-- Career: Public profile --

Issues Index


This page archives comments by Bruce Cockburn on his public profile during his career.

  • 6 October 1995 - Commenting about making a living in the music industry

    "All I ever thought was, 'I'm going to do this as long as I can, and if I can't get paid at it, I'll be a bum doing it.' And so, here I am.

    "I'm not quite a bum."
    -- from "Singer Follows 'Morality' to Success", Cockburn's Convictions Bring Him to Verde Fest as Well, The Arizona Republic, by Salvatore Caputo, October 6, 1995.

  • 7 September 1996 - On whether Cockburn wants hits

    NY: It's interesting, in your career, because there have been periods of time where you've had real hits and other periods where it's been just kind of a slow steady... you know, your committed fans. Has that been difficult? Do you feel a pull like 'Gee, I'd really like another hit'?

    BC: No. Obviously, getting that kind of recognition and getting that kind of coverage on radio or whatever is a desirable thing but not to the exclusion of anything else and it's not something I find myself lusting after.
    -- from "Definitely Not the Opera," with Nora Young, CBC Radio, September 7, 1996, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

  • 25 August 1997 - Commenting on the "public" perception of his work

    "Fundamentalist types who hear one or two songs and think I'm suitable material (for them) get awakened," he says. "They (eventually) hear me cussing in the songs, taking positions they don't share. Then there's a tendency by some people to write me off as a religious songwriter of some sort."
    -- from "Cockburn sticks to causes for The Charity of Night, by Jon Matsumoto, CNN Interactive, August 25, 1997.

  • September 1999 - Reflecting on his growth as an artist over 30 years, Cockburn says

    "I've learned some things over the years about playing, but it is the writing in which the real growth is audible. To me, anyway, and hopefully to other people." His commitment to his craft remains as strong as his social activism, and that's good news for his legion of fans.

    "The bottom line for me is that if the only audience I could get was in the subway, I'd be playing in the subway."
    -- from "Staying POWER", by Kerry Doole, Word and Music, September, 1999.

  • September 1999 - Commenting about his career

    "I don't spend a lot of time looking back, but when I do, there is a lot of stuff to look at, so that's surprising. It seems I've had three or four lifetimes already, and it doesn't feel like it's about to end... I don't have any expectations, nor do I presume anything about any of this. I am really grateful for being able to do what I do. As long as I'm able to do it, and in a way that I feel is going somewhere, then I'll keep on doing it. That is the challenge.... To me, it's not about numbers. I'd be doing what I do, or some version of it, even if the numbers weren't there. But it's a lonely thing to be doing something creative and not have an audience... There is room for growth, but that has been very gratifying and exciting in terms of getting the songs out to people who appreciate them."
    -- from "Staying POWER", by Kerry Doole, Word and Music, September, 1999.

  • November/December 1999 - Commenting on whether he considers himself a poet
    [Interviewer is Susan Adams Kauffman]

    SK Your songs are often literate and textured with metaphor and imagery. Do you consider yourself a poet?

    BC: I'm reluctant to think of myself as a poet. I don't feel that what I do belongs on the same playing field as T. S. Eliot or Dylan Thomas, or even Allen Ginsberg (though maybe I'm a little closer to him because we're both kind of in a pop world). Or great Japanese poets or Blaise Cendrars or Ernesto Cardenal. I don't think I write incredible poetry. But I try to apply poetics to the writing of songs, pursuing the ideal of a song that is as poetic as it is musical.
    -- from "Fire in an Open Hand: an Interview with Bruce Cockburn", by Susan Adams Kauffman, The Other Side, November/December 1999.

  • November/December 1999 - Commenting on 'sadness'
    [Interviewer is Susan Adams Kauffman]

    SK In a previous interview, you said that sadness is a part of your character. Could you elaborate?

    BC: "I'm sort of nervous about focusing on that, because of the question I used to get a lot in the mid-eighties, around the time I wrote If I Had A Rocket Launcher. It was particularly prevalent among airhead radio interviewers who would say, "Do you think you're a happy person?" The implication was that I must not be happy, or I wouldn't write these angry sorts of songs, that somehow this had something to do with anything. So the subject of whether I'm happy or not has to be put in the right context! Leonard Cohen once said something to the effect that all poetry springs from regret. Which is a typical Cohenism, in a way. There's no question that the chemistry that's involved in whatever sadness I carry is also part and parcel of the writing. I don't really know where that sadness comes from. I can speculate on it, but I'm still working on figuring that out."
    -- from "Fire in an Open Hand: an Interview with Bruce Cockburn", by Susan Adams Kauffman,The Other Side, November/December 1999.

  • November/December 1999 - Commenting on being called "Canada's cultural conscience"
    [Interviewer is Susan Adams Kauffman]

    SK: You've been called "Canada's cultural conscience." How does your Christian faith figure into your commitment to social justice?

    BC: "I actually really dislike the "Canada's cultural conscience" thing. That was some journalist's cute phrase, and that's fine, but it unfortunately has lived beyond its original use. It stinks, to me, because it's like, "Okay, we have to take this guy seriously, but we're gonna write him off. We don't have to have a conscience, because he does."

    "Who wants that? I want to communicate with people, and play music for people, and have a life, and try to understand my experiences. Life sometimes puts you in front of situations that need addressing. Since I deal in words, I can sometimes speak to those situations or use my visibility to make other people notice those things. I feel an obligation to do that--but it's an obligation everybody should feel."

    "That's what I don't like about being singled out as "the" conscience. It's just being human."
    -- from "Fire in an Open Hand: an Interview with Bruce Cockburn", by Susan Adams Kauffman, The Other Side, November/December 1999.

  • 3-9 February 2000 - Responding to a question that asks if his virtuoso playing is perhaps the trademark that gives his broad, diverse catalogue its keen-eyed continuity

    "Maybe, but more than that, it's that the songs are all me, the trail I've left through the world and the changes I've been through. Whatever that means to people who listen to my songs is the continuity that ties it all together."
    -- from "Mango Man, Bruce Cockburn Tastes Folk Music's Forbidden Fruits", Monday Magazine, February 3-9, 2000 by Ron Forbes-Roberts. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.

  • 27 July 2000 - Commenting on his public profile

    "In some ways I'm like a reporter," he said in a call from his home in Canada. "The songs all come from life. It's not really made up, so there is an element of reportage about it. But I'm not bound by the same constraints a journalist is. I'm not obliged to pretend to be objective (he pauses to laugh) and I don't have an editor--although some people may wish I did," he says with another laugh.
    --The North Coast Journal, Taking a Stand, by Bob Duran, July 27, 2000. Submitted by Bobbi Wisby.

  • 16 October 2000 - Commenting on being called 'un-American', the writing of the song Call It Democracy, and trips to Central America

    "In the course of several trips to Central America in the 80's I met people who were trampled by US economic policies. In Nicaragua but also peasants in other countries who suffered under the status quo. I got a song from it. It got more radio play in Canada, less in the US. It was deemed un-American.

    In Chicago a guy wanted to put in pay toilets. The public protested, rightly so, and they were not installed. The guy said it was un-American not to let him charge people to take a ....!

    So in this context, getting called un-American is a cool thing. This song is called un-American even though it doesn't mention the US.

    I have (still have) a great video of it. MTV would play it. They played it for maybe three seconds, but then they wouldn't play it because it mentioned the names of some products. It had an image of peasants being ground up and coming out in Coke bottles."
    -- from the Institute for Policy Studies', 24th Annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards, 16 October, 2000. Transcribed by Ruth White.

  • 16 October 2000 - Commenting on being called an "activist"

    "I'm honored to be asked to share the stage to help celebrate here," explained Cockburn, after being introduced, "In the media when I am interviewed they say I am an activist because I sing certain songs - that is if they are polite they call me an activist - sometimes they just call me an a**hole. To me an activist puts their life on the line or at least their livelihood on the line for what they believe in. I'm not an activist, I'm a songwriter. I get to sing songs about people and issues and human experience. That's where my songs are coming from..."
    -- from the Institute for Policy Studies', 24th Annual Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards, 16 October, 2000. Transcribed by Ruth White.

  • 16 October 2000 - In the United States the Triple-A "adult alternative" format cuts from his most recent album, 1999's Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu, air regularly

    "Because I don't get much radio here, but I get respect and recognition, a lot of people think I'm doing nothing. I'm just around. That's unfortunate. People come up to me and say, `I really love Rocket Launcher. Are you still putting out albums?' "Well, yes, I am. Quite a few since then." `Rocket Launcher' is almost 20 years old. A whole generation has grown up in that time."
    -- Why Bruce Matters Now, The Toronto Star, March 3, 2001, by Greg Quill.

  • 15 January 2002 - Was the making of "My Beat", the CBC special difficult for you [editor's note: The Life and Times of Bruce Cockburn]? It seemed that you went in and out of your comfort zone in front of the camera. Are there plans to release it on DVD or broadcast it in the States?

    Bruce Cockburn: Yes, I did go in and out of my comfort zone, but the point of the film was to show something of me...and me having agreed to do made sense to letting it show whatever it needed to show. I wouldn't mind if there is an opportunity to make it available to people, I would like to do that because I think it turned out pretty well.
    -- from Canoe Online Chat with Bruce Cockburn, 15 January 2002. Submitted by Suzanne D. Myers.

  • 26 January 2002

    "I'm sort of one of those people who is always self-conscious. About anything you can think of. About being seen. About many things. I think [performing] has kept me from being a total recluse. I was pretty withdrawn in my youth, and performing was a way of making contact with people in a controlled situation."
    -- from "The journey is what I'm interested in", The Globe and Mail 26 January 2002, by Sarah Hampson.

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    Issues Index

    This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.