As most people know, the force of nature that was Joe Cocker died yesterday. I can’t purport to be the biggest Joe Cocker fan that ever lived. I’ve been a fan of his music, generally, for many years, but it’s not like I bought every album he put out. Even so, his death struck a chord of sadness in me that’s hard to shake.
In our daily call on my commute to work this morning, I told Mom about Joe’s death. She hadn’t heard, as she can’t stand to watch the news anymore; it’s all bad news and commercials, and then more bad news. I started talking to her a little bit about him and she said, “I guess I didn’t know that much about him. It’s not really my era, it’s yours.” The irony of this, of course, is that Joe was 70, and my Mom is 71. I am 45. But yes, it’s my era, the one I live a lot of my musical and cultural and spiritual life within, in as many ways as I can. I watch the Woodstock box set every year in mid-August, and it’s no accident that’s the weekend I chose to get married many years ago, a wedding which included recessional music from the Beatles and “announcement” song being Age of Aquarius from Hair.
Mom was busy raising babies and staying home at that age. Trapped, with no car, little socialization and pretty much no money. The whole hippie thing really missed her completely. She went from the 50s and her bouffant hairstyle, shut her eyes and woke up in the disco 70s, when she finally started to come alive again.
You could make an argument that Joe’s performance at Woodstock was the seminal, most remembered, perhaps defining event of the show. You could argue Richie Havens, sure. He opened, and played a lot longer than was planned as he had to stretch since so many of the acts hadn’t been able to get there yet. You could argue Janis, though really Monterey Pop was where she exploded. You could argue Ravi Shankar, who mesmerized the crowd and made us fall in love with the sitar. But really it’s Joe, his rainbow tie-dyed shirt clinging to his lithe body, his wild hair dripping with sweat, screaming and shaking into that microphone, flailing and giving everything he had that creates an image, at least in my mind, of the entire event.
Many years ago, I went to a high school reunion. It was, quite unexpectedly, a very emotional and long day and evening filled with laughter, joy, tears, terror, confusion, passion and discovery. I was quite shaken about the whole experience, and as I drove home the next morning, Joe’s “A Little Help From My Friends” at Woodstock came on the radio, and I was overcome with tears. I called a dear friend, who asked if I was ok, and we talked for awhile about the events that had transpired over the last 24 hours. It’s always touched me, that song, but it meant even more after that night.
Joe’s death is yet another signpost in the road I march down with dread every day, yet cannot ignore – they’re dying. The hippies are all dying. The movers and shakers and those who touched my soul, whose music I continue to explore, dig deeper into, and expand my consciousness about, we’re all getting older, and each day, we’re closer to losing more pillars. It’s inevitable, I know. There are some that will hit me harder than others. It’s perhaps the totality of Joe’s incidental appearance throughout the soundtrack of my life that makes his death particularly sad. The Woodstock performance, sure. But then the Officer & a Gentleman song. And then that dance Kim did in 9 1/2 Weeks to “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” which I’m sure looks dated and silly today but it was a big deal back then, back when Mickey Rourke was cute. And the special version of “You Are So Beautiful To Me” my sister used to sing to me when I was little. Just a lot of great music that’s touched my life.
Go in peace, John Robert Cocker, and thanks for the music.