Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 8: Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws

Don Berg
Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws (1979)

I have a friend who has a sister who was a poet laureate and has become a somewhat well known author, who when hearing this album, back when I was college, said upon hearing the song “Creation Dream”, “this is some serious poetry.” I may not know a lot about serious poetry, but I do love imagery, metaphor and symbolism. This is one reason why I like the music of Bruce Cockburn so much. In the Genesis account, God solemnly speaks the world into existence. Is there room in our theology for a creation account filled with a holy liturgical song and dance?

Creation Dream
Centred on silence
Counting on nothing
I saw you standing on the sea
And everything was
Dark except for
Sparks the wind struck from your hair
Sparks that turned to
Wings around you
Angel voices mixed with seabird cries
Fields of motion
Surging outward
Questions that contain their own replies...

You were dancing
I saw you dancing
Throwing your arms toward the sky
Fingers opening
Like flares
Stars were shooting everywhere
Lines of power
Bursting outward
Along the channels of your song
Mercury waves flashed
Under your feet
Shots of silver in the shell-pink dawn...

In the song, “Hills of Morning,” Bruce paints an allegorical picture of Jesus that preaches the Gospel of Mark and John in one song. A world in crisis, filled with ordinary people, living ordinary lives encounter the playful, glittering joker.

Hills of Morning
Underneath the mask of the sulphur sky
A bunch of us were busy waiting,
Watching the people looking ill-at-ease,
Watching the fraying rope get closer to breaking

Women and men moved back and forth
In between effect and cause
And just beyond the range of normal sight
This glittering joker was dancing in the dragon's jaws

We discover that this joker, who turns the wisdom of this world on it’s head, is dancing with death. The chorus informs us that this joker is in fact the creator God, hovering over the deep, pronouncing “let there be light.” Whose breath brings life, who through Bruce, calls us to dance with him bringing light to this hanging-by-a-thread world:

Let me be a little of your breath
Moving over the face of the deep --
I want to be a particle of your light
Flowing over the hills of morning

I carry a wound within me. Cockburn sings about this wound in “Northern Lights.” I have been cut by the beauty of the Sierras and have seen the northern lights, and felt the love of God. He weaves these together in:

Northern Lights
Ahead where there should be the thickness of night
Stars are pinned on a shimmering curtain of light

Sky full of rippling cliffs and chasms
That shine like signs on the road to heaven...

I've been cut by the beauty of jagged mountains
And cut by the love that flows like a fountain from God.

So I carry these scars, precious and rare,
And tonight I feel like I'm made of air...

Bono has this scar too. He sings it in his Magnificat:

Magnificent (U2)
Only love
Only love can leave such a markBut only love
Only love can heal such a scar

Justified till we die
You and I will magnify
Oh, the magnificent

Only love
Only love can leave such a mark
But only love
Only love unites our hearts

(BTW: I love the way the images of this video match the imagery of “Dancing in the Dragons jaws”-- a dancer lifting the shroud from a similar place where the people were waiting for the glittering joker.

Finally, I couldn’t write about this album without referencing Cockburn’s biggest hit of all time. It starts with another dream. The lions of this dream are not the good lions of Narnia, they are the bad lions of Rome. They are a fitting conclusion to Bruce’s trilogy of “Evangelical” albums, for between this album and the next, the lions come with a vengeance, and his world falls apart at the seams. Will the ecstasy of this song be enough to weather the storm?

Wondering Where the Lions Are
I had another dream about lions at the door
They weren't half as frightening as they were before
But I'm thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me....

I got my mind on eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me
And I'm wondering where the lions are...
I'm wondering where the lions are...

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