Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 9: Humans

Humans (1980)

This was the first album of Bruce Cockburn that I ever really listened to. Like every album of Bruce’s I have ever listened to, it took several listens before I had decided whether it was really worth listening to. Now it is one of my all time favorite albums. This album signals a transition in Cockburn’s music, in his personal life, and of course in his theology. We saw that in his previous three albums the beauty of nature pointed him towards God, even saying that “The earth is bread, the sun is wine.” In Humans, he sees himself as a grim traveller no longer satisfied with his answers of before.

Grim Travellers
Grim travellers in dawn skies
See the beauty -- makes you cry inside
Makes you angry and you don't know why
Grim travellers in dawn skies

Down on the plain of 10,000 smokestacks
Trucks butt each other to establish dominance
The newspaper next to me leans over and says matter-of-factly
'Sacred mountains towers above meadows' - uh huh - and above us

Grim travellers in dawn skies
I see the beauty -- makes me cry inside
It makes me angry and I don't know why
We're grim travellers in dawn skies

The newspaper leans over and gives him a glib answer of the hope he sang about but one short year before and he responds with a sarcastic “uh huh.” His pain cannot be assuaged by pat answers. His prior theology has come up short. Song after song speaks to his pain and disillusionment. He even sings “I'd like to put a bullet through the world.” He sang in the song “Gavin’s wood pile” that “there’s no human answer here,” but his human world has crashed in around him. A recurring theme in his music is the divine spark/fallen nature within each of us. Humans were created in the image of God, but to Cockburn that is now merely a “rumour of glory.”

Rumours of Glory

You see the extremes
Of what humans can be?
In that distance some tension's born
Energy surging like a storm
You plunge your hand in
And draw it back scorched
Beneath it's shining like
Gold but better

Rumours of glory

The lighter songs of this album were written on tour, while the darker songs were written later back home in Ontario. What has happened in between to cause all of this pain?. We get the answer to this in the song “What about the Bond.” His marriage has fallen apart.

What About the Bond

What about the the bond?
What about the mystical unity?
What about the bond
Sealed in the loving presence of the Father?

Of the institutions
That should give a frame to work in
Got to find our own solutions

I used to hear this song as a guilt trip upon his wife, but then saw it as a man struggling with not just his belief system about marriage, but also his legalistic belief system. The following song , “Fascist Architecture,” speaks of the facades we build up between each other, but also of the belief systems that are based on the Law, rather than grace and love. Hope finally breaks through in this song as he accepts God’s grace and love and is “OK.”

Fascist Architecture
Fascist architecture of my own design
Too long been keeping my love confined
You tore me out of myself alive

Those fingers drawing out blood like sweat
While the magnificent facades crumble and burn
The billion facets of brilliant love
The billion facets of freedom turning in the light

Bloody nose and burning eyes
Raised in laughter to the skies
I've been in trouble but I'm ok
Been through the wringer but I'm ok
Walls are falling and I'm ok
Under the mercy and I'm ok

Gonna tell my old lady
Gonna tell my little girl
There isn't anything in the world
That can lock up my love again

Finally, the album ends with this song of healing love:

The Rose Above the Sun
Something jewelled slips away
Round the next bend with a splash
Laughing at the hands I hold out
Only air within their grasp
All you can do is praise the razor
For the fineness of the slash

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

Gutless arrogance and rage
Burn apart the best of tries
You carry the weight of inherited sorrow
From your first day till you die
Toward that hilltop where the road
Forever becomes one with the sky

'Til the Rose above the sky
And the light behind the sun
Takes all

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