it squeezes out from under and morphs into something else."
If I Had a Rocket Launcher
Famously, Woody Guthrie's guitar had a message written on it, "This Machine Kills Fascists." Are Cockburn's songs and guitars his own rocket launchers? "It's not out of line to say these things," Cockburn replies. "But when I wrote that song, in 1983, it wasn't intended to be any kind of weapon. It was an expression of my own surprise at feeling so specifically a certain way, when I was confronted with the [Guatemalan] refugee-camp scene [in Mexico]. It's about a sense of outrage. I don't know whether I'm violent or not. I don't know if I have the talent for it. I think probably I'm chicken, if anything."
All the Diamonds
The image-laden song from 1973 was written in Stockholm on the day after Cockburn realized he was a Christian. He comments now on Christianity, and how he views the song so many years later. "It's emotional, in a way. It marks a signal moment in my life. It's there. But I have to think when I perform it now, because I don't want to be associated with certain aspects of the Christian culture and tradition. I'm not so inclined to think of the imagery of what we associate with Christianity - the guy on the cross with the beard. It's not so much that, as it is about what we call the Holy Spirit."
Mama Just Wants To Barrelhouse All Night Long (1973)
One wonders if Cockburn, the activist-songwriter, wished he could be less of the important, serious guy. Are there times he'd rather barrelhouse all night long? "Yes, quite often actually," he answers with a laugh. "I'd much rather be the fun guy than the self-important serious guy. You didn't say 'self-important,' but I'm saying that."
Lovers in a Dangerous Time
The graceful 1984 hit was later covered with success by the Barenaked Ladies. Cockburn speaks about different eras, and how none are less dangerous than others. "When I wrote that, I was thinking of kids my daughter's age. She was quite young at the time. But, for any given individual, the world has always been a place where you could die. That's the baseline. At times we can ignore that, more than other times. There are times when fear is in the air, and, of course, there's always people around willing to exploit that, and enhance it, if need be."
One Day I Walk
The country-influenced track from 1971's High Winds White Sky refers to street-busking. Almost 40 years later, the acclaimed guitarist considers the idea of playing for passers-by coins now: "It's a scary proposition. As something of my own initiative, I'm not likely to do that. Unless, of course, I have to do it to make a living. You can never rule these things out. If it came down to it, I would cheerfully do it."
The Canadian Songbook: 40 Years of Bruce Cockburn takes place Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., at Massey Hall in Toronto (416-872-1111).
June 3, 2010
The Toronto Star
Still agitating, after all these years
by Greg Quill
Singer-songer-activist Bruce Cockburn is the focus of Luminato's all-star Canadian Songbook tribute Wednesday night at Massey Hall. He'll be the first honouree to take part in the proceedings.
Being the focus of Luminato’s all-star Canadian Songbook tribute on June 16 at Massey Hall makes Bruce Cockburn a little uneasy.
It’s not that he feels undeserving. After 40 years in the music business, more than 25 albums, and a load of profoundly affecting, politically and spiritually charged hits to his credit, the 65-year-old composer and virtuoso guitarist knows it would be disingenuous to claim he doesn’t have a place in the festival’s pantheon of great Canadian songwriters, along with previously celebrated peers Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young.
It’s just that he doesn’t like being singled out, even though he’ll be sharing the stage with musical friends and admirers — including a killer house band under the direction of Canadian roots music veteran Colin Linden.
“It’s odd to be the centre of that kind of attention,” he said on the phone earlier this week from Battle Mountain, Nevada. He was taking a break on a solo, cross-continental drive from California, where he’d spent a few days clearing his head.
“It’s the same reaction I had in high school whenever a teacher called my name: ‘Who, me?’
“Prizes and tributes aren’t part of songwriting activity. I never think about them. My focus is on words and music and whether I can sing the notes and communicate with people.”
Just who is participating in the event was also kept under pretty tight wraps till late this week When we spoke, even Cockburn was in the dark about the final bill, and who’s performing which of his songs.
The official list of performers, now confirmed, includes Amelia Curran, Barenaked Ladies, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Buck 65, Hawksley Workman, Jason Fowler, Michael Occhipinti, Sylvia Tyson and The Wailin’ Jennys
“I’ve had no hand in the planning,” Cockburn said. “I’ve been kept aware of how it’s shaping up. I think it’s neat that people want to do it.”
He does know that he’s the first honouree in the Canadian Songbook series to take part in the proceedings.
“I’ve got to work,” he said. “I think I’ll have a small spot of my own, and I expect to perform with others, just no idea of the structure. If I had a say in things, it would be to have Barenaked Ladies do ‘Call It Democracy.’ ”
With a new album due and a book deal with Harper Collins freshly sealed — a memoir the songwriter said he’s terrified of beginning, because “I have to make hard decisions about what to include of other people’s lives, and I want to keep some of my friends” — Cockburn may have settled in the stately age of artistic life, but he’s still as passionate about exposing human greed and political corruption as ever was.
He gets his kicks on the road, driving long distances alone.
“It’s an obsession that may not be sustainable forever, but for now my carbon footprint in a car is not the same as if I flew everywhere,” he said. “I love the peace of the road, especially in the West. I got infected by Kerouac’s On The Road in high school. It was like a whack in the forehead, that headlong sense of motion was completely captivating.”
Though his latest songs explore the spiritual side of his consciousness — “but without a particular capital-letter methodology involved,” he said — it’s his enduring humanity, outspokenness and activism that have drawn Cockburn’s largest audiences over the past four decades.
And keeping abreast of the burning issues that fuel his best songs — environmental destruction, land mines, financial and political skulduggery, military thuggery, First Nations’ rights, the dilution of democracy — is easier now for an artist and observer who has become something of a champion of the oppressed and dispossessed.
“I’m one of the few who actually reads the charitable stuff that comes through the mail,” he said. “Sometimes it’s really interesting. It’s information from a different prospective, with more detail. I get a steady flow of that information now from various sources. It’s just living in the world, looking around, examining what I feel.
“Ongoing involvement in certain causes, like land mines, involves the absorption of knowledge, as well as travel and public speaking.
“But on a songwriting level, it’s all about emotion.”
He doesn’t feel the need to immerse himself in the details of every complex issue he tackles, he added. But it helps to be prepared — in more ways than one.
“It’s important to know what you’re talking about. It’s sometimes possible to carry it off emotionally without a deep knowledge of the topic, but it’s better to have something to back up your opinions, because a lot of people want to talk about what they’ve just heard you play.
“I’d like to think the songs are truthful, and that means being aware of both sides of the issue.”
His political transparency sparks debate in the unlikeliest circumstances.
“People get in my face very rarely these days, but it does happen now and then,” Cockburn admitted. “Sometimes they have good things to say, and sometimes their timing is really off, so I never get to find out.
“A while back I was at the Horseshoe, listening to some friends play, and a guy behind me started talking politics. I was polite for a while, then I gave him the brush-off. He got angry and yelled, ‘I think you should stand behind what you say!’
“I was just trying to listen to the music, and he didn’t get it. In another context, it might have been a really good conversation. Bad timing – that happens a lot.”
As one of the darlings of the new `left,’ Cockburn often finds himself being scrutinized for things that have nothing to do with his music of beliefs.
“People are often critical in blogs and Internet news groups of things that have nothing to do with my songs or performance. They don’t like the kind of shoes I was wearing at a particular concert, or my clothes. In my head I ask them, ‘Is that all you took away?’
“It’s part of my nature to please people, but I also have a clear idea of what I’m allowed to do as a sovereign human being. It all comes back to this: I try to make art out of what I believe to be true. The rest is bullshit.”
Notoriously reticent to discuss his personal life, Cockburn finds that people are more willing to take him at face value these days.
“I don’t show up so often in the media any more. As people get older they calm down. Fewer people want to pry or argue. They’re generally friendly. Sometimes they want to converse, or for me to sign an autograph. The thing I never get used to is that you never really know when it’s going to happen, that public recognition thing.”
But sometimes it works to his advantage. When he applied recently to go to Afghanistan to visit his younger brother, John, a doctor who recently enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces, the renowned anti-war activist deliberately played into the hands of military brass seeking a priceless photo opportunity.
“I was proud of my brother, and maybe a little envious,” Cockburn said. “It was a shocking move on his part in the family context. Our other brother, Don, wasn’t quite as taken with the idea, but John was under the influence of Roméo Dallaire’s book about Rwanda, and it made him think about the army in a different way.
“He was looking for a change, and after years as an anesthesiologist in emergency rooms, he thought he could use that experience in Afghanistan. The Canadian Forces were actively recruiting doctors, so he signed up at the age of 50, and did a gentled-down version of basic training in Haiti, helping the flood victims there. I wanted to give him my support.
“In Kandahar the one song they wanted to hear from me was ‘If I Had A Rocket Launcher,’ which I willingly played, while a general walked up behind me carrying an actual weapon and the cameras were whirring and buzzing. It was certainly not in the spirit of the song at all.
“They wanted to make PR capital out of it. But they took the thing away pretty fast when my finger started moving toward the controls …”
COCKBURN’S FIVE HITS
Bernie Finklestein has been Bruce Cockburn’s relentlessly fierce and protective mentor/manager for the Canadian songwriting legend’s entire professional life. No one knows Cockburn as well as Bernie does. No one gets to hear Cockburn’s songs before Bernie. And over the years, Bernie says he has been rocked, shocked and enlightened time and again by the depth and potency of Cockburn’s politically charged compositions. We asked him to name five that have left the deepest impression. Here’s Bernie’s list:
“If A Tree Falls” (Big Circumstance, 1988)
All you need to know about global warming and the environment, written and recorded 22 years ago! And it was a hit as well.
“Call It Democracy” (World Of Wonders, 1985)
Bruce’s take on the international banking system and more. The first verse sums up the situation pretty well and the song gets more insightful from there. Too bad nothing has changed.
“Padded with power, here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor”
“Stolen Land” (Waiting For A Miracle, 1987)
We were doing a benefit concert to help the Haida nation in their fight to stop the logging on the Queen Charlotte Islands, and Bruce wanted a song that would relate broadly to the situation. He nailed it. Not his only song about the Aboriginal people and their circumstance, but probably his best.
“If I Had A Rocket Launcher” (Stealing Fire, 1984)
Written in a fit of anger and depression over what he had been witness to in Central America. We almost didn’t record it, but thankfully it made it to record and people are still listening to it, still recording it. Marty Balin, ex of the Jefferson Airplane, is the latest to do it, and it’s a bit like time travel — like the Airplane in the ’60s doing Bruce’s song from the ’80s. This song will certainly outlast me, and I’m planning to be around for a while longer.
“Slow Down Fast” (Life Short Call Now, 2006)
I love this song. Bruce is still laying things squarely on the line. Take it or leave it but here it is:
“L ron N ron every kind of ron con
Neo-con old con got to put the brakes on
Slow down fast
Lights out veins plugged zap it with another drug
Genejacker pharma thug say hello to superbug
Slow down fast”
The North Coast Journal
(Humbolt County, CA)
Canadian songwriter/guitarist Bruce Cockburn's breakthrough to the U.S. market came as something of a surprise. MTV started running a video for his 1983 song, "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," a tale of revolutionary anger inspired by a visit to a Guatemalan refugee camp. It caught on and became his biggest hit. While his environmental anthem, "If a Tree Falls," is another with a political bent, much of the work on his 30 albums is more personal in nature. He's just as likely to write a love song or one about life on the road. (He says he "fell under the spell of Jack Kerouac at a very vulnerable point.") Right now he's assembling material for recording sessions set for June, so those who hear him perform at the Arcata Theatre Lounge can expect some road testing. When he called the Journal's Bob Doran from Santa Barbara Sunday afternoon, Cockburn was on day two of a tour of the West Coast that brings him to Arcata Friday night.
Journal: I understand you've been assembling songs for a new album, whatever that might mean.
Bruce: It may mean I'm still in the process, or it may mean I've got all the songs. I'd be happy if it was the former, but I do have a bunch of new songs, and we have plans to record in June.
Are you road testing them first?
I like to perform them for people before I go into the studio if possible because the songs kind of mature in some way, or maybe the emotional approach to them undergoes a kind of adjusting when you perform them in front of people over a period of time. I like to have that done where possible.
Do you look at putting together an album as an assignment that's due at some specific time? I know some writers will do that and start writing when they're getting ready to record. Or is it more like you're writing songs all the time, as they come to you?
I write whenever I think of an idea and when I'm in a situation where I can actually grab it and wrestle with it. A lot of times ideas go and go - you're in the middle of something you can't interrupt to write songs. So those sometime fall by the wayside, but I really depend on some kind of trigger to get going. I don't have an understanding of people who can sit down and turn out work on the clock like that. It doesn't work for me.
What are some things that have served as song triggers recently?
Among the group of songs there are love songs; there's the road, which continues to figure prominently in what I'm writing?
Not the Cormac McCarthy Road exactly, but the road, travel.
Yes, and literally. I do a lot of long distance driving when I'm not on tour. It's how I've lived, at least for large chunks of my life. I'm much more at home on the road than/I am in a house, so that's always been a big part of things for me.
I guess as a professional musician it comes with the job.
There's that, but it's also that I fell under the spell of Jack Kerouac at a very vulnerable point. And our family had traveled, so I learned to like it as a kid. There's a headlong rush of motion that's the feel of that book On the Road, it swept me away and I never got over it. One of the reasons I do what I do is that it includes that. I don't think I'd be all that happy as a session player, even if I was qualified.
Don't you think you're qualified? I'd say you're a pretty good picker.
I can do what I do. I'm not being immodest. But there's a special ear and a generalized approach to playing required of a studio musician, and of course amazing chops. Most of the people I've encountered who make their living that way have better technical abilities than I do.
There's definitely a different skill in being able to sit down with just a piece of paper and be able to add something valuable to a musical conversation.
Of course I'd love to have their abilities. If you think of the Jim Keltners and the Booker Ts, Greg Liesz, all these people who are known as studio players - they have an ability to fit. It's an enviable quality to have. That said, I don't want to live their lives. I like my life. I like where I've been able to go with the music too. There's always somewhere new to go.
Where are going next?
Where am I going? I don't know. I like to keep it open. I like to experiment with things as they come up, pertinent to songs. There's a difference to my approach between instrumental music and songs. The songs are very lyric-driven. The music applied is at the service of the lyrics. In an instrumental piece that's not a consideration so the music can go where it will.
So in general, you'll write lyrics for a song and come up with music to fit them?
Pretty much. I've used the analogy elsewhere but it fits. It's very similar to scoring a film. The imagery, the characters maybe, a theme that show up in the lyrics wants to be supported by the music but not obliterated by it. So the music is applied to the lyrics in a similar way to what you'd do scoring a film.
I'd say one of the things I like about your songs is the cinematic quality. You take the listener into a scene and introduce characters both with lyrics and the music.
It's nice to hear that. That's how I hope it works.
When you mentioned things you're writing about -- love, the road -- you did not mention anything political. I know there are times in your career when politics played more of a role, other times when you looked inward. Where are you now?
There's not a plan. At least no plan that I make. When I'm confronted by things that trigger a strong emotional response, they end up in songs.
Last time we talked you'd just returned from Iraq, an experience that you ended up writing about...
You know I was in Afghanistan in the fall...
I was going to ask about that...
There's a song that came from that, but I don't know that it's what you'd call a political song per se. It's basically a description of what it feels like to be at a ramp ceremony. On our way into Afghanistan we stopped at a base that's a staging area for flights into Kandahar...
A ramp ceremony?
I'll tell you what that is. In Canada, it's a familiar thing. We haven't lost the number of troops that the U.S. has, because we haven't had the numbers over there, but we've lost quite a number of people there. There has never been any attempt to suppress that information. In the States you don't hear about the people who come back as casualties, either dead or injured.
It was only recently that the American military allowed publication of photos of flag draped coffins.
The difference is, in Canada, the term ramp ceremony is familiar because they're on TV. Every time a Canadian dies in Afghanistan, their body is repatriated to a particular air force base and the families or anyone else concerned greets the arriving deceased. The coffin comes down a ramp off the C-130 cargo plane with a flag over it and is carried off. There's a ceremony where they play a hymn, maybe 'Amazing Grace' on bagpipes. The personnel on the base will line up on the tarmac. The commanding officer will say something; maybe a religious person will say a few words. So we were at this base in the Middle East, waiting for the next flight to take us to Kandahar, and before we could leave, a plane came in with the bodies of two soldiers on it, so there was a ramp ceremony at the base. We lined up with the rest of the soldiers and it was extremely moving. It was so touching, the vibe among the soldiers, the atmosphere of respect and sobriety, the depth of feeling present. The day after I got back from the trip I wrote the song.
Your brother is over there?
He was over there at the time. He was nearing the end of a six-month tour as a doctor.
Does the fact that you're visiting him give you a different level of access?
Maybe. It gave a personal connection aside from the going over to sing for the troops kind of thing. John would introduce me to his friends, I wasn't there long enough to make friends, but I got acquainted and had some conversations that taught me things. I think it made a difference.
So it wasn't like a USO thing...
It was a bit like that, but that was how to get there, from the Army's point of view. John and I approached it from different angles. John, my brother, who had a career as a doctor, joined the Army a few years ago, so there was a press angle the Army was interested in.
I read somewhere that at some point while you were there someone handed you a rocket launcher.
That actually happened on a couple of occasions, but one in particular made the papers. We went on this fantastic trip by helicopter out into several of the forward operating bases. There were a couple of other artists along beside me, so we did a show at one of these bases. We'd each play a song for the guys -- they're mostly guys on those bases, the women aren't right at the front. There they were; they appreciated us being there and showing solidarity etc. and getting a little diversion from the horrible routine. I sang 'If I Had a Rocket Launcher' at these occasions because it seemed the appropriate thing. They, of course, had a slightly different understanding of the song from mine. It was a little more concrete for them. They got into it. So at the end, one of the military guys traveling with us came over and said, 'Don't put your guitar away just yet; hang in for a second.' He kind of backed off and I was looking at the troops applauding and grinning and I see they're grinning at something else. Next thing I know, this general, the commander of the Canadian forces in Afghanistan, popped up next to me with one of those portable single-use rocket launchers and hands it to me. The cameras were popping; it was their big press moment, you know, 'Cockburn finally gets his rocket launcher,' that was the headline. I was laughing my head off holding this thing. They took it away really fast before I could get my finger on the trigger
Sounds pretty surreal. It's hard to know how to react.
For me, you know I'm interested in that kind of stuff. You don't have to fit into any philosophical or social category to think that war is bad. The people who fight wars think they're bad. They think they're necessary, but nobody goes out and does it because they love it. I think there are some perverted people who do end up that way, and they include some journalists I've met, but no sensible person wants war. Whether you think about it, that it's just part of human life or whatever your reasoning, speaking only for myself, I've always been interested in military tactics, and in military gear, all that stuff, so I felt quite at home surrounded by the hardware. Of course if I'd been shot at right then, I probably would not have felt so at home at all. But the gear is interesting -- for instance, the trucks they have are the best on the planet. So being handed a rocket launcher was like being handed something I'd seen in a Clint Eastwood movie. Of course I've also seen them in other places and situations. I remember riding in the back of a truck in Mozambique, a dump truck full of people traveling from one town to another. There was a soldier standing next to me. I kept feeling something bumping the back of my head. I turned around and he had an RPG slung over his shoulder and the tip of the rocket was banging the back of my head. So, being handed a rocket launcher by a Canadian general, it was shocking, it was funny.
Another thing I read on your website is that you are about to be honored by Earth Day Canada with the Outstanding Commitment to the Environment Award.
There's no accounting for some people's vision (laughs) but it's nice to be thought of by those folks and it's nice to be able to be part of these kinds of exercises publicizing the work they do and the need for that work.
Obviously environmental issues have been an ongoing concern for you...
They are an ongoing concern, maybe the biggest ongoing concern other than my own personal crap that I'm not going to talk about (laughs again). The environment is us. The environment is everything. And without everything working the way it's supposed to, we aren't going to do well or even do at all. Of course when you start looking at how to address environmental issues, you immediately enter the realm of politics...
Well, money is also the realm of politics especially in North America.
They go hand in hand, which doesn't bode well for the environment...
Or anything else, other than the ability to be able to buy the stuff we're convinced we need, the latest jeans or whatever. That's what corporate rule gives you, for now at least. Before long it will only give it to the several hundred billionaires who will live in Dubai. They'll be able to shop for what they want while the rest of us will be scrounging around in the deserts we're reduced to. Unless we really do something about environmental degradation, we're going to be in a lot of trouble, we humans. I may not be alive when the worst of it hits, but my granddaughter will be, so it matters. Of course the politics is such that you don't get anything done without somebody being willing to spend money or stop making money or refusing someone's offer of money or something. It's all on a piecemeal basis. There's no overview. The overview would be to totally change the system, but that isn't going to happen, at least not in any way I'm able to contribute to.
The system has to change so that money isn't the end-all and be-all of everything...
I think that's an issue for the human heart, which can and should be addressed. I got into a conversation with a homeless guy on a bus not too long ago in San Francisco. He was saying, the thing that's wrong with America as he saw it, he was an older guy, roughly my age, as he saw it Americans had forgotten to care, or how to care about each other. It's probably less true in rural areas, in fact I'm sure that's the case, but in urban America and urban anywhere else, the culture is so materialistic and self-oriented. Everything's about me and my ability to move forward, and my clothes, and how people see me. It's all that. That seems to be the prevailing ethos for society, if I can use a word like that. It's like this is what life is about. That's something we have to try to change.
I know the world's problems are huge and it may seem like just a drop in the bucket, but do you see your music, your songs as a means to bring about change?
I think a drop in the bucket is all you can expect. I think that counts. It would be a mistake to believe that a song by itself is going to make a difference in the course of events, but a song as a rallying point for a whole bunch of people's opinion, does have that potential. It's not really the song that does it, it's the people's opinion, but a song can be an anthem for a movement or it can pull a movement together and help it to recognize itself as a movement.
On a different level, a song might just make someone aware of an issue...
On the macro level it's about the body of popular opinion, on a micro level it's just that, you touch one person. My expression of my experience touches someone in a way they can relate to. I know from what some people have told me, that at least some people have been inspired to get involved in things because of hearing my songs. But I suspect that I just reinforced some tendency they had already.
You have a platform that allows you to point to things, perhaps making people aware that landmines are a problem in the world or that there's a growing mass of plastic floating in the Pacific, whatever it might be. Of course most entertainers are trying to distract people from their problems, to make them forget their troubles...
Which is okay too. There's nothing wrong with that. It's a case of what you're good at and what you want. There are lots of times when people who are deeply involved in correcting the problems of the world get down and party.
I certainly have nothing against party music -- I love it -- but the artists whose music seems to resonate for me longterm, are those who have something to say.
I think what makes music interesting for me is the sense that there's something being explored. If I don't hear a sense of exploration in a piece of music, it's boring. That might be a subjective judgment on my part, and nothing has to follow any particular form, but it has to take a chance. That's what makes art interesting.
The Northcoast Environmental Center
Kin To The Earth: Bruce Cockburn
by Sarah O'Leary
Deforestation, land mines, mass extinctions – these are just some of the environmental and humanitarian issues that Bruce Cockburn sings about, inspiring activists and ordinary citizens the world over to act to end injustice and environmental destruction.
“My role is as an attention-getter,” said Cockburn. “People come to me with a request to help get attention and raise awareness about something.”
And the Canadian singer/songwriter has been doing just that for the bulk of his career. This year he was presented with Earth Day Canada’s Outstanding Commitment to the Environment Award, in recognition of three decades of being an outspoken voice on issues relating to the environment.
“There’s a steadily unfolding tragedy out there,” said Cockburn. “And it’s enough to piss us all off.”
In addition to producing a repertoire of 30 albums, Cockburn has performed benefit concerts for a myriad of small environmental organizations in the U.S. and Canada, including an upcoming concert for the Siskiyou Land Conservancy scheduled for April 23 at the Arcata Theatre Lounge.
One of Cockburn’s most popular songs, “If a Tree Falls” penned in the mid-‘80s, poignantly evokes the devastation wrought by overlogging. The song later became the title cut for a 1996 album produced to benefit Southern Humboldt’s Trees Foundation.
Although some interpret the lyrics to describe the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest, Cockburn said that the song was inspired by a radio documentary on the disappearing woodlands in Borneo along with his own experiences driving through the diminishing forests in British Columbia.
“It was easy to make the connection between the tropics and the northwest rainforest,” said Cockburn.
Born in Ottawa in 1945, Cockburn attended Berklee College of Music in Boston in the early ‘60s, but gave up jazz guitar for rock ‘n’ roll and folk music. His 1979 hit, “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” gained him recognition on this continent when it reached the top 25 on the U.S. Billboard charts.
A Respect For The Wild
Cockburn said he learned to love the wilderness as a young child during summers spent at a camp at Algonquin Park in Ontario.
“We would go on extended canoe trips, sometimes a hundred miles,” he said. “Paddling through that wilderness and seeing traces of where there had been logging in the past drove a respect for the wild into me, and that shaped my whole attitude toward the world”
His awareness of the fragility of the environment grew in the early ‘70s, Cockburn said, when he lived in a truck and spent much of his time traveling through western Canada.
“You’d see something for the first time and it was amazing,” he said. “Then the third time through you’d notice it wasn’t there anymore – it’s got a development sitting on it.”
“There’s a heartbreak in that,” he said. “It’s like this was a beautiful thing and it ain’t there anymore and it’s never coming back.”
Music isn’t the only medium that Cockburn uses to raise awareness about environmental and political issues. During the late ‘90s he was deeply involved in creating the film “River of Sand” about the effects of desertification in Mali, and 2008 saw the release of the Canadian film, “Return to Nepal” in which Cockburn examines the connection between humans and the environment.
“The desertification of Mali is a lot about deforestation. When you talk to the old people in those villages, they can remember looking up at the hillsides and seeing them covered with trees, ” said Cockburn. “And there were animals in the bush - lions, birds. And it was all cut down for firewood – there’s no more animals, there’s no more trees, there’s no more water.”
The musician has worked since 1995 on the international effort to ban land mines worldwide.
“Landmines are evidence that war is the biggest polluter of all,” he said.
The musician joined with activists in an effort to bring about a international ban on the destructive military practice.
Enough pressure was brought to bear that an international treaty was signed in 2007 banning landmines, said Cockburn. Around 450 countries, including Canada, are signatories to that treaty.
“But the big ones haven’t signed yet,” he said, noting that the U.S., China and Russia have resisted signing the treaty. Cockburn has performed several benefit concerts to raise awareness on this issue and to galvanize grassroots support in compelling the U.S. government to sign the treaty.
Take A Stand
Whether your pressing issue is deforestation, species extinction, climate change or another manifestation of a world out of balance, Cockburn says to get involved in whatever way you can.
“To the extent that we still have democracy you’ve got to keep pounding your representatives in government about this stuff – because they run on votes and if they think they’re gonna get voted out they’re gonna listen,” he said.
“It’s a slow and frustrating process but it’s the best thing we’ve got right now – other than taking direct action of course and getting in the way.”
Cockburn acknowledged that the direct action route is not open for everyone.
“That is an option of course for those who can do it and are inspired to do it,” he said. “ But for everybody else, the 9 to 5ers, those with kids in school or other concerns – it’s through the political arena that we can make things happen.”
He pointed to the Siskiyou Land Conservancy (SLC) as a positive effort to make effective change. The organization purchases land parcels to hold in conservation.
“The strategy is effective and it’s a way to do an end run,” he said. “This is how we got the land mine treaties signed, they did an end run around the formal political processes and went ahead and fixed it.”
Finding ways to circumvent obstacles makes good activism, Cockburn said. “If the government isn’t going to protect the land in question, buy it and protect it yourself.”
You can’t take on everything, Cockburn tells those who would change the world. “Go for the thing that looks like you can grab it. If everybody did that I think the world would be in a less dire state than it is,” he said.
“And for those that are spiritually inclined at all – pray like hell.”
Bruce Cockburn will perform a benefit concert for the Siskiyou Land Conservancy on April 23 at the Arcata Theatre Lounge.
With thanks to Sarah O'Leary for permission to republish this article on the Woodpile. -DK
April 21, 2010
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Harper Collins to Publish the Memoir of Celebrated Musician Bruce Cockburn
April 21, 2010, SAN FRANCISCO—HarperOne and HarperCollinsCanada announces today the forthcoming publication of celebrated singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn’s memoir, sold to HarperOne’s Senior Editor Roger Freet by Bernie Finkelstein—Cockburn’s 40 year management partner and founder of True North Records—of The Finkelstein Management Company. Cockburn’s long awaited memoir is set to publish in April 2012.
Since 1970, with 30 albums and numerous awards to his credit, Bruce Cockburn has earned high praise as an exceptional songwriter and pioneering guitarist, whose career has been shaped by politics, protest, romance, and spiritual discovery. His remarkable journey has seen him embrace folk, jazz, blues, rock, and worldbeat styles while travelling to such far-flung places as Guatemala, Mali, Mozambique, Afghanistan, and Nepal, and writing memorable songs about his ever-expanding world of wonders.
“Bruce’s decades-long devotion to social justice and spiritual depth is a perfect fit for our list. We’re excited to be publishing his memoir,” said SVP/Publisher, Mark Tauber.
“Over the years, the notion that there should be a book about me has popped up now and then, along with offers to write it,” said Mr. Cockburn. “It always seemed too soon, and I've felt all along that such a book should be mine to author. When HarperOne expressed their interest, it finally did seem timely, so here we go! It's very gratifying to be associated with this important publisher.”
“Bruce’s music has enriched my life, and the lives of so many, over the years,” said Mr. Freet. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with Bruce as he shares his amazing life story.”
BRUCE COCKBURN: Born in 1945 in Ottawa, Ontario, the Canadian music legend began his solo career with the self-titled album in 1970 released by Bernie Finkelstein’s newly founded label True North Records. Cockburn’s ever expanding repertoire of musical styles and skilfully crafted lyrics have been covered by such artists as Jerry Garcia, Chet Atkins, Barenaked Ladies, Jimmy Buffett, and k.d. lang. His guitar playing, both acoustic and electric, has placed him in the company of the world’s top instrumentalists. And he remains deeply respected for his activism on issues from native rights and land mines to the environment and Third World debt, working for organizations such as Oxfam, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, Friends of the Earth, and USC Canada.
About Harper One
HarperOne, a division of HarperCollinsPublishers, strives to be the preeminent publisher of the most important books and authors across the full spectrum of religion, spirituality, and personal growth literature, adding to the wealth of the world’s wisdom by stirring the waters of reflection on the primary questions of life, while respecting all traditions
About Harper Collins Publishers
HarperCollins, one of the largest English-language publishers in the world, is a subsidiary of News Corporation (NYSE: NWS, NWS.A; ASX: NWS, NWSLV). Headquartered in New York, HarperCollins has publishing groups around the world including the HarperCollins General Books Group, HarperCollins Children's Books Group, Zondervan, HarperCollins UK, HarperCollins Canada, HarperCollins Australia/New Zealand and HarperCollins India. HarperCollins is a broad-based publisher with strengths in literary and commercial fiction, business books, children's books, cookbooks, mystery, romance, reference, religious and spiritual books. With nearly 200 years of history HarperCollins has published some of the world's foremost authors and has won numerous awards including the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott. Consistently at the forefront of innovation and technological advancement, HarperCollins is the first publisher to digitize its content and create a global digital warehouse to protect the rights of its authors, meet consumer demand and generate additional business opportunities. You can visit HarperCollinsPublishers on the Internet at http://www.harpercollins.com.
March 24, 2010
Luminato offers free artists' talks
While most of the high-profile events of this year's Luminato festival, including Rufus Wainwright's Prima Donna, are ticketed, access to the artists is to be free.
Wainwright and Bruce Cockburn, whose work is celebrated in the Canadian Songbook, are among the artists who will speak in free events focusing on the artists appearing at the June festival in Toronto. Wainwright has agreed to speak about his life and his creation of the new opera.
Kenyan playwright Binyavanga Wainaina, one of three writers behind The African Trilogy, will take part in a discussion of African issues with James Orbinski, the former head of Médecins Sans Frontières.
The exploration of Africa continues with films about AIDS, such as Stephen Lewis: The Man Who Couldn't Sleep and a contemporary photography festival, Bamako.
The free speakers' series announced Tuesday touches on the major themes of the Luminato festival, including Africa, divas and the struggle for artistic rights.
Luminato also announced a ticketed series called Masters of Magic, featuring Spanish magician Juan Tamariz and U.S. magicians Max Maven and Bob Sheets.
The film program includes a spotlight on Arabic film, with three films by Syria's Nabil Maleh and works that explore the rights of the artist such as Haydn Davis Sculptor: A Compilation and RIP: A remix manifesto.
Other free events include:
-A site specific performance by dance company Coleman Lemieux & Co.
-A talk with Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, who are creating a work for Luminato.
-Canadian writer George Elliot Clarke talking about writing and the African-Canadian communities of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Luminato is scheduled for June 11-20 in Toronto.
Posted: March 22, 2010
The current line-up for the next album is : Jenny Scheinman, Gary Craig and Annabelle Chvostek. There may be more players involved before the project is complete.
Toronto Luminato line-up named
The Peterborough Examiner
Posted by Jane Stevenson
Canadian folk singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, Montreal's Rufus Wainwright, banjo player Bela Fleck, and actor John Malkovich will be among the music performers at the Luminato Festival in Toronto from June 11 to 20.
Cockburn, 64, will celebrate his 40-year catalogue with a tribute that will include fellow musicians Hawksley Workman, The Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins, Toronto-based jazz guitarist Michael Occhipinti, Quebec's Michel Rivard, and guitarist Colin Linden performing his tunes at this year's Canadian Songbook night at Massey Hall on June 16 (tickets $55-$85).
"I thought, 'Yeah, 40 years feels like a milestone, let's do it,'" said Cockburn following Tuesday's unveiling of the Luminato music lineup.
"And I'm happy to be part of it, but the really exciting part of it is having all these other people being in on it and hearing their takes on my songs and me being able to participate with them. That's the most fun part of it for me. I'll be on stage a fair amount during the evening, I think."
Cockburn's hits have included Wondering Where the Lions Are, Coldest Night of the Year, Lovers in a Dangerous Time, If I Had a Rocket Launcher, and Waiting for a Miracle and everyone from Barenaked Ladies to Jerry Garcia to Jimmy Buffett have covered his songs.
The Ottawa-born Cockburn, who left Toronto for Montreal in 2000 and now calls Kingston home, said the Canadian songbook idea was mentioned to him about a year ago by his manager Bernie Finkelstein who was in discussions with Luminato.
"It kind of feels like my 50th birthday," said Cockburn. "Forty years just seems like a milestone. Thirty years didn't. I don't what the difference is other than 10 years. Forty feels like, 'Yeah that means something,' to have been around that long and to be continuing to put out new stuff through that period." Cockburn's last studio album was 2006's Life's Short, Call Now, but said he'll go into the studio in June with Colin Linden producing and violinist Jenny Scheinman (Bill Frissell, Ani DiFranco, Lucinda Williams) on board with plans to release the new disc in 2011.
The theme of this year's music program is the celebration of the Diva, East/West, and works that express human and artistic rights. Luminato tickets go on sale April 15 at Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 416-872-1111 or online at ticketmaster.ca. Checkwww.luminato.com for the full schedule.
March 10, 2010
Toronto Globe & Mail
Bruce Cockburn will look back at Luminato
by James Bradshaw
Forty years after his first solo album dropped, legendary Canadian artist Bruce Cockburn will take a look back at his storied career - live, with a little help from some friends.
The singer-songwriter is a headline attraction for Toronto's fourth annual Luminato Festival in June, when he will join an array of other musicians to pay tribute to, well, himself. For the first time, The Canadian Songbook, a popular Luminato mainstay that gathers artists to celebrate a renowned Canadian musician with inventive covers of his or her work, will include the person being celebrated.
The first time I heard people do my stuff, it was a bit like the first time I heard my own voice played back to me from a tape recorder. You sort of go, 'Whoa, that's a totally weird perspective.'
It's Cockburn's latest return to the familiar Massey Hall stage, which (he thinks) he first played when he opened for British folk-rock band Pentangle in late 1972.
"It's a beautiful hall. They built them good in those days, you know? Especially for acoustic music," he said Tuesday at an announcement of the festival's musical lineup, held atop the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto.
To date, Hawksley Workman, Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, jazz guitarist Michael Occhipinti and Montrealer Michel Rivard are confirmed, with more to come, though Cockburn isn't revealing who might be added because he doesn't "want to jinx it."
"That's one of the interesting parts of it, collaborating with people on their versions of my songs," he said.
Cockburn admits that he "sometimes" finds others appropriating his work a tad unnerving, but he has got used to it and mostly takes it as an expression of appreciation for what he has done. "The first time I heard people do my stuff, it was a bit like the first time I heard my own voice played back to me from a tape recorder. You sort of go, 'Whoa, that's a totally weird perspective,' " he said.
During the festival, Cockburn may well cross paths with Rufus Wainwright, with whom he played at a 90th-birthday tribute to Pete Seeger last year. Wainwright will be in town for the North American premiere of his debut opera Prima Donna, but festival artistic director Chris Lorway also revealed yesterday that Wainwright will give a one-night solo concert at the Elgin Theatre, kicking off the North American tour for his new album, All Days Are Nights: Songs for Lulu.
But first, the festival opens with a pair of performances of The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer, starring Oscar-nominated American actor John Malkovich, on June 11 and 12. The show, written and directed by Michael Sturminger and described as "part theatre, part opera, part concert," tells the strange tale of Austrian serial killer and recidivist Jack Unterweger, accompanied by the Vienna Academy Orchestra, which will also perform an afternoon program of Schubert, Haydn and Mozart on June 12.
As part of a thematic look at East-West dualities, Luminato has commissioned a new work, Dark Star Requiem, with Tapestry New Opera Works. It's an oratorio on the history of HIV-AIDS in both North America and Africa by composer Andrew Staniland and poet Jill Battson, and features the Gryphon Trio and the Elmer Iseler Singers as well as soloists and percussionists.
For a free, outdoor experience, try 10 hours of Global Music: Rock the Casbah & An African Prom staged in Toronto's Queen's Park on June 12. The day-long festival features Algerian-born punk-rocker Rachid Taha as well as Bela Fleck and Bassekou Kouyate. The following Saturday, the same space will host another musical marathon, this time dubbed Global Divas and Global Blues and headlined by Salif Keita, tagged by some as the "golden voice of Africa."
The festival closes with TSO Goes Late Night: Beethoven Symphony 9, a concert with an 11 p.m. start time and a late-late after party.
Luminato runs June 11-20 in Toronto, offering more than 150 performances and events at about 40 venues.
March 9, 2010
2010 The Canadian Press
Luminato's music program to include Cockburn, Bela Fleck, John Malkovich
by Victoria Ahearn
TORONTO — Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn says he isn't one to dwell on the past, but he was hit with a wave of nostalgia when he recently realized he's now into his 40th year in the music business.
"It did seem like a milestone," the Ottawa-born folk-rock legend said Tuesday after it was revealed he'll be feted in a June concert as part of Toronto's Luminato arts festival.
"It's like: 'Yeah, 40 years is something. At 30 years I didn't even notice, but 40 years does feel like something ... I'm not given to retrospection normally. I don't listen to the old albums unless I have to relearn a song or something.
"But once in a while I'm somewhere and somebody puts something on and I hear it and think, 'Ah, that's interesting.' Some stuff you cringe at, some stuff is better than I remembered it."
Cockburn's June 16 concert, called "The Canadian Songbook," will see him performing his catalogue of songs with musicians including Hawksley Workman and Margo Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies.
The show is one of several just added to the fourth edition of the annual multi-disciplinary Luminato festival, running June 11-20.
Two-time Academy Award nominee John Malkovich will star in the North American premiere of "The Infernal Comedy: Confessions of a Serial Killer," about Austrian author and murderer Jack Unterweger. The piece, set for June 11, features monologues and operatic arias to the music of the Vienna Academy Orchestra.
Bela Fleck, an American banjo luminary who has won 13 Grammys, will join several artists - including Montreal's Karim Saada - June 12 at the free "Global Music: Rock The Casbah & An African Prom."
And Canadian singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright, who recently added his opera, "Prima Donna," to the festival, has also decided to play a concert at Luminato to kick off his North American tour.
Cockburn's showcase will also feature singer-songwriter Michel Rivard and guitarists Michael Occhipinti and Colin Linden.
All will perform their interpretations of Cockburn's hits, which include "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" and "If I Had a Rocket Launcher."
"I feel like pretty much the same person as I did 40 years ago, although I feel like I know a lot more and I think I'm nicer," said Cockburn, 64, who released his self-titled debut solo album in 1970.
"I think I was a little bit tense back then."
Cockburn's music has been covered by many artists, including Jimmy Buffett, Jerry Garcia, k.d. lang, Anne Murray and the Barenaked Ladies.
At first it was "weird" hearing different versions of his tunes, "but you get used to it and then you can start appreciating what people do," he said.
Cockburn, who lives in Kingston, Ont., isn't sure what he'll play at the show, but he does have some favourites.
"Just the other day I was in a car with a couple of people and somebody put on 'Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu,' and I hadn't listened to that in a long time and I was like, 'This is a good album!"'
Then there are the songs that are "not much fun to relive" because they're inspired by tragic experiences, he said.
Performing the 1984 single "If I Had a Rocket Launcher," for instance, is tough for him because it's like reliving his trip to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico, which were attacked by military helicopters.
"I don't particularly like singing that song because I have to go where I was when I wrote it and it wasn't a good place," he said. "It was a painful thing to be around. Not for my own pain - my pain was second-hand - it was from being next to the people that were suffering the stuff that the song talks about."
Tickets to Luminato events go on sale April 15.
Posted February 17, 2010
Earth Day Canada
Earth Day Canada is pleased to honour Bruce Cockburn with this year’s Outstanding Commitment to the Environment Award. For three decades, Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn has been an outspoken voice on issues relating to the environment. He has performed benefit concerts in support of the Haida Nation and the Stein River Valley and their fights against logging; spoke out against the destruction of tropical rain forests and the Exxon oil spill off the Alaskan coast; narrated a television documentary on the Mali desert; acted as honorary chairperson of Friends of the Earth; and of course wrote the anthemic “If A Tree Falls.”
“The whole point of writing songs is to share experiences with people,” says Bruce, looking back on a career that includes 26 albums, numerous international awards, including the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and the Tenco Award for Lifetime Achievement in Italy, 20 gold and platinum records in Canada, and countless concert performances since he released his first solo work in 1970.
Born in Ottawa in 1945, Bruce set his sights on a career in music after growing up listening to Elvis records. He landed at Berklee College of Music in Boston in the early ’60s before moving back to Ottawa in 1965 to play in a series of rock bands. He eventually found his voice as a songwriter and developed a highly personal finger-picking guitar style that merged Mississippi John Hurt blues with modal jazz harmony, melodic lyricism and cycling rhythms.
Bruce was made a Member of the Order of Canada in 1982 and was promoted to Officer in 2002. The Canadian Association of Broadcasters (CAB) inducted him into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame. He has also received numerous honorary doctorates for his contributions to music, culture and social activism.
February 12, 2010
Email from Bernie Finkelstein
Bruce is doing a TV show there [in Winnipeg] with one of Quebec's greatest stars, Michel Rivard. You might remember many years ago Bruce performed with Michel during a benefit concert in Montreal which also featured Crosby, Stills and Nash.
The TV show is being taped February 17 during the Festival you're referring to [Festival du Voyageur]. I don't have much more detail for you other than it's for the French CBC in Quebec and the French national network in english Canada. I don't have the air date.
Bruce will most likely do three of his songs with Michel (expected to be Pacing The Cage, Lovers In A Dangerous Time and Homme Brulant) and then do three French songs of Michel's. All six songs will be done with Michel in some form or another. This will all be worked out in rehearsal in Winnipeg.
When I have the air date I'll get it posted to you.
Posted: February 3, 2010
From Bruce's management
Finkelstein Management is running a contest to launch the Official Bruce Cockburn Facebook Fan Page, just launched today.
Everyone who joins the official Bruce Cockburn Facebook fan page between now and March 14, 2010 at 11:59pm EST will be entered into a draw. On March 15, 2010 we will give away three Bruce Cockburn prizes:
1st Prize: 1 signed Poster & 2 signed CDs
2nd Prize: 1 signed Poster & 1 signed CD
3rd Prize: 1 signed CD
January 20, 2010
MP3s for a Cause: Paste Mag Launches ‘Songs for Haiti’
by Steve Smith
(Note from Keebler: Bruce has donated "Waiting for a Miracle" from Anything Anytime Anywhere.)
When you have the ears and the hearts of some of the leading musicians in the world, that is what you use to get people to give. Paste magazine today launched its creative response to the tragedy in Haiti with a “Songs for Haiti” Web site that offers access to MP3 tracks to those who donate. Tracks come from artists like Ludacris, Of Montreal, Andrew Bird, Hanson and Bruce Cockburn among 200 artists who contributed their work to the effort. Visitors can donate to the charities with whom Paste is partnered - Doctors Without Borders, the Red Cross and Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund - or they can declare where else they have donated in order to access the Paste vault of 250 songs. It is on the honor system, the company says. As of this morning, the site reported over $45,000 in donations.
Paste says it is passing 100% of donations to the partnered organizations. Artists are being asked by the magazine to contribute songs to be held in the vault.
“We obviously don’t think people would need incentive to donate in this effort, but perhaps the campaign will inspire more music fans to get involved, or to encourage people who have already donated, to donate again,” said Josh Jackson, Paste magazine editor-in-chief in a statement. “Music has always been a force that brings people together, and to have so many fantastic artists drop everything to contribute to this effort was very touching.”
The site is also making the banners and badges advertising “Songs for Haiti” available for reporting.
January 7, 2010
The Killing Floor - Notes from the Editor of the Boston Blues Society
Comments on Things About Comin' My Way: "Honey Babe Let The Deal Go Down”
by Michael Mellor
WHAT STEVE DAWSON SAYS:
I released a few records with a group called Zubot and Dawson a few years ago, and we were signed to True North Records, home of Bruce Cockburn. I asked Bernie Finkelstein, Bruce's manager, about contributing and he seemed interested. Bruce was into the idea, so we discussed some song choices. We got it down to two, and finally picked this song. I think Bruce really wanted to find something he could dig into, but really make it his own.
This song was the last in an epic day of recording in Seattle. We ran through the tune a couple of times and laid it down fairly easily - I think we did about three takes. This was the second take, I believe.
We did go back in to work on Bruce's solo part a little bit, and got some great results. After we were done, Bruce said "this would sound cool with a room full of drunks singing on the last verse". So we did... sing that is... and had a few beers to celebrate. Luckily there's lots of photos of that session. It was a fun one!
I added the trombone later on as an overdub. Everything else is done live.
WHAT MIKE SAYS:
Fine work, Steve and Bruce. When this song gets stuck in my head (which is fairly regularly), it's the "room full of drunks" and the trombone that do it.
Cockburn is one of those artists, much like Richard Thompson or his friend T-Bone Burnett, who have had a considerable impact on popular music while remaining largely anonymous themselves (at least in the United Stats, anyway). It's strange how some people can shift the mainstream toward them (as opposed to shifting toward the mainstream) and still go unnoticed.