Tue, Jul 23, 2013.
Bruce Cockburn is certainly one of the most loved musicians to perform on the East Coast over the past few decades. Never growing too big, or fading, his career has always been just right for fans, filling the soft-seat theatres, giving us intimate and friendly shows, marvelling us with his intricate guitar style, passionate lyrics and command of several musical styles. Over the years, we've come to feel we know Cockburn, and this 105-minute documentary lets us further into his world, as it examines several of the key areas in his life. We get discussions on his social concern and activism, his Christian spirituality, lyric writing, guitar playing, his relationship with life on the road, and a few insights into his personal life. All this is framed with solo concert performances of several of his iconic songs, including Wondering Where The Lions Are, If I Had A Rocket Launcher, Lovers In A Dangerous Time and more.
It's an inside job, to be sure. Long-time manager Bernie Finkelstein is the major interview subject here, aside from Cockburn, and serves as a co-producer, but there's not really an attempt at a white-wash. This is for folks who know what he's about, and presents an opportunity to get some answers to major career questions. Where does his songwriting inspiration come from? Why does he mix politics and music? What is his take on Christianity? Cockburn's never shied away from any of these questions in his career, but the film does give us a concise collection of answers, and comments from friends and experts, including Bono, Jackson Browne, Michael Ondaatje, Sylvia Tyson, Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire and David Suzuki. You won't find many people in any field that cover so many bases in their lives.
The documentary isn't a career retrospective, which would be welcome as well, and includes no archival footage or analysis of various albums or life periods. Instead, it's a snapshot of where Cockburn is at these days. The music comes from a recent solo tour, acoustic songs recorded live on stage, so we don't get Cockburn the rocker fronting electric bands. Of course, that means we do get a lot more acoustic playing, which he seems more comfortable with of late, and says as much here. All the interview clips from him come from one long session, aside from some tour bus and backstage comments, so again it's very much his modern view. Some Super-8 linking shots are including, your basic grainy black-and-white fields flying by, not the most interesting stuff, and I did find myself wishing for a more comprehensive bio. There was a Life And Times done for TV back in 2001, but that's long out-of-print, so hopefully one day we'll get some sort of mega-doc/boxed set, but in the meantime, Cockburn fans can find out he's as genuine as we always believed with this DVD.
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Bob Mersereau has been covering music, and the East Coast Music Scene since 1985 for CBC. He's a veteran scene-maker at the ECMA's, knows where the best shows and right parties are happening, and more importantly, has survived to tell the tales. His weekly East Coast music column is heard on Shift on Radio 1 in New Brunswick each Wednesday at 4'45. He's also the author of two national best-selling books, The Top 100 Canadian Albums (2007) and The Top 100 Canadian Singles (2010).