Wednesday, September 07, 2005

"With a Little Help From My Friends"

And I'm not talking about the Beatles' original but Joe Cocker's flaming, rambling, incoherent live performance at Woodstock in 1969, which you can still find on the film "Woodstock". If ever a live performance encapsulated a time and a place, this was it. Woodstock was three days of idealistic hedonism, a toga party on an epic scale, a flash-in-the-pan version of the Paris Commune that brought together around forty of the top acts of the time. The event fell into chaos very quickly - the organisers couldn't keep people from sneaking into the venue and a rainstorm turned the fields into a quagmire and the organisers' resources simply melted away in the face of a tide of humanity. But on the other side, the event passed relatively peacefully - unlike the Altamont festival a year later - and there was some great music.
Joe Cocker's performance is one of those moments you watch from behind your hands, half-incredulous, half-admiring. Lurching all over the stage, eyes screwed tight, hands fiddling emptily or playing air guitar, arms flailing, Cocker looks as though he's performing a drawn-out death scene. But then he opens his mouth, and a drunken, spastic, gargling howl emerges, a sound that you know is being dredged from the very bottom of his gut. It's a noise that goes beyond soul, beyond blues and onto some higher, animal plane. He's not worried about getting the lyrics across - at one point he stops singing for a moment and then lets loose a scream that would give Tom Waits nightmares - he's in his own chemically- or alcoholically-assisted universe, where the song becomes a living breathing demon, to be fought to a standstill. In fact the song hardly matters, except as a platform for Cocker's visceral, full-contact vocal; it's not what he's singing, but how he's singing that matters.

3 comments:

Natsthename said...

I beg to differ! That up-from-the-gut delivery is what draws me to the song! (I'm a child of the 60's and 70's rock, though.)

Watching Joe is similar to watching Janis. You just have to suspend belief for awhile.

Londinium said...

Natalie, don't get me wrong, I *love* this song and how he sings it. I was just trying to explain how in Joe's hands this song isn't a song so much as a force of nature.

Cocaine Jesus said...

very few people in my opinion have bettered the fabs. the single, not his later live version, was an electrifying version that still to this day sends shivers up and down my spine. the guy cannot sing BUT what a great, great voice.
when my mum saw his performance on top of the pos in '68 she was mortified. doesn't happen like that any more. and music should break new ground and it should shock but how do kids today shock someone of my generation who, not only was around when the whole thing first kicked off, but has seen and been a part of the original?