Canadian troubador Bruce Cockburn just released what he calls a memoir” entitled Rumours of Glory.
The singer-songwriter described by Jackson Browne as “one of the most astute and compelling songwriters in the English language” is easily one of the most gifted practitioners of the art on the planet. If he were an American and if he promoted himself he would be acknowledged as the very best in the world.But alas and thankfully, Cockburn has never been at ease with celebrity and has allowed his art to speak for itself. And it speaks volumes and often prophetic truth to power.
What is staggering about a memoir by a person in the music biz is that it could be easily be read as a primer on an engaged Christian life.
This book hits you on the first page when the author says, “Along the way when i found Jesus Christ” you know you are in for either an emotional born again experience or a serious reflection on what it means to be a disciple in the modern age. Luckily, it is the latter. This book could be at home in a university theology class.It is that thoughtful and compelling.
The author’s knowledge of the world and how it works with all the power games governments play is quite astounding. His analysis of global politics as seen from the unique stance of life observed on the periphery is striking. Cockburn allows himself to hear the cries of the poor in Central America, Latin America, Asia and Africa. He goes to the killing fields of Cambodia,Vietnam, Guatemala, the chaos of Mozambique and the horror show of Iraq. He goes not as an expert but as a witness to the suffering and he allows it to inform his music.
Cockburn’s legitimate anger does not spare the real war criminals like George Bush ‘the half-wit Texas oilman’ whom he also calls “the King of Fools” and “His Highness” nor the bloodless US ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright whom on a 60 Minute program told interviewer Leslie Stahl that the starvation of half a million children in Iraq because of an embargo “was worth it.”
We think the price is worth it! ..
tell the universe what you’ve done
out in the desert with your smoking gun
looks like you’ve ben having too much fun
tell the universe what you’ve done (2003)
Cockburn is astonished. His disgust was palpable as it was when he in 1983 saw the murderous activity of US sponsored Guatemalan madman Rios Montt.his response then was his song,”If I had a rocket launcher, some sonofabitch would die.”
Cockburn has deep respect for the heroic Catholic bishop Tom Gumbleton whose peace missions had taken him to Vietnam, Nicaragua,El Salvador, Hiroshima,Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala and Peru and had visited Iraq seven times when Cockburn caught up with him in Baghdad. And Gumbleton correctly is just Tom and not Your Grace.
The book is chock full of some of his great songs which he contextualizes creatively. there are so many! He advises his listeners to “don’t fear the spirit when it comes to call”. He constantly pleads to ‘remain open to the touch of the Divine, a reality that is so much bigger than our day to day selves. He purposely puts spirit in lower case to allow the experience of non-Christians to percolate.
It is his observation that “we spend excessive energy shutting ourselves off from spirit, distracting ourselves from it, and hiding from our inner works and it costs us dearly.The absence of a relationship with spirit allows us to do things like murder each other by the hundreds of thousands and play foolish power games among ourselves and between nations” (p.469)
In this brutally frank memoir this essentially shy man allows us to peer into his highly personal but public life, one that is always moving, developing and deepening.His faith is deeply incarnational, enmeshed in our beautiful, broken world. Unlike too many clerics i’ve know Bruce Cockburn does not invent the human, he takes him and her where he finds them in all their glory and fallenness.He never despairs. He tells us that “my soul is rooted in the divine; and that life is,or ought to be ruled by love.who or what God might be,what the cosmos actually consists of, how love and evil are so regularly cojoined in the human heart—all are questions that hail from a deep and overarching mystery that has forever teased and tossed us.”
The mystery, as the universe keeps reminding me, deepens and opens with every breath.
In 2004 he wrote a song called Mystery. He challenges us:
Don’t tell me there is no mystery
and don’t tell me there is no mystery
it overflows my cup
this feast of beauty can intoxicate
this feat of beauty can intoxicate
just like the finest wine
Rumours of Glory is a potent invitation to hear the music of Bruce Cockburn in a deeper way