Adventures Inside Jody’s Head: “I Forsake the Joneses”

Greetings blog readers 🙂

This is going to be my last blog on song explanations for a little while, as for the next couple of weeks I’m travelling around Germany and performing in different towns and cities (I’m sure there’ll be a blog post by the end of all this though!). This week I would like to talk about the opening song off the album: “I Forsake the Joneses”.

This is the oldest song on the album and so probably the one that inspired this whole concept album idea in the first place. It was written while I was still at university and was the result of a ‘happy accident’ that came about when I combined samples from two songs – U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” – in my music technology class project. It was a totally new way of working for me (although the finished track didn’t sound much like either song!). Many years later when I revisited and rerecorded the song (this time without the samples), I was finally able to get the tempo right – the original being considerably slower – and add some new ideas.

The song deals with the subject of materialism and starts with a salesman’s pitch from ‘Mr Jones’ (a.k.a. me!) trying to tempt listeners into his department store, “where happiness is only a step away!”. After this intro, the first verse talks about my struggles with materialism and attempts to break free of its grip. The chorus then addresses the world at large, calling everyone to “get out of the race”. The refrain of “I forsake the joneses”, which is repeated several times throughout the song, is in reference to the phrase ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and my love for taking well-known sayings and turning them on their head. The second verse deals with the effects of materialism on people in general (“So much to choose, what’s the use, only temporary appeal. We never really gain”) and poses a thought (“There has to be something more deeper to life than this”). The song ends on a positive note, explaining that change is already happening in the world, even if it means life will appear harder in the beginning as we try to adjust to a new reality (“Don’t look to the future for it to come. We’re making it now, yeah, we’ve just begun. I never said it was easy to live with but I forsake…”).

So what do you think? Are you one of those people who would be able to sacrifice those things that we’re told we ‘need’ in order to have, perhaps, a more meaningful life? It’s a hard balancing act – on the one hand, trying to make sure we have enough to survive; on the other, being careful that we don’t let it consume (pun intended!) our lives – but something that we have to be conscious of if we are going to keep this world healthy for future generations. Do I have it all worked out? Of course not. But I’m striving, and that’s the main thing, to have a better balance between the material and spiritual desires in my life.

Have a great week everyone! 🙂

Much love,

Jody

Adventures Inside Jody’s Head: “One”

Sunday summer salutations dear blog readers! 🙂

It’s that time again where I visit one of the songs off my new album and explain the meaning behind it. Today it’s the turn of “One”.


Roll, rolling in

One falls, another soon begins
All beneath the tide
Swept forth in its cool embrace
Now broke up in a myriad ways
Come, hear the lie
So worn, convenient, so malign
Fuel for the fire
And we’re caught in the coming rage
Oh, will we burn, can we free this cage?

Chorus
When all is said and done
When every race is worn
When no-one’s left to blame
When will we ever learn
There’s only one
There’s only one

Flood pouring down,
No wall, no refuge to be found
Moans fill the air
Drowned out by the falling rain
They’re all calling the same refrain
Earth, what would you say
To all these stupid things we crave?
Still, the waters rise
It’s the start of a better change
Oh, we’ll grow, yeah, we’ll rearrange

Chorus

Roll, rolling in
One falls, another soon begins…

Chorus

One world, one heart, one nation
One life, one chance situation
One right, one wrong, one solution
One God, one power of creation

There’s only one…

This song is about the theme of unity and the dire need we have for it in the world today. If we look around us, we see so many people being pitted against each other – country against country, man against woman, wars over different religious ideologies. While all of this is going on, we have a parallel force – that of capitalism – that feeds off all of this and encourages us to embrace our individuality rather than see ourselves as part of one rich and varied human society. In this song, I was inspired by the notion that we are living on borrowed time. It sounds gloomy but I prefer to see it as a choice: we can either choose to recognise our similarities and try to work together to solve our planet’s problems or face an unknowable end. There are many ‘great’ civilisations that have come and gone (“one falls, another soon begins”), so what makes us any different and how can we avoid a similar fate? There is one quote by Bahá’u’lláh that I keep coming back to on this theme:

The world is in travail, and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned towards waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly. Its perversity will long continue. And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake. Then, and only then, will the Divine Standard be unfurled, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its melody.

Whatever you understand from this quote, to me it suggests that change is inevitable – either we choose to do it or it is forced upon us. Each verse in the song takes the primal elements of water, air, fire and earth as metaphors for both the positive and negative aspects of change. For example, while natural disasters are obviously terrible, it’s often during these times that the best parts of humanity reveal themselves. It also gives us the opportunity to reflect on what is really important in life – something that we sometimes forget in the midst of ‘living’. Fire and water too have both life-giving and destructive properties, and it is these dual aspects (along with their cleansing effect) that drew me to using these elements in the song.

The last lines of the song identify what, in my opinion, there is “only one” of (“One world, one heart, one nation, one life, one chance situation…”). So many wars have been fought over our perceived differences – religious, racial, political, social – when, actually, we have more in common than we might like to think. We may call ourselves by different names, lead different lifestyles or live on opposite sides of the planet but, inevitably, it is the realisation of our shared commonalities that will bring us together. Whether we want it to be a slow or quick process is up to us.

To check out the full album, go to my Bandcamp page.

Adventures Inside Jody’s Head: “Leave a Light On”

Hello folks 🙂

So today, as promised, I’m explaining the meaning behind one of the songs off my new album ‘Serenades & Odes to a Cracked World (Part 1)’. This week it’s the turn of the second song “Leave a Light On”: 

As a songwriter, I’m inspired by a whole host of different things and you never know where or when that inspiration is going to strike. With this one, I was reading a news headline about a teenager who had committed suicide onstage while performing at a coffee house open mic in America. The story stayed with me and, two years later, I felt inspired to write a song about it. The song looks at the story from the perspective of both the mother and the youth. In the first verse, the mother wakes up in the middle of the night and calls out to her son, hoping that he has returned home while she’s been sleeping but no-one answers (“Lou where are you? Familiar silence falls again”). The second verse explores the thoughts and feelings of the son as he tries to fight against the voices in his head, inevitably leading him to his final act of suicide (“Do what I do – you hear them crying as they take you over, break you open…”). Although the subject matter is heavy, I wanted to lend the theme a positive note in the chorus by comparing these two perspectives to the fear of the dark that many children experience. While at the time this fear feels real, there is always a way to ease it, such as leaving the hallway light on (“Will you close it again? Just leave a light on, light on”). So, in this song, light becomes a metaphor for hope against the ‘darkness’ of depression.

I remember being really drawn to this story because, for me, it represents an ever-increasing symbol of a ‘cracked world’, where people like this youth feel so desperate that they feel the only ‘solution’ is to end their life. And there are many – too many – out there that have similar feelings. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, it affects over 15 million Americans. But perhaps the most interesting study by the World Heath Organisation reveals that 90% of suicides stem from mental illness in high-income countries and is the second highest cause of death amongst 15-29 year olds globally. These statistics alone should be enough to make you pause and think. What is so wrong with our society that such a large group of young people (mostly males) feel this way? A person doesn’t live in a vacuum, and each one of us – whether it is due to trauma or life experiences – learns to deal with life in different ways. Some ‘cope’ through drink or drugs; others pray/meditate or channel their feelings through sports and creative activities, such as art or music. I’ve learnt from my own personal encounters that not everyone is as positive as me, and some people struggle more than others to pull themselves out of whatever life throws at them. As a songwriter, I feel compelled to explore these tabu topics, these often unspoken thoughts and feelings that are an unwelcome reminder that, for all our advances, something is very wrong with modern life.

There is so much I would like to say on this subject but, in the interests of brevity, I will instead leave you with the final lines from my song:

Leave it on remember
Maybe one day
You will find a better
Better life where life and the dark feels safe

See you next Sunday! 🙂

Jody

To check out the full album, go to my Bandcamp page.

Adventures Inside Jody’s Head: “Silence”

Hi folks,

So, as promised, for the next weeks (every Sunday) I will be visiting a different song off the new album ‘Serenades & Odes to a Cracked World (Part 1)’ and telling the story behind it. The first song I’m picking is one called “Silence”:


I first released this as a single in 2015 to raise awareness for the ‘Yaran’: a group of seven Baha’is in Iran who are currently serving their ninth year of a 10-year prison sentence (originally set at 20 years). Held without charges or trial for over a year and a half, they were eventually convicted of a series of offences, including espionage, propaganda against the regime, and spreading corruption on earth. One of the prisoners, Mahvash Sabet, has been writing poetry and has been able to share some of it with the outside world. Here is one example:

The shriek of birds at dawn confirms
that it’s long since nightingales sang in this garden.
But though we say nothing, our silence affirms
That we weep for the violets hidden among these thorns.

I have written a message on a nasturtium leaf
and hung it on my door, like a charm.
It says: ‘There’s a warm heart waiting here,
and a mother’s open arms.’

In Iran, the Baha’is represent the largest religious minority in that country. Ever since the religion’s founder Baha’u’llah proclaimed his Message of peace and unity to the world in 19th century Persia, it’s followers have undergone systematic persecution in its homeland – being denied basic rights such as access to higher education, running businesses and, as was the case with the Yaran, proper access to legal counsel.

With this song I have tried, in my own small way, to explore some of the possible feelings and experiences of these brave souls. I hope you like it 🙂

Until next week…

Jody

 

Concept Album Away!

Dear blog,

As always, you have been severely neglected these past months. I do apologise! In my defence, I have been extremely busy getting my new album ready – a crowd-funded concept album called ‘Serenades & Odes to a Cracked World (Part 1)’. Yes, you heard right, ‘part 1’! This first part – based on the theme of ‘disintegration’ – I released on the 2nd June along with a live band performance on an unsuspecting public in Horns Erben, Leipzig (ok, they were expecting me but, as I usually play my own stuff solo, the idea of a Jody Cooper ‘band’ would’ve been new to many!). There were one or two technical ‘hiccups’ – not least the moment when I feared the audio/visual presentation I’d spent weeks on and made to run alongside the show wouldn’t work on the in-house projector – but, overall, it was a huge success!

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Rocking out Horns Erben.

For those of you who’ve ever wondered what putting on your own album release show is like, believe me, this one was one of the most stressful experiences of my life. Not the actual show but the preparation beforehand. There were some band personnel changes, then the whole nightmare where it was beginning to look like the finished CDs might not arrive in time for my release concert at all – and all of this was happening while I was supposed to be on holiday! After doing all of this myself, I have a lot more understanding and sympathy for what promoters have to go through just to put a show on.

Despite the stress, there were a lot of positive things I took away from the experience. Firstly, I proved to myself that I could do it (with the help of some awesome musicians, of course!). Secondly, the songs got to be performed as I had always meant them to be: in a band setting. I never write songs to be played just with a guitar or piano; I always hear the rest in my mind, so it was a real thrill to get to hear and perform them that way. And probably the most happy moment for me was seeing a room full of smiling faces all enjoying the music. For a musician – and as the person who wrote the songs – there is nothing more rewarding.

After such an overwhelming experience, and as the driving force behind it all, it can be exhausting and hard to keep the momentum going. But, over the next weeks, I will be sharing with you here some insights into the various songs on this new record, so keep your eyes peeled!

In the meantime, if you would like to check out my labour of love, you can pop on over to my Bandcamp page here: Serenades & Odes to a Cracked World (Part 1)

Bye for now 🙂

Mucho love,

Jody

California Dreaming (part 1)

Well, hi there 🙂

I thought I’d get back into this blog-writing shenanigans after a long hiatus. Sorry about that! Anyway, just a few weeks ago I returned from my first trip to the U.S. of A., where I got to experience first hand what makes America so…BIG! My original thought was: “I want to tour America!” Well, that was until I realised just how large a state is (much larger than my home country of Scotland and the rest of the U.K. combined!). So, I instead decided to concentrate my time on one state: California. This proved to be a good choice as there is more than enough to see here. My wife and I flew into Los Angeles, and from there to Long Beach where my sister-in-law lives. We didn’t stay there for long, however, as after a couple of days we took an eight-hour bus journey up to San Francisco to stay with a university friend of mine. We’d heard that California has a lot of ‘micro climates’ but nothing prepared us for what San Francisco had to offer – from over 30c one day to about 10c the next! After reaching the Golden Gate bridge only to find out it wasn’t there (hidden under a thick covering of fog), we decided the only way to see it was to walk over it.

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A rare break in the fog reveals a section of the bridge.

If you get a chance to go to San Francisco, I highly recommend taking a walk over the Golden Gate Bridge just for the experience – it was great (if a bit cold!) and, on a good day, you get lovely views of Alcatraz, the city and the bay.

One thing I like to do wherever I go is discover unusual or funny things. One such oddity was that the U.S. has taken to making physical versions of Whatsapp emoticons:

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Huh?!

San Francisco is famous for its steep hills and, after spending just a few days there, I was impressed that anyone had been crazy enough to think it was a good idea to build a city there. It reminded me a little of Edinburgh (it’s also built on hills), and it made me wonder if the people living there are fitter compared to the average American – I even saw one cyclist brave enough to try and cycle uphill!

Our next stop was Sunnyvale in Silicon Valley and my first house concert. Obviously I’d heard the name Silicon Valley and knew it was famous for computer companies, but little did we know that the people in this area live in a completely different reality to the average person. The house prices are ridiculous – especially considering it’s surrounded by desert – and the people we were staying with told us places are snapped up as soon as they go on the market by either some rich family as student accommodation for their kid, or by some young I.T. person working for Google, Apple, etc who uses it only as somewhere to sleep (many don’t have their own kitchens and basically live in their offices).

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My first U.S. concert 🙂

For those of you planning a trip to the U.S., a word of caution: make sure you have a CAR!! We hired one for a week and, after a couple of days car-less, realised it was hopeless trying to get anywhere without one and so hired a second one. The public transport system there is pretty bad because everything is built around cars. Also, if you do drive, try to avoid driving into L.A. at all costs! The traffic on the freeways is soooo bad you’ll be sitting there wondering how people living and working around there can even handle it every day. Maybe that’s why some people don’t seem to know how to use the lanes – there were often times where the slow lane was actually the fast lane!

After a little while in the U.S. it soon became clear that people over there don’t work to live, they live to work. Petrol might be very cheap (by European standards) but the cost of living is astronomical. A good example is nuts: something that is often imported from the U.S. is either as expensive if not more than it is in Europe. How can that be? Which brings me onto one thing that I just couldn’t understand: why don’t they print the ACTUAL prices of the goods? You always have to factor in V.A.T., making the printed price meaningless and, if you’re on a budget or a tourist trying to figure out what they’re spending, annoying. Well, I’m sure there’s a logic to it that escapes me… 😉

Next stop (in part 2): Santa Maria, Hollywood and Yosemite!

Charity Single Released!

Hello folks! 🙂

Yup, it’s been a while since my last blog post (too long methinks!) but I thought you deserved an update. On the 1st December I released my first music video/charity single: a song I wrote that embodies some of the feelings I had after I lost my brother Robbie to a very rare and aggressive form of cancer in April last year.

Nobody knows how long they have – disease or not – and so ever since this happened I’ve wanted to do something to help those who are in the same situation as my brother was. All proceeds from the single go to Marie Curie Cancer Care, so every download of the song will be helping terminally ill people and their families receive the support they need.

In the final year or so of his life he received much-needed care and pain medication from a Marie Curie hospice near Edinburgh, which enabled him to have some sense of control and normality over his life. Because of how thankful he was of their work, he wanted to give something back and, with the help of friends, organised a series of concerts and a compilation album: “Human is Not Alone”

If you would like to learn more about my brother and his (often humorous) take on cancer, you can read his blog

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the help and support that my brother received from Marie Curie and this is my attempt, however small, to repay that kindness. If you would like to help me raise as much money as possible, you can do so by downloading the song and giving as much or as little as you can.

Here is a link to the video: “Immortal Friend” [Official Video]

Muchos love and thanks for reading,

Jody

Happy New Year – part deux!

Hellooo everyone! 🙂

So, where was I? Ah yes, I’d just finished talking about an awesome Beatles tribute gig I played last August. Well, this turned out to be the start of a new project which has been running ever since. What this means is that every month I’m travelling between Leipzig where I live and Köln to play Beatles music. So why travel hundreds of miles/kilometres to the other side of Germany to play a gig, I hear you ask? For me, it all comes down to the quality of the music and the people I work with. If the combination is right, it makes it all worthwhile. Plus, I’ve always enjoyed travelling (I find it a great time to think), especially when there’s good scenery to be seen.

In September I started work with some friends on what would become my first music video (the work is still ongoing, which gives you an idea of how long these things can sometimes take!). The song I chose for this is called “Immortal Friend” and was written after my brother Robbie passed away (for more info read my previous blog here). This project really became a world of firsts because, not only is it my first music video but also my first single (which will be a charity release – another first!) and my first recording with a real string quartet! Here are a few stills to give you an idea of what it will look like:

In October I managed to get to the UK to surprise my dad for his 60th birthday. It was a bit of a bittersweet homecoming for me – the last time I was there was to say goodbye to my brother – but it was great to be around my family again. The end of the (Gregorian) year saw more travelling and a very special gig with fellow singer-songwriter Susann Großmann. For all of you not living near Leipzig I highly recommend you check her out. We even played some festive songs together (well, it was the week before Christmas!).

January was surprisingly busy (always a difficult month for musicians) and I played some great gigs, including a house concert in beautiful Halle and a New Year’s party for Moritzbastei where I went from table to table asking people for their song wishes! This was a totally new way of performing for me – normally I have a stage or one area that I perform in – so it was cool to try out something new 🙂

Now, a word of warning: if any of you musicians out there are planning gigs in Leipzig, may I suggest you avoid a place called “The Big Easy”. Not that there’s anything wrong with the venue, but you may find yourselves like I did in the most awkward (and, to be honest, offensive) position of not being paid what was promised. Granted, it was an unusual situation – I was filling in for a regular musician who was ill – but as a professional musician to be ripped off like that and, not only that, to be told to your face that the money you were expecting is not what they pay solo musicians (even though I found out later that this wasn’t the truth) is just unbelievable and ruined what had been a good evening. Well, you live and learn…

The last part of the year (February-March) was spent travelling between Leipzig and Köln for more Beatles tribute concerts and, of course, the Baha’i fast. When I look back on the last year, there’s a lot to be grateful for as well as some really difficult moments. But if there’s one thing I can be sure of, I will continue to change, grow and to embrace whatever comes my way.

Until next time,

Jody (A.K.A. the eternal optimist)

P.S. I will leave you with a videoed performance from December that I think sums the last year up:

Happy New Year! – part 1

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Hello world! 🙂 Yes, it has indeed been ‘a while’ since I wrote my last blog. You’ll have to excuse me though as it’s been a very eventful year – partly positive, partly negative – so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to reflect on the last twelve months and also give you an insight into what’s been happening in my life. First of all, you may be wondering why I’m wishing you all a happy new year at the end of March. Well, for me – and millions of Baha’is around the world – this time of year (specifically, March 21st, or ‘Naw Rúz’ as it’s called) represents the end of one year and the start of a new one. But, more than that, it is a time of renewal – both physically and spiritually. If you look around you you can see evidence of this through nature, for example. In the weeks leading up to this event I was fasting (Baha’is fast for nineteen days during the hours between sunrise-sunset), which for me is an important time to pray, meditate, to shake off all the worries and trivial concerns I’ve accrued during the year and to begin anew – a spiritual springtime if you will. I find it’s also a good time to look at where I am in my life and where I’m going. Whether I’ve been successful in my attempts to be a better person will be gauged by my actions and behaviour during the coming year, so no pressure! 😉

So what has happened to me in the last year I hear you ask? Well, for starters, there was the life-changing and sudden loss of my brother Robbie Cooper to a rare form of cancer in April. I don’t need to go into details (you can read about it on my previous blog post here) but, suffice to say, it came as a huge blow to me and my family and it took me a long time to come to terms with what happened (and I’m still working on that). Here’s a photo of the two of us from better times:

Robbie and I up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, summer 2011.

I’m sure I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to figure out the mystery (and accompanying pain) of why he had to go at such a young age. But, one thing I’m sure of, we will meet again… 🙂

Things then went from bad to worse when I lost my role as Freddie Mercury in a Queen tribute band. This was especially hard because it had given me something positive to focus on during this difficult time (plus I knew how proud Robbie was of me and how much he loved Queen, so I was doubly determined to be the best tribute I could be). However, life takes us in unexpected directions sometimes and it can be the most inexplicable happenings that often make us learn the most (especially about ourselves). Playing that part was certainly the most fun and challenging thing/steepest learning curve I’ve ever experienced (including learning how to wear wigs/moustaches and how to move like Freddie from Milla Jovovich’s choreographer in Resident Evil)! Thankfully I have some great mementos to remember it by:

The same month this happened I found myself at the International Street Music Festival in Ludwigsburg, performing alongside buskers from all over the world. This was my second year here (I was there as a last-minute entrant in 2013) and it was even better than the first, mainly because we had much better weather and I got to see many of the amazing musicians (and acquired friends) I’d met the year before. Of course, seeing my big mugshot plastered over all the promotional material certainly didn’t hurt 😉

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On the final night I did my ‘walking jukebox’ thing that I’d done the previous year and it was a brilliant experience. There’s nothing quite like performing in (and with) a room full of your peers till you’re so exhausted you practically fall onto your bed! 😀 In August I had the honour of playing a very special last-minute Beatles tribute concert due to the original tribute – a Beatles group from Italy with a string quartet – cancelling their tour. Despite only having a few days to prepare and having to travel all the way to the other side of Germany to do it (on my birthday no less!), it was a wonderful concert. We even got a standing ovation at the end. It’s a bit difficult to really show what it was like, but here’s a little snippet from that awesome gig that will hopefully convey some of the feeling:

Do tune in again for part two coming soon! 🙂

Robbie Cooper: 1977-2014

Robbie-Cooper

I’ve written some difficult things in my time – university essays, challenging songs – but this is probably the hardest thing I’ve attempted to write. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably noticed I’ve been a bit quiet lately. I must be honest, these last two-and-a-half months haven’t been easy, and I’m still trying to make sense of it all. In October 2011 my brother Robbie was diagnosed with a very rare (and therefore little understood) and aggressive form of cancer known as anal adenocarcinoma. The prognosis wasn’t good: do nothing and he would have months to live; so instead he decided to undergo a life-changing operation in an attempt to remove the tumour and thus halt the disease. Two-and-a-half years and more than a dozen operations, chemo, radio and electro therapy later, it was clear that these were all just ‘best guesses’ by the the doctors, and on April 22nd 2014 I received a call from my brother informing me I needed to get from Germany to the UK as fast as possible. Travelling to Berlin that day so we could get the first flight early the next morning, my wife and I arrived at my brother’s bedside in the final hour. Nothing can prepare you for the sight of someone you love, breathing their last breaths right in front of you, but I did my best to hold it together. Many people said it was almost like he was holding on so that I could get there in time to say goodbye, and at about 1.30pm on 23rd April – while I was massaging his feet in an attempt to make him feel comfortable – he passed away peacefully in Edinburgh’s Marie Curie Hospice surrounded by many family, friends and loved ones. The following week there was a lovely memorial (where among all the speeches I got to pay my last respects through music by playing and singing some of Robbie’s favourite songs) and a party in the evening for which my brother had been very clear that he didn’t want anyone looking sad or wearing black, but rather to celebrate his life with a good dance (as was one of his favourite hobbies). 

Anyone who has lost someone knows that it’s always harder for those left behind. It’s like a part of you has been ripped away, and you have to try and fill that void with all the happy memories and try to get on with life. I know he wouldn’t’ve wanted me sitting around feeling awful. One of the things that really got Robbie through the last painful years was his positivity (as can be seen in the picture above as he was about to undergo his first round of chemotherapy). He never complained, just got on with living (he was still lecturing and marking essays until just before he went into the hospice), so the best thing I can do to honour him is to make sure my life is as full and fun as his was. 

Love to you all,

Jody

P.S. If you would like to know more about my brother, he wrote a very funny blog about his cancer experiences here: http://robbiemcooper.wordpress.com/

P.P.S. As a form of catharsisism I have written a song for Robbie. I plan to release it as a single to raise money for the Marie Curie charity who were so wonderful to my brother over the last year or so. In the meantime, here is a video of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glDjRzfexjE