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Bruce Cockburn Offers Some Measures of Comfort

JPG: Isn’t there a saying, something like, ‘Winning the war with chocolates.’ That may have been the idea, maybe it was during World War II, of being friendly to the locals and getting them on your side.

BC: I think in World War II it wasn’t so much a question of winning over the locals because the locals were pretty pissed at the Germans already. They didn’t really need winning over but, although I guess, some of them were profiting from it, as people will.

With respect to Central America back in the day I felt that if somebody just went out, put in electrical power everywhere in Nicaragua and bought everybody a fridge, there would be no revolution. Everybody’d be comfortable enough that they wouldn’t need to revolt, even if their leaders were as brutal and horrible as they were, not the Sandinistas but their predecessors. There was a real good reason for a revolution in Nicaragua and part of the reason had to do with the complete absence of basic comforts and the ability to live a decent life. Had there been that ability, there probably wouldn’t have been a revolution. It’s hard to imagine a revolution in Canada, for instance, because everybody’s too damn comfortable. You could imagine an American revolution coming out of the South or coming out of Harlem or coming out of places where everyone has been foreclosed upon. The comfort factor is a major one when it comes to political upheaval.

JPG: That goes back to the Occupy Movement and people stepping up because they’ve had enough. And it’s grown to cities all over the world including Canada.

BC: Well, I haven’t been in Canada for quite awhile but I do read the news. The issue is very very real and very global. It’s hard to know enough if the people involved will go far enough, and I don’t mean pulling out guns and stuff, but stick to it long enough and putting pressure on to actually make any changes. But it’s certainly worthwhile. It feels good to see it happen, to see people in this thing, to having finally after…How long have we been living in globalization, like 30 years or more?

At the end of the ‘70s I was flying back from Japan, and the promoters in Japan had bought me a first class ticket. I was sitting next to this Japanese guy and we got to talking. Turns out he was a Japanese representative to the World Bank, and this was like ’78 or thereabouts. He was going on about how there was this new vision for how the world economy would work, and under this vision they would just be able to move industry to wherever it was most profitable. And I said, ‘Well, what about the work force. What are you gonna do about the people?’ ‘Oh, we’ll just move the people.’ In fact that isn’t what they did. They just abandoned the people but at that stage it was like, ‘If we need the population to move somewhere we’ll just move them.’ Never mind if they want to or not. It was very disturbing to hear this offered as his vision of the future, apparently the World Bank’s vision of the future, and yet that’s exactly where it went.

Okay, now in 2011 we have a group of Americans who’ve become numerous enough and pissed enough to actually get out in the streets and say, ‘Stop.’ But where were they for 30 years. (slight laugh) This stuff isn’t new. It’s just that Americans have been victims of it over the last decade, give or take a year or two, but it’s really this last decade where it’s come home to roost. And it’s not going to go away. I don’t think this Occupy Movement is really gonna…I’m going to stop short of saying what I was about to say but I’ll finish the thought. The thought was, I don’t think they’re going to succeed in changing much but I’ll reserve judgment on that because I feel like they might. It wouldn’t be the first time that a major popular movement, if it gets popular enough, had a positive effect on things. That’s how we got slavery banned. That’s how we got the Vietnam War ended. There’s always other factors. There’s always somebody’s loss of revenue involved. So, it has to come down to people being willing to inconvenience themselves to the point where they’re taking revenue away from somebody to get noticed, to get taken seriously enough that the ruling elements don’t feel that they can control it all with police action.

JPG: It’s interesting because things seem to move so quickly now that it may happen in this case – positive or negative – or if like any other movement, such as those against the Vietnam War; people come together but it takes years and years before there’s a result. So, it’s possible that we’ve hit a point where people will stick around for the long haul or it’s also possible that a few months down the road they’ll return to videogames and watching stuff on their iPad.

BC: I think that’s an issue. Everything does move faster now. Why? I’m not sure. I question it myself because when I think about my life as a kid or my life in the ‘60s or even the ‘70s time went slower. There was more time for everything. I don’t know if that’s just ‘cause I’m getting older and there’s a subjective change in the awareness of time or whether we are really dealing with entropy, that shit’s falling apart faster and faster. The last thing I read about the expanding universe is it’s speeding up. The universe is coming apart faster. It was expanding at the speed of light. Now, they’re saying it’s speeding up. Constantly. I don’t know what that means to you and me but it presumably means something. It may mean that time as we understand it, it actually is going faster. But whatever the reasons that it feels like that we have to move fast. Along with that sped-up time goes a short attention span and that’s been encouraged by technology and certainly by the interests that want to stay in control. There’s probably a lot of people in the corridors of power who are happy to sit there and let us try whatever we’re gonna try and let it blow over and everything will be back to quote-unquote normal again. And that’s a real problem. How long will we be able to sustain this kind of protest or this motivation to see things change?

*JPG: Well, if there’s that many people unemployed it may be, ‘Well, I’ve got nothing to do all day. I’ve made my calls and sent my resumes out, I might as well go protest down here.’ It also reminds me of when DEVO put out their album earlier this year and in the articles the members were saying, ‘See! We told you about de-evolution! We were right!’ *

BC: Right. (laughs) It’s interesting.

*JPG: For yourself, you travel around the world as a musician but also to places such as Nicaragua and Afghanistan, is it a matter that you need to be hands-on and see these places of unrest in the flesh to really grasp matters rather than sit at home and read an article or a book or see a documentary? Is that necessary for you as a person as much as it is someone who takes that experience and writes a song based on that experience? *

BC: It is important to me as a person more than as a songwriter. I’m happy if I get a song out of a trip but I don’t go on the trips that I go on looking for song material. It just doesn’t work like that, but once in awhile I get lucky or I have an intense enough emotional experience in the course of one of these trips that a song has triggered, and it has happened with Afghanistan and “Each One Lost.”

Because I have the luxury of being able to be mobile…I don’t have nine-to-five hours. I have attachments, certainly, but they’re the kind of attachments that allow me that latitude, and opportunities come up to go places I feel a curiosity about that…I have an interest in military-related things that goes back to when I was kid, and a curiosity with how people deal with war, specifically. This came to me at one point when I was in Mozambique and that war had ended. I was there during it but then I was there again a year after it ended. It seemed to me like war was the natural state of humanity, that we don’t like it but we keep doing it. However complicated it gets by vested interests and political concerns et cetera, there’s something in human nature that wants to slug it out, that wants to dominate, that will keep us going to the battlefield over and over and over again. In the meantime the people who are not the instigators of these things have to survive it somehow or try to. And how do those people do it and how does it all work? I don’t have any answers about it at all. I just have an abiding curiosity about that, I suppose, because I feel like one of these days the shoe is going to fall on us, and it would be nice to know how other people have dealt with it.

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