By Dustin Fitzharris
Michael Feinstein has been dubbed “The Ambassador of the Great American Songbook,” and the title couldn’t be more apropos. Feinstein, a five-time Grammy nominee, has built his career on breathing new life into some of the most timeless songs ever recorded. Additionally, he not only serves on the Library of Congress’ National Recording Preservation Board, he also has his own foundation that aims to bring the music of the Great American Songbook to young people and preserve it for generations to come.
Behind the music is a Columbus, Ohio native who says he’s most grateful for the simple things in life―health, abundance, food, and the basics we take for granted. Then he thinks of animals. He loves “the joy of sharing life with other creatures.” Feinstein says if he could have a 1,000-acre farm, he would want to have every stray animal possible living there. For the past nine years he’s also been a vegan because he doesn’t believe in eating the flesh of a creature and won’t eat anything that’s had a mother or a face. He’s noticed the effect it’s had on his health, saying he has more energy and feels his body is in great balance.
TAILS caught up with Feinstein after his successful engagement at the Hollywood Bowl to learn more about his cats and also uncover what happens with them when he hits the sack.
TAILS: Tell us about your cats.
Michael Feinstein: I have four cats. I’m bicatstal!
That means you have East and West Coast cats. Who is in LA?
George and Ira. (Named after the Gershwins!) They are orange-colored brothers, about 9 years old. They were adopted by me within the last several months. My cat died about five, six months ago, and she could never tolerate other animals. So, as soon as she passed I wanted to adopt some more. They were in the city shelter. They were about to be put down. A lady rescued them, and then I got them from this lady. I like to rescue older pets because people tend to rescue kittens and puppies. These two creatures are just so great and sweet. They are very happy in their new home.
And what about the cats in the Big Apple?
Smokey and Alexander. He’s happily named because I think he’s Alexander the Great. He’s black and white and very feisty. His brother is Smokey, who is a 23-pound beautiful cat. He looks like a Russian Blue, but I don’t know if he is or not. He’s very mellow and affectionate. He must be around 6 now, and Alexander is probably around 3 or 4.
Where do they sleep at night?
Alexander usually sleeps with me at the foot of the bed. He parks there. Smokey comes and goes. In California, George sleeps in bed with me, and Ira comes and goes. It’s odd that they have the same characteristics.
Do any of them hog the pillows or covers?
George does like to get under the covers sometimes. He’ll paw at me until I open the covers, and then he’ll move around. Then he’ll come out and go play and then come back. He can be very active at night. He can make me crazy.
Smokey occasionally snores, but none of the others make noise―except when George gets active. Sometimes he’ll wake Ira up and start making little noises to get him going. Then I wake up, too. I tend to be a light sleeper, so I could give you a blow-by-blow chronicle of what a cat does throughout the night.
Oh! Tell us!
George will jump off the bed and play with this ball for a little while. He’ll go out of the room for about 15 minutes, and then he’ll come back in and jump on the bed. Then he’ll start licking Ira. He’ll wake him up and sort of wrestle with him. Then he’ll move to another part of the bed. Then he’ll come and get under the covers. Then he’ll crawl on the nightstand and sometimes knock something over, which I think is on purpose. Then he’ll come and crawl on my chest and sleep there for a while. Then he’ll go back eventually to the edge of the bed.
How would you describe their personalities?
George follows me everywhere. If he is alone in a room because I’ve walked out, sometimes he’ll start crying like he’s been abandoned and unfed for a week. Alexander will do that, too. Smokey is very independent. He’s gotten much more attached to people. When I first got him, I let him out of the carrier directly from the shelter, and he immediately went to a bowl of food and drank some water. It was like, “Here I am.” No angst or adjustment. Nothing fazes him. He’s affectionate, but then likes to be by himself.
And he’s 23 pounds!
That’s the way he came. He actually lost weight. He was down to 17 pounds, but I think he’s put a couple back on.
Where does your love for animals come from?
I have always felt that animals have been maligned, mistreated, misunderstood, and underappreciated. They are beings with very deep emotions and souls just as we have souls. They have souls that are just as significant. They are shepherds for us in many ways. Animals sacrifice their lives. They have extraordinary intuition. When I say underappreciated, people think of animals as being less enlightened creatures, yet in many ways they are more enlightened than we are. It pains me to see the pain that animals go through. I feel that it is my duty to do whatever I can to help any creature out who is downtrodden.
What would be a dream pet?
Well, I have to take into consideration what’s best for the animal. A lot of animals don’t want to be taken out of their natural surroundings. So, I tend to think in terms of domesticated creatures. I’ve always found skunks absolutely adorable. I think a skunk would make an adorable pet.
For more on Michael Feinstein and his upcoming PBS special and new CD, “The Sinatra Legacy” to be released this fall, visit MichaelFeinstein.com.