‘The Usual Panic in Red, White and Blue’: Bruce Cockburn’s America

  • Kevin Hutchings
Part of the Pop Music, Culture and Identity book series (PMCI)


This chapter discusses the songs of Bruce Cockburn,a singer-songwriter who, unlike contemporaries such as Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, chose not to move to the US early in his career, and who has therefore often been regarded by American audiences as distinctively Canadian. Although Cockburn has been influenced by American culture, he refused to tour the US during the early years of his solo career. His criticisms of American politics and culture became incendiary in the 1980s with the song ‘If I Had a Rocket Launcher’, which ironically brought him fame (and infamy) south of the Canadian border. Still, he was careful to distinguish between individual American soldiers and the leader who ultimately commands them. Hutchings describes Cockburn’s important differentiation between anti-Americanism and ‘principled opposition to American forms of political and economic imperialism, structures of power that many other nations, including Canada, have helped to support in a world of increasingly mobile global capital’. Hutchings particularly focuses on Cockburn’s concern for the environment, Indigenous peoples, and the ‘Third World’ (including songs that arose from the artist’s journey to Central America as an emissary for Oxfam). For Cockburn, it is not enough for singers merely to criticize the world’s problems; they must envision alternatives. Although he identifies with Canada, in his music and his public persona Cockburn advocates resistance to nationalist notions of tribe and state, calling for an ethic of care for, and openness to, the other.

Works Cited

  1. Bird, Graham. IMF Lending to Developing Countries. London: Routledge, 1995.Google Scholar
  2. Bush, George W. ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People’. The White House 20 September 2001.
  3. Gobat, Michel. Confronting the American Dream: Nicaragua Under U.S. Imperial Rule. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  4. McCurdy, John. Becoming Bruce: The Early Life and Work of Bruce Cockburn, 1945–1970. 2010. Scholar
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  6. Cockburn, Bruce. ‘Joy Will Find a Way’. True North, 1975.Google Scholar
  7. Cockburn, Bruce. ‘Stealing Fire’. True North, 1984.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kevin Hutchings
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishUniversity of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada

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