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.