This project was a labour of love. I have been a fan of, and inspired by the music of Bruce Cockburn ever since a friend introduced me to his music in 1976 with the album Circles in the Stream. Circles is a live concert recording containing songs likeLord of the Starfields, All the Diamonds, Dialogue With the Devil and God Bless the Children. It is, to this day, probably the single most influential recording of my life.
It’s hard to know what has most caught and kept my attention all these years. Initially of course I was enthralled by Bruce’s guitar playing. I had never heard finger style like that before. Cockburn’s unique combination of rootsy, bluesy Canadiana absolutely enthralled me. Bruce’s social consciousness perplexed and energized me as well. My father was a prison chaplain, so already I would have been somewhat attenuated to those sorts of issues, but I had never heard them in song, and certainly not in “Christian” song which (in those years) usually celebrated an individual connection to God through Christ rather than a re-connection to all things in Christ. I was also fascinated by the obscurity of the poetic lyric. Obscurity is not something we Evangelicals easily appreciate. We tend to want to bring all things into the plain light and in doing so, lose the linguistic capacity for mystery.
Finally, I absolutely came to love the angular beauty of Bruce’s melodies. Bruce is a great and unique melody maker and I guess I’ve loved this music because it doesn’t sound like everyone else’s. This music has an oddly dark beauty that rings true for me. Anyway… for these and other reasons I’ve paid close attention to Bruce’s music over the years and several of his songs have attached themselves permanently to my story, as songs tend to do. Recently, after a particularly sad and disorienting year, I found myself retreating to old albums, like one returns to old familiar haunts in order to re-anchor. Suddenly, I wanted to record an album of several of these songs. I picked the ones I felt I could make “my own” and proceeded to record “My Dinner With Bruce.”
This was a fun project – more so than usual I think because they weren’t my songs so I didn’t have the usual stress about wondering if the material was any good – I was confident in the material. Also, finding my own interpretations of the music was an energizing process. Initially I was a bit tentative about doing so, but I had a chance to meet briefly with Bruce during the project and he encouraged me to “bring something new to the table.” I spent several days in Toronto recording Kevin Breit (Holly Cole, Norah Jones) whose musicality and skill is outrageous. I also got spend a day in Los Angeles recording legendary percussionist Alex Acuna (Weather Report/ Leo Kottke). And, of course, Mike Janzen’s creative input in the early stages helped drive the arrangements to places I would not have gone on my own.
Another highlight for me during this project was working rather intensely with my son Jesse who engineered much of my guitar work and vocals. Jesse was an invaluable ear and coach – he has great intuition. Finally, I must say that I was intensely proud of the mixes Dave Z. pulled off. There is a warmth and presence to this recording that is rare these days. I’m a blessed man to have such talent interested in my work.
In the end, I will admit that I’ve never had dinner with Bruce and don’t expect to. I suspect his life is full and is not looking for a new best friend. My relationship to Bruce has been through music. We have met several times and he is always extremely gracious and encouraging. After the CD came out, someone in the press asked him what he thought of this album. He said something quite complimentary and then said he felt I had honoured his songs without being a slave to his interpretations. I was very happy for those particular words.