horse and trainAs I get older I find I get essential solace and renewal from music, especially music of the remarkable years from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, when we all thought we could save the world. One of my favourite musician-songwriters from that period is Ottawa’s Bruce Cockburn. A pilgrimmage to Le Hibou coffeehouse to see Bruce or one of the many other great folk artists and poets of the day was the Canadian equivalent of a trip to the Village to see Bob Dylan. In the early 1970s, Bruce was at the top of his form, turning out lyrics at once angry and poetic, underlined by rich, unique and challenging guitar riffs. He turned out two really exceptional albums, Joy Will Find a Way and In the Falling Dark that I think are among the best albums of their genre. If you’ve never heard his music, you can buy it here, and listen to some samples here. His poetry is exemplary in its own right, and I found his words and music immensely cathartic last week, a week of disheartening news, watching our society’s seemingly hopeless decline into endless violence, terror, retribution and rage. Here are the lyrics from three of his songs from the above two albums.


Gavin’s Woodpile

Working out on Gavin’s woodpile
Safe within the harmony of kin
Visions begin to crowd my eyes
Like a meteor shower in the autumn skies
And the soil beneath me seems to moan
With a sound like the wind through a hollow bone
And my mind fills with figures like Lappish runes of power

And log slams on rough-hewn log
And a voice from somewhere scolds a barking dog.

I remember a bleak-eyed prisoner
In the Stoney Mountain life-suspension home
You drink and fight and damage someone
And they throw you away for some years of boredom
One year done and five more to go —
No job waiting so no parole
And over and over they tell you that you’re nothing…

and I toss another log on Gavin’s woodpile
and wonder at the lamp-warm window’s welcome smile.

I remember crackling embers
Coloured windows shining through the rain
Like the coloured slicks on The English River
Death in the marrow and death in the liver
And some government gambler with his mouth full of steak
Saying, “If you can’t eat the fish, fish in some other lake.
To watch a people die — it is no new thing.”

And the stack of wood grows higher and higher
And a helpless rage seems to set my brain on fire.

And everywhere the free space fills
Like a punctured diving suit and i’m
Paralyzed in the face of it all
Cursed with the curse of these modern times

Distant mountains, blue and liquid,
Luminous like a thickening of sky
Flash in my mind like a stairway to life —
A train whistle cuts through the scene like a knife
Three hawks wheel in a dazzling sky —
A slow motion jet makes them look like a lie
And I’m left to conclude there’s no human answer near…


In the Falling Dark

And the lights lie tumbled out like gems
The moon is nothing but a toothless grin
Floating out on the evening wind
The smell of sweat and lube oil pervades the night
And the rush of life in flight at the speed of light

A million footsteps whispering
A guitar sounds — some voices sing
Smoke on the breeze — eyes that sting
Far in the east a yellow cloud bank climbs
Stretching away to be part of tomorrow’s time

Earthbound while everything expands
So many grains of sand
Slipping from hand to hand
Catching the light and falling into dark
The world fades out like an overheard remark
In the falling dark

Light pours from a million radiant lives
Off of kids and dogs and the hard-shelled husbands and wives
All that glory shining around and we’re all caught taking a dive
And all the beasts of the hills around shout, “such a waste!
Don’t you know that from the first to the last we’re all one in the gift of grace!”


A Long-Time Love Song

Can’t trace this conversation —
Words fragment and fall
Into blue shadows by a white-baked wall.
Through shimmering spaces a single thrush calls —
A song when it’s over is no song at all

And you know I long to feel that sail
Leaping in the wind
And i long to see what lies beyond that rim
Oh, ever-new lover and friend
Sing me that love song again.

Time measured in summersaults
And flickering kids’ play —
Cross-world and southward it’s a fine summer day
Translucent life-span evaporates away
To bead on the cool grass in a cyclic ballet


Oh, damn it, I’m crying again. Gotta get some sleep.

Postscript: The image above is of a painting by Canadian artist Alex Colville entitled “Horse & Train”. Bruce used it as cover art for one of his albums and wrote “The horse seems to contain such energy, as if it were a charged particle of pure spirit. This sense of spirit, in confrontation with material power, is something any artist can relate to. A sense of impending doom, too, I think”. The painting hangs in the National Gallery of Canada.

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  1. gregor@hober.com says:

    You might really enjoy the streaming broadcast on hober.com – its mix of “unvarnished music” has been broadcasting for five years. The station is all music, tunes collected from the entire period of recorded music that sing from the heart of humanity. Although not aimed that way, a collection of great songs sung over a hundred years from the heart has a strong underlying message of peace and justice. A lot of people get comfort and inspiration from the music.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, Gregor. It’s on my bookmarks and I listed it once a few months ago on my Vectors & Tangents sidebar. It’s a great find.

  3. Donna Alalem says:

    Without addressing the specifics, the title “AND I’M LEFT TO CONCLUDE THERE’S NO HUMAN ANSWER NEAR” made me feel like submitting my imaginary “Paradigm Kicker” into the foray:Here’s my plan:All American Women (and men, if they want to) start wearing the Burka/Hijab:This idea is of course phantasy dashed with irony. I think to myself, for instance, all those celebrities of the Rodeo Drive/Hollywood elite claiming they don’t want to be recognized–how about the women in the entertainment industry starting a coalition where they wear Hijab or Burka as a statement of declaration of women’s (and religion at large) world inter-identity?…just an idea.And the Burka/Burque are so pretty — the little embroidered flowers around the forehead–the fitted crown, the exotic swirl of fabric–who’s to say which spark of action will prove to be the deciding specific to effect the paradigm shift of world ignorance to human intervention of man’s inhumanity. Women might have the answer; women have a power subjugated and untapped since the beginning of time. Something’s got to snap–and look out when a woman seriously snaps!Aloha,Donna from Hawaii

  4. Philip says:

    Wondering where the lions are… Bruce has been a big part of my life he sort of took over after Cat Stevens took up Islam as a full time gig. He got major airplay here in Portland during the mid seventies early eighties… Thanks for the memories

  5. Mike says:

    Humanity’s role in the Epic of Life is to be in the middle of the trilogy. We’re here to advance the story along and set the stage for the heroic conclusion, but that will have an all-new cast.Evolution took billions of years to set the stage for Intelligence and Technology, and we’ll use that to set conditions for Transcendence.What follows us may appreciate us, but we will never be one amongst them. Since we set the stage, how they care for us may depend greatly on how we care for Life.All life, down to every last microbe.Peace…

  6. James says:

    Bruce is pretty new to me but I’ve been soaking him up. I found him via Michael Hedges, who played a lot of him. Incidentally, I believe Hedges was one of the best guitarists of our age.

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