'From here on in is a gift': Bruce Cockburn mulls our political time
Newest Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, 72, mulls the power of community and spirit in the era of Trump — and offers advice for today's awakening activists
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Fifty years after singer-songer Bruce Cockburn burst onto the Canadian music scene combining careful guitar work with scathing political lyrics and activism to match, the man behind 'Pacing the Cage' and 'If I Had a Rocket Launcher' released his first album in six years.
His album Bone on Bone was released in September the same month as his award, and Cockburn, 72, plays Saturday 8 p.m. at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts. Tickets are available online.
And just this fall, the 'Lovers in a Dangerous Time' songwriter was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, alongside some of the greats of the country's music greats.
He spoke to Metro from his San Francisco home. Here are some excerpts.
Metro: Your new album Bone on Bone features demons in disguise, Biblical images, blood sacrifice — it's a mystical album.
Bruce Cockburn: The songs come out of speculations about life and feelings triggered by the stuff I've run across. It's a record, in a certain way, not just of what's going through my head at the time, but also the years preceding it. There was a big gap from the previous group of songs.
There's a sort of a line of continuity, though: the spiritual focus has always been paramount for me. Sometimes it's obvious, sometimes it's less, in my music. Lately there's been more. It's partly a function of the stage of life I'm at, I think. Each song has it's own origin story.
Tell me about your new song 40 Years in the Wilderness.
The imagery is certainly Biblical in origin, but when I wrote it I was thinking of my own 40 years … There was a long road in between, if anyone cared to notice you can trace it through my songs and albums. I moved west — if you'd asked me 15 years ago if I was ever going to live on the West Coast, I would have said, 'No I don't see myself doing that.' But here I am. I married an American gal and she got a job in San Francisco.
How does Bruce Cockburn of 40 years ago compare to today's 72-year-old one?
To the extent I can remember, I was worried about more stuff. I wish I could claim to be free of unnecessary concerns. But I found when I turned 50, I suddenly felt I had a license to enjoy my life. Because the pressure was off. I'd made it through half a century; from here on in is a gift.
You aren't 'pacing the cage' any more?
(Laughs) That depends on the day! I might be, but mostly not. That's a condition that all of us find ourselves in one way or another at times. Hopefully infrequently.
But I do feel like for me the wilderness was learning to love and learning people. In the process of learning to be part of a community of people, which I had previously pretty much tried to avoid. But it became apparently if I was going to get any further, I had to learn how to love my neighbour — but I had to learn who my neighbour actually is!
Whether it's #MeToo, anti-Trump or refugees — do these movements remind you of the kind of awakening you saw in your songs Call It Democracy or If I Had a Rocket Launcher?
There's so much bafflegab; the President makes outrageous statements every day, you can pretty much count on it, and pretty much everything that comes out of his mouth is a lie. Why are we paying attention to this guy at all? If you're going to get involved in stuff — and I hope people do — if you get enough of that youthful energy involved in something there is the chance of making changes.
Is there anything you have to offer this generation going through its 'rocket launcher' phase?
I would caution people against getting too attached to the imagined outcome of their efforts. Because you probably won't live to see the real outcome. Don't expect to be able to revel in success or you're going to get burnt out, exhausted and cynical. It's really important to just do the work and keep the focus on stuff that actually matters.