Singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn published a memoir, “Rumours of Glory,” in November, in which he writes about some of his best known songs, including “If I Had a Rocket Launcher.” In this 1984 song, which was a minor hit, Cockburn — like Bob Dylan did in his classic “Masters of War” — breaks from the protest-song norm to fantasize about wreaking violence on perpetrators of evil.
Cockburn — whose current tour includes a May 17 stop at the South Orange Performing Arts Center — has spent a lot of time over the years explaining this song, which he wrote following visits to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico. And he does so again in “Rumours of Glory.”
In a recent interview with homegrownradionj.org (which can be heard in its entirety, below), Cockburn said the book, co-written with Greg King, includes “a lot of stuff about what was going on in Guatemala when I wrote that song.”
After he wrote the song, he told homegrownradionj.org, “I had grave misgivings about singing it in front of people, and certainly about recording it, because it could so easily be misconstrued as an incitement to violent, or a statement of violent principles or something, which is not what it was supposed to be.
“I wrote it because I felt the way I felt. But in sharing it … the decision I ultimately came to was that this song needed to be heard because people like me needed to hear how easy it is to feel like this. Because in the presence of the atrocities that were being committed against this group of people, this group of Mayan Indians … that needed to be aired. The issue needed to be aired, and so did my reaction, because I grew up with sort of a knee-jerk peacenik ethos. ‘Peace is where it’s at, and war’s no good.’ I think any sane person is gonna tell you that. … But we shouldn’t be judgmental about some of these things, because sometimes it’s the only option: Fighting back is all there is on some occasions, and some situations.
“And I think this was one of them. It’s not surprising that there was a guerrilla movement in Guatemala that fought back against the repressive regime that was then in place.”
In conjunction with the memoir, Cockburn also released an 8-CD/1-DVD boxed set, also called Rumours of Glory.
Cockburn, who is touring with a solo acoustic show, performs at the South Orange Performing Arts Center on May 17, but also has a number of other shows scheduled in the region: Tarrytown Music Hall, May 14; City Winery in Manhattan, May 15-16; The Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pa., May 19; and World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, May 20.
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