40 Years in the Wilderness

I discovered Bruce Cockburn’s music in the summer of 1994 – the year that his great album Dart to the Heart was released. I was in my mid-20’s, lacking any real focus or direction in life, and I immediately connected with his music as a calming and fulfilling presence in my life. When I’m full of angst and anxiety, feeling the weight and responsibility that comes with being a father and husband and provider – coupled with the awful news cycles of our present day – I can “go to the well” of Bruce’s music to ground me and put everything in perspective.

“40 Years In The Wilderness” is one of Bruce’s new tunes, released on 2017’s Bone on Bone, and has that subtle spirituality you’ll often find in Bruce’s music. There’s an obvious connotation to Jesus, who spent 40 days and nights in the Judean desert, tempted by Satan. Bruce compares it to his recent move to San Francisco with his wife and young daughter, and his return to church after a forty year absence:

After I wrote my memoir [2014’s Rumours of Glory], I hadn’t written a song in four years. I started going to church again, after not having gone for decades. There was a sermon about Jesus being baptized, which is when he really figures out who he is. He’s shocked, and he runs out into the desert to figure it out. That struck me with considerable force. I felt like I’d been struggling with that issue for 40 years. I’d started to identify myself as a Christian in the 1970s, and here I was, 40 years later, back in church. And I’m living in San Francisco now, with my wife and child. I never would have imagined myself living on the West Coast. But it was an answer. I went with it. I went west in another one of those cosmic moments. This song is about accepting those invitations. [1]

It’s really a gorgeous song, with a chorus that will stick with you after a couple listens. You’ll hear Mary Gauthier singing background vocals here too.

Lucky for me, I’ll be seeing Bruce in concert this Tuesday in Tempe (with a band, [!] which I haven’t experienced since February 2000).

Here’s a live acoustic version too:

Up the Hill: Bruce Cockburn @ the Orpheum Theater in Flagstaff

There are two Bruces in the music world I am very fond of. One is Springsteen, the other is Cockburn. This weekend, the perfect storm of shows came to pass: the Weekend of Bruce.  Friday night was the Boss. And on Saturday, the wife and I took off for Flagstaff on an anxiously awaited 24 hour getaway to see Bruce Cockburn.

I discovered Cockburn in 1994, when his great album Dart to the Heart was being played on local radio. It was an amazing discovery for me – his albums date back to 1970 (the year I was born), and I snatched most of them up. Masterful guitar playing, a clear and soothing singing voice, and a very diverse range of subject matter when it comes to the lyrics: from affairs of the heart to land mines, the metaphysical and spiritual to the eradication of Native American culture. He’s a very intelligent and thought provoking man.

It had been about 10 years since I last saw him live, so I made sure I scored tickets early when I heard about it. And that paid off, because we found ourselves in the front row last night (man, what a weekend for great location!).  The setting was the Orpheum Theater in Flagstaff, a great little theater on Aspen Street. It’s a nice long room with a large stage in front, and a bar area in the back which runs a good way along the side of the theater. We were bummed to discover that it closes at the end of April – permanently. Another great venue bites the dust (like they always seem to).

Bruce had three acoustic guitars set up, along with a dobro and a tiny 12-string guitar called a tarango (which originated in the Andes of South America). Out he came in army/cargo pants and a tan jacket, with his gray hair pulled up into a pony tail on the top of his head, and his signature specs. Speaking of gray hair, there was quite a bit of it in the crowd. There were a few scattered “younger” folks like me and my wife, but I would say most of the crowd was 50+ (Bruce undoubtedly has many more younger followers up in Canada, where he’s very revered and well known, as he should be).

On to the music. With a catalog that spans back to 1970, Bruce had plenty to choose from. He reached as far back as 1979 for “Wondering Where the Lions Are”, from one of my favorite albums of his – Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaw. The crowd stayed pretty silent throughout (at the venue’s request, being a quiet solo acoustic show), but Bruce implored the crowd to sing along to the chorus on this one. Nice moment. He also reached back to “How I Spent My Fall Vacation” – a highlight from 1980’s Humans, for the opening song of his encore.

But most of the two sets focused on his tunes from the last couple decades. It was great to hear a handful from Nothing But a Burning Light, Dart to the Heart, and Charity of Night, which were three of the albums that cemented my love for his music in the mid 90’s. “Night Train” and “Pacing the Cage” came from Charity (you may know “Pacing the Cage” from Jimmy Buffett’s version). “Kit Carson” and the show closer, “Child of the Wind” came from Burning Light – the latter song has a simple powerful lyric that I had in my head when I woke up this morning: “I love my sweet woman down to the core.” And from Dart to the Heart, Bruce pulled out the tarango for “Bone In My Ear” – one of the many songs that had me mystified at how this one man can make so many sounds come out of an instrument.

It’s hard to describe Bruce’s finger picking style, but I’ll try. His right hand is fixed in sort of the Hawaiian “hang ten” look – with his thumb providing the bass lines on the top strings, and his pinkie finger resting on the guitar under the strings. The jaw-dropping part is that his middle three fingers look like they’re completely still when you’re facing him. But holy jeebs, the sounds – the amazing picking that generate from the tips of those fingers underneath! I’m always in awe seeing him play live, and even more so last night sitting 15 feet from him. See it for yourself right here.

Other highlights for me: “Last Night of the World”, “Beautiful Creatures” (featuring a hauntingly beautiful falsetto in the chorus), “Elegy” (a slow and sublime instrumental), and of course it’s always great to hear ‘If I Had A Rocket Launcher”.

It’s almost midnight on Sunday night, the end of an amazing weekend of music. It was a once in a lifetime “perfect storm” of Bruce Music, and how satisfying to the soul to sit back and reflect on these past two nights – experiencing two great musicians up close, soaking up all their years of musicianship – such experts at their craft.

Thanks Bruces.

Set List

Set I
World of Wonders
Last Night of the World
See You Tomorrow
Night Train
Pacing the Cage
Lovers In A Dangerous Time
Bone In My Ear (on tarango)
Elegy (on dobro)
Wait No More (on dobro)

Set II
Jerusalem Poker
Beautiful Creatures
Call Me Rose
Kit Carson
Put It In Your Heart
If a Tree Falls
Wondering Where the Lions Are
Celestial Horses

How I Spent My Fall Vacation
If I Had A Rocket Launcher
Child of the Wind

Christmas with Bruce Cockburn (or in my case, a remedy for the Holiday Blues)

How in the holy frijoles is it December already? And why do I get the same stressed, panicked feeling every year? And why do I harbor such resentment against those who get their Christmas shopping done early (or prance gaily around their yards stringing up their lights the day after Thanksgiving)?

*deep breath*

The truth is, when I put myself in the mindset of how much I enjoyed the holidays as a kid, I can actually get some of those warm, good time-y feelings back. And having two little kids adds to the fun too. But man oh man, the stress returns every year, as sure as the commercials.

Music, of course, is the key to bringing back some of that positive holiday energy. Since 1994, this collection of tunes has steered the way (or the sleigh, heh). I taped this special off the radio that holiday season. I’ve said this all before, but Bruce Cockburn is a warm, comforting musical presence in my life, and listening to him sing these great songs and play the guitar like only he can – well – it’s better than a fridge full of nog.

Now, Nanci Griffith joins Bruce here, and sings some songs of her own (“Wexford Carol”, “Grafton Street”, “Going Back to Georgia”, etc.). But it’s the Bruce tunes that resonate with me: “Shepherds” opens the show, and has always been a song that pops into my head throughout the year, for some reason: “Glooooooria, in the hiiiighest.” I’m not heavy into the religion, mind you, but when Bruce sings, I’m a believer; “Deer Dancing Around a Broken Mirror”, a spirited and lush instrumental tune; “Huron Carol”, a song written in the 1600’s by a Jesuit missionary to the Huron Indians, and sung in the Huron language. Bruce gives a wonderful introduction, and reads the English translation beforehand; and of course, two favorites of mine: “I’m Gonna Fly Someday” and “One Day I Walk”. Sublime.

Enjoy. And hey, happy holidays, eh? Oh, and always a reminder for you fellow Yanks that haven’t heard of Bruce from the great white north – it’s CO-Burn. Co sounding like So. Ho ho ho.

“Christmas with Cockburn”
The Columbia Records Radio Hour, 1994

Shepherds [mp3]
Wexford Carol (Nanci Griffith)
Brave Companion of the Road (NG)
Deer Dancing Around a Broken Mirror
I’m Gonna Fly Someday
Grafton Street (NG)
Going Back to Georgia (NG)
One Day I Walk / Intro to Huron Carol
Huron Carol [mp3]
Mary Had a Baby

All the Ways I Want You (A YouTube Debut)

While the wife and kids were away at a Saturday afternoon birthday party, dad got some peace & quiet. And when there’s tranquility in the house, I often pull out the guitar. Except this time, I pressed the record button. Lucky you!

I’m an amateur on the guitar, but I do enjoy playing. And one of the earliest songs I learned is an all- time favorite of mine: Bruce Cockburn’s “All the Ways I Want You”. Like I said on the YouTube page, I’m now one of “those guys”.

So what the hell, here it is…

Little Sea Horse

Non-parents may want to move on to the next post, ’cause this one’s a little ch-ch-cheesy.

I’ll make it short & sweet – my four year old daughter attended her first day of kindergarten today. I’m a proud papa, and I’m sort of blown away that I have a child who is now going to school. Seasoned parents are nodding their heads, while at the same time shaking them in a sort of “you have nooo idea what you have in store for you” way. It just keeps getting more and more interesting, folks, and I’m just underway…

Well, a couple of weeks ago, my girl had a sort of “graduation” ceremony at her YMCA preschool. Her class was referred to as the Sea Horses. As the Sea Horses shuffled through in a controlled-chaos single file to receive their cute little certificates, with their cute little caps on, I had this Bruce Cockburn song going through my head. It comes from a brilliant 1976 album called In the Falling Dark.

I count this and Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaw as two of my all time favorites. They soothe and calm me, and bring me to a good place when things seem a little jagged and confused.

The lyrics merit an appearance here (bolded by me):

Little seahorse
Swimming in a primal sea
Heartbeat like a
Leaf quaking in the breeze
I feel magic as coyote
In the middle of the moon-wild night

In the forge-fire time
Your mother glowed so bright
You were like a
Voice calling in the night
And I’m watching the curtain
Rising on a whole new set of dreams

The world is waiting
Like a Lake Superior gale
A locomotive
Racing along the rail.
It’ll sweep you away
But you know that you’re never alone

Little seahorse
Floating on a primal tide
Quickening like a
Spark in a haystack side
I already love you
And I don’t even know who you are

Nice eh? It’s enough to make a tough dad get a tad misty eyed. And that’s okay. Congrats kiddo – I have no earthly idea how I ever got along without you.

Bruce CockburnLittle Sea Horse (mp3)

Buy In the Falling Dark

To illustrate even further how much I love this album, here’s my favorite off the record:

Lord of the Starfields (mp3)

Ickmusic Live: Bruce Cockburn, 1993

bruce cockburn

“Wow”, I say.

As a lover, yes lover, of Bruce Cockburn‘s music, coming across this crystal clear show from 1993 – the year I discovered his music – is a godsend. My very favorite Cockburn tune, “All the Ways I Want You”? Check. Second favorite, “One Day I Walk”? Check. Pissed off activist Bruce? Check (“Stolen Land”, “Maybe the Poet”, “Rocket Launcher”). Great sense of humor in the between-song banter? Double check.

Just a great show. If you’re a Cockburn fan and you haven’t heard this, prepare for your head to spin. If you’re not familiar with Bruce’s music, spend some time with this show, and it’s likely you’ll end up a fan.

Fox Theatre
Boulder, CO
August 28th, 1993

Maybe the Poet
Wondering Where the Lions Are
Tibetan Side of Town
Train in the Rain
All the Ways I Want You
Southland of the Heart
Soul of a Man
The Blues Got the World by the Balls
Mama Just Wants to Barrelhouse All Night Long
Stolen Land
Mighty Trucks of Midnight
If I Had a Rocket Launcher
If a Tree Falls
All the Diamonds in the World
One Day I Walk
Tie Me at the Crossroads

Check out:

Bruce’s Official Site

Bruce on Bruce Cockburn

Sunday Mini-Ick-Mix-Ness

A trip through a variety of tunes today…

To commemorate Paris Hilton’s first trip to the slammer, we start off with …

Steve Earle and the V-RoysIn the Jailhouse Now (mp3) – from Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute

One of those songs that is perpetually in my head. “Sunday night and it’s half past nine…”

Bruce CockburnNorthern Lights (mp3) – from Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws

Heard this on the radio a few days ago for the first time in years. Excellent tune, great lyrics… it’s Cracker…

CrackerEurotrash Girl (mp3) – from Greatest Hits Redux

Upon hearing this song for the first time, my three year old daughter proclaimed: “This song scares me daddy”. Daddy turned it off. Another Italian film soundtrack that I heard on David Johansen’s Mansion of Fun.

Franco Ferrara & Goffredo PetrassiPer Cercare Consolazione (mp3) – from Cronaca Familiare (Score)

A new tune from Sri Lankan hip hop lovin’ seductress M.I.A.

M.I.A.Hit That (mp3) – unreleased, see her wacked out MySpace page

An old school joint from Masta Ace…

Masta AceBorn to Roll (mp3) – from Sittin’ on Chrome

To finish it off, a beautiful tune by da Cope….

Citizen CopeSideways (mp3) – from The Clarence Greenwood Recordings

New Bruce Cockburn: Life Short Call Now

Flying completely under my radar last week was a brand spankin’ new release from my other favorite Bruce, Mr. Cockburn. ‘Life Short Call Now‘ is his first studio offering since 2003’s ‘You’ve Never Seen Everything‘. I was introduced to Bruce’s music back in 1994 when I heard “Southland of the Heart” on the radio. Back in 1994 there was one cool station in Phoenix: 101.5 KZON (now one of those “Free FM” stations). “Southland” came from ‘Dart to the Heart‘, an album that zeroes in on matters of the heart, relationships, longing, L-O-V-E baby. From there, I dug into Bruce’s catalog, and was hooked.

‘Life Short’, released July 18 here in the U.S., is Cockburn’s 29th – yes 29th – album. It’s everything you’d expect from a quality Cockburn album: the intelligent and insightful lyrics, calm yet urgent vocals, and an array of eclectic and wholly original melodies. Check out the falsetto on the haunting “Beautiful Creatures”; the unwavering faith of “Mystery”; the pounding rhythm of the instrumental “Jerusalem Poker”.

I’m not sure why Cockburn isn’t as popular down here in the US as in his native Canada, but that’s just fine by me (and Bruce is probably okay with that too). But by all means, if he stops through your town on his current tour supporting this album, go and see a living legend.

Here’s one off the new record with Ani DiFranco lending a hand with background vocals.

Bruce Cockburn (w/ Ani DiFranco): See You Tomorrow (mp3)

And while you’re at it, check out this cool version of Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom”:

Bonus Tune: Bruce w/ Yossou N’Dour: Chimes of Freedom (mp3) – 8/3/1994, Columbia Records Hour

Welcome to my World

Well, it’s been a good week. My second daughter was born into this world yesterday morning, right into my waiting hands. Words can’t describe it, my friends. The miracle of birth makes skeptics like me into believers. I only wish the world I’ve brought my daughters into was a very different place.

The music that is a natural accompaniment to great moments like these is the music of Bruce Cockburn. Since I discovered his vast catalog of music in the early 90’s, I have turned to Bruce’s music when I want peace, calm, inspiration, and gentle reason.

Here are a couple from my favorite Bruce album, 1979’s Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws.

Bruce Cockburn: Creation Dream (mp3) | Hills of Morning (mp3)

And it goes without saying that one of the first recorded human voices my daughter will hear is Elvis Presley’s.

Elvis Presley: Welcome to my World (mp3) – from Aloha from Hawaii


Other Bruce News: For you Sirius Satellite Radio subscribers, check out an exclusive interview with the Boss this Sunday. Details are here. An interesting note in this press release regarding the upcoming tour:

Each night, an all new evening of gospel, folk, and blues will be presented by Springsteen with the 17-member Seeger Sessions Band.

Christmas with Cockburn

[See this 2008 post for the show.]

Since we’re on the final stretch to Christmas, I thought I would sneak out a few of my essential tunes courtesy of my favorite Canadian, Bruce Cockburn. In 1994, the Columbia Records Radio Hour broadcast Christmas with Cockburn, which featured Bruce with special guest Nancy Griffith. I had my cassette deck locked and loaded.

These are the songs that make me forget about the almighty dollar and the overall stress of the holidays, and actually get me into the Christmas spirit.

Christmas with Cockburn:

Deer Dancing on a Broken Mirror
I’m Gonna Fly Someday
One Day I Walk / Intro to Huron Carol
Huron Carol
Mary Had a Baby

This isn’t available anywhere, but you can buy Bruce’s Christmas album, or any other of his excellent albums spanning more than 30 years.