May 27 – Cockburn Rails Away Against Injustice 50 Years On

Happy 76th birthday to an ’80s throwback to the ’60s – Bruce Cockburn.

The Canadian singer has been compared to the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, but perhaps deserves some comparisons to another Canadian – Leonard Cohen, as a singer acutely aware of the power of words, greatly respected but without overwhelming commercial success. Although his music is very much rooted in folk, he’s dabbled in straight-ahead rock, reggae and even jazz. Yet he has the soul of a punk rocker, railing against any number of wrongs and wrong-doers including those who harm the environment, mega-corporations and governments that keep native populations segregated. Given that, perhaps its surprising he says he’s more influenced by poets than anything else – for instance Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Neruda, and Kenji Miyazawa. “He was a big influence on me in the late-’70s and ’80s”, he said recently about the Japanese poet from the early-20th Century. “He wrote from a Buddhist perspective and he had a sensibility of nature that was also in a lot of my songs.”

Bruce’s put out 34 studio albums since 1970, and had 20 go gold or better at home, as well as eight top 40 singles including “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” (which was covered later by Barenaked Ladies), the 1989 top 10 hit “If A Tree Falls” and the controversial “If I Had A Rocket Launcher.” That song, inspired after he visited a refugee camp in Mexico and was sickened by what he considered authoritarian Central American governments’ war on their own people was banned by many stations (largely due to the line “if I had a rocket launcher- some son of a bitch would die!”) but hit #24 on Toronto’s top AM station. He says now he’s rather tired of the song and talking about it. “In the aftermath of 9-11, it just didn’t feel right to sing a song that suggested that (violence) as a response to violence.” Stateside, he’s mostly known for his 1980 easy-listening hit “Wondering where the Lions are” which got to #21 and had him on Saturday Night Live (with Bob Newhart hosting that week!).

The level of respect for him in Canada perhaps exceeds the level of commercial success : to date he’s been awarded six honorary doctorates there and he won (ironically enough considering the other music piece we’re running today) a Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal for “significant contributions and achievements to their fellow countrymen and community.” He put out his most recent record, Crowing Ignites, an all-instrumental one, late in 2019.

April 2 – Cockburn Sums Up These Times

Bruce Cockburn‘s 12th studio album, The Trouble With Normal, hit the Canadian charts this day in 1983. The album would make it into the top 20 there and go gold, not that unusual a situation for the folky sometimes compared to Bob Dylan and referred to by allmusic as “Canada’s best-kept secret.” He had a minor foray into American success in 1979 with the single “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and by that time had had middling radio success in his homeland with songs like “Tokyo” and “the Coldest Night of the Year.”

Cockburn came out of the Toronto folk scene of the ’60s (rather like Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot) and was known for his songs of anger directed towards the establishment. A couple of years after this album, he’d have another minor American hit with “If I Had A Rocket Launcher”, about his take on U.S. intervention in Central American politics. (Ironically enough, the angry young, then middle-aged man’s biggest selling album is a Christmas one which is 6X platinum in the Great White North.)

Anyway, while the album was fairly well-reviewed and a decent success in Canada, we mention it today because of the title track, “The Trouble With Normal (Is It Always Gets Worse.)” He might have been writing about corporate power and rampant consumerism but boy… that title kinds of sums up these times doesn’t it?

That in mind, today we offer something a bit different: a playlist for these virus-ridden times, something to while away the time while stuck at home under Shelter in Place orders. Cockburn’s summary of “normal” might be a good place to start, then …

Don’t Stand So Close To Me” by The Police. Kind of the new rule of thumb isn’t it, especially now that some grocery stores even have security guards to enforce customers not get within six feet of each other!

Modern Love” by David Bowie. “I know when to go out/ I know when to stay in,” he sings. Right now, it’s mostly stay in…go out, not so much!

Fell on Black Days” by Soundgarden. Springtime might be in full effect, birds are singing and flowers blooming but it still seems like it is black and bleak days, doesn’t it with news of sickness and death crowding out everything else in the media?

Shake the Disease” by Depeche Mode. What we’re hoping this whole planet is able to do just that … and soon.

Night Fever/Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. Apparently the latter has been banned by a number of radio stations right now. But the disco duo sure reminds us what we don’t want (fever) and what we are going to do (stayin’ alive.)

Destroyer” by the Kinks. “Paranoia, they destroy ya’”. Good reminder from Ray and the boys. It’s hard not to worry these days and a high level of caution about germs is warranted but don’t forget to go on living life. Paranoia isn’t going to help you.

Hand in Glove” by The Smiths. Yep, don’t be paranoid, but don’t be silly either. Plastic or rubber gloves when you’re shopping help keep your hands happy, and safe.

Curfew” by The Stranglers. “Be off the streets by nightfall! Be off the streets by nightfall!” Actually, be off the streets anytime if you can. Call it “curfew” or call it a “shelter in place order”, it’s not advisable to be out in public these days.

It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by R.E.M. Michael Stipe joked a bit about this one in a serious message. It maybe the end of the world as we know it, but that doesn’t mean that the new version won’t be ok in weeks to come. Feel fine!

Stand Tall” by Burton Cummings. That title kind of says it all, doesn’t it…

I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. or if Cummings’ didn’t, this one does!

Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. These are the strangest and crappiest times most of us have lived through. But we’re in it together and we’ll come through it together. Be careful, be safe but enjoy the little things we still have and can enjoy easily… your garden, the birds at the feeder, endless amounts of movies and TV shows online to watch, and of course, our loved ones, even if they are at arm’s length these days.

Wishing you all good times and good health!

May 27 – Angry Young Man Cockburn Angry And 74

Happy 74th birthday to an ’80s throwback to the ’60s- Bruce Cockburn. Although his music is very much rooted in folk, he has the soul of a punk rocker, railing against any number of wrongs and wrong-doers including those who harm the environment, mega-corporations and governments that keep native populations segregated.

The Canadian perhaps deserves some comparisons to Leonard Cohen, as a singer acutely aware of the power of words, greatly respected but without overwhelming commercial success. He’s put out 24 albums since 1970, and had 20 go gold or better at home, as well as 8 top 40 singles including “Lovers in a Dangerous time” (which was covered later by Barenaked Ladies), the 1989 top 10 hit “If A Tree Falls” and the controversial “If I Had A Rocket Launcher. That song, inspired after he visited a refugee camp in Mexico and was sickened by what he considered authoritarian Central American governments’ war on their own people was banned by many stations (largely due to the line “if I had a rocket launcher- some son of a bitch would die!”) but hit #24 on Toronto’s top AM station. Stateside, he’s mostly known for his 1980 easy-listening hit “Wondering where the Lions are” which got to #21 and had him on Saturday Night Live (with Bob Newhart hosting that week!). The level of respect for him in Canada perhaps exceeds the level of commercial success : to date he’s been awarded 6 honorary doctorates there and he won (ironically enough considering the other music piece we’re running today) a Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal for “significant contributions and achievements to their fellow countrymen and community.”