Today’s song is on here as a cri de coeur. Sometimes this is the best song to express how I feel. “Feelin’ Alright?” was made famous by Joe Cocker and has been recorded and covered by numerous people. I heard Cocker’s version first, but he does it as a funkier song, which is fine, and when I’m in the mood for that, it’s good to go there. But later I heard and became much more familiar with the original version by Traffic on their second LP Traffic (1968), sung by Dave Mason, who wrote it.
Mason does it slower and more meditative; it almost sounds like it begins in medias res, as if there were something earlier that you missed and we’re fading in on it: “Seems I’ve got to have a change of scene.” That’s an understatement, and it’s also a big blues statement (see Muddy Waters, yesterday) where the singer know he’s got to be movin’ on. But the way Mason develops this idea is fun: “Every night I have the strangest dream / Imprisoned by the way things could’ve been / Left here on my own or so it seems / I’ve got to leave before I start to scream / But someone’s locked the door and took the key.” Here the need to leave, that great blues longing, gets complicated by dreams and what could’ve been, by being left alone when one needs help, and by a sense of agoraphobia closing in. Got to go, but locked in.
The chorus, of course, keeps up a nice irony: first of all it sounds peppy and if you aren’t paying much attention you could think the singer is asserting that he’s “feeling alright”—how nice!—but in fact he’s asking if you’re feelin’ alright, then telling you “I’m not feelin’ too good myself.” As in: oh, so we’re being honest and talking about how we really feel? Why didn’t you say so?
And that’s part of what I love about the song: it is about how you really feel. “Not too good.”
|Dave Mason, Steve Winwood, Chris Wood, Jim Capaldi|
The second verse isn’t as good, or isn’t as unusual: someone took him for “one big ride”—I do like the line “and even now I sit and wonder why,” which speaks to that meditative quality I like—but he can’t think about her because he’ll cry, and then the great part: he can’t waste his time on this and her lies, “’cause there’s too much to do before I die.” It’s existential misery that’s working this guy over, not just some chick he can’t forget! All this heartbreak is just camouflaging the real misery: life! You’re gonna die someday, buddy, and what you gonna do till then?
Now we’re much more in synch with his plaint. And the song is starting to crank up as the funkier aspects that Cocker and others pick up on starts to come to the fore. We’re really getting anxious now. Then the great verse.
“Don’t get too lost in all I say / Though at the time I really felt that way / But that was then, and now it’s today / Can’t get off yet and so I’m here to stay / Till someone comes along and takes my place / With a different name and, yes, a different face.”
So now we see the changeable nature of time. This guy’s affections, moods, states of mind aren’t permanent because, guess what, nothing is. That was then, y’know. Then, when he looks forward he arrives at the idea that he’s stuck on the wheel until someone comes to take his place. Someone different (could be a later version of himself, granted)—which feeds into that notion that someone else will be “her baby now,” as they say, but seems to posit someone else actually taking his place in this purgatorial space, freeing him for the Great Beyond. Which is devoutly to be wished, I assume.
Then the band really shows what they can do. Chris Wood’s sax is prickly, none of that mellowness the instrument is famed for; and Jim Capaldi’s congas fuel the funk, and, throughout, there’s been Steve Winwood’s piano which is kind of barrelhouse phased through more classical intonations, and I love that little bass roll before “Don’t get too lost.” Now these guys are going to take it on home with a rave up on the idea of “feelin’ alright” and “not feelin’ too good” (hear how Mason starts riffing on “too good, too good”) and eventually we start feeling pretty damn good. The real kicker to me is when Winwood, on backing vocals, starts holding that high note: “allllllright, aaalllllright, alllllri-iii-iight.” And there you have it, friends, a great band with a great song. One for the books.
And, yeah, I’m not feeling too good myself. And there are enough lines in this song that can be deemed applicable. Take your pick.
It may just be the mood that Melville describes at the beginning of Moby-Dick. But I’m not a seaman, so all I can do is get in the car and drive. It still amazes me how that actually helps, sometimes. Leaving town tomorrow, so, well, we’ll see . . . .