"Since 1970, with over 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, Mozambique, Afghanistan, and Nepal, and writing memorable songs about his ever-expanding world of wonders. Having been asked to write his memoir many times over the years, now is the moment when he will open up about his Christian convictions, his personal relationships, and the social and political activism that has both invigorated and enraged his fans over the years.
Born in 1945 in Ottawa, Ontario, Bruce Cockburn began his solo career with a self-titled album in 1970. Cockburn’s ever expanding repertoire of musical styles and skillfully crafted lyrics have been covered by suchartists 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.Cockburn 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."
Rated “rock’s last great obscurity” by Melody Maker Cockburn has quietly made a living as a singer/songwriter since 1970 and his self-titled debut while never going all out for fame and fortune. As literate a guitarist as he is a lyricist he fuses sparklingly complex jazz/rock rhythms with metaphor loaded lyricism, as often spoken as sung – “sometimes things don’t easily reduce to rhyming couplets”. Forty plus years of consistent, intelligent exploration of the personal, political and spiritual, often within the same song, is no mean achievement. When combined with both an honesty about his own relationship and faith frailties and a willingness to campaign with the likes of Oxfam raging against US and IMF oppression in the two-thirds world, you have to give the man respect.
Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws showcased the mysticism which, as Vox said, he seems to understand better than anyone not named Van Morrison. His Christian faith developed from an experience of God’s presence during his marriage ceremony and was given wings through the writings of C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams. Creation Dream opens this album and is worth quoting both as a wonderful depiction of God at his creation-work but also as a picture of what the Christian artist aims to imitate:
Centred on silence, counting on nothing,
I saw you standing on the sea.
And everything was dark except for
Sparks the wind struck from your hair.
Sparks that turned to wings around you,
Angel voices mixed with sea bird’s cries.
Fields of motion surging outwards,
Questions that contain their own replies.
You were dancing, I saw you dancing,
Throwing your arms towards the sky.
Fingers opening like flares,
Stars were shooting everywhere.
Lines of power bursting outwards
Along the channels of your song.
Mercury waves flash under your feet,
Shots of silver in the shell-pink dawn.
World of Wonders kicks off, by contrast, with the “you don’t really give a flying fuck about the people in misery” of IMF. Here Cockburn marries the energy of the music with the anger of the lyric, something he failed to do on the earlier Stealing Fire where he flirted with Dire Straits territory while unleashing the most un-Knopfler-like sentiments – “If I had a rocket launcher I’d make somebody pay” (Rocket Launcher). He hymned the absence of both God (Lily of the Midnight Sky) and his lover (See how I miss you) while celebrating the dawn of revolution (Santiago Dawn) and tropical partying (Down here tonight).
Nothing But A Burning Light was the first of two T-Bone Burnett produced albums, with Dart to the Heart being the other. Michael Been and Sam Phillips also contributed. The burning light of the album’s title is the Bible, an image taken from Blind Willie Johnson’s Soul of a Man which Cockburn covers here. Cockburn’s work is shot through by the illumination of that burning light. In a world where there are “Not many answers to be found” and where “We’re faced with mysteries profound” human love is one of the best of those mysteries (One of the Best Ones) while the very best is the redemption that “rips through the surface of time/In the cry of a tiny babe” (Cry of a Tiny Babe).
Bruce Cockburn - Pacing The Cage.