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Bookends: Bruce Cockburn’s still kicking at the darkness October 12, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Bruce Cockburn’s still kicking at the darkness
Rumours of Glory

By Dan Davidson

January 21, 2015

– 904 words –


Rumours Of Glory: a Memoir

By Bruce Cockburn

HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

544 pages



“This is not your standard rock and roll memoir. You won’t find me snorting coke with young Elton John or shooting smack with Keith Richards; dangling babies from hotel balconies or fleeing rehab; shooting guns or sleeping with someone else’s wife. Well … you will find me shooting guns and sleeping with someone else’s wife, and these are significant elements of my tale.”

So begins Bruce Cockburn’s memoir, the story of a mild mannered guitar player who seems to have spent his life trying to get outside himself, who has often been the author of his own misfortune (he says) when it comes to relationships, who was a long time getting to the place in his head and heart where he could actually like the audiences for whom he was playing, and who has a complicated relationship with Jesus Christ, whom he is sure has visited him in spirit at least twice.

Confession time. I have been a Cockburn fan since the early 1970s, which puts me pretty close to the beginning of his solo career. I have Bruce copied on cassette tapes borrowed from friends in those days. I have still more Bruce on vinyl, on legitimate cassettes, on CDs and even on mp3 downloads (just because it’s nice to have some of that stuff on my iPod). I’ve even managed to figure out how to perform covers of some of his material, though my guitar skills are barely up to the challenge.

Cockburn starts with the guitar. His devotion to the instrument is what launched him on the path he has followed throughout his career. Prior to going solo, he was in a number of groups, from rock to folk, and those influences have showed up in his playing all through his career.

His parents didn’t have this career in mind for him, but they also didn’t get in his way much when it became clear that nothing else would do. They did, however, insist that he take guitar lessons.

“I took my lessons. I learned some standard tunes and lot of basic guitar techniques. Hank (Sims) introduced me to the music of Chet Atkins and Les Paul. And though I waited until I thought my parents wouldn’t care anymore, in the fullness of time I acquired sideburns, and a leather jacket, and I played in a rock-and-roll band.”

Four themes – the music, relationships, Christianity and human rights – chase themselves back and forth through this book. There are quite a few song lyrics in the text, preceded by his accounts of where they came from and what he was attempting to do with them. If you don’t have the compleat Cockburn, the way I do, you can buy an 8 CD/DVD box set with the same name and containing all the songs referenced in the book.

If you don’t want to do that, but can’t quite recall the tune that goes with the lyrics, there’s a website (http://bc.hc.com) that contains one minute samples of all 117 songs. The links won’t work on your basic Kindle reader, but they work most of the time on an iPad mini and all the time if you access the site on a laptop.

Cockburn can play blistering leads, and has done so on albums from his middle period on, but his basic fingering style is something that he calls a collision between the fingering patterns of his right hand and the somewhat jazz oriented chords that he learned to love with his left hand during his incomplete stay at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, which began when he as 19.

Relationships are a thorny subject for Cockburn. His first marriage lasted quite a few years and produced a child, referenced in “The Laugh” but it ended, and he blames himself for an inability to share deeply enough. In “What About the Bond?” he examined the pain of a man who truly believed in the marriage oath and yet could not cope.

It would be years before he would marry again, though he had a number of long term relationships (including that one with Madame X, the married woman) prior to finally marrying M.J. Hannett and embarking once more on parenthood. Some of the relationships he ended, others were ended for him as partners burned out bumping up against what he calls his own reclusiveness.

While Cockburn frequently declares himself to be disenchanted with organized religion, and organized Christianity (he was vaguely Anglican when he attended regularly) his lyrics, somewhat like Bono’s (of U2) are frequently leavened with references to the teachings of Christ, whom he continues to revere.

“When Jesus came into my life, in 1974, he also made it into the music. Since then our relationship, like most relationships, has ebbed and flowed. I have tried to keep Jesus the compassionate activist close to my heart, along with Jesus as portal to the cosmos, but I have long been leery of the dogma and doctrine that so many have attached to Christianity as well as to most other religions.”

About those guns. Cockburn took up shooting as a hobby sport after losing most of the sight in one eye. So it’s really got nothing to do with “If I had a Rocket Launcher”.






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