Review: Rumours of Glory: A Memoir by Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn is one of my favorite musicians/artists. His lyrics are poetry and often profound and deeply moving. I own almost all of his albums and have listened to his music for decades. We come from polar opposite perspectives when it comes to theology and politics but I am still a huge fan.

So when I realized, a little after the fact, that he had published a memoir, I had to read it. Rumors of Glory was fascinating and engaging because, despite my fandom, I know very little about Cockburn the person (perhaps because I didn’t want to get into his politics too much for fear it would ruin his music – not that he hides his politics, particular in later albums).

What really comes through is his honesty and free spirit. You also get to see how his life and music line up; where certain songs and lyrics came from and how they reflect his life and experiences; chronology and discology.

His lyrics remain beautiful poetry and I enjoyed reading them scattered throughout the book and following the chronology.

I will admit I did struggle a bit with the politics, however, and occasionally the theology. I appreciate his passion and his compassion but was a little frustrated just how one sided it was.

He castigates and lambasts conservatives, right-wingers, and corporations endlessly and with vitriol and occasionally with near rage. But he never really questions his basically socialist, and often seemingly utopian, perspective. He never questions the left, or their sources, never seems to give the American government the benefit of the doubt or admit the myriad of benefits the free market can bring. He never delves into the corruption and kleptocracy of socialist and communist countries around the world. The corruption, fundamental amorality, and basic incompetence of the UN never comes up either. American politicians and multinational corporations are always to blame.

That said, you can’t help but be depressed and frustrated with the devastation, despair, and destruction that Cockburn has witnessed around the globe and for which he offers a sort of tour.

Unless you are a blind ideologue, you can’t help but be frustrated and angry with the greed and violence that has produced nearly endless wars across the globe. America does have much to answer for and American corporations and their allies in government do to. When you count the cost in lives lost, money spent, and the environmental degradation it is hard not to feel sympathetic to the pacifist perspective.

Cockburn’s personal life also proves to be fascinating and a little depressing. He honestly discusses how he was closed and cut off from true intimacy and communication early in his life and how his relationships suffered as a result. But he also relates how part of his personal and spiritual journey was trying to resolve this flaw and how even his tragic experiences led to growth and understanding.

His spirituality and faith start out somewhat conventional (he was introduced to the faith and became a Christian as a result of his relationship with his first wife) but ends up almost a pantheistic (or universal search for the divine in life). But even so, he remains committed throughout to faith in God; he prayers and writes with depth and power about faith. His determined search for truth and beauty and his commitment to loving God and loving his neighbor are always there. This I can respect and appreciate no matter the heterodoxy.

Anyone with an interest in Cockburn and his music will want to read Rumors of Glory. Anyone interested in the interplay between life, art, music, and politics would also find this memoir engaging and insightful. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster

I know what you are thinking.  What is Kevin doing reviewing a dark, and some would say anti-American, Paul Auster novel heading into the Fourth of July weekend?

I am not sure, but after another decision to dedicate myself to catching up in posting reviews of books I have read, I came across Man In the Dark on the list and figured I would just plow on through. So here goes.

I listened to the audiobook in the car during my daily commute and enjoyed it. I really liked the sections dealing with Owen Brick and the other world of civil war America.

The energy seemed to drain out of it towards the end however as August Brill and his daughter have a long talk about his past. The conclusion attempts to tie it together but I am not sure it quite worked.

In light of further vague and distant recollections from me, let’s take a gander at some reviews.

Publisher’s Weekly:

As he gives voice to ailing retired book critic August Brill, Auster milks the story-within-a-story structure to full effect. Impatient listeners may wonder exactly where this disparate tale of revisionist history, war, marital disappointments and grief might be headed. But with the nuanced—yet palpable—use of inflection, Auster compels his audience to await the twists and turns. As an invalid with an active imagination and time on his hands, Brill makes his frailties tangible and emotionally compelling without descending into full-blown pathos.

The New Yorker:

The narrative juxtapositions and the riddling starkness of Auster’s prose create an absorbing if mildly scattershot effect, breathing life into a meditation on the difference between the stories we want to tell and the stories we end up telling.

Some critics had a much more negative take. See this NYT review for example:

After, say, 10 books, maybe novelists should be retested, like accident-prone senior citizens renewing their driver’s licenses. Veterans of literary wars would anonymously submit a new manuscript to agents. Of “Man in the Dark,” I think they’d say, “third-rate imitation of Paul Auster.” Then the author might decide to rev up a first-rate imitation of his first-rate early work. Or he might write a fourth-rate attack on literary agents.

Or the Guardian:

Politics is also shoehorned in. The new American civil war is an alternative to the present reality: the Twin Towers are still standing and therefore America is only at war with itself, not with Iraq. How much 9/11 was responsible for the Iraq War rather than being a handy excuse for it is a matter of debate, but as worlds go, Brill’s invented one is remarkably small. North America seems to be alone on the planet. Political change has no implications beyond the personal. This other America is a very sketchy proposition that exists merely to offer comfort to Brill; he doesn’t have to think about Titus’s end if there is no Iraq War. Solipsism is the only game in town in this novel. Narcissism is piled on narcissism. It is, you might say, the very essence of Roxy Music.

Let’s wrap up this quote train with one from Alan Rafferty:

Auster is often – rightly – characterised as a postmodern author, and the story-based approach to character development he employs here owes much to Jacques Lacan. Auster is also a witty writer, prepared to play with his literary heritage. Having Brill imagine his own would-be killer into existence is, of course, a droll reference to Roland Barthes‘s writings on the death of the author: a suicide in Brill’s case. Auster’s fiddling with characters and entangling of storylines is playful and entertaining, as well as ostentatiously clever.

That Paul Auster is again nimbly dropping his characters into and out of stories and deftly digressing on a wide range of topics shows that, in Man in the Dark, he has regained his poise. The book is in part a response to the Iraq war, and Auster deals with current affairs better here than he did in The Brooklyn Follies (set on the eve of 9/11), although his politics remain uncomplicatedly monochrome. What’s more, in the war he has found something important to say about the bad things that happen to us in life, and why we should keep going anyway.

One interesting theory I have is that listening to it via audiobook improved the experience for me.  The oral perspective added to the success of the story telling and lessened the focus on the prose.  I enjoy the character and narrative interplay of the first half more because I was listening to it rather than reading it.

Just a theory.  Perhaps I will pull Travels in a Scriptorium off the shelf and read it.  The comparison might shed some light on my enjoyment of Auster novels with a political approach that is quite different from my own.

Keith Urbahn on conservatives and publishing

This week’s edition of Coffee and Markets, has Pejman Yousefzadeh and I talking with Keith Urbahn, former chief of staff to Donald Rumsfeld, to discuss his new PR firm Javelin, which is involved in book publishing from a right-of-center perspective. We discussed the relationship between traditional publishers and the conservative movement, the future of publishing and how he sees his firm playing a role in that future.

Listen here.

Jonah Goldberg on The Tyranny of Cliches

It was my distinct pleasure to have Jonah Goldberg join Pejman Yousefzadeh and myself for this week’s edition of Coffee and Markets.  We discussed his new book The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, the liberal pretense to being non-ideological – and just how much ideology is found in the use of cliches – and how we might be able to combat this ideological base stealing.

Not only is Jonah smart and talented – and really more insightful than he is given credit for – but he is a genuinely nice guy who has been a great friend to me.

Listen to the podcast here.

Look for my review of the book soon.

Sally Pipes on The Top Ten Ways to Dismantle Obamacare

The latest edition of Coffee & Markets is focused on The Affordable Care Act the health care law otherwise known as “Obamacare.”  Pejman Yousefzadeh and I spoke with Sally Pipes the author of The Pipes Plan: The Top Ten Ways to Dismantle Obamacare. We discussed the impact of Obamacare on health care and the looming problems if changes are not made.  We also discussed about how health care might move to a more competitive and market orientated system.

You can listen to the podcast here.