Who am I? I'm Wesley Cook. What does that mean? That depends on who you ask, but if you ask me, I'll try to give you the Cliff Notes on it. Since this is my first Blog, it'll be hefty with details of my story: where I was born, raised, what my influences are, why I do what I do and who I think I am.
I was born in Wiesbaden, Former West Germany on a military base (the same one where Elvis and Priscilla met actually). My Mom was in the Air Force and my Dad was, and still is, an English professor for military college programs and high schools. We were flown there to give birth to me on September 23rd, 1981 and were then returned to Incirlik, Turkey where my mother was stationed until a year later when we moved to scattered villages in Southwest Germany not too far from the French border. Maginot Line? Ha! History buffs will get that joke ;)
It was in these villages that I lived with our growing family. I was the 2nd born of, ultimately, 6 children. In these little villages we were usually the only foreigners and almost always the ONLY Americans. We went to german schools, had german friends, german bullies, german education and encountered other americans only when we went to the various military bases that our dad taught. It was exciting to speak English with other people and feel connected on that level.
Where does Music show up? Throughout. My dad really had a huge influence on me as far as creativity and the arts go. He taught me poetry, sonnets, soliloquies, the impact of songs and the impact of the arts. It was in the environment that I wanted to impress him and gain his approval, but I was also the "attention seeker" in the family at the time so this formula carries today. My mom was the backbone of the home, the quintessential "Mama Bear" who could be stifling in her demands and unrealistic restraints in child rearing, but who ultimately taught me the importance of loyalty, hard work and unwavering committment to something or someone. These qualities will confuse me later in life but put me on my way to where I am now.
Fast-forward 10 years and we, as a family, decide to move to Taegu, South Korea. This would be my first encounter with American kids for anymore than a passing question in a grocery store. Holy Crap. I arrived in the 5th grade and had no idea what to think. We still lived off-post, i.e. not with Americans but Koreans, but this was the time when I had spoken more English with someone other than my family in my whole life.
Although I was no longer the minority as far as culture and language (I mean I physically blended in in Germany but that's it) but now I was in the physical minority. There weren't a lot of white kids there, and this was also interesting. There were more half-Korean kids, black kids and hispanic kids than anything. Not that that matters to me, but white kids were considered dorky for the most part. I was still the attention-seeker and had to find my way in, for approval. I was the funny guy.
Backtrack a bit: back in Germany when I was about 6, I DID take guitar lessons because I realized early on that MUSIC is how I wanted to get my attention and connect with people. But, the teacher hated me and with good reason, I never practiced and the guitar started collecting dust after about a month. It's in Korea when I was about 12, and started liking girls, that I picked it up again, this time by ear only.
So I was the funny guy who was friends with everybody and only sometimes got into quarrels with others. At least now I could tell them to fuck off in my own language but I was still the minority. This is where the jock in me starts to show up. I didn't like feeling like a shrimp, although I was never a small kid, and started getting into fitness. I also thought that girls would like that.
I started with cross country and track but blossomed when I got into wrestling. This is where I could apply my mom's teachings the most. It takes a team to build you up but then it's up to you to go out there and get your face smashed in or smash somebody else's face in. The glory belongs to you, but so does the defeat. I played other sports like football and soccer as well, but wrestling and what it taught me will stay with me always.
So, now I'm captain of the wrestling and football team, student body president, and also a representative of Army-teens worldwide at a conference held in the US. All the while I had been learning how to play songs by ear in my room and writing songs, albeit shitty ones in retrospect. But the dream never left me and it culminated in a talent competition at Taegu American School that I entered. I played Nirvana's "All Apologies" and won. I was so nervous and proud and that never left me. The excitement and approval just confirmed the thirst that I had always had. I was ever-known as the musician who was also a jock. Always the funny guy, the crazy guy (my football nickname was "Wildman Wes") but that's because I was an artists, not because I was trying to find approval. Joke's on them.
In 1999 I start my freshman year at the University of Georgia. I'm so excited to be in MY country for once where I'm not the minority and EVERYONE speaks my language! Right? Well, or so I thought. Because of my upbringing, I had little in common the with other people. I mean, I could talk to them, but culturally they would mention a TV show or something pop culture and I would have NO idea what they were talking about. The first year or so of my life in the US, I had more foreign friends than anyone. Turks, Koreans, Germany, Swedes, Africans, South Americans. Not many Americans. I got along with everyone and pretty soon I learned enough to be able to talk to others for a while. I also liked girls a lot at this point.
In Korea, I was always regarded as the awkward kid who depended on jokes to get out of situations. Now I was in great shape, played guitar and spoke a bunch of languages. Most importantly, I wasn't castrated by my past. Clean slate. I met a good number of chicas and I still keep in touch with several of them. I'll explain my psychology another time.
It was such a culture shock that I just "forgot" about music to find my way. I had gotten more approval by being a jock than a musician up to that point in my life so my mind was focused in things like that. I joined a mixed martial arts gym and was even training parters with now World Champion Forrest Griffin. I was in Air Force ROTC and was close to the top of my class, in PT at least. I was even on my way to joining whatever branch of the military would take me as an officer for Special Forces. I had the languages and the background and I would have been in high demand. I bounced the whole time I went to UGA as well, and I have my GPA to prove it ;) Partying and girls were my favorite. I adored most of the people I worked with and that helps too. Loyalty, hard work, money, partying, and girls. Where do I sign up?
I had always done music for myself throughout my time at UGA but "forgot" about the dream in all the chaos of my jobs and what I thought I should be doing. Just because you can do something well, doesn't mean it should own you. So where did I change my mind?
No more than a month after graduating with my Linguistics degree and ready to be dropped in a desert somewhere to put my life on the line for my comrades and MY country I was still bouncing to pay the bills until it was settled which branch would take me under my requested circumstances. I was working a lot of event security and that summer of 2004 I worked security at the Dave Matthews Band concert at Lakewood Amphitheater. EVERYONE knew I would want to be by the stage since my love of Dave has never been a secret, but that's a different article.
I worked the pit not 8 feet from my hero, the sun set and I turn around to see a sea of lighters of a sold-out crowd of 36,000. 36,000!!! It was at that moment that I realized what MY mission in life was. In special forces I couldn't be my social self or talk to girls or clown around or have any time to play guitar. I realized my path.
That same night I did my first open mic in Athens and never looked back.
It was fate for me to be there and to have been removed from the Music Bug to learn what I had to learn: guts, going the distance, perserverence, and, most importantly, feeling lucky to figure it out in time. I never forgot it.
In Athens, I was award-nominated, put on the Essential iTunes collection of Athens and did some cool stuff and met some cool folks. I finally found my place and I'm still working hard to get to where I wanna be.