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The Song That Changed Your Life: Picks

By Michael Barton

On an evening back in 1982, I went to see Bruce Cockburn at the University of Alberta after a friend that knew I was a fan had informed me that he would be at an event that was billed as ‘free.’ Eagerly anticipating enjoying a night of some of my favourite tunes, I was taken aback by the realization that the event would be 'sans music,' and instead, was a talk by the artist relating his recent experiences visiting Guatemalan refugee camps along the Mexican border. His experience there had inspired the song, ‘If I Had a Rocket Launcher,’ and his talk inspired me to sign-up as a volunteer with the local Oxfam Committee in Edmonton.   Over time, this event and being drawn to the lyrics of the song would change my life immeasurably.

The volunteer work that followed had me active in various campaigns focusing on addressing the needs of the poor in developing countries, and spurred my political and social interest in peoples’ struggles in different parts of the world. The experience was fulfilling and enriching with the added bonus of meeting many people in the local Latino community that included immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Chile.

While my alter-ego volunteer interests did not mesh with my daytime job as a commercial loans officer, fate intervened and I was laid-off from my position at the bank in the recession that hit the early 1980’s. I took a long time assessing where I was going in life before deciding to attend university to pursue my interest in international development. I eventually completed a Master’s degree, but by then was in my late-thirties and still at a loss as to how to achieve my ultimate life goal. Not finding my niche here, I decided to leave Canada and head overseas to Southeast Asia. I eventually settled in Cambodia in 1995 and went door-knocking seeking opportunities with various development agencies working in the country. My persistence paid off and I ended up living and working there over the next fifteen years. I met and married and local woman and we had two beautiful children. 

Upon moving back to Edmonton in 2010, one of the things I looked forward to doing was digging through my boxes of LPs that had been stored for over fifteen years so I could listen to Bruce’s song again.

Michael Barton is from Edmonton, AB

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