It often takes a war zone to pull the best material out of veteran Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn. He wrote 1984's classic "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" after a visit to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico. And "Each One Lost," on this year's "Small Source of Comfort," happened after a trip to Kandahar, Afghanistan, when he witnessed a Canadian army ceremony for two dead soldiers. Of course, that's not all Cockburn writes -- the new "Call Me Rose" is about what Richard Nixon might be like reincarnated as a single mother in the projects.
You've been doing it for years, but do you get nervous before visiting war zones?
Yeah. When I went to Baghdad, that was just basically a pirate exercise. We had no official connections, which we thought was a safer way than to be official. At the same time, we were vulnerable. Anybody could take advantage of that, but nobody did. We were never threatened at all. I was nervous beforehand. You never know. I made a will before I went to Central America, which was the first trip like that, in 1983.
Have you ever been in danger?
No charity sends you to a war zone and posts you in the line of fire, if they can help it. There's generally a support system and a place to be that's not right in the middle of things. But once in a while . . . I remember being on the road in Contra country in Nicaragua and there'd been a raid just within hours of when we were there.
When you returned home from your 2009 trip to Kandahar, did you immediately write about it?
"Each One Lost" -- the day after I got back, I wrote it entirely. It was such a vivid experience, and it was so much in my heart that I had to get it out. With "Comets of Kandahar," it's just an instrumental piece. When the jet planes take off from Kandahar airfield, there's no ambient light anywhere, just pitch dark. When I was there, there was no moon. You'd hear this enormous roar and you'd see this incandescent purple flame from the jet fighter. Then, 30 minutes later, another one. It was so beautiful. The guy standing next to me said, "Oh, the comets of Kandahar." It was so apt and I remembered the phrase, and it came in handy.
WHO Bruce Cockburn
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Wednesday, YMCA Boulton Center, 37 W. Main St., Bay Shore
INFO $45; 631-969-1101, boultoncenter.org