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Bruce Cockburn: Just a mouthpiece… with something still to say  

Tuesday 16th, January 2018 / 12:00
By Andrew Bardsley 

Photo by Daniel Keebler

CALGARY – Canadian icon, Bruce Cockburn, returns from a three year hiatus with Bone on Bone, a return to form for the legendary singer-songwriter. With an astonishing 33 albums under his belt, Bruce Cockburn has brought us a frantic, but timely album, his first since 2011. Cockburn has been a fixture in Canadian folk since the ‘70s, but it was Dancing in The Dragon’s Jaws (1979) and the song “Wondering Where the Lions Are” which propelled Cockburn to international renown. 

“What else am I gonna do? I’m still here and I still have something to say.” Cockburn tells BeatRoute from his Bay area home, when asked what keeps him going, his 33rd album now on the shelves. “I have had the same lack of a game plan since day one.”  

Bone on Bone also marks Cockburn’s first album since the release of his memoir Rumours of Glory (2014). His rewarding lyrics and virtuousic guitar ability has defined his career, but following the release of his memoir, Cockburn initially didn’t think he was going to be able to return to music. “After that long I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to remember how to write a song, or whether-or-not my life had changed enough that it wouldn’t be the thing to do anymore.”  

It was an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary on Canadian poet Al Purdy that brought Cockburn back to songwriting. “This was a gift from God I thought. I had this image of this homeless guy who was obsessed with Al Purdy’s poetry.”  

The song in question turned into “Sweet Al Purdy” and is also the inspiration behind “3 Al Purdy’s” on Bone on Bone. Cockburn did not grow up in a religious home but it was his time as an adolescent that helped form his faith, which has always been a critical juncture for him. A child of the Beat Generation, Cockburn grew up reading about Buddhism, the Occult and eventually Christianity.  

“It got to the point where I had to look in the mirror and say to myself, ‘You’re a Christian now.’ At that point in my life, I didn’t really know how to have a relationship with anybody let alone God. I had grown up not really good at relationships so I had a lot to learn about that.”  

A large part of Cockburn’s extended period away from music allowed him to invest himself in fatherhood for his young daughter Iona Cockburn, born in 2011. Although Cockburn tries to bring his daughter on tour as much as possible, she has started school and is unable to join him as much as he would like. 

“If you have a family that can travel with you that changes the picture drastically.” He attests. At the juncture of parenting and activism, Cockburn is hopeful for his daughter. “I trust that my young daughter will pick up the vibe, but the world she grows up in is going to be quite different from the one we are currently in I think, and not necessarily for the better.”  

Living in San Francisco under the looming thunderstorm of today’s political climate has allowed a new era of activists to interact with Cockburn’s music, finding such hits as “If I had a Rocket Launcher” off the 1987 album Waiting For A Miracle, still resonant with the politics of today. While Cockburn does not consider it his job, he is happy to speak truth to power with the power he has an artist. 

“I’ve never seen myself as much of an activist but as a mouthpiece for the people who are the real activists.”  

Bruce Cockburn performs January 23 at the Jack Singer Concert Hall (Calgary), January 24 at the Winspear Centre (Edmonton), and January 27 at the Centre for the Arts (Vancouver).

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