Saturday, February 25, 2006

How Art is Made

A few weeks ago I got a glossy advertising brochure in the mail – but not your regular glossy brochure. It was a brochure in the form of a CD.

Singer songwriter Steve Bell has used this way of publicizing his company, Signpost Music, and his concerts at other times as well. I often replay a CD of his which served, I believe, as a ticket to one of his concerts some time ago. It’s a wonderful recording of an interview he did with the radio host for the US program Burning Ember, interspersed with his songs.

The newest CD promo is for Steve’s latest project “My Dinner with Bruce.” That recording features him playing the songs of Bruce Cockburn. The promo consists of another interview in which he talks about how Bruce’s music has influenced, inspired and comforted him. He also tells the background stories of why he chose the songs he did for this album and how they, in particular, moved him.

If you’ve ever been to one of his concerts you’ll know he’s a master storyteller, tying up his often humorous recollections with aphorisms -- little bits of wisdom he’s picked up along the way. The CD in hand resembles his stage appearances in that way. In fact, I so didn’t want to lose some of the things he said, I grabbed the tools of my (transcription) trade and typed them out.

Here, for example, is his take on how art gets made (and which, I maintain, applies not only to the songwriter but to the artist who works in any medium):

"My Dinner with Andre” is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s this quirky movie where at at least 99% of it is recorded conversations between two old friends. One had traveled the world and experienced great and wondrous things, the other stayed home, and they get together after twenty years to discuss. It’s one of these great conversations; you get totally sucked into it.

Now years later I don’t remember at all the details of the conversation. I just remember this wonderful evening. And I think to a certain degree, art arises in dialogue. We don’t create the stuff that we work with. We just get to kind of move it around to different places.

If we create a beautiful garden in our front yard, we don’t really create the garden. We just get to choose where the flowers come up and when. We’re cultivators of what someone else has created. And I think God has given good gifts and lots of stuff for us to cultivate.

Bruce has cultivated a certain kind of a garden and I look at it and I think, man, that’s gorgeous. And then I kind of want to use a bit of that for my garden – you know? And it’s that kind of dialogue back and forth that I think creates an ongoing conversation of art that is delightful and brings beauty into people’s lives. And so I realize I’m just part of that conversation. And that’s why I called the album “My Dinner with Bruce,” not that we’ve had a personal relationship. But I think at an art level, that’s just how things work.


Julana said...

Bruce Cockburn was a fan and friend of Mark Heard, I think. I have developed an appreciation for Heard and his music.
Cockburn sang on his tribute album. I think Coburn is on the social justice spectrum of Christianity. Haven't heard much of his music. I think Charlie at Another THink links to his website.

violet said...

Julana, I just checked out Mark Heard and actually it seems Cockburn was a fan of his and if the web article I read is to be believed, just before Heard died, he was set to record an album on the same label that records Cockburn.

And, yes, Cockburn could definitely be lumped in the social justice camp and probably could also be called an environmental activitist (judging from some of his lyrics and the picture of him posing with David Suzuki on his website). He, however, does call himself a Christian songwriter.

Steve Bell didn't mention these aspects of Cockburn as influencing him - more his artistic/poetic way with words and music.