Bruce Cockburn Reflects on Barenaked Ladies' "Fresh and Interesting" Version of "Lovers in a Dangerous Time"

"I'm glad the song is getting around, but sorry it's because of the crap we're in"

Photo: Daniel Keebler

BY Alex HudsonPublished Apr 27, 2021

Bruce Cockburn's 1984 hit "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" was inspired by the Cold War, but it's sadly an evergreen song — one that resonates more than ever in the past year, amidst a pandemic, social uprisings and political upheaval.

It was also keenly relevant in 1991, when then-up-and-upcoming folk rock group Barenaked Ladies recorded a cover for a Cockburn tribute album, Kick at the Darkness. It was BNL's first-ever charting single, reaching 16 on the Canadian Singles Chart — and the band appropriately released a quarantine rendition last March, during the first phase of coronavirus lockdown.

Exclaim! caught up with Cockburn to find out what he thinks about BNL's beloved cover of "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" — and he also shared his thoughts on the new resonance that his song has taken on over the years. Watch videos for both versions of the tune at the bottom of the page.

How did you first hear that Barenaked Ladies were covering "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," and what was your reaction?

I first heard about it from Bernie Finkelstein. Stuart Ravenhill, my former tour manager, was a partner in a new record label whose name I forget. They decided it would be a good idea to release a tribute album of my songs done by various up-and-coming Toronto artists. I knew some of them but others were new to me. I knew Barenaked Ladies by reputation, but as far as I can recall had not yet met them. 

What do you think of BNL's version of the song? Are there any elements that particularly stand out to you?

I was not involved in the making of the record in any way. I had no idea what people would do. When I first heard "Lovers," I was a bit shocked by how different the Ladies' treatment of the song was musically from how I had conceived of it. It took a bit of getting used to. Once I got over that, I was glad that they had taken their own distinctive road with it. It was fresh and interesting. 

Have you ever met the members of BNL? What were the circumstances, and did you discuss this song at all?

I've spent time with the band on several occasions. We've performed the song on stage together numerous times, both my version and theirs. 

How do you feel about the enduring resonance of "Lovers in a Dangerous Time," particularly in today's fraught political climate and throughout the pandemic? I'm not sure if you're aware, but someone made a coronavirus-themed karaoke video for the song.

Sadly, I think the song is all too appropriate to these circumstances we find ourselves in. Others seem to agree. It has received a fair amount of attention in the online world over the past year. I'm glad the song is getting around, but sorry it's because of the crap we're in. 

BNL's cover of "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" comes from a 1991 tribute album, Kick at the Darkness, which is made up entirely of covers of your songs. Are there any other covers of your music that particularly stand out to you — either from that tribute album, or other cover version you might have heard over the years?

Over the years a lot of artists have seen fit to record my songs. Some have been great, and it's always an honour. It's always a compliment. The whole point of writing the things is to have them be heard. When people want to record them it feels good!

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