When I heard Bruce Cockburn's Use Me While You Can I had already been a fan for a long time, and the photographer in me loved his use of imagery in his lyrics. This song made me want to make photographs that reflected that imagery, and if I lived the rock star lifestyle that Doug Lucy lives, I'd be able to do the necessary travel to make those photographs. In the meanwhile, I'm continuing my Best Songs blog posts while I photograph Boise.
Third in the series (and these are not in any order) is Cockburn's Call It Democracy (the definitive live version is here with howlingly brilliant guitar work). It makes the list for several reasons. First, I'm a huge Bruce Cockburn fan, because his work is just so finely crafted and original, and his music has, at times, been the soundtrack to my life. Second, the gorgeous imagery in some of his lyrics is utterly compelling.
My friend Matt Brook brought home the point to me that good writing has brevity, no wasted words, and the lyrics to this song embody that spirit. What other three minute song manages to use the words loansharks, profiteers, blood, swamp, labor camps, dirty MF, gun, sacrament, deification, idolatry, ideology, fuck, misery, bottom feeders, cheap bordello, and revolution and many many more, and make it all a coherent song, and musically good? Let's dive in!
Cockburn comes out of the gate letting us know how he feels about the MF's:
Padded with power here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor
Tell me how you really feel about these guys, Bruce. Later:
Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament --
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called "developed" nations'
Idolatry of ideology
Augustine described a sacrament as "a visible sign of an invisible reality". The IMF is an instrument, just like the gun to be used in response. Perfect.
The local governments gets a look too:
See the paid-off local bottom feeders
Passing themselves off as leaders
Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
Open for business like a cheap bordello
Rage; protest; calling it what it is, and using the word "fuck" - all things that I think go to making a good rock and roll song. This one is a little outside the norm, but still a great one for it's uniqueness and honesty.
And they call it democracy.