-- 3 Al Purdys --
San Francisco - 14 December 2014

Found on:

Bone On Bone (2017)

Stand in the swaying boxcar doorway
moving east away from the sunset and
after a while the eyes digest a country and
the belly perceives a mapmaker's vision
in dust and dirt on the face and hands here
its smell drawn deep through the nostrils down
to the lungs and spurts through the bloodstream
campaigns in the lower intestine and
chants love songs to the kidneys
After a while there is no arrival and
no departure possible any more
you are where you were always going
and the shape of home is under your fingernails..

I'm a product of some parents of the sort that shouldn't breed
didn't get much schooling past learning how to read
got the poetry bug in some forgotten institution
when first I did embark on my career of destitution
the beauty of language set a hook in my soul
me like a breadcrust soaking soup from a bowl
You can call this a rant but I declare I declaim
Al Purdy's poems are the name of the game
the winds of fate blow where they will
I'll give you 3 Al Purdy's for a twenty dollar bill

Porkers in the counting house counting out the bacon
matter's getting darker in the universe they're making
they love the little guy until they get a better offer
with the dollar getting smaller they can fit more in their coffers
and the doings on the corner neither sung nor seen
they're circling the shopping carts at Sherbourne and Queen
I resemble that assembly but I'm not the same
Al Purdy's poems are the name of my game
the winds of fate blow where they will
I'll give you 3 Al Purdy's for a twenty dollar bill

You can spit on the prophet but respect the word
I've got some lines I want to spin you that you ought to have heard
the winds of fate blow where they will
I'll give you 3 Al Purdy's for a twenty dollar bill

the winds of fate blow where they will
I'll give you 3 Al Purdy's for a twenty dollar bill

And after the essence of everything
had exchanged itself for words and became
another being and could even be summoned
from the far distance we chanted a spell of names
and we said "mountain be our friend"
and we said "River guard us from enemies"
And we said what it seemed the gods themselves
might say if we had dreamed them and they
had dreamed us from their high places
and they spoke to us in the forest
from the river and the mountain
and the mouths of the ochre-painted dead
had speech again and the waters
spoke and the speech had words
and our children remembered

Bruce Cockburn - Guitars and Vocal
Scott Amendola - Drums
John Shifflett - Upright bass
Julie Wolf - Accordian
Gary Craig - Fan and Other Percussion
John Dymond - Electric Bass
Ron Miles - Coronet

Produced by Julie Wolf

  • From the Bone On Bone press release:

    "3 Al Purdys,” a brilliant, six-minute epic that pays tribute to Purdy’s poetry. Cockburn explains its genesis: "I went out and got Purdy’s collected works, which is an incredible book. Then I had this vision of a homeless guy who is obsessed with Purdy’s poetry, and he’s ranting it on the street. The song is written in the voice of that character. The chorus goes, ‘I’ll give you three Al Purdys for a twenty dollar bill.’ Here’s this grey-haired dude, coat tails flapping in the wind, being mistaken for the sort of addled ranters you run into on the street—except he’s not really ranting, he’s reciting Al Purdy. The spoken word parts of the track are excerpts from Purdy’s poems. After that, once the ice was broken, the songs just started coming."

    Known comments by Bruce Cockburn about this song, by date:

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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.