rediscovering bruce cockburn
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.