Monday, November 17, 2014

stealing fire

Bruce Cockburn kicked at the darkness 'til it bled with the vitriol and vision of this pyrotechnic polemical poetry.  The Canadian singer/songwriter had already released twelve albums by the time he came to record 'Stealing Fire'.  Much of the political content of the album was inspired by a visit to Mexico:  "My brother, who’d been doing solidarity work with Salvadoran rebels, had been trying to interest me in Central American politics for years. I was sympathetic to what hewas doing, but I was absorbed in other things. Eventually he told me things about the Nicaraguan revolution of 1979 that didn’t conform to my stereotype of a banana-republic revolution. There had been no blood bath, but rather this enlightened behavior on the part of the Sandinista revolutionaries. What did it mean? I was curious to see it for myself. A couple of months later, Oxfam asked me to go to Mexico and Central America on its behalf. It was a perfect opportunity ... It was pretty amazing. We’re in the middle of all this trouble and having fun. I’ve had that experience in other places such as Nicaragua in the ‘80s. There was suffering going on but the people wanted to have fun, even in those situations. You’d show up with a guitar and people would want to hear music. It sounds oxy-moronic to talk about having fun in a war zone, but in fact, wherever possible people do have fun in war zones. So, that was another stretch of that experience for me."

 'Stealing Fire' was recorded at Manta Sound in Toronto, Ontario with producers Jon Goldsmith and Kerry Crawford and features Bruce Cockburn on guitar and vocals;  Jon Goldsmith on keyboards and background vocals;  Fergus Marsh on bass and stick;  Miche Pouliot on drums;  Chi Sharpe on percussion;  Rick Shurman on ground effects;  Vein Dorge, Jerry Johnson, Mike Malone, Rick Tait on horns;  Joel Feeney, Paul Henderson, Shawne Jackson, Carole Pope, Leroy Sibbles, Tim Ryan, Judy Cade, Kerry Crawford, Colina Phillips, and Sharon Lee Williams on background vocals.   Blair Dawson did the cover painting.  Engineer John Naslen won a Juno Award for his work on the album, while  Goldsmith and Crawford were nominated for Producer of the Year.  

"If I Had a Rocket Launcher" was his first explicitly political song to be released as a single.  It went to number eighty-eight in the US and forty in Canada.   Cockburn reflects:   “Rocket Launcher” fits that...category...of trying to capture a moment. It was how I felt when I experienced a particular...the sense of being with those refugees who had experienced those things.  I don’t rationalize that much before I write a song. After the fact I can kind of tell what, if any, category it belongs in. But when I’m writing a song, I’m thinking about whatever feelings I have that want to be written down. Sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s hope, sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s sex, sometimes it’s encounters with the Divine, which certainly qualify as expressions of a moment because the contact generally doesn’t last long. I write all of the songs the same way, the mechanism’s the same. Different feelings come up, different triggers switch that get those feelings moving ... Aside from airing my own experience, which is where the songs always start, if we're ever going to find a solution for this ongoing passion for wasting each other, we have to start with the rage that knows no impediments, an uncivilized rage that says it's okay to go out and shoot some one...I can't imagine writing it under any other conditions...The idea was to reach a different audience than the politicians by having us go and observe, using the relative visibility that we have to educate the Canadian public to what we had seen and to raise money for projects that OXFAM has in the region...I don't consciously or not consciously write certain kinds of songs," Cockburn says. "In fact, I almost didn't put 'Rocket Launcher' on the album because of the ease with which it could be misinterpreted...The thing is, the weird thing about it is they stop looking like people because of what they're doing. I guess that's what makes it so easy to want to shoot them down because they [snickers] make- - -they make you feel like they forfeited their humanity somehow. But they're pawns in it. Anyway, this song is all about that. The one thing I must stress in case anybody's under any delusion that this is so, is that this is not a call to arms. This is, this is a cry ... I can't say I'm really surprised by the fact that it's still relevant," he says. "It's the sort of thing one hopes would become out-of-date or become a piece of history instead of having any current relevance. But obviously there's a lot of that kind of stuff going on. I was going to say it gets worse and worse but that's not really true, it's always been worse. It's who gets to be the victim and who doesn't. For the victims, each one of these horrors is just as bad as the rest."

Here comes the helicopter -- second time today
Everybody scatters and hopes it goes away
How many kids they've murdered only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher... I'd make somebody pay

I don't believe in guarded borders and I don't believe in hate
I don't believe in generals or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher...I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun, one hundred thousand wait
To fall down from starvation -- or some less humane fate
Cry for Guatemala, with a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher... I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice -- at least I've got to try
Every time I think about it water rises to my eyes.
Situation desperate, echoes of the victims cry
If I had a rocket launcher... Some son of a bitch would die

"Maybe the Poet"
Cockburn says:   "At the time I wrote that I was aware of the phenomenon in the Soviet Union of dissidents being incarcerated in psychiatric institutions, which, of course, is utterly sinister. An evil way of treating dissidents. And, of course, poets tend to be dissidents if they’re saying anything truthful because the truth is always inimical to authoritarian regimes and to people who like power, generally. So you go telling the truth and you get in trouble.   In the Soviet Union they were institutionalizing people and really fucking them over, but in North America we don’t do that. We just buy them off. Or bury them under layers of the commercially available substitute. And so you take someone like Allen Ginsburg, who was as much a prophet as anyone in the Bible. Here’s a guy who is really saying what people need to hear, and some people are listening but not the majority. Of course, there are far more poets, and Ginsberg was good enough and lucky enough to get some sort of public profile early on and to keep it, to a certain degree. But there are all those people trying to tell the truth as they understand it.   Nobody makes a living being a poet. [laughs] You do something else, and you do that on the side. Or you do something on the side to put food on the table. That’s where I was coming from [in “Maybe the Poet”]. Illustrations of how we shut out people who are trying to tell the truth."

"Lovers in a Dangerous Time" went to number twenty-four on the Canadian pop chart and eight on the Canadian adult contemporary chart.

 'Stealing Fire'
full album:

All songs written by Bruce Cockburn except as noted.

"Lovers in a Dangerous Time" – 4:06
"Maybe the Poet" (Cockburn, Jon Goldsmith, Fergus Marsh) – 4:51
"Sahara Gold" – 4:30
"Making Contact" – 4:47 
"Peggy's Kitchen Wall" – 4:46
"To Raise the Morning Star" (Cockburn, Marsh) – 5:51
"Nicaragua" – 4:44
"If I Had a Rocket Launcher" – 4:58
"Dust and Diesel" – 5:24

bonus tracks:
 "Yanqui Go Home"
"Call It the Sundance"

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