Bruce Cockburn: If I Had A Rocket Launcher
Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn had been around for a few years, but he made the musical "map" in 1984 after a fact-finding trip to Central America with OXFAM left him reeling with the horror of the death and destruction the Reagan Administration's leadership in the area had brought upon the people. Being a musician steeped in the political folk tradition, instead of coming back and picketing or merely hanging his head in despair, Cockburn turned his anger to social justice through song, heading into the studio in a storm.
The resulting album, Stealing Fire, was both an expression of frustration and a call to action. Taken as a set, the songs of Stealing Fire were so antithetical to the values of the Reagan administration that the album put Bruce Cockburn under suspicion as a sympathiser to the Nicaraguan Contras, and his visa was taken away. Nonetheless, Cockburn's music traveled where he could not. And the fire he fueled made him a star.
I like many of the songs on Stealing Fire; Lovers in a Dangerous Time, especially, is a perfect ode to nervous love amidst the ruins. But if Stealing Fire is folk rock at its political best, If I Had A Rocket Launcher is its angriest outlet, a direct response to Cockburn's visit to a refugee camp which had been recently attacked by the US-backed Guatemalan Army. It was a pretty big hit on MTV, and, though I was only eleven, I remember the song leaving me with a sense that maybe, just maybe, all was not right with the world after all.
Afterthought, and bonus version: I put Cockburn away for a long time after the late eighties; his more recent preference for moody plugged-in soundscapes is great stuff, but it is often too pop-produced for my taste. But a few years ago I discovered this bittersweet live acoustic version, from a 1990 radio session, and it renewed my interest in the song.
Without the crashing eighties production of the original, the stripped down Rocket Launcher delivers such an incredible pain, such a potent cry of impotence, it stands as ageless. And that's good, because we still need such a cry, I think. For if anything, in a world where torture still happens in our name, we are even less empowered to do anything about it than we were when Cockburn wrote this magnum opus.
Bruce Cockburn: If I Had A Rocket Launcher (live acoustic version)