Bruce Cockburn lives in an artists dream world. No, the Canadian singer-songwriter has never enjoyed mass market appeal. Although he has put out the average of one album a year since his debut in 1969, his songs regularly do not make radio play lists (with one exception: "Wondering Where the Lions Are," a top-40 hit in 1980). But maybe that is the key. There is nothing quite like becoming a commodity to send your creative energy into a funk. Pop success has an early expiration date before it starts to turn sour.
What Cockburn does have is a remarkably loyal cult following that translates into a solid commercial base. It frees him to experiment with diverse musical styles and to pursue his unconventional passions. (Who else could get away with calling a song "Burden of the Angel/Beast"?)
Cockburn is presently touring the United States and Europe to promote the release of his most recent work, Dart to the Heart. The album is a juicy slice of tunes that stylistically cut across the breadth of his rich musical catalog. Musings about a spirit-infused world of wonders are juxtaposed with hard-hitting political analysis, all caressed by gentle love songs. It is a bag of contradictions, to be sure. But that is his honest read on human experience.
"Writing music, for me, is about touching something deep in someone else from a real place in yourself," Bruce told me before a recent San Francisco gig. "It can be done with a mood; it doesnt have to be done with ideas or direct statements."
Not that he takes anything even resembling a cavalier attitude toward his lyrics. His words are poetry in motion, as is reflected in this 1974 beauty: "All the diamonds in this world/That mean anything to me/Are conjured up by wind and sunlight/Sparkling on the sea."