The title of Bruce Cockburn’s memoir, now out in paperback, is Rumours of Glory. Upon reading the book, it occurred to the Cockburn enthusiast and fellow Juno-winning musician Hawksley Workman that there was too much rumour and not enough glory affixed to the standing of Cockburn. The two artists spoke to each other recently by phone, about credit due, MTV and roads worth taking.

Hawksley Workman: The passing of David Bowie got me to thinking about artists who seem supremely aware of what they’re creating for themselves and their own self-mythologizing. My sense, Bruce, is that you weren’t ever really aware of the legacy you were creating. Is that fair to say?

Bruce Cockburn: It strikes me that legacy is a very ephemeral thing. I’ve had that word thrown at me, but I don’t know. I think it’s out of my hands.

Workman: But people like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, they nurtured or fostered an image of themselves that accompanied their art. I have trouble that you’re not included in the group of names we seem to culturally deify, and that it’s because their kind of self-mythologizing wasn’t part of your landscape. Do you feel that?

Cockburn: For me, it’s always been about the music and words. But under the surface, I recognize I have an ego like everybody else. I want to be noticed. In the beginning, I was defensive about that. I didn’t want to think in those terms, and I went to great lengths to avoid acquiring an image of any sort. But then I found that I had acquired an image of somebody who was trying not to have an image. So, I couldn’t beat that one. Once you put yourself in front of the public, an image is thrust upon you – by people’s response, by the media, by some sort of natural reaction to having somebody who is up on stage seem larger than life.

Workman: I hear all that. But your compulsion to do or to go or to be seems to eclipse that of somebody who might stroke their chin and think about what move might make them cool.

Cockburn: I’d be a liar if I denied being aware of how things might look to other people. But, again, it’s out of our own control. You can make choices, and people might see you as being cool or as a jerk. I got called names for supporting the Sandinistas. You can’t take that out of the picture, but, for me, it’s always been about curiosity more than anything else. I don’t see anything as a compulsion.

Workman: After reading your memoir, the thought that came to my mind was that I’m not working hard enough.

Cockburn: I’ve been curious and I’ve had opportunities that I’ve taken advantage of. In some cases I went around looking for the opportunity, like the first trip to Central America. I tried to make that happen, and had given up on it, before it actually did happen. Once I did that, I got invitations to all sorts of interesting places. And it seemed morally appropriate as well. I don’t feel I’ve ever been a crusader of any sort. But I feel it’s good to do what you can do.

Workman: You were putting political videos and songs on MTV. You were doing things that were as punk rock or as rebellious as you could at the time. Did you understand just how unreal it was?

Cockburn: Oh, I don’t know. Most of the credit I receive for anything I’ve done has had a lot to do with [long-time manager] Bernie Finkelstein. He’s the one who knows how to get out there and get people’s attention.

Workman: I just don’t feel it’s been recognized or celebrated that you were breaking all kinds of rules.

Cockburn: I suppose people could say there was a certain amount of strategizing that I didn’t do. But I don’t feel like I’ve given anything up. People would say, especially in the U.S., “Do you think this political involvement stuff is going to hurt your career?” For one thing, I don’t think of what I do as a career. It’s just what I do. And for another thing, it doesn’t appear to have hurt it, because the most quote-popular-unquote song of all, which was If I Had a Rocket Launcher, was almost the biggest hit. Mind you, I was totally shocked it got on the radio.

Workman: Do you feel that you’ve received all the credit you deserved?

Cockburn: I’ve done what I’ve done. I didn’t go to Central America looking for song material or anything else. I went there to see what the Nicaraguan revolution looked like up close. When I got there I found myself very deeply moved by the things I was encountering. That experience changed the direction of the next couple of decades for me. Invitations came up – invitations for adventure, to Nepal, for instance. And who’s going to say no?

Bruce Cockburn is touring Southern Ontario through Feb. 27 (). Hawksley Workman, with the Art of Time Ensemble, plays the songs of Bruce Cockburn at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre Theatre May 13 and 14 ().


Canadian musicians had an ‘incredible year’: Junos president
(CP Video)

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

10 comments on “Musicians Bruce Cockburn and Hawksley Workman on artistic legacy

  • Canadian A man who always takes himself too seriously and looks like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. His music is depressingly bad too!

  • This is a puff piece – not journalism. Bruce is doing a few shows, has a new book and Hawksley is covering Bruce’s songs. How is this news? Coburn hasn’t mattered in years and the other guy is so well known, I had to look him up.

    Alas, it’s all click-bait now, baby – the usual soft-right wing of the G&M has been folded into the morass of attention-seeki­ng tabloids that dot cyberspace like so many dim lights.

  • What does he think of Central America now, a place he has long supported and championed. Looks like it has only gotten worse over the decades. Ask him why in your next interview.

  • Not a very good interview, imo, mainly ’cause Mr. Workman asked poor questions. Workman spent so much time on questions about the “image” a musician projects, that half the interview is taken up with that rather superficial topic, the kind of topic I’d expect a second rate music journalist would flog. With “chamelion” Bowie, it was his music that showed him to be a talented artist, not his “images.” Sheesh.

    Bruce lives in San Francisco now. I’d have asked him a little about living in America vs. Canada, and how they compare for him. I’m slow to digitize my cassette tapes collection of shows I taped in the ’70s & ’80s with my Sony recorder, but I have a few mid-’70s Cockburn shows that turned out well, from Massey Hall, and one from a theatre in Barrie I must to share online via live show sharing sites such as the popular dimeadozen site, & perhaps up them to youtube too.

  • Hello everybody…

    It’s a little bit sad… bigging up our cultural heros… “people like Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young” and Bruce Cockburn… all Canucks, sure… but they wouldn’t want to live here… much better to follow the American dream…

  • I was hoping for more in this interview. But I have loved Bruce’s music for 40 years. My favourite is ” wondering where the lions are”.

  • Waiting For A Miracle is his best song in my opinion. I also like Tokyo, Coldest Night of the Year, Going To The Country and Lovers In A Dangerous Time. All first rate songs!

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