When I heard the news this afternoon of the passing of Joe Cocker, I had it in my mind that I wasn’t qualified to do any writing about him. I was going to let Matt do it all himself if he decided that he wanted to. At first, I felt like I hadn’t respected him enough even though I’ve listened to a good breadth of the work of his that older fans most readily identify with. But time passed on. I was aware of how worn down I was feeling, but a feeling kept growing stronger through that drop. I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to clear my conscience if I didn’t write about Joe Cocker.
It is a big theme of my writing to describe to you how all of the music I ever listen to somehow ties in to my times in California. I was going to feel miserable if I didn’t write to you about Cocker’s cover of Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright”. It is so blatantly obvious that Joe was so much more than “Feelin’ Alright” and then, shortly thereafter, “You Are So Beautiful”. I know all about his marvelous work at Woodstock and of his Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour and album. I also know about the parodies of Cocker by the late John Belushi and others. I have to say it though. It’s “Feelin’ Alright” that is taking front and center in my heart while I am feeling so empty because of his loss. I am feeling this loss in a different way than I have with others recently.
It was back during that period in time in California in the mid-’70s when I began to feel the stronger urgings to hang onto music for dear life because I knew that I was heading down a path that not many take. I was leaving my childhood behind and the tumult of my teenage years was taking over. For sheer survival, you learn to grip things even tighter than you did before as you notice that things aren’t going the way you would have liked it to. And so it was when I used to tune into KSAN-FM in San Francisco and Cocker’s version of “Feelin’ Alright” would come on. It didn’t matter whether it was a sunny day or if the Bay Area fog was hanging thickly above the roof of my house that song took me right into the city of San Francisco itself. And what was really unique for that song as it concerns my feelings for it is that once it took me from my room in my house to San Francisco; it did something very few other songs did. It actually kept me there in San Francisco even after a few songs from other artists had played afterwards.
The reverb, the drive, the percussion and that magnificent voice of Joe’s kept me there. That song helped me to travel 50 miles north and miraculously never leave my room. I’ll be driving around town up here in Eugene all these many years later and hear that song come on the radio. It’ll take me right back down there, man. And the thing of it is that I’m 53 years old now. When I travel 10 hours south without leaving my car nowadays, I usually stay down there longer than a few songs later. There will be some great overplayed songs on classic rock radio that will come on afterwards, but “Feelin’ Alright” will now usually make me stay down there for most of the day.
God Bless Dave Mason. I really dig his original version that he did while he was still in Traffic-a band’s band if there ever was one. Cocker’s version, though, created a space for me because I met it when it came out. I didn’t have to do anything even remotely resembling revisionist thinking (either personally or historically) for the song to create that space. For myself, I stretched that song beyond what Joe was singing about because I know that feeling of not feeling alright in so may ways. I still continue to have the “strangest dreams”. And when I think of those many hers “I start myself to cry”. Oh God! I’ve known it and I’ve known doctors and hospitals through my health challenges-physical and emotional. “Feelin’ Alright” reaffirmed my own spiritual epicenter that is San Francisco by taking me there so frequently.
I also want to add that it would be a terrible thing on my part if I did not acknowledge that this guy had the great fortune to be a superb talent who worked with many other equally talents. It’s got to be both happy and weird for him to be bumping into the late Nicky Hopkins and the recently departed Bobby Keys once again now that he has left us. The band that toured for Mad Dogs & Englishmen was one that left a huge legacy for his peers.
There was one other overwhelming thing that I’ve been reading about him over the years which has always stayed with me whenever he crossed my mind. Honestly! I can’t recall otherwise. I think every fellow musician who ever worked with him or ran into him all said the same thing about him. They all said he was one of the nicest people they’ve ever run across in the business. I wish I had gotten the chance to meet him. Even though I never got that chance, I just hope his spirit is picking up on something from me that will get to him. I didn’t get to listen to “Feelin’ Alright” when I was driving around and then heard the news about his passing today. I would, however, want to let him know that when I did hear the news, he took me right back to San Francisco. And the thing of it is that I still haven’t left even as I’ve been typing this to you all this evening. I hope you don’t mind that I might be there for an extended stay.
God Bless You, Joe.