Aaron’s Radio Show

Episode 57

My Three Songs with Susan Kohn

 

Notes

Episode Notes

EPISODE 57 – My Three Songs with Susan Kohn  Welcome, everyone, to Episode 57. This is the 47th 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. Susan Kohn is a retired professional who surrounds her life with music, including attending the Opera in Manhattan as often as she can.
We had a great time listening to and discussing three meaningful songs for her, including “My Father” by Judy Collins.

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Three Songs

  1. My Father – Judy Collins (1968)
  2. City Song – David Ippolito (2000)
  3. Just To See You – Lowen & Navarro (1993)

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 57. Welcome to My Three Songs where I play three special songs chosen by my guest, and we talk about why they chose each song. Today my guest is Susan Kohn. Susan is a retired disability analyst. But she has had many other vocations including computer programmer, corporate events planner and project manager, medical records auditor, an ESL teacher. She is an avid music listener and is currently enjoying the return of live music events in Manhattan. Welcome to the show, Susan, how are you today?

Susan Kohn:

Thank you. I'm doing great.

Aaron Gobler.:

That's fantastic. Is it a sweltering summer day in in New York?

Susan Kohn:

No, it just cooled down starting yesterday. And it's we said beautiful weather. So the past couple of days and the next few days, we're having 80 degrees.

Aaron Gobler:

I feel that the few times that I've visited New York, it could either be very rainy, or humid, or just hot. And I guess most of my visits were during the summertime, but I'm glad it's a nice day there.

Susan Kohn:

Me too.

Aaron Gobler.:

Susan, you signed up to be a guest almost immediately after I released my interview with Christine Lavin for Episode 54. I know you're a big fan of hers but what about that show prompted you to be a guest yourself?

Susan Kohn:

Actually, it wasn't so much her show, which I did listen to. But she had posted on her Facebook page before the show ... What are your three favorite and most meaningful -- I don't remember the words she used -- songs, write them down or whatever. And I'll tell you why tomorrow. So she had a little teaser. And she got, you know, it wasn't even clear to me whether we were supposed to tell her the songs or what. So I came up with songs rather quickly, which is why I ended up changing them because I realized I wanted to put more thought into them. So after she revealed why she was asking us this I wanted to be on I mean, it sounded great. It sounded like fun even before I heard her.

Aaron Gobler:

To the point you made about Christine putting this on her Facebook page, I actually had interviewed her two weeks before her episode aired. And so I'm sure she was chomping at the bit as it got closer. And I told her I don't release the show till Tuesday. But I let her know about it on Monday. And so she was like teasing her Facebook page, which is what you saw about it. And then at midnight Eastern Time, she then put out a message saying it's you know, here's why I asked you. It's an interesting marketing technique of kind of getting everybody like wondering what's you know, what the news is going to be? I'm so delighted that you made the decision to be on the show. And you are, you're one of several people who have asked to be on the show based on connections with Christine. So I think that's fantastic.

Susan Kohn:

Christine is...I love her music. She's a talented creative musician, but she's known in New York where she's lived for the past 50 years I believe, as being a networker, finding people connections she'll meet someone and say, "Oh, you really need to meet this person and that person." She does that totally in the music scene. Um, she probably does it outside of the music scene, as well. So I wasn't at all surprised that when she heard about this, and she figured it is a great thing that she wanted to bring more of her friends and fans along.

Aaron Gobler.:

Yeah, that's a that's really a very generous of her for her time and her spirit and energy around the networking and connecting. And I've been one of several people in certain emails that have circulated about the show and about people who she spoke about on the show. And the people who respond to the email point out her generosity in connecting people. So it's something that a lot of people are very aware of, and are very appreciative of, and it's great to have positivity like that. I think that helping people is something that you have to take time to do and make an effort to do and to many people it doesn't seem like a burden or a chore at all. It's just Something that that is just part of what they do. And I think that's the kind of person she is.

Susan Kohn:

I agree. It totally comes naturally. She meets you and she realizes, "Oh, you would like to meet this person? You have something in common with that person." She can't help but do that.

Aaron Gobler.:

Yeah. (Laughter) Well, I it's really a wonderful trait. So Susan, before we get started with your song list this question I asked every guest, like, how does music fit into your life and is it in the foreground or the background of each day?

Susan Kohn:

Well, especially since I retired a little over a year ago, it is in the foreground, a lot. I've probably listened to music at least three hours a day, it's hard to say what it would be will be when we're not COVID-limited. I guess I would be getting more live music. But at this point between, there are a lot of musicians I enjoy who do streams. And I listened to a lot of them, I have over 1000 CDs that used to be in very good order. They're not in such good order anymore. So there's some I guess I never get to listen to but there's so many that I love that I listened to those and the ones that are that I can find where I'll go into a different corner of my closet where it's like, Okay, let me take this stack of 30 and see what I want to listen to from here. I am home a lot of the time and I just about always have some music playing. I'm not a TV person I never was. So the time that most Americans are spending, you know, what is it five hours a day average watching TV? I'm spending that time listening to music.

Aaron Gobler:

Probably better for your soul?

Susan Kohn:

I certainly think so. Well, I have a very diverse range of music that I listen to, including something most of my friends are not into, which is opera.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay.

Susan Kohn:

And the way I got into opera, it was about 15... 17 years ago, I was working for a man who was very into opera. And I talked about how I was very into music, and I was very into theater, and I was into dance. And he said, if you're into all those things, opera just is you know, it combines all of those things. I mean, there's not always dance, but a lot of operas, especially French ones do have dance scenes in them. And I mean, yes, it is theater. I mean, they're acting and they're saying all that. And he tried to convince me and I said, Well, maybe but what I had a hard time getting past was trained voice. I didn't like it. I didn't like listening to trained voice. Um, but I'm always willing to give something a try. This boss, he was financially comfortable. He was friends with a bunch of older women who were very wealthy. And they had a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera together, there was six of them. One day, he called me into his office and said, "What are you doing tonight?" I said "nothing". He said, "want to go to the opera for free?" One of his friends was unable to go. They were not bothering to try and find someone to give the ticket to and you know, he said, "I know someone who might want to go", so I went with them. And I liked it a little bit. I mean, I you know, I didn't hate it. And that was a good thing. And as he said, I did appreciate the scenery and the beautiful -- I mean, the Metropolitan Opera not just has the best singers, but it has one of the best orchestras in the world. So the music was fantastically played. And over the next three or four months, it seemed that every single month, somebody or other couldn't use their ticket. So at that point, I had written their schedule down into my schedule to keep that day free. In addition to all the other things he had mentioned, he and his husband and these four women, you know, and I, or three of the women and I were there, and the baritone singing this part came on stage and this man was gorgeous. And all of us, the two gay men, and the four women, were all sitting there like, oh my god, is that guy, gorgeous? Just you know. So that was another thing, okay? You can have real heartthrobs in the opera. There's one that I really loved "La fille du Régiment", "The Daughter of the Regiment", and it's by Donizetti. I saw it two or three times in one production, and the two leads were amazing. The soprano was a French woman named Natalie Dessay and she is an actress I mean, she was an actress, I guess before she became an opera singer. And I don't know, because productions vary a lot from one to another. But there was a lot of humor. She was just, she was very funny. And she did a lot to just sort of ham it up.

Aaron Gobler:

Did you ever imagine years ago that you would be this big fan of opera?

Susan Kohn:

Never, never when I was a kid, and I guess they still do it, WQXR plays opera on the radio every Saturday or Sunday, my family used to go to the beach on Saturdays. If it was anywhere between March and October, and it was over 50 degrees, we would go to the beach.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay.

Susan Kohn:

And my father was not allowed to smoke his cigar in the house. So we'd get in the car and he would smoke his stinky cigar in the car. So to me, I mean, it took me a while, you know, therapy might've helped ... but I don't know. It took me a while to realize that the reason I would get sick whenever I listened to opera was not from the opera. It was from my father's cigar. And we were listening that he would be smoking while I was listening. Right? That was progress that I realized, ah, can listen to opera without a cigar and without getting sick.

Aaron Gobler:

They don't allow smoking in the concert halls. So you don't have to worry about cigar smoke when you're enjoying the opera in person.

Susan Kohn:

Exactly.

Aaron Gobler:

That's, that's great. I really appreciate you sharing all your adventure, your journey into the opera world. I've seen "Carmen" I've seen "Turandot" and it's really quite a fascinating experience compared to other kinds of stage work.

Susan Kohn:

Did you enjoy them?

Aaron Gobler:

Yes. No, I actually knew music from each of them. And so I was able to almost ... like you go to a concert and you hear a song that you know. But yeah, just the scenery and the acting and the singing. It was just, yeah, it's like you described at the beginning. It's just a it's a combination of a variety of different arts in one performance.

Aaron Gobler.:

I'd like to jump over to your songs. The songs you chose for today, were "My Father" by Judy Collins from 1968, "City Song", otherwise known as "The Heart of New York City" by David Ippolito, from 2000. And "Just to See You" by Lowen and Navarro from 1993. Now, Susan, I had not heard any of these songs before seeing your list and I'm eager for us to listen to them together. And I'm interested in knowing why each of them is meaningful to you. So let's start with the first song, "My Father" by Judy Collins.

Aaron Gobler:

Susan, I will admit I'm most familiar with Judy Collins is mainstream songs like "Both Sides Now" and "Send in the Clowns". But the more I hear from her catalogue, I'm realizing she is more of a storyteller in so many of her less famous tunes. And I'm eager to know what inspired you to include the song on your list.

Susan Kohn:

Well, first, let me say this is one of the few songs that she wrote. The ones you're talking about, you know, one was by Joni Mitchell. One was by Stephen Sondheim. So she covers a lot of other people's songs, but she also on an average album of her's, she's probably written one song.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay.

Susan Kohn:

You know, 10 or 12 songs. I'm happy that this is a podcast and not a TV show so you didn't get to see me crying. But you still might hear it. It reminds me a lot of my father. And from what I know about Judy Collins' family, actually, I think it really is much more about my father than hers. I mean, I know that her father was blind. He was not working in a mine. I don't believe he ever ... I don't know if he ever even went to France. I don't know, you know, in terms of whether, what's real for her, but my father was a German Jewish refugee. So he escaped Germany. And before he came over the US in the late 30s, he lived in France. And he used to talk a lot about France and the memory. I mean, I just I always wanted to live in France ... the opera "La Boheme" takes place somewhere around the 1920s in Paris. And you know, I always had this image when I see that you know that my father is actually there. My father died when I was in my mid-20s. So I mean, he was there for my childhood, you know, youth but he's been gone a very long time. But I believe I fell in love with the song while he was still alive. Judy Collins is one of the first musicians I discovered. I think it was from "Both Sides Now" playing on the radio. It's on an album of hers called Wildflowers, which is my favorite album of hers, so I just loved every time I get a new Judy Collins album, I would be exposed to somebody new. In "Early Morning Rain", and that turned me on to Gordon Lightfoot. So then I had to go out and get his album. She did a lot of Bob Dylan songs. And I knew Bob Dylan already, but my favorite Dylan songs are either Judy Collins, or Joan Baez, covering songs because he's a wonderful poet. I like what he writes. But yeah, there are people who can better sing his songs.

Aaron Gobler.:

Yeah, this song is the first song you put on your list, and you changed your list a few times, but it remained on your list as the first song. So it just seems like it's a really poignant, meaningful song to you.

Susan Kohn:

Yes. If you had asked me it, probably at any time over the past 40 years or whatever, you know, what are my top 20 songs? This song would probably have always been on the list. The others would not.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, it's a beautiful song. And it's very touching story. Thank you for for sharing with me that it sounds like it's a very meaningful song to you. So let's jump to your next song, which is titled "City Song (The Heart of New York City)", and it's by David Ippolito. And we'll give that a listen and we'll talk about it on the other side.

Aaron Gobler.:

Susan, this tune is very understated, but it perfectly sums up David Ippolito's love for New York City through like metaphor and other figurative language. You know, I often consider New York City's being insular, chaotic, and overwhelming at times. But this song describes a city that is hard not to love. And Ippolito enumerates all of its good parts. What inspired you to include the song on your list?

Susan Kohn:

Well, I guess I share his love for New York. I was born in Manhattan and have lived here my whole life.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay.

Susan Kohn:

You know, I went to college on Long Island, I was up in Montreal for a year, you know, I've been I've gotten away for a year or two. But basically, this is where I live. And sometimes when things get challenging, I think about leaving, but I haven't been able to figure out anyplace else where I would want to live. "I live here and I love her." She's my hometown. David grew up with Toledo, grew up in Long Island, moved to the city in his 20s and has been living in Manhattan ever since. He is known as the Guitar Man from Central Park. He has been busking in Central Park for 30 years. It's totally how he supports himself.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay.

Susan Kohn:

A friend had told me about him 18, 20 years ago, and I started going and because of where he is located, he's like right in front of a pond. And the people who sit there are on a slight incline. So he calls his fans who are the "People on the Hill". But it used to be hundreds of people would be there. Now, it's not as many. Christine Lavin, by the way is one of his fans, and she comes there sometimes.

Aaron Gobler.:

And this particular song resonates with you because you have the same vibration about the city that he does?

Susan Kohn:

Yes. And also he's got a line in there. You know, "people who've never been here blindly put her down." That's so true. I mean, I'm here for two days, and they feel they know everything, you know?

Aaron Gobler:

Right. Yeah. Each time I listen to it, I do pick up other things that he's saying in it. And they do ring true. On this listen, I picked out the disparaging things that he was listing at the very beginning, and then says, you know, but besides all that, and then he starts going into all the good things. So it does really, I feel like it does a great job of summing up New York City. I think that it does an excellent job.

Susan Kohn:

I agree.

Aaron Gobler:

I think you had you had described it to me earlier as a as a love song. You said it's his love song to New York City. And it really is, you know, that's what comes through certainly. Thank you so much for sharing that song. That's not one that I would have ... I never heard of the artist and I would not have known to even have found that song. So I I certainly appreciate you, including it. The last song on your list is also a song I hadn't heard before. And I really enjoy it and I'm glad to have experienced it. And that song is "Just to See You" by Lowen and Navarro, so let's give that a listen.

Aaron Gobler.:

Susan, this is a really beautiful song. I mean, it's simple and calming. And for me it conjures like lying on a grassy area of an outdoor concert hall in the summertime. With like a cool breeze breaking the humidity and this music wafting through the air. I want to thank you again for for sharing this tune with me. Why did you choose to include the song on your list?

Susan Kohn:

I love this duo Lowen and Navarro. I'm sorry, I didn't discover them earlier on. I think they started in the 1980s I'm not exactly sure. This song was from 1993 I believe. I discovered them in around 2000. I think I discovered them at a folk festival. Probably Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, which I used to go to every summer, Clearwater Film Festival. Lot of great folk festivals. I love their voices, their harmony and their writing. Unfortunately, Eric Lowen developed ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease, in 2004. He was able to continue touring, and they continued playing for about another five years. I think they stopped in 2009. And he died in 2012. So Dan Navarro has continued playing on his own. I mean, I love his songwriting, too. Dan was one of my salvations during the early days of COVID. He is LA-based, and is a touring musician. And when COVID came along, and people just lost all their gigs, for their sanity, and you know, and money. But he was, I believe, really doing for sanity. He did Zoom meetings, Zoom sessions every day for the first, it had to be about a year and a half. And they were not like half-hour sessions, like some people do. They were two hours or three hours or, in addition to being a talented musician. He's a raconteur. So you know, sometimes he would talk for 20 minutes. And there were many of us who would come to those sessions. This got us through the days of Co... the early days of COVID. And this particular song, I mean, they have a lot of love songs, and there are a lot of beautiful songs. I had a hard time picking a favorite. And if I had to pick one tomorrow, it could be another one. I don't know. It's not unlike the Judy Collins song, you know, which is my clear favorite of hers. Although I do have others, I probably have 20 favorites of Lowen and Navarro's. But this one is just so sweet. And yes, I can see you're you know, lying in the grass and it's just nice images.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, it's a beautiful song. And I'm interested in checking out some more of their catalogue. And I also appreciate the fact that you know, you have so many songs in your mind that you could use on on this list or have on the show. And I certainly can't think of many artists that I really, really enjoy. And it will be hard to pick just a few songs even from from the repertoire.

Susan Kohn:

Yes, Simon and Garfunkel were actually on my list originally when I was trying to think of people but you know, there were too many songs that came up for them. It's like (Squealing) so they kind of fell off the list.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah. Yeah, there's -- right, so there's a there's a group where there's so many like, how do you even choose? And you could do several shows just of Simon and Garfunkel songs. It would be it'd be hard to choose so I can I can appreciate that. Susan, is there anything else you'd like to share about your selections like things that you thought of while we were listening to the songs or answers to questions that I didn't ask you?

Susan Kohn:

Not about the specific songs but there was something else about my music listening, I wanted to share.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay, sure.

Susan Kohn:

It just because this was such an influence on my musical life, there's a DJ who is always New York based named Vin Scelsa, he started DJing in possibly the 60s, but definitely it was by the 70s. And he was on various usually college radio stations. He was on WNEW for a while. He was always local stations. And you know, up until 20, 25 years ago, if he was on a local station, you couldn't hear him if you lived out on the coast or wherever. As the internet developed and things changed, people were listening to him all over the country, but somewhere around late 1990s I rediscovered him and one of his fans, a guy named Scott Persky called ... I mean, he didn't have any connection to him and they had never spoken, but he called him up or emailed him or something and said, I listened to your show alone all the time and I just have this feeling that there are other people listening. And I would like to create a email group or listserv or something that we could go in and listen and chat with each other while we're listening to your show.

Aaron Gobler:

Okay.

Susan Kohn:

And Scelsa said, "I don't know anything about computers. I don't know what you're talking about but sounds good to me. Sure, go ahead and do it." Within a few days, there were, I don't know, 100 people signed up for it or something. Scelsa retired, you know, in his 60s, about 10 years ago. So between about 1998 and 2012-14, whenever it was, my social circles revolved around the people I met through that show. A lot of people were from New York, even though a lot of people who had lived in New York but then moved to other places, would still listen and still come to the chat room. People who knew him for a long time were from New York, because you had to be to know him. And he was one of the last people around who had real free-form radio, he, the stations knew that he had an audience, he had a following and whatever he did worked, and they didn't try and interfere with him. He would play whatever he felt like. And he had a wide range of tastes. Although actually he couple of times he played some opera but not usually. He was big on the Ramones every now and then he would have what he called the "Ramones Attack" and he would play like a whole bunch of Ramones songs or he played, "I Wanna Be Sedated" several times in a row, whatever and he'd get really excited about that. He used to have guests, some were musicians, some were writers, authors. For much of the middle of his career anyway, his show was on at eight or nine o'clock at night until whenever he decided to stop. I think officially he you know, had to play till midnight, but the shows would go to one o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock in the morning, as long as he felt he had something to say or play. Yeah, I just was exposed to so much through him. I mean, he was the first person to interview Norah Jones on radio or whatever.

Aaron Gobler:

It is remarkable even years ago, even like, you know, 30 years ago, it would be remarkable really to have a disc jockey that had free rein and didn't have a program director, you know, breathing down their neck and saying you got to play this and here's what you got to do next and such. So that's kind of a rarity. And I can imagine the excitement of listening to that program, because you didn't know what was going to happen, you know what he was going to include or do or such. So I think that it sounds like it was a breath of fresh air during a very, in what is generally a very tightly controlled and programmed type of medium.

Susan Kohn:

Even when we'd be in the chat room, sometimes, you know, while his show was going on, we'd sit there and chat.

Aaron Gobler:

Often listening to music can be a very kind of solitary thing where you're, I don't know how many people gather around a radio and listen to it together. It's really kind of neat to have this little forum or community going on simultaneously. So you can all discuss what you're all experiencing. So that's kind of unique, I think.

Susan Kohn:

And because we were mainly New York based, we would have social get togethers events. Soon after I joined a bunch of people were turning 50. So there was a joint 50th birthday party, you know, for seven or 10 people who were all turning 50 that year. And we would get 30 to 60 people at a lot of these different events. Apparently there had been a huge event before my days that got two or three hundred people, but yes, that's that was where I met my social circles and where I found you know, I met several of my boyfriend's from that period. And there's something nice about dating somebody where you know, you at least have music in common, you know?

Aaron Gobler:

Exactly, exactly. You never got a chance to meet Vin Scelsa in person though?

Susan Kohn:

I did. He was ... he was shy, but he came to a few of our events, you know, so basically ... he didn't really want me to come over and say a whole lot. But I just went over and thanked him and said how much I enjoyed his shows or whatever. But yeah, he did show up at some events.

Aaron Gobler:

I don't I don't know if that's a common or uncommon experience to have this kind of community around a disc jockey. Maybe I've missed out on that. It sounds, but it sounds very rewarding. You know you from your experience, how many people you've met and, and all those connections. It's really fascinating thing to think that a disc jockey could could help people coalesce in that way.

Susan Kohn:

I think he was very much was musically like one of a kind. So everything about his career and trajectory and following was unique and this group we had could not have occurred before internet. I mean, that's, you know, it couldn't have happened with someone earlier.

Aaron Gobler:

Yeah, thank you for that story. That's very different, you know, a community centered around a radio personality, I guess the closest thing I can think of maybe like, Howard Stern. And that's a whole different type of thing.

Susan Kohn:

You know the Yiddish term "l'havdil". It means Oh, the difference! What a difference?

Aaron Gobler:

What a difference! Very different. Very different. Yes. Well, I wanna thank you, Susan, I had a lot of fun talking with you and learning more about your love of music and your music experiences. And then this story you just related about Vin Scelsa, I thank you for for including that.

Susan Kohn:

I had a lot of fun too. And thank you for putting me so at ease, it was a little bit daunting.

Aaron Gobler:

Well, I'm glad I was able to put you at ease that you had a good experience. And I'd like to say 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 the 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. Before we wrap up this episode, I wanted to let you know of an experimental format we have for the radio show called Dedications. If you're familiar with Casey Kasem's Top 40 show, he would read a dedication written by one listener with hopes that it would reach the ears of another listener, and then he would play the song. I'm hoping to recapture some of that magic. So I'm asking you, if you have a dedication you'd like to make this somebody please go to Aaron's Radio dot show slash dedications to submit yours. Once I receive a few I'll begin making episodes based on those dedications.

Aaron Gobler.:

So until next time, keep your ears and mind open and let more music into your world.

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