Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Guest post by Don Berg: Evolution of Bruce Cockburn lyrics Part 10: Inner City Front

Inner City Front (1981)

Bruce once sang “Oh Jesus, don’t let Toronto take my love away.” Now Bruce stares at us on the album cover with a hardened urban expression while sitting in a Toronto bar or cafe. The album represents the “inner city” realities of his new life after losing his marriage and maybe his faith. With commitment (covenant) broken he has trouble experiencing love through the numbness and pain. The evident pain in his life is reflected in such lyrics as this taken from songs with titles to match (You Pay Your Money and Take Your Chance, All’s Quiet on the Inner City Front, and Loner):

The numb and confused
The battered and bruised
The counters of cost
And the star-crossed
You pay your money and you take your chance
When you're dealing with love and romance

Sometimes, sometimes, doesn't the light seem to move so far away?

A thousand question marks over my head

Days of striving, nights of novocaine
Never going to bring them freedom from their pain

I'm a loner
With a loner's point of view
When I was a torn jacket hanging on the barbed wire
You cut me free
And sewed me up and here I am

The song “Justice” foreshadows the work that Cockburn will do for world relief and political change in settings of extreme injustice. He begins by critiquing ideologies beginning with his own as the source of violence perpetrated on the other. The third stanza provides his answer: accept this post-modern critique, accept the other with hospitality, then listen for the quiet voice of God to transcend ideology.


What's been done in the name of Jesus?
What's been done in the name of Buddha?
What's been done in the name of Islam?
What's been done in the name of man?
What's been done in the name of liberation?
And in the name of civilization?
And in the name of race?
And in the name of peace?
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Can you tell me how much bleeding
It takes to fill a word with meaning?
And how much, how much death
It takes to give a slogan breath?
And how much, how much, how much flame
Gives light to a name
For the hollow darkness
In which nations dress?
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Everybody's seen the things they've seen
We all have to live with what we've been
When they say charity begins at home
They're not just talking about a toilet and a telephone
Got to search the silence of the soul's wild places
For a voice that can cross the spaces
These definitions that we love create --
These names for heaven, hero, tribe and state
Loves to see
Justice done
On somebody else

Cockburn returns to an image of creation. But this time the creation is not celebrated, but broken. The Earth itself is broken, and we are the culprits. Before he looked up to God and found his answer, but now he calls out to the Lord to “spit on our eyes so that we can see.” The third verse contains no answer as it returns to the original theme of brokenness without healing. Our “Trial comes before truth's revealed.” Faith is the answer, but will it be enough?

Broken Wheel
Way out on the rim of the galaxy
The gifts of the Lord lie torn
Into whose charge the gifts were given
Have made it a curse for so many to be born
This is my trouble --
These were my fathers
So how am I supposed to feel?
Way out on the rim of the broken wheel

Water of life is going to flow again
Changed from the blood of heroes and knaves
The word mercy's going to have a new meaning
When we are judged by the children of our slaves
No adult of sound mind
Can be an innocent bystander
Trial comes before truth's revealed
Out here on the rim of the broken wheel

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