Switch that phone off. Let the curtain drapes down or throw them off! Fix me that drink. Hey, take off your shoes and let your feet get some air. Ain’t no need to be formal here. Cooke is in the house. I have been listening to Cooke since the beginning of this week. I have been reveling, drinking in, marveling, sitting back and then jumping up and stomping to a voice so pure, so rich, so varied, so beautiful, I can hardly believe it has taken me this long to listen to Cooke. That it has taken me this long to hear sing, song after song, a man I first heard my father mention as the greatest singer he ever listened to. When he was a student, a long time, in Canada traveling.
A man whose picture I first saw in a Newsweek or Time Magazine back in the day when I would only read the back pages of those magazines for the film reviews. The scanty art reviews with big colourful photographs falling in love with a group of painters I would later learn were called The Impressionists. That happy, go lucky, determined bunch of painters in 19th century bourgeoisie France, who refused to give up their artistic dreams, starved and were scorned for their steadfastness, triumphing at great cost for some of them the victories seeming Pyrrhic but never giving up.
In these back pages, in a small side article, the picture of a beautiful man laughing, in thin sweater, so sharply ironed black trouser the pleats stood up, black shoes like they had a Kiwi shine, so relaxed he was the epitome of cool. I began to understand where my dad got his style. Then a description that has never left my mind, its phrasing lingering like a saxophone wailing I will never forget, that even in his shoddy prostitute motel death, Cooke had emerged spotless, smelling like a freshly picked rose. Here was a man I knew I would have to listen to myself. Here was a man my father thought so highly of. My father who knew men and knew men in their dark deeds.
But even if my father had not spoken in a quiet whisper of this man, putting down the newspaper he was reading, I would have sought out Sam Cooke all the days of my life until the day I got his music. Until the day in my ears would spill the voice that greats from Otis Redding, to die so soon himself; the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Aretha Franklins, the Marvin Gaye’s would also bow before. Proud spirits putting aside their considerable personal achievements and own voices that few have been able to rival since the beginning of the world when they were asked to speak of Sam Cooke.
My father was the first person I heard speak of Sam Cooke in this way. Like all those luminaries, a man whose praise is hard to pry out of his lips. But he had laid the paper on his laps; not looking at me began to speak of the first time he had heard Cooke singing. Been to tell me of hearing A Change Is Gonna Come meant to him when with a beating heart he would leave his college hall to walk the streets of Toronto and Ottawa expecting any moment some racist hoods might want to punch him about for fun but he was not going back home until he had got what had brought him here: an education to make his own father proud. How Cooke, in his controlled proud sorrow, had in his mellifluousness sung like he had walked in my father’s own shoes.
I remember my father that weekend day before lunch talking about Cooke, my mother who had come to call him to lunch, stopping under the arch to the sitting room area, listening too, like she had never known this side of my father speaking. But I was not thinking of my father or all that I remembered of Cooke when I begun listening to Night Beat, one of the greatest albums ever put together. No, I was not. Cooke was no longer my father’s singer. Cooke was no longer a legend from the past who I was going to show off to prove how much more musically introspective than other people in my circle I was. No. he was no longer, is no longer a curiosity for me. Cooke told me my story in Trouble Blues.
He had me laughing, smiling wryly; he had Sam asking me if this song was supposed to be a reprimand from me when I began to play him Fool’s Paradise. Oh but it was not. Oh but it was far from that. We choose our lives and should not apologize for them. but here is the magic, the fun, the joy of this genius…it is not all sadness. It is joy too, laughter, jokes, wow! We get to really dance…think about girls who have a strange resemblance to a cat named Frankenstein when we want to be out on Another Saturday Night swinging two chics on my arm! Hey!