Updated: May 12
by Scott Roos
"Pay attention to the poet
You need him and you know it"
- Bruce Cockburn (Maybe the Poet)
Bruce Cockburn's songs have been an essential part of the Canadian lexicon for over 50 years. That's fact. If not directly so, then indirectly. It may be more subtle and selective at this point in history, but Cockburn's influence is there. His music has been and still very much is a force. It's a presence both vibrant and organic that lectures, albeit in an artful, sometimes gritty and direct and other times breathtakingly beautiful way. In short, it's soapbox music for the soul.
It's this profound idealism of Cockburn's that speaks to the very heart of Canada's collective consciousness. We've "wondered where the lions are", we've "wished we had rocket launchers", and we've asked ourselves "if a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear". Essentially, we are better people for having Cockburn's music in our lives.
About a month ago, I put out an all call to the province, or at least within my own personal sphere of influence, for people in the Saskatchewan fine arts world, to provide comments on what Cockburn's music means to them. From what I can tell, they agree with my own personal assessments that I've made above using in their own unique ways of articulating them. Thanks to all those folks who volunteered their time to provide their thoughts!
***Sask artists, educators and musicians speak on Bruce Cockburn***
"Cockburn has always chosen his artistic convictions over commercial popularity. He’s a beacon to those artists who believe music can be an instrument for social change."
- JJ Voss (country music/roots artist, Regina)
“Bruce Cockburn is an underrated yet extremely recognizable Canadian musical icon that has inspired so many artists with his craft. I’m very grateful for the trail he blazed and path he created for Canadian artists like myself to make a career within our home country.”
- Justin Labrash (country music artist, Lumsden)
"For me, he's a little like comfort food. My older sister used to listen to him long before I really had any discernible musical tastes. I think I must have been 11 or 12 when on Canada Day one year we quite accidentally found out he would be performing a free concert at the local high school. It was just him and his guitar singing many of the songs my sister had listened to regularly. His voice brings back my childhood and those early years where my musical palate was being formed."
- Shannon Fehr (music educator, musician, Prince Albert)
"Bruce Cockburn sings songs that need to be sung, he tells stories that need to be told. He’s paved the way for aspiring Canadian songwriters like myself."
-Berk Jodoin (singer-songwriter, Leader)
"As a child of the 80s, his influence on me was powerful. He was the first guy I saw on TV with an earring, which seemed like such an iconoclastic statement at the time, a defiant step against the gender norms. The visceral feeling I felt for the first time as a kid hearing the words, 'if I had a rocket launcher, some son-of-a-bitch would die', the first swear words I heard in a song, on the radio, breaking that taboo, played a huge role in my role as a writer. It showed how to titillate."
- John Brady McDonald (visual artist, poet, author, Prince Albert)
"Bruce is one of those songwriters that has made a huge impact on my life. His lyrics range from serious to light hearted and his poetry within the lines is magical. Musically he’s a beast and is one of the finest guitarists out there."
- Dara Schindelka (singer-songwriter, Regina)
"I think 'Lover's In a Dangerous Time' is the most beautiful haunting song around. It conveys this feeling like you will be shot just for listening to it. It should never have been covered, because it was perfect."
- Bëker (experimental synth pop artist, Prince Albert)
"He’s one of the most prolific songwriters in this country or any other, he always sticks to his beliefs and does things his own way…..in my opinion, he’s right up there with Neil young, Buffy St. Marie, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and all of the other legendary song smiths that hail from north of the 49."
- Chris James Vasseur (singer-songwriter, Saskatoon)
"Bruce Cockburn writes and performs in a way that captures and encapsulates so much of what music means to me. Hearing a song like 'Lovers in a Dangerous Time' be as beautiful and grandiose played on a single guitar as any full band arrangement shows how masterful his songwriting is. His percussive style of guitar playing has inspired me as a drummer more than any percussionist has."
- Mark Hodgman (Enderby drummer, North Battleford)
"(Bruce) doesn't write songs for the radio. He writes songs to say something and every song that he writes will say something about what he personally believes. As a songwriter you take your beliefs, and you put them out there for other people and hopefully they grab it. That's the beauty of songwriting."
- Donny Parenteau (musician, songwriter, Prince Albert)