Thoughts on Tom Cochrane:
When I first mentioned nominating Tom Cochrane for an honourary degree to the Glen Carruthers, the Dean of Music at Brandon U, and the coolest man in Canada, his response was “great idea – the body of work is certainly there”.
I then said “and you know he’s from Manitoba?”. To which Glen said “Are you kidding me? We’ve gotta get going on this or we’re going to be scooped by U of Manitoba!”. A true Brandonite, always worried that U of M will get in ahead of us. But I am very pleased that we didn’t delay too long and Tom is here to accept his award.
I have been listening to Tom Cochrane’s music for over 25 years. He is
certainly the writer of the Canadian rock ‘n roll hockey song in “The Big League”, and in my view the song “Boy Inside the Man” is either the great Canadian rock ‘n roll song, or at least the greatest Canadian rock ‘n roll song with a banjo part.
Through the music of Tom Cochrane I have been introduced to some great writers and great ideas. Without looking too hard, one can find references to Pablo Neruda, Arthur Rimbaud, and Jean Paul Sarte in the lyrics of Tom Cochrane. I have two examples from my university days, spread 15 years apart, to give you some idea of what I mean. In 1985 I was talking to a classmate about Pablo Neruda, when he mentioned that “ there’s this Canadian band called Red Rider that has an album called Neruda”, and I said, “I know,
that’s how I came to learn about this guy”. An embarrassing number of
years later, in 2000 when I was at law school, a classmate said that she had been doing legal work in the summer for the Cheslata Indians in B.C., and I said , “I know about this, the flooding by Alca” She asked how I knew this, and I said it was a Tom Cochrane song “River of Stone”. I realized then that she would have been about 8 when that song came out, so I did not go further, but my point is that through music we can not only enjoy the song, but also learn from the song-writer.
What can you say in a few minutes about an artist’s whole body of work?
Well, the first Tom Cochrane album was entitled “Hang on To Your Resistance”, and this is a theme that seems to run throughout his music.
But resistance to what? To me, the answer is a resistance to a deadening self-interest in life; a resistance to accepting dull conformity; a resistance to losing our Canadianness; a resistance to losing “the boy inside the man”. Bono said recently something like “ a rock and roll band in full flight is a wonderful thing” and I think Tom Cochrane is still out there proving that.
I think there would be nothing more fitting, and more Canadian, than to use the words of a Montreal Jewish poet, whose music Tom has covered, to honour a good Prairie boy like Tom. I quote from Leonard Cohen: “Like a bird on a wire/ like a drunk in a midnight choir/ I have tried in my way to be free”.
I think Tom Cochrane has tried to stay free in his music, and if you do this very well, well then you deserve to be called a doctor of music.
And to close with a Tom Cochrane line, Dr. Tom, “We toast to your charms”.
Speech by Brian Mayes at the reception put on for the degree winners and their nominators.