If a tree falls in the forest…
Bruce Cockburn searches the world for the sounds of injustice
Baghdad had a strange visitor last month, a Westerner packing heat in the form of a guitar. For nearly two weeks in January, Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn roamed the streets of Baghdad taking notes, singing songs and searching for “what it means to be an Iraqi trying to maintain some semblance of life in the presence of American troops, the bombings, the shootings and the complete breakdown of law and order.”
But that’s Bruce Cockburn—seeking humanism in an increasingly subjugated world. Since the late 1960s, Cockburn has searched the world for spiritual as well as political truths. Along the way, from Vietnam to Iraq, he’s toted his guitar and fired off some of the best lyrical renunciations of the status quo.
The Juno award-winning singer has experienced much throughout the world. In 1983, he wrote his smash hit “If I had a Rocket Launcher” in reaction to his witnessing of U.S. backed Guatemalan helicopters strafing refugees in Mexico. Already known internationally as a spiritual folk singer made famous by his chartbusting “Wondering Where the Lions Are” (1976), Cockburn’s spiritual side was now joined by a commitment to sing and write about politics. In 1986, the song “Democracy,” which took a jab at the IMF and the globalization process, earned Cockburn an outright ban from MTV.
But Bruce Cockburn was firmly committed to his own voice. “It’s a choice. I see my job as trying to take what I understand to be true and distill it into some communicable form, through songs.”
Thus Cockburn, like Bob Dylan a generation earlier, strives to act as a form of consciousness, bringing to the forefront the human side of global conflicts often not seen in American media.
“People are worried, worried about a lot of things,” says Cockburn about the conflict in Iraq. “But I think its part of human nature to entertain the notion that you’re going to be able to get through what you’re confronted with somehow, which could be translated as hope. And so, hope is there [in Iraq].”
On Cockburn’s latest album, You’ve Never Seen Everything, that mixture of political activism rages alongside themes of spiritual love. On the title track he writes: "Bad pressure coming down/ Tears—what we really traffic in/ ride the ribbon of shadow/ Never feel the light falling all around."