Tom Cochrane coming through with celebration

Rock icon, “wise but flawed sage” discusses his landmark record, his writing process, and his coming Cranbrook concert

Barry Coulter

A legendary Canadian performer and musician is marking a significant quarter century with a cross-Canada tour, and he’s making Cranbrook a stop along the way.

Tom Cochrane is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the release of his landmark album Mad Mad World with a deluxe re-issue and a 2017, which kicks off at Western Financial Place Friday, Feb. 24. And Cochrane can’t wait!

I’m looking forward to it very, very much,” Cochrane told the Townsman over the phone this week.

“There’s a high level of anticipation on our part, and it’s going to be a lot of fun playing these songs that mean a lot to people. Songs that mean memories to them, and that mark these memories.

“We’re going to bring things up a notch on a production level and really dig our teeth into these things. So I’m really anxious to get going.”

“Mad Mad World,” is considered Cochrane’s masterpiece. The record helped launch him on a solo path after a career with the band Red Rider — and although “Mad Mad World” is the focus of the tour, Red Rider will be represented. Former bandmates Kenny Greer and Jeff Jones will be along with the ensemble.

“Mad Mad World” remains among the top-selling albums in Canadian music history. It was written and recorded at a significant time in Cochrane’s life.

“It was a period of catharsis for me, and growing up on a number of different levels,” Cochrane said. “Musically, I was teaching myself classical guitar, and that led, believe it or not, to a number of progressions on the record and approaches to the songs. My lifestyle, family life, everything was sort of pax Canadiana at that point. There was peace, but a real positive angst that led to a bunch of these songs — and a trip to Africa, which led to a couple — ‘Emotional Truth’ being one, ‘Life is a Highway’ being the other.

“Some of those songs still resonate topically today. These are topics as powerful and meaningful today as they were in 1991/92.”

Twenty-five years later, the world is a different place than it was then. Does “Mad Mad World” still have a place in the world, and something to say to it?

“It’s a bit of a dichotomy, because as much as things change they stay the same,” Cochrane said. “The world is a chaotic place. But like a piece I wrote on the CD, that ends with ‘the world’s a mess, but sometimes it’s a great big beautiful mess, and for a while we’re in it together.’ The record really captures the essence of ‘for now, we’re in it together.’”

The quarter century past was also marked by a special exhibit of Cochrane’s career and music at the new National Music Centre in Calgary. How does it feel to suddenly be considered the “Grand Old Man” of Canadian rock?

“I prefer ‘wise but flawed sage,’” Cochrane laughed. “But I was asked before — ‘you’re an iconic Canadian singer-songwriter … do you feel pressure, do you feel you have an obligation to uphold that, and to carry the banner?’ And I guess the short answer is, ‘Man, if I did, I’d feel so paralyzed, I couldn’t pick up the guitar.’”

Cochrane recounts a conversation in this regard he had not long ago with his friend Bruce Springsteen.

“We both feel the same way — when we get on stage and we’re doing it, even the writing side — you try to tap into the part of you that’s 15 years old, that’s in awe of it, that’s in awe of the process, and the energy and magic that you feel when you’re jamming with your buddies in the garage, at 15. And you try to capture that when you go onstage, and I still do.

“And when I sit down to write, I just try to put one foot ahead of the other, and I try to write the songs that come the most honest to me. Sometimes it’s a really lonely process. But when you’re on to something, and you’re riding that wave, there’s nothing quite like it, and there’s nothing as gratifying.”

And speaking of the writing process … Cochrane’s most recent record, “Take It Home,” in 2015 (and the first one in eight years before that) was hailed as a true songwriter’s album. Is there any new music in the pipeline?

“As an artist you always want to be doing something new,” Cochrane said. “I’ve got a couple of other side projects. I’ve probably got about 150 published titles and quite a few more that aren’t, and I want to sit down with Bill Bell — he’s going to be touring with us — and record all these acoustically. Just the essential songs, and start getting those to my publisher, maybe do a record. Something stripped down, like what we did on ‘Songs of a Circling Spirit.’ But I do want to make another record. I’m starting to feel that need.

“You get to the point where, like the bird flies south, it’s an instinct. It’s time, and a writer is the same thing. You go along for so long, then that instinct overwhelms you. You’[ve got to get some ideas down on paper, and then record them. To everything there is a season.”

But in the meantime, there’s Cochrane’s landmark album to celebrate. He and the band are going to blaze through “Mad Mad World” onstage, perform some other Cochrane notables, and some Red Rider hits — “The best of both worlds,” Cochrane says.

“It’s going to be a real full evening of music. I’m not going to have time to do a lot of talking.”

Tom Cochrane’s Mad Mad World Tour comes to Western Financial Place in Cranbrook on Friday Feb. 24, with special guests Nice Horse The Mad Mad World Tour on Feb 24, at WFP is presented by the Kootenay Concert Connection in association with the Drive 102.9, the Cranbrook Townsman, and the City of Cranbrook.