Bruce Cockburn: Hills of Morning
I first heard of Bruce Cockburn in 1979, when I read a review of Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws in Rolling Stone. I was intrigued, but I didn’t get the album at the time. I got his next one, Steeling Fire. I believe Dragon’s Jaws was the first Cockburn album to become available in the United States, and Stealing Fire marked his breakthrough with American audiences. What took us so long?
Hills of Morning comes from Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws, and is the closest thing to a title track. What is the song about? By 1986, even Cockburn couldn’t completely remember. Here is what he said at that time:
Phil Catalfo: What I want to get to here, is how some of that is reflected in some of your songs in a way that is really quite exhilarating, I think, to the listener who may be Christian or not. One song in particular I'm thinking of is from an album called Dancing in the Dragon's Jaws. The song is called "Hills of Morning" and that song has always fascinated me and I wish you'd tell us something about it, how, where that song came from. Perhaps we could listen to it in a moment.
BC: Yeah, I'll keep it short because I can't remember very much about where it came from, at this point, it's a while back. Generally that whole album reflects probably the closest I've been able to come to expressing that particular kind of spirituality. The album was influenced partly by the fact that during the period that songs were being written I read all of the works of Charles Williams, who is an English writer with a particularly pronounced ability to describe spiritual things in very vivid terms. Most of his books are novels. They're sort of mystery novels almost, that deal with different elements of the occult, but bringing it around to a Christian point of view. And his own particular experience seems very strange. There's a sense of depth of being in those novels that is really both disturbing and thrilling at the same time. Anyway, that kind of pervaded the writing of the songs because the books were so much in my head at the time. But it's also the ... it was my own experience too that it was ... you know part of being a Christian is kinda getting to know Jesus. I mean you hear, again the TV guys are very quick to talk about a personal relationship with Jesus, and so on. It's a little unclear exactly what they mean by that. My own experience was that I felt that I was having a ...
Phil Catalfo: A personal relationship?
BC: A personal relationship, yeah, with a kind of ineffable being who was certainly no one other than Christ, who would occasionally put thoughts into my mind, and so on, you know, that were very clear, although the voice was a very quiet one and you had to listen for it. But it also sort of, after a while it got familiar enough, and I'd also without wanting to ... without getting into sort of being irreverent ... I kinda felt that that familiarity was something that should be encouraged, and talked about, in a way. So, you know, you hear in this song "a bunch of us were busy waiting" ... I sort of imagined myself being a street person in first century Jerusalem. And, here we are we're all sitting around in the street ...
Phil Catalfo: Pitching pennies ...
BC: In effect. Rolling bones, or whatever they did. That sort of led to the development of this song.
- from Bruce Cockburn interviewed by Phil Catalfo, "Music That Matters" programme, New Dimensions Radio, San Francisco, California,15 July 1986.
Before I found this quote, I found myself thinking of the Fool in the Tarot deck. The fool is open to new experiences, as he sets off heedlessly into the world. Is he foolish or wise? For me, it fits with this song.