-- Personal: Philosophy --
This page archives comments by Bruce Cockburn on his philosophical views of life.
March 1987 - Commenting on lyrics from Down Here Tonight
"Drumbeat sends a message to the far starlight / We're doin' okay down here
tonight" is the upbeat refrain of Down Here Tonight," the song that closes
World Of Wonders. Cockburn says the gist of the song is that worldly things work themselves out in the end.
"Spiritually, I think it works that way" he insists. "I don't mean that if
we ignore all the world's problems, they'll go away. But we have to keep in
mind that something larger than ourselves is at work here."
-- from "Bruce Cockburn - A Voice Singing in the Wilderness" by Steve Perry,
Musician Magazine, March 1987.
Circa 1995 - Commenting on the need to "move forward" in the universe
"There is that invisible motion that's central to existence. And it might
even be true to say that is what God is."
-- from Vancouver Sun, 1995.
Fall 1997 - Commenting on the future
[Interviewer is Bob Duran]
BD: What does the future hold for you?
BC: I hope that I will continue to get deeper into what I do and better
at it. I think the future has it's own ideas (laughs) and it doesn't
need me to try to impose mine on it. I'm not very goal oriented and not
much of a long range planner. I don't look very hard at the future. I
like to feel that I am in instrument in a way and I'm ready to go where
I'm called to go when the time comes.
BD: What do you mean by instrument?
BC: An instrument of service, an instrument of communication.
BD: Would you say there's any overall message in you music?
BC: Oh, I don't know. Somebody else could probably say that. I'm not
really objective enough to find what it is. It's the sharing of human
experience. That's what it's for, and that experience obviously comes in
a lot of shapes and degrees of emotional impact. I'd say it's about
-- from "Interview with Bruce Cockbur" by Bob Duran, Fall, 1997.
Circa 1999 - Commenting that he looks at life as a spiritual journey
"That's what life is.The point is to learn to align yourself with what some
would call the will of God and what others would deem as the flow of the
universe. All your experiences are relevant to shaping what your life will
-- from "Walking the Line With Bruce Cockburn", Indie-Music.com, circa 1999, by Heidi Drockelman.
November/December 1999 - Commenting on greed, beauty, love, God, feelings,
[Interviewer is Susan Adams Kauffman]
SK: What do you hate?
BC: I hate greed. I hate people who act out of greed, and I hate them even more
for making me hate. When I say "people," I really mean corporations, but
corporations are made up of people who make choices. More than anything
else, I hate entities of human power that are motivated by or act on greed. It's
confrontations or having my nose rubbed in the actions of those kinds of
entities that make me maddest.
SK: What makes you hopeful?
BC: Lots of little things. Beauty makes me hopeful, which is not a little thing
but it's usually manifest in little things. Love makes me hopeful. God makes
SK: A lot of people do everything they can to avoid their feelings, but you seem
to try to look pain and desire in the eye.
BC: I would like to think that's true, but you'd have to ask my intimates
whether it's really true! But, yeah, I think it's important to look things
in the eye. I also think it's important from an artistic point of view. I don't
think art is produced by not looking things in the eye. On some level--you
may be staring at your demons or staring at angels, or you may be making mud
pies, I suppose--but you're still looking something in the eye in order to
create anything of value.
SK: "Strange Waters" is one of your songs that is rich in autobiographical detail. You cite the various observations you've made, places you've been. Then, as tension builds, you passionately state that "everything is bullshit
but the open hand." What is this open-handedness you're referring to?
BC: I could have said open heart. It's openness, period, the willingess to
share what you have and to accept what others are willing to share with you, and
what God or the universe is willing to share with you, and you back.
Defensiveness or defendedness can become an impediment to love, obviously.
Since it's love that makes the world go 'round, defendedness keeps the world
from going 'round.
-- from "Fire in an Open Hand: an Interview with Bruce Cockburn" by Susan Adams Kauffman, The Other Side, November/December 1999.
January 2000 - Commenting on staying committed to his process
[Interviewer is Joseph Roberts.]
Joseph Roberts: How do you stay committed to your own process?
BC: "I have that sense of the forward motion of things ingrained
in me. You need to keep listening to new things. You have to keep listening
to what people are saying and doing creatively around you, and to understand
it as best you can, even if it isn't what you do.
It's the same if you're socially concerned. It's not enough just to
read the news. You've got to read the business pages, too. You've got to see
what the people who make the economic decisions are doing with our money and
As well, from the creative point of view, you've got to look at places
that aren't necessarily natural or even comfortable, but sometimes you find
amazing things there."
Commenting on life changes as we grow older and giving advice
JR: I'm feeling myself going through a tremendous amount of
change now and a lot of people around me are really questioning what they're
doing with their lives. What changes did you go through as a man in your
life when you hit 50?
BC: "I don't necessarily measure it in terms of the exact
chronology. But, certainly in the last five years or so there have been some
pretty big changes for me. A phrase has been going around in my head: "Now
is when we start to become the people we've been training to be."
Somebody else put it to me in a way that caught me by surprise, a
healer said, "Well, you know, you're approaching that time in your life when
you need to start getting ready to be an elder." Well, I don't quite feel
like an elder at this point by a long shot, but I can see there's a
responsibility there to take up somewhere in the future.
I think the change revolves around another stage in maturity that's
analogous to coming out of adolescence into what we legally call adulthood.
It feels like major changes, a lot of opening and a deeper understanding of
things. It feels like there's whole new vistas open, which is another factor
of being on the cutting edge of your own process. You need to be receptive to
these things when they come along.
JR: A song you have in your new album, When You Give It Away, has a line:
"Too much to carry. Too much to let go. Time goes fast. Learning goes slow."
BC: Not everybody thinks about learning, but everybody's aware that things are
moving faster and the sense of having too much to carry and too much to let
go - That line resonated with lots of people. We're all feeling that sped up
pace of things no matter what profession we're in, you've got to run faster
to stay still. It's the way the whole society is working, partly due to the
place that computers have assumed in our culture.
JR: Do you have advice for people?
BC: I'm not sure I'm qualified to give advice. Maybe when I get to be an
elder I'll have the answer to that, but I think sitting back and taking a big
breath in any healthy way you can, to relax and step away to give yourself
time to be yourself is to be desired. I stress healthy because I don't think
it probably helps to opiate yourself, but in terms of preserving your own
personal integrity I think that's the thing that's jeopardized here.
We're all scrambling so fast we don't have time to notice the effect
we have on other people or that they have on us. We're always clutching at
fleeting things and somehow we have to step back and have those things be
less fleeting. One way to do that, ironically perhaps, which is something
I'm only starting to learn about deeply now, is be in the present, fully,
where you are.
I think when you actually do get into that space of being fully
present in whatever you're doing that time does slow down in the same way it
does when you're playing or listening to music. I think you can apply that
principle to everyday life by treating everything you do as if you were
playing a piece of music.
-- from "Conversations with Bruce Cockburn", Common Ground, January, 2000, interviewed by Joseph Roberts. Submitted by Audrey Parsons.
8 February 2000 - Commenting upon feeling liberated as life goes on
"I think the older I get the freer I feel. Partly, it's a result of having
done a bunch of everything already and having to find new things to do. So
you need to free yourself up in order to do that.
In life, generally, I'm less concerned with how things are supposed to be and
more concerned with how they are. And how I can make something out of that."
-- from "Bruce is Loose", Victoria Times Colonist, February 8, 2000, by Adrian Chamberlain. Submitted by Audrey Parsons.
10 March 2000 - Commenting on love
Asked to account for this redemption and joy, something that sets Cockburn's
music apart from much of the cynicism in popular music today, he pauses,
trying to find the words.
"It's important that we all remember it's all about love, really," he says
finally. "Love cuts every which way, and it's kind of the grease that makes
everything work in the universe. It's the source of both angst and anguish,
but great joy also. And it's as much about joy as anything."
-- from "25 Albums: Bruce Cockbrun Still Giving It Away", by Tom Groening, Bangor Daily News, March 10, 2000.
7 July 2000 - Commenting that he is not sure the future will be rosy
"I think we're in a very, very precarious position globally. I think the
world as we know it is not going to continue in a way we would like for very
long unless we make some major changes in the way we do things."
"I don't see those changes being made. That's the caution around the
"The optimism lies in the fact that spiritually, energetically, there is a
possibility still we can get this together. And I'll sound new agey talking
like this, but what happens to the world has to do with what people think
about it. If we all think we're beat, it will be."
-- from "Bruce is Back\Cockburn to Close This Year's Folk Festival", by David Veitch, The Calgary Sun, July 7, 2000.
28 Feburary 2001 -
[Interviewer is Andrew Flynn]
Andrew Flynn: What about in the larger picture, because you've always had a
political bent to what you've done; you've always done something with a
BC: The purpose is to create good art, that's my purpose. What
it happens to be about depends on what I've experienced during the period
that produces the art and I think that everything - I think we've probably
had this conversation before, but at the risk of repeating myself -
everything in life is suitable subject matter. That's where I come from with
it. I don't sit down thinking I must address X, Y or Z issue. The fact that
I have a conscience as a human being and the fact that I feel things that I
encounter touch my heart and end up being distilled through the creative
process into songs is what's led to the perception of me as a guy with an
agenda in the songs. But it isn't really like that - the agenda's after the
fact. The agenda is to be truthful whatever that means and to try to have
something to say. There's no point in having words if they don't say
anything I figure. Why bother then.
AF: Sure, you may just be applying what you see and feel and hear
in your daily life, but I think people need sometimes to identify with
somebody who's got an opinion about something.
BC: I agree.
AF: If I Had a Rocket Launcher expresses ...
BC: Yes, it's relatively unambiguous. Yes, I think you're right,
I think it makes a difference when someone who's in a position to be heard
in public makes a statement in public, that is different from how most
people are able to make statements and therefore it's kind of received in a
AF: Exactly and you must feel, if not pride, then some
satisfaction in the fact that that's been recognized and that people have
listened to what you have to say and say yeah, I agree with Bruce. And heck,
I like his music too.
BC: Yeah, I guess I'd have to admit to feeling that I think
that's true. It's an awesome thing, as a matter of fact, and I'm not even
sure that satisfaction is the word. It goes beyond that. I am very moved
when I find that someone's been touched by one of the songs deeply enough
for it to have had an effect on their life some way.
It's satisfying and gratifying to hear that people like what I do and to
have people show up at shows and buy records and what not, as an indication
of the fact that they like what I do. But once in a while you get some
feedback that suggests it's gone further than that. That a particular song
has touched somebody's life in a deeper way and that's sort of scary at the
same time as it's very positive. Because it's not something I set out do in
a concrete way. You can't work on the expectation that that's going to
-- from "Interview: Bruce Cockburn", for Spotlight.CA, by Andrew Flynn, 28 February 2001.
3 March 2001 - Commenting on taking time off following the Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner
in Timbuktu tour
"I'm generally trying to avoid being on the wheel, except for the landmine
concerts. Time off is time for exploration. Every now and then I need to step
away, to see where I'm going next, let other things come into play."
-- from "Why Bruce Matters Now", The Toronto Star, March 3, 2001, by Greg Quill.
3 March 2001 -
Q: What do you hope for this year off?
BC: I hope I'll write some fantastic songs or a fantastic book of poetry and a
fantastic book of instrumental music. Obviously there's a creative hunger
that wants to be filled. And I somehow feel that a lot of the energy that
should have gone into this, or would have gone into the writing of songs has
gone into a kind of period of internal growth that I am aware of that is of
no consequence to anyone else and that I'm looking for that growth to start
to show results. I can't really explain it. I'm not sure I'd want to, anyway,
it's a bit personal, but that -- so I have that hope as well.
Q: How happy are you?
BC: (laughs) People used to ask me that when "Rocket Launcher" was on the radio
because a certain type of radio person would think --are you a happy person,
you know, the implication being, a happy person wouldn't write a song like
Q: That's not quite what I asked.
BC: I know that's not where you're coming from. But it made me laugh because of
that. I don't know. There's times when I feel elated and happy and buoyant
and other times when I'm bummed and depressed and times when I'm bored and
times when I'm just too tired to be anything--
Just trying to figure out whether you're at a rewarding or serene tract of
your life or one that's ending something painful or --
I'm -- let's say, out of a painful period that was a very productive period
of growth, but not a comfortable one, and anything but serene, to be serene
and awake you have to have got somewhere that I'm not yet. In the meantime I
am content to be awake and feel that things are moving forward, that I am
moving on some path that I don't need to identify more than one step at a
time. And would be foolish to try to. As long as I feel that motion is taking
place then things feel pretty good. I have this belief slash feeling that
everything has a purpose and everybody is here for a purpose and everybody's
purpose will eventually be fulfilled. Maybe that means there is
reincarnation, maybe it takes more than one lifetime for some people or for
all of us, I don't know one way or the other, I would allow for that
possibility. In the meantime it's one step at a time and as long as the step
is one that God wants . . . questions like "happy", you know, almost don't
compute. At any given moment -- am I happy right now? Sure.
-- from "The Cockburn Transcripts", Saturday Night-Online, March 2001.
11 December 2001 - If there were a meeting between the Bruce Cockburn of today and the Bruce Cockburn of thirty years ago, what would the conversation be like?
"When I look back at who I was when I started I see so many prejudices and inflexible ideas. But on the other hand, Iím grateful that I was stubborn enough to stick to my beliefs. I was in it for the music. Overall, I feel like Iím much more open now. From the other perspective, the younger me was much more puritanical and would be scandalized and suspicious of the degree to which Iím comfortable with the music business. Hopefully, he would be envious of the songs. I think theyíre better now."
-- from "Ready For "Anything" From Bruce Cockburn", Gavin, 11 December 2001.
26 January 2002 - When asked if, in all his searching has he found any answers?
"I found the journey, and the journey is what I'm interested in. It's
analogous to molecular motion or subatomic particles. Everything is in
motion all of the time, and the motion is what's real. [He jabs a forefinger
into his forearm.] I can poke at this and I can feel it and I can see it but
all of it is a bunch of electromagnetic waves, so, you know, what am I
-- from "The journey is what I'm interested in", The Globe and Mail 26 January 2002, by Sarah Hampson.
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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.