Bruce Cockburn: Stealing Fire

MAY 1984 (28 YEARS AGO)
Bruce Cockburn: Stealing Fire is released.
# ALL THINGS MUSIC PLUS+ 4.5/5
# allmusic 4.5/5
Stealing Fire is an album by Bruce Cockburn released in May, 1984. It peaked at #74 on the Billboard chart.  It featured the hit singles “If I Had a Rocket Launcher”, an angry political commentary on refugees under fire, and “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”. John Naslen received a Juno Award for “Recording Engineer of the Year” for his work on this album, and producers Goldsmith and Crawford received a nomination for “Producer of the Year”.
COMMENTS FROM BRUCE COCKBURN:
“[For a few albums you became quite political in focus, why has that changed recently?] I think it’s a result of not traveling but also out of a desire to not keep repeating myself. I don’t think it’s necessary to keep on saying the same things even though they still may be true. I can stay involved in certain issues without them coming out in songs. The same process I just described went into writing the political songs as well. If I’m not working with those sort of things for a period of time, or if I’m still working but the novelty’s worn off(laughs), then I don’t produce those types of songs anymore. It requires a fair amount of emotional justice to get those type of songs going. Let me add to that, the fact, though I didn’t think of it at the time, Trouble With Normal, Stealing Fire, and World Of Wonders seemed to be a sort of trilogy. After doing those it seemed like I have said enough about the North-South things. At least until a new experience gives me something to add to it.”
~ from “Bruce Cockburn: The Soul of a Man”, by Michael Case, Umbrella magazine, date unknown.
*****
“I’d just say I’m older,” says the forty-year-old Cockburn. “I don’t see this as a big departure. On my last two albums there’s the same sense of a world in imminent danger. I just didn’t get very specific about it, because it wasn’t until I went to Central America that I really felt that political action could be worth the effort.”
~ from “Bruce Cockburn Launches a Hit: Fired by Christian pacifism, the Canadian singer targets new, worldwide success”, by Steve Pond, Rolling Stone magazine, 23 May 1985.
*****
“Some of them got a little nervous when I started talking about politics,” he adds, “because you’re not supposed to do that if you’re a certain type of Christian — especially if you’re a songwriter. I got a lot of letters from people, especially after the album ‘Stealing Fire,’ and there were a lot of people in the Christian scene who found ‘If I had a Rocket Launcher’ very difficult. Because they weren’t used to thinking about those things. “There were a lot of Christians who did understand it, the more liberal, for want of a better word, turn of mind,” he points out. Nonetheless, “A lot of people wrote letters urging me, exhorting me, not to lose the way. At no point was I threatened with excommunication, but there was definitely a kind of standing back and going, ‘What is this?’ on the part of a lot of people.”
~ from “The Social Commentaries of Bruce Cockburn” by J.D. Considine, Sun Pop Music Critic, Baltimore Sun, 18 March 1988.
*****
Some of those pieces I wrote on acoustic guitar, if I happen to be holding an electric guitar in my hand when I get an idea it’ll probably end up on the record. A lot of the songs on my current album (tentatively titled “Dart to the Heart”) were written in hotel rooms and dressing rooms on the last tour so they’re written on acoustic guitar because that’s what I had at the time. When I’m at home and I have my stuff all set-up and plugged in I might write more on the electric. A lot of “Big Circumstance” was written traveling and that’s why the acoustic had a bigger role again on that record.
~ from an Interview by James Jensen at Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, circa Spring 1993.
REVIEW
by Brett Hartenbach, allmusic
After visiting Central America, Bruce Cockburn recorded Stealing Fire, part of which passionately and eloquently details what he’d seen while in Nicaragua and Guatemala. With the opening track, the terse rocker “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” Cockburn conveys both a sense of urgency and uncertainty. There’s a brief calm as the second half begins, before a triad of songs written about his time spent in Central America brings the record to a sober conclusion. These three tunes, which, like the majority of the album, sport a tight, worldbeat, folk and rock flavor, are the true highlights of Stealing Fire, and Cockburn at his very best. The first, “Nicaragua,” is part observation, part commentary, and part tribute to the Sandinista-led revolution in that country. “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” follows, and is arguably Cockburn’s most powerful merging of personal and political feelings. Written after witnessing Guatemalan refugees being chased across the border by gun-wielding helicopters, “Rocket Launcher” evokes not only the pain and suffering of the people, but the conflict between Cockburn’s pacifist leanings, and the vengeful anger and hatred incited by such a horrific sight. The Nicaraguan, road-inspired “Dust and Diesel” closes the record with a portrait of a country whose daily contrast of beauty and violence is summed up by the images of people who are proud, hopeful, passionate, afraid, and tired. Stealing Fire, despite a few less than compelling tracks, is the work of an artist at his peak. It also contains some of the most intensely significant material by a singer/songwriter in the 1980s.
TRACKS:
All songs written by Bruce Cockburn except as noted.
“Lovers in a Dangerous Time” – 4:06
“Maybe the Poet” (Cockburn, Jon Goldsmith, Fergus Marsh) – 4:51
“Sahara Gold” – 4:30
“Making Contact” – 4:47
“Peggy’s Kitchen Wall” – 4:46
“To Raise the Morning Star” (Cockburn, Marsh) – 5:51
“Nicaragua” – 4:44
“If I Had a Rocket Launcher” – 4:58
“Dust and Diesel” – 5:24
Two songs recorded during the Stealing Fire sessions, “Yanqui Go Home” and “Call It the Sundance”, did not make the final album cut due to the length of the album. They would later be released in 2003 on the remastered CD edition of the album.

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