In 1981 I was in seminary, studying for the ministry, trying to escape a form of fundamentalism, although I did not really have a name for what was happening. Somehow I came upon the music of Bruce Cockburn, and particularly a live album entitled Circles In The Stream. I was struck, first, by the musical riches, which I would later hear in another Canadian group of musicians, the Duhks. The blend of pipes and keyboards seemed to express at times celtic and at other times carribean influences, but more striking was his guitar prowess. And even more striking was his command of the language, and the integration of faith with modernity, and an added subtle critique of religious hypocrisy.

"Lord of The Starfields" was like no hymn I had ever heard; an unmistakable anthem of praise to a God who was much larger and more cosmic than I had imagined. "Free To Be" was a call to liberation, and yet arranged musically in such a way that to avoid the heaviness of such a choice. But for me the most profound piece on the album was "Dialogue With The Devil". Hearing the song in 2009, after financial collapse, the insight is arresting: "Sitting on a mountain of ashes/face to face with past regret." I could go on: "All The Diamonds In The World" which Cockburn wrote in the aftermath of his conversion to Christianity continues to inspire. Later Cockburn would develop a passion for Central American issues and this drove a wedge unfortunately with many who were drawn to his more mystical side. And yet the edge was his prophetic voice (present in the anger, for example, of "If I Had A Rocket Launcher", or the plaintive "Nicaragua" ), but always in service of his maturing as an artist.

I lost that album long ago, and was only recently moved to order a copy of the newly remastered/enhanced cd. My own journey into mid-life seems to have paralleled Cockburn's. I am drawn, once again, to the joyful folk and jazz of Circles, and grateful for the way that music can take one back to a certain place and time....and yet speak to the present moment.

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Comment by Linda Ray on May 4, 2009 at 1:05pm
It's such a coincidence that you posted this last night. Yesterday in church one of our members who performs as a singer and guitarist (one of probably thousands out there laboring in undeserved anonymity) sang Bruce Cockburn's "Mystery" during the service. It's from his 2006 Life Short Call Now:

You can't tell me there is no mystery
Mystery
Mystery
You can't tell me there is no mystery
It's everywhere I turn

Moon over junk yard where the snow lies bright
Snow lies bright
Snow lies bright
Moon over junk yard where the snow lies bright
Can set my heart to burn

Stood before the shaman, I saw star-strewn space
Star-strewn space
Star-strewn space
Stood before the shaman, I saw star strewn space
Behind the eye holes in his face

Infinity always gives me vertigo
Vertigo
Vertigo
Infinity always gives me vertigo
And fills me up with grace

I was built on a Friday and you can't fix me
You can't fix me
You can't fix me
I was built on a Friday and you can't fix me
Even so I've done okay

So grab that last bottle full of gasoline
Gasoline
Gasoline
Grab that last bottle full of gasoline
Light a toast to yesterday

And don't tell me there is no mystery
Mystery
Mystery
And don't tell me there is no mystery
It overflows my cup

This feast of beauty can intoxicate
Intoxicate
Intoxicate
This feast of beauty can intoxicate
Just like the finest wine

So all you stumblers who believe love rules
Believe love rules
Believe love rules
Come all you stumblers who believe love rules
Stand up and let it shine
Stand up and let it shine
Comment by Ken Carter on May 4, 2009 at 1:21pm
what a great song; i don't know it (i know much of bruce's work), but I will find it...
Comment by Michael Wilson on May 5, 2009 at 2:26pm
The good news, whether you're getting reacquainted with Cockburn or looking into his work for the first time, is that he has just released a new double CD of live solo (largely acoustic) performances of songs spanning his whole career: 'Slice O Life'. And very good it is too.

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.