-- Wondering Where The Lions Are --
12 January 1979. Ottawa, Canada.

Found on:

Dancing In The Dragon's Jaws (1979) & (2002)

Rumours of Glory (1985) [compilation album]

Waiting For A Miracle, Singles 1970-1987 (1987) [compilation album]

Bruce Cockburn Live (1990) & (2002) [live album]

Anything Anytime Anywhere, Singles 1979-2002 (2002) [compilation album]

Slice O Life (2009) [Live]

Rumours of Glory - box set Disc 2 (2014) [compilation album]

Greatest Hits (1970-2020) (2021) [compilation album]

Sun's up, uh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren't half as frightening as they were before
But I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

Walls windows trees, waves coming through
You be in me and I'll be in you
Together in eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

Up among the firs where it smells so sweet
Or down in the valley where the river used to be
I got my mind on eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

And I'm wondering where the lions are...
I'm wondering where the lions are...

Huge orange flying boat rises off a lake
Thousand-year-old petroglyphs doing a double take
Pointing a finger at eternity
I'm sitting in the middle of this ecstasy

Young men marching, helmets shining in the sun,
Polished as precise like the brain behind the gun
(Should be!) they got me thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

And I'm wondering where the lions are...
I'm wondering where the lions are...

Freighters on the nod on the surface of the bay
One of these days we're going to sail away,
going to sail into eternity
some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

And I'm wondering where the lions are...
I'm wondering where the lions are...

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

  • Editor's note: Partially inspired by Charles Williams' book The Place of the Lion.
  • circa 2001: Wondering Where The Lions Are is used as the opening song in an ER episode called Great Expectations, where Carol Hathaway gives birth; the song plays as the intro after the opening credits as Carol gets out of bed and starts her day.
  • "Huge orange flying boat rises off the lake" - The lake is Sproat Lake (on Vancouver Island, BC) and the flying boats are, Mars Water Bombers, used for fighting fires. The petroglyphs are on Vancouver Island too. (Submitted by Audrey Pearson, 25 November 2002)

  • 1986

    "There was nearly war on the Sino-Russian frontier. I had dinner in Ottawa with someone who worked in defense research at one of those jobs about which he could say nothing. He and his colleagues were really scared because at the time, while the Soviets and Americans had an 'understanding' by which they would avoid surprising each other, China was the wild card in the deck. That night I experienced a rerun of a dream I'd had some years before in which lions roamed the streets in terrifying fashion, only this time they weren't threatening at all. When I woke up in the morning some things connected, and I wrote the beginning of this song while driving out of town along the Queensway."
    -- from "All The Diamonds" songbook, edited by Arthur McGregor, OFC Publications 1986. Submitted by Rob Caldwell.

  • 1994

    "I have a relative who is involved in one of those kinds of government jobs where they can't say what they do. The part you can say involves monitoring other people's radio transmissions and breaking codes. At that time China and the Soviet Union were almost at war on their mutual border. And both of them had nuclear capabilities. I had dinner with this relative of mine and he said, "We could wake up tomorrow to a nuclear war." Coming from him, it was a serious statement. So I woke up the next morning and it wasn't a nuclear war. [Laughs] It was a real nice day and there was all this good stuff going on and I had a dream that night which is the dream that is referred to in the first verse of the song, where there were lions at the door, but they weren't threatening, it was kind of a peaceful thing. And it reflected a previous dream that was a real nightmare where the lions were threatening."
    -- from "Closer to the Light with Bruce Cockburn" by Paul Zollo, SongTalk, vol. 4, issue 2, 1994. Submitted by Rob Caldwell.

  • November 1999

    "... but what I also got was a huge amount of air-play for that song,[referring to If I Had A Rocket Launcher] which I hadn't really had before - the one exception being Wondering Where The Lions Are which got played in the US as well as Canada. WWTLA was the first song I'd had that got big time national air-play in Canada and it got on the Billboard chart in the US. But whereas it was the start of something in the Canada, in the sense that the next few records I put out also got a lot of air-play, in the States that didn't happen, so with Rocket Launcher it was like starting all over again. And that time it did take, and it's been progressively better since then."
    -- from "Bruce Cockburn Interview", Guitarist Magazine, November 1999, by Steve Lawson.

  • 22 March 2002

    "How many of you find petroglyph to be a strange word? I don't know, I mean, I didn't go to any special trouble to learn the word petroglyph in my life but it just sort of came, you know, like other words like 'don't' and 'okay' and 'frankincense' and you know, whatever. 'Victorian', 'novella.' Petroglyph. Petroglyph is a rock painting, for those who haven't run across the word, and in the context of the song in which that word appears, which I'm about to do it makes sense, to me at least.

    A couple of people have done different versions of this song -- once in a while somebody other than me records one of my songs -- and in both cases that I'm aware of, they were not aware of the meaning of petroglyph, apparently. Back in the early '80s Leo Sayer -- remember Leo Sayer? [falsetto] 'You make me feel like dancing' -- he did a version of this song and when he came to the word petroglyph he substituted 'dinosaur.' He was being more candid than we thought, maybe, I suppose, but I thought it was really strange, though, and when you hear the verse it appears in it's going to seem even stranger, like 'WHY?' Why if he's going to substitute anything is he going to substitute dinosaur? I think it's 'cause it started with P and had a few syllables and looked kind of Greek-like and so petroglyph, pterodactyl, you know it's all the same shit.

    And then not too long ago, a couple years ago, a younger band, who I admire very much actually, a band called Vigilantes of Love did a version of the song for a compilation record and they changed the words too. They changed it to something about a big bird flying around. Which at least didn't conflict as much with the rest of the verse as dinosaur, but it didn't suggest to me that, even though I came by the word petroglyph without going to any special effort, other people perhaps had not run across it. You can judge for yourself whether it makes sense or not, I guess."
    -- from a concert transcription of the 22 March 2002 Seattle, WA show. Submitted by Jeff McCloud.

  • 2017

    "The success of Wondering Where the Lions Are was a big surprise. It was both very welcome and very fraught. All of a sudden, I'm in the PR machine of an American record company. All of a sudden, we're touring in way more places. We played it on Saturday Night Live. It was so terrifying. It was American national TV, and I didn't feel ready for it all."

    - from Bruce Cockburn - a life in seven songs by Brad Wheeler - Globe and Mail. (Inteview date: September 11, 2017)

  • 2021

    "The sun was bright. The sky was blue. Russia and China were not having a nuclear war. The lions in the dream were safely distant and regally beautiful, but they were out there..."

    ~ from the liner notes of Greatest Hits (1970-2020)

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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.