I was one of those young people who almost wore the grooves out of my copy of Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws in the early 1980s – especially once I was told Bruce Cockburn was a born again Christian and “Wondering Where the Lions Are” was based on a metaphor for Jesus Christ.
I also wasn’t one of those evangelical Christians who tossed their Cockburn collection because of the mild profanity in “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” and the harsher profanity in “Call it Democracy.” I considered the lyrics in context and always felt the songwriter chose the words he knew best conveyed his thoughts.
That’s why Cockburn’s autobiography, rumours of glory, was at the top of my Christmas list this year and became one of the first books I plowed through in my post-Christmas reading binge.
For many evangelical Christians, Cockburn has been an enigma. Coming out in the late 1970s with statements that led many to believe he had a salvation experience, Cockburn’s “witness” in years to come left many scratching their heads about his beliefs.
For those, myself included, who picked up rumours of glory to hear Cockburn use the magic words “born again Christian,” they’ll be sadly disappointed. One encounter Cockburn has with legendary Christian rocker Glen Kaiser (of Resurrection Band fame) will leave no doubt about where Cockburn stands among those in the evangelical camp. Yet, ever the enigma, Cockburn shares about a spiritual experience that seems pull from Christianity and a host of other religions/faiths that he’s been exposed to as a world traveller and observer of human behaviour. Is he or isn’t he a “Christian?” Only God knows for sure.
Putting dogma aside, Cockburn still remains, as a singer/songwriter/guitarist, a key influence on many Canadian musicians, including Christians such as Jacob Moon, Steve Bell, Ali Matthews, Jay Calder, Kev Morse. And rumours of glory is a window onto Cockburn’s creative process, which has evolved and matured over his nearly five decades as a musician. For me, the most enjoyable part of this book was taking a look behind the curtain as he explains the influences and experiences behind his songs. I did find, however, some of the political rants became a little tiring after being repeated a few times.
Does rumours of glory provide a definitive answer to the question “is Bruce Cockburn a born-again Christian?” No. Does rumours of glory provide a look at one artist’s creative process? Yes. And for that reason it’s a must-read for any artist.