31 October 2014 - - In the same week the important Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn releases an autobiography and a career-spanning box set (both titled Rumours of Glory), he gives a sold-out concert at Koerner Hall in Toronto. We spoke to the guitarist, 69, from his home in San Francisco.
Four of the tracks on the rarities disc of your box set are from soundtracks. For a time you wouldnít perform one of the soundtrack songs, Going Down the Road from the 1970 film by Donald Shebib, on stage. You wouldnít sing them, because it wasnít you, right?
I actually have done it live in recent years. But when I wrote that song, I had never been to Cape Breton. It was written to be in the voice of a character in the movie. At the time there was pressure to do a soundtrack album. I got in the bad books of everyone associated with the film by refusing to do one. But it would have been my second album, and I didnít want my second album to be in somebody elseís voice. Perhaps I was more sensitive with that than I needed to be, but it felt pretty real at the time.
The rarities disc also includes your contributions to several tribute albums, including the song Avalon, My Home Town, which is the title track to a Mississippi John Hurt tribute. Is he your guy, as far as an influence on your guitar playing?
Heís certainly one of them. And a major one, as far as what my right hand is doing. I was in high school, or just out of it, when I first heard him. A lot of what was captivating about him was the way he played melodic lines while finger-picking the melody, as well as an alternating bass part. It was a big revelation to me that you could do that, and Iíve kind of done it ever since, in one way or another.
Your version of Turn, Turn, Turn, for 1998ís Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger, is gorgeous. Was that your first choice of his songs to do?
I got lucky. I was sure that song would have already been taken. I mean, I was hardly the first person to be asked to be on that record. Itís a beautiful song that fits every time and place. I was surprised it was available.
It was probably available because people were intimated by the Byrdsí iconic version.
That was the challenge, to do it in a way that didnít sound like the Byrds. When I went to the Pete Seeger version, it doesnít have any chord changes. So, thatís right up my alley. I ended up harmonizing the melody with the guitar, which was kind of doing that Mississippi John Hurt thing, with a few more notes in it than he would have done. It was fun to do.
A time to every purpose, as that song goes. What time is it for Bruce Cockburn these days?
I wish I knew. Itís probably a time to be sitting back and reflecting on things Ė on life, the world, etc. But I have no time for that, because I have a two-year-old child and my life has been full of getting this book and this box set together.
How comfortable were you with reflecting back on your life and career?
Iím not particularly given to looking back, or at least I wasnít. Thereís a vanity factor that makes it interesting, once you decide youíre going to tell stories or reveal things that people might not be interested in. Itís kind of like looking at pictures of yourself. You think, ďI wish theyíd shot my other side in that one,Ē or, ďgee, I look pretty good in that one.Ē Itís very subjective, which is useful for writing a book like this, but itís not necessarily healthy.
~ from Bruce Cockburn: 'Iím not particularly given to looking back' by Brad Wheeler for The Globe and Mail.