The first time I saw Joe Cocker live, it was one of the most memorable experiences in my musical inventory. When he sang the Beatles,' "With a Little Help from my Friends," it marked the emotional crescendo in what became a symbiotic relationship between audience and performer.
With everyone standing, lighters lit in appreciation; complete strangers were transformed into momentary friends, as we eagerly anticipated Cocker's raspy soulful voice belting out the note that would be his calling card.
It was a song that he performed at Woodstock in 1969 that received a resurgence nearly 20 years later as it became the theme for the hit show "The Wonder Years."
When I heard that Crocker died this week from lung cancer, I was moved to tears. Though I never met Cocker, it felt I had lost a friend, someone whose music spoke directly to me.
When Cocker sang, "What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you stand up and walk out on me?" I believed that he had discovered that I was musically challenged and was offering his personal compassion.
From the moment he took the stage each song was as if it were his last. He gave you everything he had, including external gyrations that made Mick Jagger look like Fred Astaire. But it was the internal that made Cocker special.
He didn't just sing the song; he was in it, living it, allowing the audience to peer into his soul. The passion that Crocker exhibited was equally infectious with his band and background singers.
There are not many performers who merit comparison to Ray Charles, but Cocker does. In the tradition of Charles, Cocker had the uncanny ability to cover songs and make them his own. In fact, one of his notable covers was "Unchain my Heart," which was originally performed by Charles.
Paul McCartney on hearing Cocker's cover of "With a Little Help from my Friends," for the fist time, said:
"I was especially pleased when he decided to cover "With a Little Help from my Friends" and I remember him and (producer) Denny Cordell coming round to the studio in Savile Row and playing me what they'd recorded and it was just mind-blowing, totally turned the song into a soul anthem and I was forever grateful for him for doing that."
The first public indication that I'm aware that Cocker was ill came from Billy Joel while performing at Madison Square Garden in September. Joel stated that Cocker was "not very well right now" and publicly petitioned for his admittance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The fact that Cocker has not been admitted to date is a shame. A posthumous induction, though warranted, feels somewhat incomplete.
Not many performers in the rock and roll era can tout Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy awards, not to mention a plethora of hits in a career that spanned over 50 years.
Part of my sadness related to Cocker's passing, is rooted in my own memories. That is the wonderful gift that music gives us, it is our personal time capsule. In the words of philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, "life without music would be a mistake."
Regardless of genre, music is a mirror into our own lives. How many of us hear a song and are immediately hurled into a certain place and time, flooded with memories good and bad?
When individuals bond through music it can transcend other sociological barriers. How one voted in the last election, their occupation, or zip code is not as important as the connection made through music.
There is also an immortality that we place on music and ostensibly the performer. That's why certain artists like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Charlie Parker are still with us in spirit.
It is difficult to think of performers in the past tense, if their work has truly touched one's soul.
Cocker definitely fits that standard. It saddens me that I will not have another opportunity to see him perform live.
But I'm "Feelin' Alright!"