Bruce Cockburn’s Sonic Life

Mixed Media
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My introduction to Bruce Cockburn came over 30 years ago upon hearing a live acoustic guitar instrumental, “Water into Wine,” during an FM radio interview. I wondered aloud to a friend, “Could this artist be a Christian?” And so I, like many over the years, met the legendary Canadian Music Hall of Fame singer and songwriter.

Over the course of 29 albums, Cockburn became a bit of a spiritual lodestar for many believers, who resonated as much with his jazz-influenced folk music as his introspective lyrics tackling personal, spiritual, and sociopolitical concerns.

In his autobiographyRumours of Glory: A Memoir, Cockburn offers a sprawling 500-plus-page chronicle marked by the political, romantic, and spiritual highways and byways that have informed his songwriting, activism, and life over several decades. His peripatetic ways are evidenced in stories that trace his evolving and waning faith, his travels across Canada, and his social activism.

Readers are taken on a world tour, visiting places like Chile, Guatemala, Mozambique, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and more as Cockburn speaks out on diverse issues: from Native rights and land mines to American and Canadian foreign policy and global warming. He claims he has not written “protest songs,” but those of “personal lament . . . I want to paint sonic pictures of what I encounter, feel, and think is true.”

Fans of Cockburn’s music will enjoy how his story is punctuated throughout with dozens of full-lyric song interludes—in many cases telling the stories behind them, showing how scenes from his life connect with his lyrics—and introductions to industry insiders. (A nine-disc companion box set is also available via his record label, True North.)

For Christians, Rumours of Glory ironically reveals a Cockburn who, while still spiritual, “has become less specifically Christian” in his later years, turned off by fundamentalist and right-wing believers. He speaks often of "the Divine." But in diverse ways and times, he has provided the soundtrack for my life. To this day, whenever I take the Lord’s Supper, I still recite lines from “Gavin’s Woodpile”: “The earth is bread, the sun is wine. It’s a sign of hope that’s ours for all time.” (HarperOne)

About the Author

Robert N. Hosack is Executive Editor for Baker Publishing Group, and he is a member of Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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