My Christmas Song of the Day for December 29 is not the usual retelling of the birth of Christ and its aftermath.
I’ve featured the music of Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn (born 1945) before. But this is one that does not appear on his 1993 album Christmas, which is likely why I’d missed it for so long.
“I wanted to write a Christmas song,” Cockburn told Paul Zollo in the magazine SongTalk in 1994. “I went at it like trying to tell the Bible story but put it in modern terms. … I thought the story in the Bible is such an interesting story, but you forget how interesting it is because it’s held up as a cliche so much to us. And over the years people have lost their humanity, who are in the story, and they’ve become larger-than-life figures. And I just thought it would be interesting to play at putting them in a human context. So Mary becomes a little bit shrewish and has a little bit of an attitude.”
In Cockburn’s song, “Cry of a Tiny Babe,” from his 1991 album Nothing But a Burning Light, Joseph thinks Mary has been sleeping around, a paranoid Herod sends death squads after the Babe, and the Savior reveals himself to, as the lyrics state, hookers and bums. It sounds irreverent, but this is not the case at all. According to Cockburn in a 1991 interview, session drummer Jim Keltner broke down in tears. “Well, he didn’t break down – he kept playing – but he was fighting it off throughout the song because he was so moved by what was going on.”
The song is seven and a half minutes long, which likely is why it isn’t on the radio much, if at all. But in listening to it for this post, I never once wanted to shut it off. Here’s the studio version of “Cry of a Tiny Babe.”