JANUARY 04 2018
CHRISSIE DICKINSON – CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Over the course of his career, Canadian artist Tom Cochrane has released 17 albums, toured the world and won an armload of Juno Awards (Canada’s version of the Grammys). The respected singer-songwriter, as he nears retirement age, is not interested in slowing down any time soon.
“It has been 45 years (in the music business) and I’m still going strong,” he says. “I don’t see any reason to quit. It’s something that’s in my blood.”
Cochrane cut his musical teeth in coffeehouses and pubs before finding success as the front man for the rock band Red Rider. His 1991 solo debut album “Mad Mad World” yielded the smash hit “Life Is a Highway,” an upbeat road anthem that has endured through the years.
Cochrane performs an intimate acoustic show at City Winery on Wednesday.
He spent 2017 touring in support of “Mad Mad World 25,” a remastered version celebrating the 25th anniversary of his solo debut. Among the album’s bonus material is a 1992 recording of Cochrane performing in Chicago at the Park West.
The venerable rocker called recently during a family trip to England to discuss the lasting impact of “Life Is a Highway” and chatting with Bruce Springsteen about the fun of live performance. This is an edited transcript.
Q: How did you feel when the 25th anniversary of “Life Is a Highway” rolled around?
A: I couldn’t believe it was that many years ago. Time flies when you’re having a life and a career. (The late country singer) Chris LeDoux covered “Life Is a Highway” in 1998. (Country band) Rascal Flatts had a hit with it in 2006. It’s one of those songs that keeps having a life of its own. For a moody old son of a gun who’s written a lot of moody music, I feel blessed. It’s a positive song that has brought a lot of joy into people’s lives.
Q: “Life Is a Highway” was also used in a memorable episode of the sitcom “The Office.” The characters Darryl, Michael and Holly are riding in a truck on the highway and blasting the song again and again. They all belt out the chorus. It’s funny and relatable. It’s also painful — Michael and Holly break up. Do you hear from fans who discovered the song through that show?
A: Yes. I get a lot of feedback on it. It was a great use of the song — one of those moments that resonates with people. It’s the end of a relationship and the characters are riding in a car. That could be a real-life situation. People have told me it’s a song that got them through tough times. That means a lot to me. Being a songwriter, you can feel like a therapist sometimes. You write a song to get something off your chest, and hopefully it resonates with other people.
Q: What is the best thing about performing live?
A: I feel like a kid when I’m on stage. I remember talking to Bruce Springsteen about it a few years back. I was chatting to him after a show where there had been 45,000 people in the audience. We both agreed that when (playing music) is at its best, it’s like you’re 15 years old and jamming in your garage. When you get onstage, it’s amazing how much you’re infused with that energy.
Q: What artists were your biggest musical influences?
A: Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. I always related most to the folk artists. Maybe that’s where my storytelling approach comes from. When Dylan came along, I realized music was about more than just pop songs. I realized I could tell stories in a song. That shows in my work and the material I’ve written.
Q: In Manitoba, government officials named a stretch of highway after your song “Life Is a Highway.” What was it like to receive that sort of recognition?
A: I was quite verklempt when they told me they were going to do that. They call it Tom Cochrane’s Life Is a Highway highway. (laughs) It’s about a 200 mile stretch of highway that winds its way up to Lynn Lake, one of the northernmost towns. That’s where I was born.
Q: What was it like to grow up there?
A: I was only 5 years old when we left Lynn Lake, but it made an indelible imprint on my life. It was a mining town. My dad was a bush pilot — he was the only way in and out of that town before they got the railroad tracks in. It was the early 1950s. There was no television. People had a sense of resilience from being in the wilderness. Everybody pulled together for survival. There was a really strong sense of community that stayed with me through the years.
Q: How old were you when you first started playing music?
A: I sold a model train set when I was 11 years old to get my first guitar, which was a very rudimentary instrument. It was not a good deal! (Laughs.) It was a really cool train set, so I always called the sale “The Great Train Robbery.” But I did get my first guitar out of it.
Q: What were some of the day jobs you had before you found success in the music business?
A: Although I made a record when I was 19, I did a lot of other jobs to make ends meet. I worked on a loading dock. I was an office boy. I worked on a racing-class catamaran. I drove a cab. It wasn’t much fun at the time, but later on I appreciated all the people I met and all the experiences I lived through. It gave me a lot of songwriting inspiration. I’m glad I didn’t have a lot of musical success at 19. Living and working in the real world prepared me for a longer career in music.
Chrissie Dickinson is a freelance writer.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Where: City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St.
Tickets: $40 – $60; 312-733-9463 or www.citywinery.com