Music Rules: It’s Bruce Cockburn’s birthday and career anniversary

Bruce Cockburn was born May 27, 1945, seventy five years old today. He is a Canadian music legend, releasing albums since 1970 until today, fifty years into his career.  Along with being the face of Canadian folk-rock, he has been a voice of conscience for people and causes both within Canada and abroad.  He is certainly no friend or fan of the US government.

The Canadian Encyclopedia: Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn (official site)

Cockburn Project (fan site)

On the left, Cockburn circa 1983 and the album “Stealing Fire”.  On the right, an undated photo from the 2010s.

Below the fold is a selection of his songs from his earlier and most commercially succesful period (1970-1987).

Which to do first, political or romantic songs. . .I’ll go with the safer stuff first.

“Coldest Night Of The Year” (1980) was Cockburn’s biggest charting hit, a great song of romance and lyrical poetry.

“When two lovers really love, there’s nothing there

But the suddenly compact universe of skin and breath and hair”

“Lovers In A Dangerous Time”

“Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight

You’ve got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight”

“Wanna Go Walking” is the closest Cockburn ever did to a dance track, and it’s damn good.  It’s about Judy Garland.

“I see your face on the wall and the magazine too,

Next thing I know the billboard out the window is you

I wanna go walking with you Judy

Through the movie of the world”

“Rumours Of Glory”

“Making Contact”

“Tokyo” is not a happy song, but poignant.  It was written about a news story he witnessed on TV while on tour, a car accident where a man drove off an overpass.

“Laughter” is a happy song, about his marriage, his first child and life in general.

Despite the title, “Fascist Architecture” is about possessiveness in relationships, not poltics.

“Wondering Where The Lions Are”  was another of Cockburn’s biggest hits.

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Now for the political stuff….

“Call It Democracy” was a response to colonialism and imperialism of the 1980s.  Sadly, its meanings and themes have never gone away.  Cockburn’s popularity was so high in Canada at the time he could get away with profanity uncensored on AM radio.

“Padded with power here they come

International loan sharks backed by the guns

Of market hungry military profiteers

Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared

With the blood of the poor


Who rob life of its quality

Who render rage a necessity

By turning countries into labour camps

Modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom


Sinister cynical instrument

Who makes the gun into a sacrament

The only response to the deification

Of tyranny by so called “developed” nations’

Idolatry of ideology


North, south, east, And it west

Kill the best and buy the rest

It’s just spend a buck to make a buck

You don’t really give a flying fuck

About the people in misery


I-M-F dirty M-F

Takes away everything it can get

Always making certain that there’s one thing left

Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt


See the paid off local bottom feeders

Passing themselves off as leaders

Kiss the ladies, shake hands with the fellows

And it’s open for business like a cheap bordello

And they call it democracy (4x)


See the loaded eyes of the children too

Trying to make the best of it the way kids do

One day you’re going to rise from your habitual feast

To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast

They call the revolution

I-M-F dirty M-F

Takes away everything it can get

Always making certain that there’s one thing left

Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

And they call it democracy

“If I Had A Rocket Launcher” speaks of the 1980s Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico, and the Guatemalan helicopters that shot at and killed innocents.  US radio wouldn’t touch this one, I can’t imagine why….
Here comes the helicopter, second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they’ve murdered only god can say,
If I had a rocket launcher, if I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher, I’d make somebody pay
“Peggy’s Kitchen Wall” – police brutality, arrogance and violence towards the victims.  Some things never change.  Especially not this week.
“Look away across the bay, yankee gunboat come this way
Uncle Sam’s gonna save the day, come tomorrow we’re all gonna pay”
“The Trouble With Normal” is about the slow anti-democratic decline of society, about “neo-liberalism” before the term was coined.
Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage
Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage
Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights
What did they think the politics of panic would invite?
Person in the street shrugs “Security comes first”
But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse
“Stolen Land”, the theft of land from indigenous people around the world, not just Canada.
Apartheid in Arizona, slaughter in Brazil
If bullets don’t get good PR there’s other ways to kill
Kidnap all the children, put ’em in a foreign system
Bring them up in no-man’s land where no one really wants them, it’s a stolen land
[. . .]
If you’re like me you’d like to think we’ve learned from our mistakes
Enough to know we can’t play god with others’ lives at stake
So now we’ve all discovered the world wasn’t only made for whites
What step are you gonna take to try and set things right in this stolen land?
“Waiting For A Miracle” was the single from his Greatest Hits record of 1987.
Look at them working in the hot sun
The pilloried saints and the fallen ones
Working and waiting for the night to come
And waiting for a, and waiting for a, and waiting for a miracle
Somewhere out there is a place that’s cool
Where peace and balance are the rule
Working toward a future like some kind of mystic jewel
And waiting for a, and waiting for a, and waiting for a miracle
You rub your palm on the grimy pane
In the hope that you can see (when you’re waiting)
You stand up proud, you pretend you’re strong
In the hope that you can be (when you’re waiting)
Like the ones who’ve cried, like the ones who’ve died
Trying to set the angel in us free
While they’re waiting for a
While they’re waiting for a
While they’re waiting for a miracle
Struggle for a dollar, scuffle for a dime
Step out from the past and try to hold the line
So how come history takes such a long, long time?
When you’re waiting for a
When you’re waiting for a
When you’re waiting for a miracle


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    My favourite song, “God Bless the Children”, from my favourite Cockburn album, Night Vision. What a haunting cover, from Colville’s “Horse and Train”.

    “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” may be my second favourite. The line “Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight” still gives me goosebumps, as does the line from “If I Had A Rocket Launcher” – “If I had a rocket launcher…Some son of a bitch would die.”

    The lad can write.

  2. jenorafeuer says

    I used to hear ‘If I Had a Rocket Launcher’ played over the air a fair bit while I was in University.

    Then again, I was in a Canadian University.

    I think Lovers in a Dangerous Time is the only song of his I’ve heard covered by others all that often. (The Barenaked Ladies covered it on one of their albums.) Most of Cockburn’s songs are very, very his.