Category Archives: Music

Joe Cocker: the voice of my childhood

It has always seemed odd to me how people can feel the impact of a person’s death if they had no immediate relationship or contact with that person. I suppose that passive relationships in the case of listening to someone’s music counts as much as anything because I find myself more saddened than usual on hearing of the death of Joe Cocker. It is always sad when someone dies and you feel some empathy for their family losing a husband or a father, or whatever, but the news today spun me into some ultra reflection of the music that shaped my life. Many (and there are many) obituaries talk about how unique Joe was as a person, and how humble he remained even after years of celebrity. NPR rescored the interview  when he talked about his drinking and drug problems and his long climb back to sobriety. I knew none of that growing up in the 80s while my dad played his studio albums. (Once I figured out how to work the stereo I played it a LOT. This and Kris Krisstofferson’s Jesus was a Capricorn album, but that is another story.)


I read the back of this album a million times and wore out at least one needle listening to it. The power of his voice was unmistakable. There was always something about it that made it the best listening for me. Then “With a little help from my friends” became the anthem for the television show “The Wonder Years.” It was the first time I knew the music before the show, and the subsequent crush on Winnie Cooper further galvanized my relationship with Joe Cocker.
Once I finally made it to the buy your own music portion of my childhood it was scouring the local pawnshop for cassettes and albums and you had to make every dollar count so a double album for the price of one got me Mad Dogs and Englishmen. For full disclosure I hate live albums, but this one was a lot of fun and remains one of the only ones I tolerate, and luckily it was reissued some years ago in CD form. If there is a quintessential Joe Cocker Album, I would say it was that one.
I have listened to this, and other albums most of the day since I read the news this morning. It is not that unusual as I listen to at least one of his songs throughout the day on my playlist at work. There is something about the death of someone like this that leaves a body of work behind that you can still access after they are gone, some people may have photos, some audio, or even short video of loved ones that have passed, but not as easily found as a google or youtube search. So, I have been thinking about that and listening to his music, and reading the multitude of memorials and obituaries from British and American news outlets.
Most if not all will mention if not link to his Woodstock performance, which was the first video of him singing I had ever seen. After watching it, I though he had some kind of brain issue, but later realized that was just him. The John Belushi Saturday Night Live skit captures it perfectly, and has been shared around a good bit today as well.


Even more fun was when this was parodied on Animaniacs in “Woodstock Slappy”(which also had an amazing Abbott and Costello misunderstanding of Who’s on stage) The best thing about this is he sings the original line from the Beatles song “Would you throw a tomato at me?” It was Ringo who said, “wait, guys, you know what happens when we sing about [some sort of candy] and the fans all throw it on stage? What happens if we do it this way? So they changed it to “Would you stand up and walk out on me?”
While probably his best known song, it is by far his only one. He had the kind of voice, delivery, timing, that easily made covers his own. In fact there are many songs that I heard Joe’s version first and still prefer them to the originals. I don’t think I could begin to count my favorites because they vary depending on mood, from fun and uplifting to dark and soul shaking. I have listened to the one above a few times today, but I will end with the one I have listened to the most today after finishing Mad Dogs  & Englishmen (and Joe Cock-er!) It is such a well done video to a song that really makes an impression. It is this amalgamation of lyrics and Joe’s voice that give his music such power, If you don’t feel something after listening to it, or him in general, you may need to rethink your relationship with music. Joe’s death should not have had any impact on my life other than a simple death, but somehow it was like the loss of a distant relative who I never got to see and only interacted with by listening to the music he created. It is also interesting how even as trends in music came and went in my life that I always maintained an unrepentant love of Joe Cocker.It is even more interesting that during my lifetime 70 has went from being an appropriate age of death to the announcement today being met with “he was only 70.” Far be it from me to sum up his life, work, and contribution to the world, but writing is a way of thinking, and it may be my meager way of saying thanks for all the music.


Birds on Fire and the Final Word from Levon Helm

I don’t know what I ever wanted this collection of thoughts to ever become, but I find myself saying that some things I think about writing on don’t fit my “theme.” Honestly, until I have that discussion in my head I never really think of even having a theme. In fact I have another blog that is random ramblings that specifically have no theme–and I don’t regularly update that one either.

There is a documentary coming out about a member of one of the most influential bands in the history of music–The Band–and at the end of the trailer is a brief clip of him talking about the platypus. So, I thought there–nonexistent theme be damned I am collecting three trailers of things coming out that are entirely unrelated to any semblance of theme, and sharing them.

First up is a documentary covering the life of Aldo Leopold. For those who think that name sounds familiar it is either because you have read “Thinking Like a Mountain” written by Leopold, or you are confusing it with the Hugh Jackman movie Kate and Leopold.  This is a documentary about the former. One of the most striking things is the explanation regarding how Leopold’s work is still relevant because he was so far ahead of his time. Even some modern ideas are behind some of Leopold’s writings from the 1930s. You can see the Green Fire trailer here.

 Secondly, a friend pointed me in the direction of something called “The Lost Bird Project.” Below is the trailer for the men working on memorial pieces to be placed in honor of birds that have gone extinct in historical memory. I have written about the Great Auk and the Passenger Pigeon here before, and perhaps mentioned Carolina parakeets elsewhere. They have gone beyond the idea of just planting a giant statue where everyone can see it and have meticulously researched where the last documented sighting of each species was. There they plan to place the statuary. Sometimes it is in someone’s backyard, sometimes out in the middle of a deserted field. I hope to see it, and I hope others will as well. There are several stages of trailer and previews available on youtube. this one sets the tone the best. 
The final installment here is perhaps my biased favorite. Ain’t In it for My Health follows The Band’s Levon Helm as he continues to play and live through his music through the face of depleting health. The release date for this came a year after his death. I follow his page on facebook and they still update on things Helm related. The greatest thing about that was the last night he was of this earth his wife said she was sitting by his bedside and reading all of our comments on how his music had impacted us in positive ways. I hope that it is true. She said he was happy to hear it, and died peacefully in his sleep. Aware of the huge outreach his life had. So, I leave you with some wise words from Levon about the “baddest little bastards in Australia.”
If you would like to see that final one in higher def than blogspot will manage with any speed,  follow this link. 
I tried for a few hours to upload videos one and two, but sadly I have had to result in simply including the links. No matter the file size, or type the host just could not process the videos, even after an hour or so for each attempt. 
So I will compensate by including one of my favorite songs from The Band.