Bruce Cockburn: Passion for work no Small Source of Comfort

Bruce Cockburn is recognized the world over for his insightful songs, including If I Had A Rocket Launcher, Wondering Where The Lions Are and Lovers In A Dangerous Time.

The 66-year-old Cockburn, an Officer of The Order of Canada, is one of Canada’s most celebrated artists with 11 Juno Awards to his credit. He takes the stage at Moncton’s Capitol Theatre Thursday night.

Cockburn’s newest record, Small Source of Comfort, is his 31st record and continues the singer-songwriter’s tradition of wearing multiple hats including humanitarian, protestor and romantic. Combining compelling real-life experiences and beliefs with thought-provoking fiction, Cockburn has held onto his relevancy for more than four decades now in big part due to the immediate, uncensored nature of his songs.

But does his passion for being a champion of social responsibility and various injustices among people around the world still burn deeply inside him? Cockburn laughs at the suggestion that he is a social champion but says that he has always been attracted to things that matter to him personally.

“It is interesting to think of it as social responsibility as it has always been a personal matter for me,” Cockburn says from his Toronto-area home. “I have children and grandchildren and so what happens in the world really matters to me. People who are close to me will grow up with the results of what we are doing now.

“Some of my concerns stem from that but they also stem from a love of our world and nature around us. There are aspects of nature that are harsh and terrifying but really, our planet is a beautiful thing. I do get angry about it sometimes and feel like I want to mouth off,” he laughs.

“But at the end of the day, I simply hope that others will be awakened to what a specific song might be about or develop their own interest in the topic by hearing the song.”

While Cockburn has never been one to shy away from exposing the darker side of the human existence, a couple of songs on Small Source of Comfort stemmed from his visit to Afghanistan in 2010. One of those songs, Each One Lost, pays tribute to the men and women who have sacrificed their lives while the other track, Comets of Kandahar, is an instrumental piece inspired by the light of the fire of the jet engines that take off into the darkness of the Afghan landscape.

“I was in Afghanistan for one week in September 2010. It was an amazingly intense experience. I had the chance to be a part of an incredibly moving ramp ceremony where we were honouring two Canadians who had lost their lives earlier that day. It was a day in my life where it just put things in their proper perspective. It made me realize that the roles that these people in service hold are even more impressive because they are willing to take risks that others don’t.

“Comets of Kandahar was inspired from watching the Canadian fighter jets take off into the night sky,” Cockburn continues. “Of course, the Canadian bases are kept in virtual darkness at night otherwise they would become a target themselves, and all you would see is an incandescent purple tail flame that would shoot across the sky. I was told that no matter how long you had been stationed in Afghanistan, everyone would stop what they were doing and would turn to watch this light dissipate into the night.”

Though he continues to perform with a live band, Cockburn’s show at Moncton’s Capitol Theatre Thursday night will be a solo affair. Calling the show “acoustic in a modern way,” Cockburn says it will feature many tracks from Small Source of Comfort while also revisiting the countless hits from his storied career.

“My brain can retain about two shows worth of songs at any one time. That translates to 40 to 50 songs in playable form. The set list changes over time, from year to year. But there is always an emphasis placed on newer material but there is always a nice cross-section of songs that extend fairly far back as well,” he says.

While his set list may vary, one thing is for certain: Cockburn has no plans to retire from the stage anytime soon. He says that he intends to keep writing and performing until his hands or body prevent him from doing otherwise.

“I always look forward to getting out on the road. I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years and I still like the traveling aspects of being on tour,” he says. “Frankly, I feel fortunate that I am able to continue touring. It is nothing that I take for granted because the older I get, the longer the odds get that I will be able to keep doing that.”

Article published in February 15, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript