“…objectivity is the mortal enemy.”
A lot of the obituaries floating around the internet today are leaning heavily on that quote, and with good reason – because he was right.
Peter Cooper knew that objectivity had its place – in the newsroom, the classroom, maybe the pulpit – but for a music journalist, it was a roadblock, a speedbump…an impediment.
Peter knew that there was little else in this world more subjective than music, and he always managed to tell its stories without “cheerleading” (as he called it) – he managed to give you exactly the information you needed in order to see the worth in an artist or an album without shoving it down your throat…and even if it was something that landed outside your own boundaries of subjectivity, he told their stories in a way that you could find worth in them whether you found it in their music or not.
And – like ALL the great ones – he made it look effortless.
I was certainly aware of Peter’s work long before I moved to Nashville, and – once I’d settled into my new neighborhood, I found myself bumping into him at Little League games, as my son Danny and his son Baker played in the same league. I was struck by how, the first time I went over to him and introduced myself, he was quick to ask about who I was, what I did, what I might have been up to – and if you’ve moved in the circles that exist within musical communities, you know how rare that can be.
When people would ask Ed King what Ronnie Van Zant was like, he used to tell them to pick any six Skynyrd songs and listen to the words, and they’d know who Ronnie was.
I don’t know if that’s a universal truth, because I can think of a few folks whose art I admire that are still an enigma to me, even after multiple deep dives into their work…and yet, where Peter is concerned, I think that even a complete stranger (as I was, once upon a time) can see his most redeeming qualities between the lines he wrote about the art that moved him.
I was always in awe of his deep, deep knowledge of the history of this music, but even more so (if that’s possible) by his vast stores of anecdotes about the people who informed it – the musicians, the songwriters, the people around it. In his book, he speaks of Don Light and Ann Soyars every bit as reverently as he does of Kristofferson and Cowboy Jack, and – I mean, how can you not love a guy like that?
His love for it all was so infectious that it made you love it as well…made you want to know more about it. He was an ambassador, an evangelist, a historian, and a talented singer and songwriter in his own right, and…there were a million little things that set him apart and made him special that have been recounted by his friends on social media in the wake of his passing that it’d be redundant to try and catalog them here.
There’s no successor to Peter Cooper. There’s no replacing Peter Cooper.
I suppose we’ll all process this in our own way…at some point, after processing the feelings of being robbed of his presence on this plane, I’ll eventually try to get to a place of gratitude that I was actually here at the same time he was, that I got to read and be affected by his work, that I got to know him as a friend over the years, that we got to watch our kids play baseball together…that I have a few great memories of watching him BE Peter Cooper any number of times.
But for now, I’m going to mourn.
It’s a compound loss – we’ve lost a friend, a deeply empathetic and supportive presence in our lives, a genuinely talented craftsman…but on another level, we’ve also lost all the articles he didn’t write, the countless chapters of unwritten books in his encyclopedic mind that we’ll never get to read, and the records he won’t make and the songs he won’t sing.
It’s impossible not to mourn that as well.
Someday, though, when I’m able to get to the other side of that, I’ll try and live by his perpetual advice that he scribbled into my copy of his book, by way of Cowboy Jack Clement:
“Stay in the FUN business.”
Thanks for all of it, man.