Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 12: Stealing Fire

Stealing Fire (1984)

During the 1980’s unspeakable horrors were being perpetrated upon the common people of Central America. Most Americans new only of the “communist threat” from south of our border and voted for more money to arm the oppressive military regimes of the region. Bruce experienced first hand the conditions that this money helped to create. He did not sing explicitly much about his faith in these times, but make no mistake. his faith was the driving force behind what he did sing about. He hints at this in the song “Maybe the Poet,” along with an obvious Biblical allusion to Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Maybe the Poet

Maybe the voice of the spirit
In which case you'd better hear it

Male female slave or free
Peaceful or disorderly
Maybe you and he will not agree
But you need him to show you new ways to see

Don't let the system fool you
All it wants to do is rule you
Pay attention to the poet
You need him and you know it

While Cockburn was visiting a Guatemalan refugee camp on the Southern border of Mexico, the refugees were strafed by military helicopters. Like the psalmist, Bruce is filled with rage, and in the moment sees no alternative but to strike back in righteous anger. Many have discussed whether or not he is advocating violence or merely expressing his rage and despair. Bruce has been quoted to say that Rocket Launcher "is not a call to arms; this is a cry."

If I Had a Rocket Launcher

Here comes the helicopter
Second time today
Everybody scatters
And hopes it goes away
How many kids they've murdered
Only God can say
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I'd make somebody pay

I don't believe in guarded borders
And I don't believe in hate
I don't believe in generals
Or their stinking torture states
And when I talk with the survivors
Of things too sickening to relate
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I would retaliate

On the Rio Lacantun
100,000 wait
To fall down from starvation
Or some less humane fate
Cry for Guatemala
With a corpse in every gate
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
I would not hesitate

I want to raise every voice
At least I've got to try
Every time I think about it
Water rises to my eyes
Situation desperate
Echoes of the victims' cry
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
If I had a rocket launcher
Some son of a bitch would die

I have made a couple of connections between Bruce Cockburn and U2 already in these blogs, as they both make frequent Christian spiritual allusions and have a largely secular audience. There is a direct connection between the two. In the context of the darkness of those days in Latin America Cockburn sings:

Lovers in a Dangerous Time

When you're lovers in a dangerous time
Sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight
Got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight

This last line is quoted (and attributed to Bruce Cockburn in the lyric sheet) by U2. The song is God Part II. That song is a response to the Jon Lennon song “God”, in which Lennon sings that he does not believe in the many manifestations of God, but instead believes only in himself and Yoko. Bono’s version describes ironic stanzas, each contrasting what he doesn’t believe in to the Love that he does believe. It is worth noting that in Bono’s lyrics love is frequently a metaphor for Jesus. Here is the stanza that references Cockburn:

God Part II (U2)

I don't believe in the '60s
In the golden age of pop
You glorify the past
When the future dries up
I heard a singer on the radio
Late last night
Says he's gonna kick the darkness
Till it bleeds daylight
I believe in love

I feel like I'm falling
Like I'm spinning on a wheel
It always stops beside a name
A presence I can feel
I believe in love

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