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If I Had a Rocket Launcher: Bruce Cockburn, A Leader Among His Peers

August 24, 2009

Updated February 11, 2014

Workshop, Ottawa Folks Festival, August 23

Workshop, Ottawa Folks Festival, August 23

It took only some 30 years but I finally saw him live in concert, and met afterwards, Canada’s legendary folksong writer Bruce Cockburn. I became a fan of Bruce’s music when I was a university student back in the mid 1970s and have watched with interest his evolution as a singer-songwriter and incredible guitar player. As a long-time volunteer with the Ottawa Folk Festival, I watched him perform before a huge outdoor crowd Saturday night. But what I was waiting for was to see him play at a small outdoor venue Sunday afternoon with three other musicians. This is where you often see incredible jam sessions where musicians frequently have never met before. But it’s where you see a blending of talent and spirit among the musicians and a human bonding with the audience.

Bruce lead the workshop, and in leading off one of his own songs he took a moment to share with the large audience – sitting sedately on a knoll in the sunshine by the beautiful Ottawa River – how he came to write it. Bruce has travelled the world, speaking out against atrocities committed to people’s in developing countries. One subject he has rallied against is landmines. In the late 1980s and again in the mid 1990s, he visited Mozambique, a country being torn apart by rebel violence. His vignettes of rebels laying landmines in school yards and in concentric circles outside villages and then lobbing grenades into them to produce panic among villagers to flee, only then to lose limbs and their lives, caused a deafening silence in the audience.


In 1984 Bruce released his album Stealing Fire, with the title track If I had a Rocket Launcher based on his visit to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico. The song itself is one of his most powerful. Check out the video link.

Bruce Cockburn has walked the talk consistently over several decades and not taken the convenient route that many celebrities have in search of acceptance and/or media attention. He does his international work because it’s the right thing to do. For me Bruce is a leader among his peers, yet he is one of the most humble and unassuming people I’ve ever met. Whether it’s on stage with other musicians or meeting fans, he is gracious, humorous and respectful. We need more people like Bruce Cockburn. If you’re not familiar with his music, check him out. Bruce released his 33rd album in 2011 (his first release was in 1970 at age 25).

Bruce talking to a fan.

Photos by J. Taggart

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