Faithful readers of my blog might recall that, just shy of a year ago, I composed an entry entitled “The ‘other’ Bruce.” It surveyed the life and art of Canadian rocker Bruce Cockburn. From my perspective, he has had a major impact on the world of social justice-driven popular music, over the course of four decades.
A few days ago I drove to Chicago, where Bruce had a two-night, sold out gig at Old Town School of Folk Music. Yes, a large proportion of the audience was, as they say, “of a certain age,” but there was a healthy leavening of younger people, too.
Bruce performed solo at most of his previous 10 concerts that I attended. This time he was backed up by a percussionist, bassist and a guitarist that also played accordion and fiddle. The over three-hour concert featured 20 songs, including three encores. The set list ranged from albums released in the mid-Eighties, to his latest, issued this past summer.
Naturally, audience members called out their favorite songs, hoping that Bruce would perform them. He gave a humorous apology for not doing so, saying there was just room in his mind for 50 to 60 songs, and that the backup band could only play the limited number of songs that were selected from his enormous catalog.
When the concert ended I rushed to join the line that was queuing at the table where Cockburn’s memoir and recordings were on sale. (I found it interesting that his new album was available on vinyl, a venerable medium that is making a limited comeback.) Back in 2011 Canada Post recognized Bruce’s high profile by issuing a commemorative stamp bearing his likeness. I’d purchased a sheet of these stamps, hoping for the opportunity to ask him to autograph it. As you see above, this finally happened!
Bruce Cockburn is 72 years old, and there’s no denying that he moves slower and is a little hunchbacked from decades of bending over guitars. It is testament to his devotion to his craft that Bruce continues to observe what’s going on in the world, penning trenchant tunes with riveting lyrics.