For 40 years, this Canadian musical legend has been capturing in song the essence of human experience
One of Canada’s finest artists, Bruce Cockburn has enjoyed an illustrious career shaped by politics, spirituality and musical diversity. His remarkable journey has seen him embrace folk, jazz, rock and worldbeat styles while traveling to far-flung places like Guatemala, Mali, Mozambique and Nepal and writing memorable songs about his ever-expanding world of wonders. “My job,” he explains, “is to try and trap the spirit of things in the scratches of pen on paper and the pulling of notes out of metal.”
That scratching and pulling has earned Cockburn high praise as an exceptional songwriter and a revered guitarist. His songs of romance, protest and spiritual discovery are among the best to have emerged from Canada over the last 40 years. His guitar playing, both acoustic and electric, has placed him in the company of the world’s top instrumentalists. And he remains deeply respected for his activism on issues from native rights and land mines to the
Over the years, Bruce Cockburn concerts have evolved from solo performances in moccasins into full-band gigs in army boots. In the beginning, Cockburn travelled around in an old camper truck, a vagabond poet with acoustic guitar in hand and faithful dog, Aroo, at his feet. During the ’80s, he and his group toured in a large streamlined bus, dressed like urban guerrillas wielding an arsenal of electric instruments. By the end of that decade—and for much of the next—Cockburn downsized and performed with just a pair of talented sidemen. But as his superb live recordings reveal, regardless of the era or the size of his entourage, Cockburn’s concerts are always a wonder to behold: expansive, entrancing and full of surprises.
The result of three years of traveling to such far-flung places as Mozambique, Nepal and Central America, the songs on 1989’s Big Circumstance reflect Bruce Cockburn’s heartfelt reactions to war, repression and environmental abuse. The celebrated Canadian singer-songwriter was already well known for such forthright songs of the 1980s as “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” and “Call it Democracy.” With Big Circumstance, Cockburn ended the decade with some of the most politically potent material of his career, including “If a Tree Falls,” which tackled the issue of rain forest destruction. “From Sarawak to Amazonas, Costa Rica to mangy B.C. hills,” he sang angrily, “ancient cord of coexistence hacked by parasitic greedhead scam.” The accompanying video—one of Cockburn’s best—didn’t pull any punches either.