Review of Bruce Cockburn, Rumours of Glory [HarperCollins, 2014]

I’m biased. Bruce Cockburn is my favorite Canadian singer songwriter, perhaps my favorite from anywhere. Thus, I began my read of his memoir with inherent interest. A few years earlier I had read Brian Walsh’s Kicking at the Darkness which explored Cockburn’s spirituality according to his lyrics. My thought was that this would just be a more personal version of the same. It was, although sometimes too much so in my opinion.

Too much, as in it could have been shorter than 526 pages. It reminded me of Neil Young’s autobiography which was also over 500 pages [See my earlier review]. Cockburn’s memoir is more articulately and thoughtfully written than Young’s, not unlike a comparison of their song lyrics. They both write much about their relationships but Young writes about cars and guitars while Cockburn writes about God and social issues. The latter being more interesting, for me at least. Even then, it was still too long.

At times there was also too much personal [private] information. Rumours of Glory is at its best when he gives us personal and spiritual insights into his songs [lyrics liberally included in the book] and at its worst when he gives us too many details about his numerous sexual relationships with women. I appreciate his vulnerability but there are some things I don’t need to know. Yet, sexuality and spirituality are often more closely related than we might care to admit and Cockburn’s memoir exemplifies this. It is indeed a deeply personal spiritual autobiography as he had insisted on when approached to write his story. Here are a few selected excerpts [with songs alluded to in brackets] that give you a feel for the book and the author:

Our journey is driven by longing. Longing is perhaps the overarching human emotion. Longing has to do with God, because what humans long for the most is a relationship with the Divine. We may not be conscious of it, but we long to know God, in whatever context or guise that might mean to the individual. [You Don’t Have to Play the Horses, 1972; Shining Mountain, 1970; He Came from the Mountain, 1971]

My songs tend to be triggered by whatever is in front of me, filtered through feeling and imagination. [My songs] are not meant as calls to action—though if someone heard one of my songs and was inspired to help the poor or save an ecosystem, all the better—but as an attempt to share my personal response to experience with anyone who feels a resonance, or even with someone who doesn’t, because life is one long conversation. [People See Through You, 1985; Planet of the Clowns, 1981; Berlin Tonight, 1985; The Charity of Night, 1994; Where the Death Squad Lives, 1986]

It was as if God were overseeing my basic training. The military tears you down to nothing and then rebuilds you in the mold they want. The fires of crisis often afford an opportunity to rebuild ourselves, to move forward from the embers into the arms of God. [Embers of Eden, 1997; Get Up Jonah, 1995; When You Give it Away, 1997]

Cockburn appropriately closes the book by reflecting on lyrics from Life Short Call Now, his second to last album at the time of writing [2014] and also perhaps his most spiritual album.

People who maintain a relationship with the Divine—no matter the religion or sect or specified belief system—will bear a special burden. It’s the burden of healing that is so needed after our poor stewardship of this blessed earth and of each other. Between the dogmatism of fear-based fundamentalism and the Battlestar Galactica new-aginess of Hollywood, down there in the cracks, there is room, there is a necessity, for the sharing of real, personal, and experiential knowledge of God—of love. That is our mission…[Mystery, 2004; Beautiful Creatures, 2004; The Light Goes On Forever, 1980]