Bruce Cockburn (1945 – ) is a Canadian, Ottawa-born folk and rock musician. He sang about Christianity through natural metaphors well before it was considered cool to do so. Despite this, Cockburn managed to survive and even thrive in the Canadian record industry.
In one interview¹, he said that it’s fine to sing about God, but if the music’s not happening, then the message doesn’t really connect. This was probably an oblique reference to the contemporary Christian pop of the time, so much of it being formulaic and arguably not too original, musically speaking.
At cockburnproject.net he’s quoted as saying:
I am a Christian songwriter. I just don’t fit the Christian music scene.
As the years went by, Cockburn became increasingly critical of what he saw as hypocritical political and religious practices. In “The Gospel of Bondage” (1988) he denounces the selective use of Biblical quotations to justify questionable acts:
God won’t be reduced to an ideology…God must be on the side of right, not the side that justifies itself in terms of might.
Perhaps due to music’s unique ability to move the body and arouse passion, his “Rocket Launcher” (1984) single was sharply criticized:
If I had a rocket launcher… Some son of a bitch would die.
Cockburn responded to his critics by saying there’s a difference between (a) the artistic representation of anger and (b) advocating angry practices (see sublimation).
With regard to “Rocket Launcher” he claimed to merely represent his outrage in response to the bloodshed of innocents in South America.
Signing with the SONY label, Cockburn’s sound became bigger but he never really cracked the American market as, perhaps, anticipated.
Back with his former True North label, however, his electronically enhanced acoustic sound has returned, along with some noteworthy retro-style experimentation.
Like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Bryan Adams, Alanis Morisette, Celine Dione, Glenn Gould, Justin Bieber and Drake, Cockburn is something of a culture hero in a country that is finally growing out of its national identify crisis.²
The following tune, “Wondering Where the Lions Are” is a reference to the Old Testament story of Daniel in the Lions Den and, according to Wikipedia, is his most popular single to date on the US but not the Canadian charts.³
¹ From a magazine article. Source cannot be located. Probably somewhere between the late 80s and the new millennium. In recent decades, Christian pop has undergone a serious reboot, some of which is arguably just as “cool” or “good” as anything else out there.
² This was especially prevalent in the 1980s, when entire university departments in the Humanities spent countless hours (and taxpayers dollars) looking at how Canada differed from the US and beyond.
- Michael Buble, Deadmau5 And Bruce Cockburn Honoured For Songwriting (contactmusic.com)
- Ottawa’s Bruce Cockburn to receive SOCAN lifetime achievement award (o.canada.com)
- Bruce Cockburn…a creativity to help us see (thewearypilgrim.typepad.com)
- Ottawa’s Bruce Cockburn to receive SOCAN lifetime achievement award (vancouversun.com)
- Mary Had A Baby by Bruce Cockburn – Christmas Songs 2012 Day 21 (garyware.me)
- Bruce Cockburn, deadmau5 feted at SOCAN gala (cbc.ca)
- “People see through you” Bruce Cockburn (jeffrozier.wordpress.com)