I met Rick Cooper in a college class in Lima, Ohio in 1972. With his straight blond hair and long reddish sideburns, he reminded me a little of Stephen Stills. I was immediately drawn to his quick wit and infectious smile. We hit it off right away.
I soon learned that music was a big part of Rick’s life. He played bass guitar in an Indian Lake band which I never got to experience. But I did discover that his knowledge of popular music was encyclopedic, and that he and I enjoyed many of the same songs and artists.
What I didn’t know in those early years of our friendship was just how creative Rick was. In college he had been a straight-A student, but intelligence and creativity don’t always coexist. It was when he began writing song lyrics that I secretly suspected him of sandbagging.
In the late 70s Rick did something many people would not have the courage to do-—he quit a secure government job and followed his songwriting dreams to Nashville. There, with friend and songwriting partner, George Jeffrey, he pounded out songs and then pounded the pavement, peddling their creative work to any credible member of the music industry who’d open the door and listen. Rick learned a lot of lessons along the way—some of them tough—but all of which served him well as a writer and, years later, as a music executive.
This collection, For the Record, is the culmination of several decades of creative work. It’s impressive in its size, its breadth, and especially its emotional depth.
One can learn a lot about the artist through the art. If we pay close attention, we find woven within the lyrics evidence of the artist’s personality and biography. Take, for instance, The Home of Billy D. This song is more than commentary on the plight of homeless veterans in America. It’s a call for social justice, a commitment that for Rick has been life-long, expressing itself through his running of marathons to raise money for leukemia research and treatment or volunteering at a food pantry or making donations to Live Aid and Farm Aid.
Rick’s lighter side comes through in other songs, like the Buffett-esque All the Money in the World. Such lyrics make the reader laugh out loud and, as with so many of the other songs, marvel at the creative genius that gave birth to them. And then there are songs like Close Your Eyes (Sweet Dreams, Good Night). To me, few images are more vividly rendered than the seedy apartment in this song. These are lyrics penned by a writer who didn’t just imagine those scenes but who lived them, and who was blessed with the insight to share their lasting impact with others.
Rick and I have long been fascinated with crime and criminals. A few years after he returned to Ohio from Nashville, we collaborated on a suspense novel, Family Reunion, which was published in 1990. This ongoing interest in crime shows itself in the short story Last Kiss, a creepy take on one of the many dangers of prostitution.
All these song lyrics, poems and stories portray people grappling with life’s opportunities and challenges. They make us smile, they make us sad, and they make us think. They remind us of our humanity.
In one of my favorite country songs, I Hope You Dance, by songwriters Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers, the talented Lee Ann Womack makes a plea to those with their futures still ahead of them to not sit it out in life, but to dance.
Rick Cooper has always made the choice to dance. He has used his talents, taken risks, worked hard, had fun, endured setbacks, loved, and given back. Had he instead made the choice to sit it out, we would not have this wonderful collection of his works and the rich stories behind them. I’m honored to call this dancer my friend.
Mark S. Davis, Ph.D. • July, 2016