Rumours of Glory Book Review

bruceRumours of Glory: A Memoir

Authors: Bruce Cockburn & Greg King

Publisher: Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2014

530 pages, including Acknowledgments & Discography, hardcover

CDN $34.99

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Ever since Bruce Cockburn’s first album released in 1970, I confess that I’ve been attracted to his music. Over against so many singer-songwriters who focus on, and cannot seem to mature beyond the superficial and trivial and “what sells,” Bruce Cockburn is amazingly challenging and inspiring. I find his lyrics quite brilliant and profound, as well as poetic and prophetic. He often speaks out against the evils and darkness in the world today, advocating for the world’s poor, oppressed and forgotten.

There is a wonderful irony and paradox at work in his life and music, in that one has the sense of Cockburn not intentionally setting out to be an international celebrity—yet he is likely more popular, honoured and famous than many of his contemporaries who have long been forgotten or are minimally remembered and celebrated today.

In this memoir, Cockburn recalls his early years growing up in Kingston and then Ottawa, where his dad was a medical doctor; his parents never expressed much emotion, and were only occasional attenders of worship services in the United Church. Cockburn comments: “Ours was a secular household, in spite of the exposure we all had to the surface ideals and imagery of Christianity” (p. 17).

Bruce speaks a bit of sibling rivalry in the early years, he being the eldest of three brothers. He also mentions his early month-long summer camps in the wilderness—perhaps an influence on his music in later years as some of his songs reflect a love for and respect of creation.

In the pages of this memoir, Cockburn speaks at length on: his music and many influences from a host of genres, including of course the 60s and 70s rock and folk musicians such as Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger, his relationships with those closest to him, including his first spouse and several other girlfriends and partners, the process of working with several significant people to record and produce his albums, the political situation in Canada and around the globe, the environment, his encounter with Christ, other Christians, and the Christian faith, his views on religions, his experiences as a world traveller, especially to many poor nations, his work with several NGOs including Amnesty International, among more various and sundry subjects.

A surprising tidbit about Cockburn for this reviewer is that he enjoys guns and shooting them at gun clubs and/or firing ranges. Even though he is a peace-loving human being, he does not consider himself a pacifist. In his own words: “I honour nonviolence as a way of being, and as a political tactic, but I am not a pacifist” (p. 2).

One of the themes that keeps resurfacing is that of Cockburn’s relationship with and response to God or what he refers to as the Divine. All-in-all, Bruce Cockburn is a difficult person to categorize—if I had to describe him in some categorical manner, it would be within the tradition of Christian mysticism, with universalistic inclinations, that encounter the Divine/God through the beauty and tragedy of creation in all of its forms, which connects everyone and everything. His concluding words sum it up well: “It’s recognizing that from the first to the last we are all one in the gift of grace, and that if we hold this gift dear we can be whole again” (p. 525).

I highly recommend this volume to those with an interest in Bruce Cockburn’s music or wish to learn more about him and his long and prolific career.

Mary Travers dies at 72

Mary Travers dies at 72

The famous American folk singer and member of the trio Peter, Paul and Mary died of cancer on September 16 at the age of 72. For many of us baby boomers, Peter Yarrow, (Noel) Paul Stookey and Mary Travers were our heroes, singing songs with them like Puff the magic dragon, If I had a hammer, We shall overcome, and so on. The trio remained active over the decades, not only singing, but in advocating for human rights and peace around the globe. You can read more here and the trio’s web site here. Us baby boomers will miss Mary, blessed be her memory.

Kudos to our Medicine Hat Folk Music Club

Last night—Friday, September 12—our Medicine Hat Folk Music Club kicked off this season’s Songwriter Night. What a lovely evening it was! Our small city has a lively folk music scene with much talent, including up and rising artists who have recently recorded CDs of their original compositions and are even receiving international acclaim. I thoroughly enjoyed last night’s gathering—kudos to our Medicine Hat Folk Music Club members! You can visit the club’s website here to check out the up and coming concerts as well as the annual January Tongue on the Post Folk Music Festival artists. You can also visit their myspace site and have a glimpse of the talent showcased at the Songwriter Night here

What a concert!

Last night, April 26, 2008, my wife and I attended a Bill Bourne and Eivør Pálsdóttir concert organised by the Medicine Hat Folk Music Club. Bill and Eivør played to a sold out audience, and now I know the reason why. This was an absolutely fabulous concert! Eivør is a native of the Faroe Islands, and Bill was raised right here in Alberta around the Red Deer area. Eivør’s voice is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard—if this is what the music of heaven sounds like, then what a treasure is in store for us! Her songs gave me goose bumps all over my body, something that I haven’t experienced in quite a while. Bill too is a fine musician, I particularly like the gentle harmonizing and signature rhythms so exuberantly summoned from his guitar. Most of all though, I deeply appreciated Christian motifs in a few of the lyrics. Blessed are the music-makers, for the realm of God is in their midst. I highly recommend all readers of this blog to attend a Bill Bourne and Eivør Pálsdóttir concert if they ever come your way. In the meantime, please visit their websites: Bill Bourne here and Eivør Pálsdóttir here