Saturday, April 28, 2007

Show of Hands...Who Remembers Bruce Cockburn?

I know that opening line is going to bring some angry commentary--or would, if anyone were reading this--because I remember how I felt when people made similar comments about Rick Springfield while I was writing my book, even though Rick Springfield HAD, in fact, taken a few years (or maybe it was a decade or so) away from the music industry.

Rick Springfield played something like 188 live shows that year, and the world seemed to believe he'd drifted away after "Jessie's Girl". Even now, I'm having a hard time steering myself back to the point without telling you all just exactly how many Top 40 songs Rick Springfield had after "Jessie's Girl".

Rick Springfield is a fairly prolific musician--I've lost count now, but he has 114 or 15 albums, I think, not counting comps.

Bruce Cockburn quietly blows him out of the water with 49. Yes, 49. So, "I remember him!" is a strange reaction, even to my own ears. But it's the one I had. You see, Bruce Cockburn is a landmarker in my life. I think that many musicians play that role for us. Bruce Cockburn isn't just a great musician and political activist, he's a symbol of vinyl LP's on my roommate's stereo after dinner in college and political debates far into the night, of speaking on campus and--just once--closing down a state highway.

He's a symbol of the instant connection I felt when my ex-fiance (a man I dated for five years but have now been friends with for 19) said women didn't know anything about music and I said, "My college roommate knows more about music than any man you know" and he said, "Does she know Bruce Cockburn?" I'm pretty sure I yelled "Bruce Cockburn is my favorite musician!"

I only saw Bruce Cockburn live once, at a little theatre-style place called The Riviera on the north side of Chicago. I was in law schoo in Champaign at the time, and I was in a little street-front record store (remember record stores?) buying "Big Circumstance" and the clerk said, "We're going to have tickets". Champaign was about 150 miles from Chicago, but I went right home (or back to the tiny twelfth story room that passed for hom at that point) and called my college roommate. It was an amazing night...the first concert I'd ever been to, I think, that made me turn to her and say, "I don't think I would have changed anything." She responded that she wished he'd done "Nicaragua," and he came right back out and did it.

That was life in the Bruce Cockburn days. Singing by the lagoon at night, covert political meetings, dinner always ready in the cafeteria and pre-paid. Even now, if you ask me at the right moment I'll name "Stealing Fire" as my all-time favorite album, but it's not in the CD player in my car.

And then last night, I sat down to watch a movie with my daughter--some cute little movie about a bunch of teenagers who set out to save burrowing owls from an evil corporation--and with the opening credits they served up "Wondering Where the Lions Are".

"This is 'Wondering Where the Lions Are'!" I said.

My daughter said, "Oh."

I sat up straighter, scooted toward the edge of the couch. "This is Bruce Cockburn!" I said.

She said, "Oh."

"Bruce Cockburn used to be my favorite musician," I tried.

She nodded.

"He's a big political activist. That's probably why he's in this movie." My daughter is all about charity and animals--I thought that might impress her. She nodded again and looked meaningfully at the television, where the movie had started.

"Tomorrow, I'll play 'Stealing Fire' for you," I promised. And she said, "Oh, good."


Barb said...


Bruce Cockburn still puts out almost an album a year. I love him. I've seen him live. I've met him. I once saw him at a taping of Austin City Limits where he sat in the round with Roseanne Cash and Lucinda Williams and he sounded like four musicians in one.

Did I mention that I love him?

TrueMirage said...

I love Bruce Cockburn! used to go see him all the time when I lived in Austin. Once, I even saw him do a marathon where he played all the songs he'd ever written - I think Jimmie Dale Gilmore was there and probably some other Austin stalwarts.