1984, Music

Stealing Fire (1984) by Bruce Cockburn

I’m sure there’s a great songwriter under here somewhere.

Bruce Cockburn is, by reputation, arguably the greatest Canadian songwriter to emerge after the generation of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. At least he’s the most famous. (The issue with my characterization is that Neil Young was actually born the same year as Cockburn, and Leonard Cohen was 11 years older than Neil Young and Cockburn, so even older than Gordon Lightfoot. But if we think about it in terms of debuts, Cockburn’s was the last of all of these prominent Canadians to debut.) But I’ve just never found the time to explore his songs before and I guess that means I never really had the inclination either. Some of this might have to do with Cockburn’s Christianity, though that never stopped me with, say, Ian Anderson. (Or Bach.) More of it probably has to do with Cockburn’s biggest songs coming in the 1980s. And, as we all know, I don’t particularly like the mainstream music of the 1980s.

Try as I might to hear the songwriter underneath – the passionate, literate songwriter – I am perpetually distracted by this record’s sound, which veers between run-of-the-mill terrible ’80s production choices, and outright Talking Heads imitation. (Without the dexterity, of course.) It is extremely distracting trying to listen to the songs when you’re thinking “well, this is pretty sub Talking Heads right here”.

Another distraction is thinking about how the Barenaked Ladies figured out a better way of playing the most famous song here. I can’t say I paid much attention to their cover until I heard the original version and then I thought “Wow, they solved the original’s problems”.

I feel like I should have a better take. Like I should be able to appreciate one of Canada’s most famous and established songwriters. Other people from outside of Canada have. But this record is so much a product of its time that it’s really hard to do focus on Cockburn the songwriter, rather than the band around him. (I am also not the biggest fan of his delivery.)
Maybe I should check out his ’70s records.


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