wo years ago I heard what I thought was a new song by guitar wizard Leo Kottke. This means it had an intricate bass-treble alternating bounce to the acoustic picking style, and unadorned but earnest vocal accompaniment. Eventually I learned that it was instead a great Canadian artist named Bruce Cockburn.
“Pacing the Cage” is chock full of ‘what am I doing here?’ imagery. This pacing is what happens when we’ve gone down a path we didn’t scrutinize closely enough, to a place we’ve realized we don’t want to be. Lines like
I never knew what you all wanted So I gave you everything
bespeak a certain weakness; succumbing to external pressure rather than maintaining fidelity. But the final verse seems to offer a reason, if not an excuse:
Sometimes the best map will not guide you You can't see what's round the bend Sometimes the road leads through dark places Sometimes the darkness is your friend
invoking the belief that, essentially, we’re all making our best guess and can’t always know where it will lead. My head says that it’s possible to live without regrets, to look ahead and make the right choices. My heart doesn’t always agree.
Cockburn’s guitar work is deceptively simple, his singing warm and direct. If you’ve ever seen Leo Kottke play the guitar, you’ve seen his distinctive picking style; this song has that sound to it. Each verse closes with a different sentence ending with ‘pacing the cage’ and each gets a slightly different phrasing and timing. At first listen, it seems simple; but when you try to sing along it’s evident that this is a man who knows how to get the most out of a moment’s silence, an unexpected pause. This thought-provoking piece is well-written and beautifully performed.