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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, May 30, 2004
    Sun-blessed hands of the man

    I have spent an evening gazing, enthralled, at a man's hands. The hands of a man called Bruce Cockburn. It's usually the words which grab me, for Cockburn is rightly celebrated as a leading poet in his field; and I was held in awe of his words again. But in the intimate surroundings of the City Varieties Music Hall Leeds last night it was his hands, defying sense, working the space between motion and emotion, effortlessly crafting songs of depth and scale. The sun-blessed hands of the man.

    Some of Bruce's recorded work suffers through over-production. Best Bruce is times like this - you and him, a small room, those hands working his guitar into an instrument of grace. As for the words ... some of the strongest Cockburn lines are those which simultaneously simmer with anger and boil over with love. "Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight", for instance, from the song I used as the basis of my talk at Michelle and Stuart's wedding - Lovers in a Dangerous Time. Good to see them there last night.

    Sat there I was thinking, the first Bruce album I got must have been twenty years ago, secondhand from dusty old Marina Records - Humans, which contains some of the most potent lines of any album of any era, I'd suggest. It was a good record to start with . You get bigger as you go, he sings on that: "You get bigger as you go / No one told me - I just know / Bales of memory like boats in tow / You get bigger as you go." And he has. Bigger in heart and mind. He remains as potent now as ever in his long, (over here) hidden career. His work fulfils his own words in that same song, "One small step for freedom / From foregone conclusion."

    Not long ago he released All Our Dark Tomorrows, his response to the last Bush 'election' which I previously blogged about here. Bruce explained to us the opening line came from a prediction of Nostradamus current at the time... the rest, though, is his, I guess. It hurts and it heals with a simmering sense of injustice, and I think it bears repeating:

    The village idiot takes the throne
    His the wind in which all must sway
    All sane people, die now
    Be lifted up and carried away
    You've got no home in this world of sorrows

    There's a parasite feeding on
    Everybody's bag of rage
    What goes out returns again
    To smite the mouth and burn the page
    Under the rain of all our dark tomorrows

    I can see in the dark - it's where I used to live
    I see excess and the gaping need
    Follow the money - see where it leads...
    It's to shrunken men stuffed up with greed
    They meet and make plans in strange half-lit tableaux
    Under the rain of all our dark tomorrows
    You've got no home in this world of sorrows

    [All Our Dark Tomorrows is on You've Never Seen Everything, 2003]