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  Next time we'll stick to yoga
Getting to know Bruce Cockburn is no easy task. I proceed cautiously
  Sharon Dunn,
National Post

[Photo: Peter J. Thompson,
National Post]

Bruce Cockburn has a new album coming out in June. He moved to Montreal two years ago to be close to his daughter, a student at Concordia University.

Fifty-seven-year-old singer / songwriter Bruce Cockburn, recipient of 12 Juno Awards and numerous gold and platinum records, hasn't changed at all, even down to the silver round-rimmed glasses. "The secret," he says, "is an irresponsible life ... perhaps."

I spoke with Cockburn at a special gala held by the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto honouring both Cockburn (who has an album coming out in June) and Canadian tenor Richard Margison. The only change, it seems, is his place of residence.

"I moved to Montreal two years ago," he tells me. "I woke up one morning and realized that I'd been living in the Toronto area for 20 years [he's from Ottawa]." I ask if he got the 55-year itch.

"I had itches long before I was 55," he quips. "It was time to be somewhere else. Toronto has been very good to me, but it was long enough ..."

Then Cockburn admits he had another reason to move to Montreal ... a love interest. No, it's not what you're thinking. He moved to Montreal to be close to his daughter, Jenny, who is attending university there.

"She's taking her master's in anthropology at Concordia," he says proudly. I point out that if I told my son, who is in university in California, that I was moving there to be close to him, he would probably hightail it to some farther-off locale like Australia (something he's already threatened should I show up there with all my bags).

"Our relationship isn't like that," Cockburn insists. "We got to know each other as adults. Her mom and I split up when she was 3 1/2. We got closer when she started in college."

When I ask him where in Montreal he lives, he says, "I don't want to be too specific. People think they have a relationship they don't. They feel they know me through my songs and they do know something about me, but they don't know me."

Getting to know Cockburn is no easy feat, at least not from my perspective. When I try to learn a bit about him personally, he balks. "I don't want to go into that. I don't want to be like Ashley MacIsaac, not that I'm of that frame of mind anyway," he says, which seems to indicate that he has absolutely, completely, positively nothing in common with the famous, er, infamous Cape Breton fiddler and he wants the world to know it.

When I ask if he has any plans to retire, he tells me, "Guys like me never retire. Look at B.B. King and John Lee Hooker."

As well as songwriting and touring, Cockburn remains firmly committed to social issues. He is honorary chairman of Friends of the Earth, a non-profit environmental organization. He says he wants to work forever.

I ask, politely, about the profitability of his business over the years. "I'm not going to talk about money with you," he barks. "My money's not anyone else's business."

"Can I put it another way?" I say, still trying to get a handle on the guy. "Are you working because you have to, or because you want to?"

"A little bit of both," he concedes, calming down a bit. This man does not like the money question. As he gets settled to have his picture taken, I ask tentatively, not wanting to be on the receiving end of his wrath again, "OK, money is taboo. What other topics are taboo?"

"Shoot," he challenges.

"Sex?" I ask.

"You could try," he says.

I decline, but am amazed that he takes less offence at the idea of a question about sex than a question about money.

"I know. How about regrets?" I ask. (This is a question people usually really like.)

"I've got a lot of regrets," he tells me.

"Great," I say. "What's your biggest?"

"None of your business," he growls. I'm starting to wonder why this guy agreed to do an interview at all. Oh yes, I remember, his new album. But then again, maybe he's just shy. Cockburn finally answers the regrets question with, "Regrets are part of the process of learning to appreciate life."

I cautiously ask if he would ever marry again. "Never say never," he replies. "I don't have any plans. And I feel a reluctance to involve the state in my relationships," he adds sarcastically. Fair enough.

I decide to compliment him again (maybe it'll put him in a better mood), and he truly is ageing nicely. "I'm lucky with skin and I don't smoke any more," he says. He becomes enthusiastic, finally, when he tells me that he quit smoking through yoga. "Yoga breathing replaced the need for tobacco six years ago. And yoga still does it," he tells me. When he encourages me to try yoga, I point out that I don't smoke.

"But you'll feel good," he promises. "There are other beneficial side effects. The whole premise is that the body and the spirit affect each other, which we know, but tend to forget. Yoga encourages integrating different parts of the being." He's so into yoga I expect him to get into position at any moment.

It's enough to make me want to buy a yoga mat. And the next time we meet, the first thing I'm going to mention to Mr. Cockburn is yoga. I'll bet he'll be much nicer to me then.

  Last update: May 6, 2009
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