Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 11: The Trouble With Normal

by Don Berg
The Trouble With Normal (1983)

I remember hearing this album for the first time. I was still just developing as a Cockburn fan and was accompanying my good friend Joel to the recored store to buy his copy of this just-released album. When we got home we pulled out the vinyl, placed it on the turntable, and I had my first ever listen to newly released Cockburn... and I hated it. I couldn’t get past the stylistic change to his music and he even talked on on of the tracks. It wasn’t until I bought the album myself years later when I was filling out my Cockburn collection, that I gave it the 2nd, 3rd and 4th listen that it seems that it takes for me to appreciate a new Cockburn album. I will be honest, you have to look hard and read between the lines to find spirituality and theology in this album That in itself could be the evolution of his work, but there is more there than appears on the surface. This album came out during the height of the moral majority and the Reagan years. Bruce was working to distance himself from this brand of Christianity. He offers this critique of putting our faith in a supply-side God.

Candy Man’s Gone

In the bar, in the senate, in the alley, in the study
Pimping dreams of riches for everybody
'Something for nothing, new lamps for old
And the streets will be platinum, never mind gold'
Well, hey, pass it on
Misplaced your faith and the candy man's gone
I hate to tell you but the candy man's gone

Bruce is still calling out to the arrows of light to come and pierce his soul, but it doesn’t bring peace, but rather a prophetic vision to critique the “system of the world’s events.”

Civilization and It’s Discontents

So many people so lost you feel sorry
But too much pathos just makes you angry
And even though I know who loves me I'm not that much less lost

Black outline, sliding gray scale
Subtle variations of dark to pale
Pearl sky raining light like hail, come on and pierce me
Raining light like a vision of the holy grail, come on and pierce me

Civilization and its discontents
When all's been said and all the money spent
Trying to beat the system of the world's events
Gets you nowhere.

Bruce returns to the theme of a broken, but beautiful world; a broken, confused, but still beautiful humanity. About this time Cockburn had begun to make visits to Central and South America as a guest of Oxfam. He was awakened to the issues of oppression and injustice there. One day he was staring out over the ocean, the waves crashing in reminded him of jet fighters. His mind began to wander over the conditions under which the people there lived. How could such beauty happen to such beautiful people. As he continues to ponder the beauty of this broken world, he glances down to see the waves washing over his now sodden shoes, and he realizes he has a song.

Planet of the Clowns

Stare into the moonlight
Silver fingers press my eyes
Probing in my heart with longing

These footprints by the sea's edge
Disappearing grain by grain
Lose their form but keep their substance

As the waves roar on the beach like a squadron of F16's
Ebb and flow like the better days they say this world has seen

Government by outrage
Hunger camps and shanty towns
Dignity and love still holding

This bluegreen ball in black space
Filled with beauty even now
battered and abused and lovely

And the waves roar on the beach like a squadron of F16's
Ebb and flow like the better days they say this world has seen

Each one in our own heart
Desperate to know where we stand
Planet of the clowns in wet shoes

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