Aaron’s Radio Show

Episode 44

My Three Songs with Michael Cook

 

Notes

Episode Notes

EPISODE 44 – My Three Songs with Michael Cook  Welcome, everyone, to Episode 44. This is the 34th in our series of episodes called My Three Songs where my guest chooses three memorable songs and we listen to the songs and talk about why they are meaningful to my guest. Mike Cook is a good friend of mine from my days in Wilmington, Delaware, in the 1990s. He has become a professional steel drum player during his retirement. We listened to and discussed three very different songs!

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Three Songs

  1. Für Elise – Lang Lang (2020)
  2. You Are So Beautiful – Joe Cocker (1974)
  3. Three Stooges Theme – Various (1922)

Aaron’s Radio Show has been licensed by ASCAP and BMI to include songs from their repertories in performances on this website.

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Transcript

This transcript was originally generated using artificial intelligence ("AI") software. It has been edited by a human being, but it may still contain some misspellings, lack necessary punctuation, or include other anomalies. We are regularly working to improve our transcripts!


Jake:

Coming to you almost live from Berkeley, California. It's Aaron's Radio Show with your host, Aaron Gobler.

Aaron Gobler:

Thanks, Jake. And welcome, everybody to Episode 44. Welcome to My Three Songs, where I play three special songs chosen by my guests, and we talk about why they chose each song. Today, my guest is Michael Cook. Mike is a good friend of mine from my days in Wilmington, Delaware in the 1990s. And we've kept in touch over Facebook for the past 13 years. During his retirement, he's become a professional steel drum player. Now, how are you today, Mike?

Michael Cook:

I'm doing great Aaron, how are you?

Aaron Gobler:

I'm doing well. Thank you ... enjoying my Saturday. Now, Mike, I've always been a fan of the steel drum and ... it has such a distinct sound. Do you think you could regale us with some of your playing?

Michael Cook:

Oh gosh, I would love to. In fact, I can play for you a clip of me playing likely my favorite song that I performed. It's a fast paced song. It's was popularized in the 1950s or so by Harry Belafonte. Okay, the song is called "Shake Señora", although it goes by two different titles and other title is it goes by is "Jump In the Line". And so if you may, please roll it.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay, awesome. (Short clip of the Michael's performance.) Mike, that's, that's great. I really love that. Can you tell me like how you got into steel drum playing?

Michael Cook:

Well, thanks for your enjoyment of the song. And thank you for the way, by the way for having me on your terrific show. I really am looking forward to this. And I greatly appreciate it. So thanks, Aaron ... how I got into a steel drum, you know, all my life, I have been what I call myself a frustrated musician, I really never played an instrument before in my life ... until my 60th birthday. I've always loved the sound of the steel drum, it always is associated in my mind and for many other people as being on vacation in the Caribbean with the warmth of the sun on you and a and a cool, tasty drink in your hand without a worry in the world. And so when I play a steel drum, it transports me to that kind of thought and existence. And a lot of people who've heard me have said the same thing ... that many people say I feel like I'm on vacation when I listened to you. At age 60, I very serendipitously happened to go with my wife to a steel drum festival that was taking place one Saturday in April at our local University of Delaware campus. And I just loved what was going on with the different bands that were playing; a lot of high school bands. And I went up to the organizer, a professor, who is there, Harvey Price is his name. And I said, hey, I'm interested in learning how to play the steel drum. And he said, Well, you're not going to believe this; but in two months from now, I'm holding a one-week immersion class a 12-hour days for five days. And I said well sign me up. And I went to that. And on the very first day, I got to put mallets in my hand and play my first notes on a steel drum. And so that was the beginning. And on the second day, I got addicted immediately and said, give me a drum I want to take it home. And I started practicing and I set some goals for myself where I said, I'm going to practice every day. And somewhere in my near future I hope to be able to perform music, gigs paid gigs. And I worked up to playing ... memorizing actually, enough songs to play a four-hour gig ... which I have done many times. Now along the way it's interesting because I don't know how to read music, read sheet music. So every song ... and I've got 101 songs now under my belt ... they're all memorized. And so I just learned to play them takes a couple hours or longer depending on the song. And then once muscle memory takes over, I can play a song and be like in some sort of zone, because I'm not even thinking about it, I'm just thinking about, you know, what I'm gonna make for dinner or something like that, right? And my arms just do the rest. So that's sort of been my journey. Last month, I performed my three hundredth paid performance. It's been phenomenal. And if any of your listeners want to hear more, see more, just look up my band name. I'm basically a one-man band, and my band name is called Steel Happiness. So if you go to steelhappiness.com, or go on YouTube and look up Steel Happiness, you'll see lots of music videos that I've made along the way,

Aaron Gobler:

Do you have a story about some gig that was outrageous, or something that you never expected?

Michael Cook:

Yes, this this might sound a little kind of strange to some people. But I'll actually label it with the adjective most memorable. Before the pandemic, about 80% of my clients were senior centers, senior communities. So I would go and entertain their folks that live there, the residents. And there was one occasion where I went to a retirement center where I was at their memory care unit, and I was playing songs ... and a lot of people probably are familiar with the fact that as people age, and of course, might lose some of their memory and cognition. One of the things that they still have deep in their brains is music. And so they will respond to ... resonate to ... music. And that's where my memorable event occurred. On one of my performances, I had gone to this retirement community was in the memory care unit, I set up in their space, and waited for all of the guests to arrive, and most of them were wheeled in by nurses on wheelchairs, and they put them all in a circle around me, and I started performing. And about 15 minutes into it, there was one gentleman in his wheelchair, and he started to tap his foot on his chair, and then started to tap his hand in the beat. And all of the nurses dropped, their jaws dropped, this guy has never made any movement or any acknowledgment, he basically had been, for lack of a better term, in a vegetative state for a long, long time. And so what he experienced was an awakening. And they were all like flabbergasted. So to me that it sounds kind of maybe silly or something, but to me of all of my performances, that, to me was one of my most memorable to see that my music, woke this guy up from whatever condition he was in.

Aaron Gobler:

It underscores how music and rhythm matches something in our ... or in just an animalistic thing. I mean, we've seen videos of animals and cockatoos just dancing. And it's just some kind of core thing that's in us. And, and it's a representation. We know, people who are creating the music also have it, it's a representation of their own rhythm. It is remarkable, like you said, it's, it's been shown how much music can impact people who have cognitive and are differently-abled in those ways.

Michael Cook:

Sure, you just mentioned the word animal. And it's funny dogs respond positively to my steel drum playing, I'll set up my steel drum, let's say, in a part of my house. And when I play, my dogs will walk underneath and literally lie right underneath the drum. And I know they recognize musical sounds, and they like that. But I think what's happening is the bass reverberation, you know, hits their chest. And so I suspect that dogs and animals in general, sort of like that reverberating sense. I've taken my drum to like the park or to friends houses for backyard parties. And if they have a dog, the same thing happens. The dog will walk over and lay down underneath the drum.

Aaron Gobler:

Well, thank you for that story. And for that little snippet. And then I want to go on YouTube and start watching some of your recordings. I know on Facebook, you've been sharing some of your performances, your live performances. That's really cool. Yeah. Thank you.

Michael Cook:

In fact, another memorable occurrence was only two or three weeks ago. I happened to be on vacation with my wife down in the Caribbean. And I brought my steel drum with me. And I had befriended a couple years ago, a local band there. And when I went to one of their performances, and then during the break, I went up talk with them, they let me noodle around on their drum a bit. And when I was down there, I told them in advance, I'm coming and they said, Oh, you got to stop by one of our gigs and join us. And so I brought my drum with me. So I got a chance to play with them. And I played... did a performance with them of Michael Jackson's song, Billie Jean. It was about four-and-a-half minutes song. And when I finished the adrenaline in me, it was so so wonderful that it was such a memorable experience. And it's kind of surreal. I'm glad my wife captured it on video. Those are probably the top two memorable ones. But thank you for allowing me to do that little diversion there.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah. Sure. I'm very interested in just talking for a moment about your experience performing with these other players. And that sounds like mostly you're doing is solo. And then you just describe for me, this visceral, you know, reaction to playing with along with others. So do you attribute that to some kind of communal music making? Is that what where the energy came from?

Michael Cook:

Yes. To play with others. And these guys are so much better than me, playing all their lives, and they've got the spirit in them ... just like I've acquired. By the way in the Caribbean, the word for that musical spirit is called Jumbee. And so they've got the Jumbee. I got the Jumbee. Yeah. So I was prepared to be thrown off-key or thrown off-note by them playing alongside of me and a little bit of improvising that they were doing. But I but I wasn't distracted at all. So that was part of the surreal nature that I hit every no correctly with all the distractions. I was just so happy about what happened.

Aaron Gobler:

Nice. Yeah. That's exciting. Mike, I'm really happy you decided to be a guest on the show. And like what inspired you to be on the show?

Michael Cook:

Well, the pandemic really turned me into a hermit. And I don't really have anybody to talk to I'm so lonely. No, no, no; I'm teasing. I'm just been fascinated by your format, and listening to some of the interviews, fascinated with this whole concept of the My Three Songs, and I really enjoyed the variety of songs people have chosen. And when you first started to promote the My Three Songs format, and encouraging people to join you as guests, I thought, Oh, I think I'd like to do that. And I, for the longest time, I kept thinking, I love music, but I don't know that I could really pick three songs that are my favorite. Because over time it changes. You know, this might be my favorite song for a couple of months or a year or so then another song becomes my favorite song. Even as I learned to play songs on the steel drum, they become my favorites. And I just get just obsessive about it, where I'll play the song like three or four times every night because I just love that song. I just wanted to participate ... and so thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to do that. So I was happy to, you know, to finally nail down what I consider to be my three favorite songs. Although I would like to label that more my three most memorable songs.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah! Mike, before we get started with your song list, can you give me some background about how music has

Michael Cook:

My Mom and Dad used to play the stereo all the fit in your life? time when I was growing up, and being that they grew up during the 1930s and 40s, my Mom and Dad would always play certain types of music, they would play big band music, you know, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, all of that. Lots of opera, lots and lots of classical music. And lots and lots of Broadway show tunes, you know Rodgers and Hammerstein and all of that. And of course, some Yiddisha records ... So maybe through osmosis or whatever, my favorite music actually is big band music. I go nuts over all of that stuff. And so I just love to listen to that. In fact, I've incorporated several songs into my performances that are big band music because certainly the seniors that I played to, when I do those retirement centers, they love that kind of music.

Aaron Gobler:

I'm really eager to jump into your choices. You have chosen "Für Elise" by Ludwig von Beethoven, as performed by Chinese pianist Lang Lang; and that was from 2020. "You Are So Beautiful" by Joe Cocker from 1974. And the "Three Stooges" theme, which the best I can describe is by various performers originally recorded or, you know, composed in some fashion in 1922. So, this is certainly the most eclectic list I've had on the show so far. And I am super curious how you came up with this group of songs. So I'm eager for us both listening to the songs together and and knowing like I said, you know why each of them is meaningful to you. So let's jump in. The first song in your list is Beethoven's Für Elise", performed by Lang Lang. Mike, this is the first time I've included Beethoven in the show. And, and I'm eager to know like what inspired you to include this song on your list?

Michael Cook:

Yeah. Excuse me, as I sort of catch my breath here. I'm not embarrassed to say that it brought tears to my eyes to listen to that. Well, this this, I said, it's one of my most memorable songs. But I probably can also include as my favorite that label. When growing up, my Mom would occasionally play the piano. And the song that she played often was this song, "Für Elise". And so when I hear that song, it makes me think of my mother. Now, my mom passed away in 1991, from pancreatic cancer ... it was kind of quick, over just a few months. Just like, maybe a month or two or three, after my mom passed, I met my wife through a blind date, actually. And about a year later, we were married. And my, of course, my mother was not able to be there with me and walk down the aisle in, in physical in a physical state. But in order to include her in my wedding, I walked down the aisle with my father. And we had a piano player in the room and the piano player played this song, "Für Elise", and it was my way of including my mother in the ceremony.

Aaron Gobler:

That's, that's very touching. And for me and underscores just how music can attach us or you know, to people and places and times and, and such and how powerful that can be that, you know, we can hear a song and think of a person and in this case, the song was there, representing your mom in spirit.

Michael Cook:

Well, well, thank you. It was a special moment. And thank you for letting me share that song.

Aaron Gobler:

Yes. Yeah. So Mike, your next song is "You Are So Beautiful", by Joe Cocker. Let's give that a listen, and we'll talk about it on the other side. Mike, this song is so touching and really simple. I mean, it doesn't have very many lyrics to it. And listening to it closely hearing Joe Cocker; his voice so soft and soothing at the beginning. And then you hear all these different dimensions to the sound of his voice. I discovered this was co-written by Billy Preston. And actually, Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys was also involved in the song too. But that's all me wonking out on the trivia part of it. So what inspired you to include this on your list?

Michael Cook:

When my wife and I were getting ready, planning our wedding, there was some point where the band that we had hired said, Okay, there's going to be your dance?. And we'll call you out and say, you know, the new Mr. and Mrs. Cook will come out and do their dance, and what song do you want us to play? And I looked at my wife and she looked at me and we were like, I don't know. We we've never had a you know our quote our song before. I think that the whole concept of the marital our song really goes back to, you know, years and years ago, maybe to our parents' age and even earlier, where, you know, dancing was like the main thing that people did. They went out dancing on Saturday night, they, they didn't have the internet, they didn't have TV and they didn't have all the other things to occupy their time or diversions. And so couples often had, you know, quote our song. So my wife and I said, we'll get back to you on that. We told the bandleader ... and then all of a sudden ... later on ... you know, I don't remember whether it was the next hour or the next day or the next week or whatever, but we said this will be our song because this is how I feel about my wife and this is how she feels about me. So when I hear this song I remember our wedding and dancing alone with her just staring at her beautiful face and and that's why I chose this song. Yeah, now you're gonna make ... you're gonna make me cry again!

Aaron Gobler:

Ohhh. I hope to make you laugh with my story because I have a story similar to yours about the the song ... that ... the first dance song and that we had a disc jockey ... and I'd already been disc jockey prior to this so I was very careful. And we were very ... we gave the disc jockey an exact schedule of what what songs to play when and such. And the movie Groundhog Day had come out around that time too. And so the song "I Got You, Babe", was a song that I think was on the radio at six o'clock in the morning every time that Bill Murray woke up. And so we actually thought it'd be fun to use that song as our song to dance to because we were not like ... it we had ... like I said, you know, we hadn't like thought about it ahead of time. We're like, okay, and the disc jockey was like, Are you sure you want to use the song? We're like, yes, believe me. Everything I wrote down here on the schedule and what songs we wanted whatever. We have thought through what we want this and so we did actually have our first dance to "I Got You, Babe."

Michael Cook:

That's a Sonny and Cher favorite.

Aaron Gobler:

Yes! But I don't know how many people actually have that as their wedding song! But we didn't wake up the next morning, hearing that song again, like in Groundhog Day. But it was it was repopularized by that movie. So if I ever forget what year we got married, I guess I can go back and, and and find out when Groundhog Day came out. And it was probably that same year. Yeah, it's it's remarkable how then, you know, your wedding song is something that's stuck in your mind for the rest of your life.

Michael Cook:

As I reviewed these songs yesterday, and it occurred to me oh my goodness, there's a similarity in that the first song, "Für Elise" is a song that makes me think about my Mom. And then this song, "You Are So Beautiful", makes me think about my wife. So it's, you know, the two, you know, most wonderful women in my life. So it's kind of an interesting thing, how that it landed in my mind that way.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah! And I'm not exactly sure how we can use what you just said as a segue to the third song, which is probably the most eclectic song that I've had on the show. But we'll just ... suffice it to say we are going to play the third song on your list, which is the "Three Stooges" theme song, and this is probably the shortest song I've had on the show, too, I think it clocks in at minute, something. Let's give that a listen, I'm eager to hear what you have to say about it. Mike, I'm going to take a wild guess and guess that you're NOT crying during the song. Right?

Michael Cook:

Exactly.

Aaron Gobler:

I'm not sure what else to say. But like, ask you why you chose to include this song?

Michael Cook:

Well, first thank you. First I want to say that they twice now you use the word eclectic in this interview. I want to commend you, that's, I mean, do the math. That's a 25 cent college word times two; you get 50 cents already!

Aaron Gobler:

Is it esoteric as well?

Michael Cook:

Now you're up to 75 cents; keep going. The reason I chose this song. First off, I gotta start by saying I was born in the month of June. I'm a I'm a Gemini, okay. And the Gemini is the zodiac sign for The Twins. And I say that because I am a twin in that I have two personalities. At least two there's the very serious side of me the very corporate side I made it through a 30 year career at the DuPont Company. So you know where you got to be super serious. And then there's the the the silly fun side of me the The clown side. In fact, you recall perhaps that I'm a professional clown.

Aaron Gobler:

As soon as you said the word clown, I immediately remembered seeing you as a clown as well. But I hadn't thought about it in, you know, 30 years or something, so yeah,

Michael Cook:

Exactly. But yeah, there was a time back in graduate school where I needed to keep my sanity while working on my Ph.D. And two Masters, I can, I can mention that. So I took some courses to just keep my mind from going crazy. I took some extra courses at the local community college, I took bartending and acting and I took a clown class. And so I spent a year-and-a-half in class learning how to be a professional clown; and I did a bunch of performances way back then. I have not put on my clown outfit in years and years and years. But that that's just that, that plays to the silly side of me; the playful side. And so, comedy in general, is a huge part of me and who I am and my background. You know, I listened to all of the comedy recordings growing up, you know, Tom Lehrer, Bill Cosby, of course, Flip Wilson, you know, all all of the comedians that were out there ... and memorized so many of those routines. Spending 30 years at DuPont I had sort of turned that side of me off, and just stayed sort of the corporate kind of person. But then when I retired it was very I was very lucky to be able to find that silly side of me again and go back to that. And so why do I choose the Three Stooges song?? It's because that just touches the child and me the kid in me and growing up ... gosh, on Saturdays I was always listening to and watching the Three Stooges cartoons in the afternoon, late at night etc. Here in Delaware every Saturday night at six o'clock they have two hours of Three Stooges, and so there I am cooking dinner and watching Three Stooges still. I love those guys. Yeah, so that's why I chose the song is because it it just really touches they kid in me; the part the part that the silly guy that had to stay stay professional for 30 years. You said now I'm retired. I can go back to the fun guy!

Aaron Gobler:

Have you considered doing steel drum playing in your clown outfit?

Michael Cook:

Yes, I have never done it, but I've considered it because that would that would truly make me you know, that would probably be the world's only publicly-performing clown. Steel Drummer.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah ... that's funny that I hadn't I totally forgotten about you as a clown. And it all flooded back to me, as you mentioned the word clown. I'm like, wait, I remember that.

Michael Cook:

Yeah. Yeah ... that's sort of part of me that I learned all the skills for clowning with, of course magic in general buffoonery, unicycling, stilt walking all of that, that I, I had learned that's, that was an important and fun part of part of my life. So the Three Stooges Yeah, they're my guys. Woo-woo-woo-woo.

Aaron Gobler:

I grew up watching Three Stooges. And on the surface, it just it looks like these three goofballs just kind of, you know, bumbling around. But when you go and read, you know, with the ... through the magic of Wikipedia, go and research them and their, you know, their Vaudeville careers before they were in this ... and that they were already established comedic actors / comedians, before they even were on this show. Very talented performers. And there's a whole history of the family and who was related to whom. So, Mike, is there anything else you'd like to share about your selections, like, thoughts you had? While we were listening to the songs or answers to questions that I didn't ask you?

Michael Cook:

I think you've done a great job of covering everything with me. So I can't think of anything else. Although, you know, I think it's kind of funny. I know myself, of course, that that once we finished this interview, although there was another thing I could have said, or, you know, there was another song that I wanted to give you that would that would have floated to near the top. But it's so ... and like I say, the songs that every time I learn a new song, it automatically becomes my new favorite song. And in fact, my assignment for today is to learn a new song. And I've already picked it out. And so as soon as we're done with our discussion here, I'm going to start learning this song how to play it and it's from South Pacific, the the movie musical, and it's "Some Enchanted Evening". So I'm gonna learn that but with a little bit of a jazz a flavor.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay. That's awesome. Yeah, Good luck with that. That's that's a wonderful song. There's a lot of great songs from that show. Well, Mike, this has been a lot of fun. It's great catching up with you. I know I saw you in person a few years ago. But really, it's been like, almost 30 years or so since; 30 years ish? And so I really had a nice time catching up and going through your eclectic list of songs, and having some esoteric conversation around them.

Michael Cook:

Now you're up to a dollar fifty.

Aaron Gobler:

So I hope you enjoy yourself today. It sounds like you had fun.

Michael Cook:

I did, indeed. Thank you. This was better than I expected. That didn't come off right! I know I enjoyed myself, but I wasn't sure what to expect. And I'm very ... I'll put it this way, I'm very happy with how things came out. This is a lot of fun. And I really want to thank you for allowing me to share not only my favorite songs, or memorable songs, but also to share my my thoughts in some of my spirit with you and the audience.

Aaron Gobler:

That's awesome. And, and thank you again for your time this morning. And to my listeners, if you want to be part of the show. Start by going to our website, Aaron's Radio dot show, and clicking on the My Three Songs button on the homepage. You can also sign up for our mailing list so you'll know immediately when a new episode is available. You can also find Aaron's Radio Show on your favorite podcast service, but the podcast episodes only include interviews and no licensed music. So until next time, keep your ears and mind open and let more music into your world.

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