It has come to my attention that you (perhaps members of the Millennial generation) were baffled by the gift bestowed upon you on Tuesday. That when you saw a free full-length album magically appear in your purchased items list, you stared at it long and hard, but the name “U2" didn’t ring a bell.
This troubles me, kids. More than you know.
So I’m here to catch you up. To fill your brain with knowledge that should have arrived alongside you the day you were born. To broaden your horizons and (pun intended) rock your world.
It all started in the 1970s in a beautiful city called Dublin, Ireland. There were four boys who lived on the north side of town named Paul, David, Adam and Larry. They all went to a high school called Mt. Temple, where they had a bulletin board for the students to post notes to one another. One day, Larry decided he wanted to start a band, so he posted a note on said bulletin board and a bunch of neighborhood kids showed up at his house for an audition/rehearsal.
Paul, who went by “Bono”, David, who went by “The Edge” and Adam all made the cut in addition to a few other kids at first. They went by the name “Feedback,” and then “The Hype,” but by the time they arrived on the name that stuck, “U2,” those three boys, and Larry, were the only members left.
They practiced really hard and played a lot of gigs, and two years later, they won a talent show in Limerick. That victory resulted in a demo session, which eventually led to a record deal.
They knew they really hit the big time in 1987 when Time Magazine put them on the cover. Their #1 hit, “With or Without You” would become a staple in pop culture for decades to come, appearing on Friends,etc.
In the 1990s, they revolutionized the concert landscape with their ground-breaking ZooTV tour.
After September 11th, they performed at the Super Bowl and remembered the victims of the tragedy with a moving tribute, displaying a scroll of their names. They also continued their Elevation tour in the wake of the attacks despite much uncertainty over the safety of crowds (many other acts canceled).
In fact, Bono’s humanitarian work landed him another Time Magazinecover in 2002. He was also nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. And he was Knighted in 2007.
But back to the music — the band has scored some impressive awards in their time. They’ve won more Grammys than any other rock band (22, and counting); they’ve earned 15 Meteor Ireland Awards; won two Golden Globes and been nominated for two Oscars. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, too.
Anyway, when they’re not making music or saving the world or winning awards, they’re spending time with their families. They’re all Dads. And The Edge is even a Grandfather.
They’re good men, with good intentions and a passion for their collective day job.
So: The next time you see U2's music pop up, instead of giving it a puzzled look or Tweeting nonsense about spam, give it a listen.
Last week I saw a documentary that rocked my world. It was called Alive Inside, and it shared the true stories of elderly patients in nursing homes (some suffering from dementia, schizophrenia and other ailments) who were awakened from their dormant states by music.
I’ve always thought that music had the power to get to parts of our soul that regular words couldn’t reach, but it was nice to be validated by famed neurologist Oliver Sacks, who explains in the film why that is true.
The magic of seeing these individuals burst with life after just a few notes of songs that they once had a connection to made me remember hearing stories of coma patients waking after hearing songs that meant something to them. And then it dawned on me: would my friends and family know what to play for me if I was in a horrible accident that resulted in a coma; or if I live to be 100 and become unresponsive, will my nephews’ children or grandchildren know what to play to revive me?
I spoke about this with my mother the next day and she said she’d probably respond best to Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” because she danced to it incessantly in her youth. It brings nothing but good memories for her (many of which she began spilling out to me that very moment) so she’s sure she’d recognize it.
She guessed right that songs by U2 and The Beatles would be my strongest triggers, but we both agreed that we should make lists that represent different parts of our lives if the unthinkable should happen. So, that’s just what I did.
Here’s a key to unlock the reasoning behind my playlist titled “A Coma,” presented in chronological order, from birth to present. I chose songs that I still have a visceral reaction to when I hear them, no matter what the context. It’s a solid list that I plan on adding to as the years go by.
Let’s hope you never have to use it.
Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles is my first music memory. When buying my first Beatles cassette, I chose Revolver, and my sister and I listened to it start to finish, over and over. I could not have been more than 6 years old. She taught me how to sing melodies with this song (me taking the high parts as she sang the lower ones). I developed such a clear vision of Eleanor in my mind’s eye, I can still see her when I hear this haunting, tragic, beautiful tune. Cue the violins.
On One One by Cheap Trick is the title track of a great album by a great band that my sister and her friends listened to ad nauseam when they were in high school. Because I did my best to tag along, I also became a fan and developed a mad crush on lead singer Robin Zander. I love them (and him) to this day.
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues by Elton John represents the first time I ever remember yelling at my mother. MTV was a few years old and VCRs were not yet in every household (including ours), so if you missed a video when it came on, chances were you may not see it again for a few days. I heard the first notes of this song playing on the TV no one was watching and ran into the living room to see it. My mom had been calling for me to clean something up or help her in the kitchen and I shushed her, which she did not appreciate, so she marched over to the TV and turned it off. I got so angry I shouted at her as tears welled up in my eyes. “I’m gonna miss it! Dang it, mom! Turn it back on!!!” Being that I was just 8 years old at the time, she looked at me with a mixture of horror and amazement and told me to calm down. By the time I convinced her to turn it back on and promised to do whatever she wanted me to do immediately after, it was over. I held a grudge. And she began to understand what music meant to me.
Hair — The Original Broadway Cast Recording represents one of the first plays I ever remember seeing my sister in, at her (our) high school. She had to bring home a cassette tape and play back the songs to learn them, and since we shared a room, I learned them too. I was glued to the musical and energized by the actors, fantasizing that I’d play Sheila someday. I didn’t really have the desire to act, but I could sing, so I figured I could pull it off. I still dream of seeing the production on Broadway.
The Seventh Stranger by Duran Duran features Simon’s voice hitting some very low, sexy notes. I’ve been in lust with Simon for many years, and this song is one that stayed with me long after childhood, even becoming the basis for my first screenplay. I play it mostly on rainy Sundays.
Back to the Future by Alan Silvestri reminds me of my favorite childhood movie, and it’s the film to this day I’ve seen more than any other (at last count it was something like 122 times, no joke). It was the first movie I saw more than once in the theater (movies were a luxury, after all) and my warmest memory of it was when we went to see it for a third time on my 10th birthday. It was my mom, my grandma, me and a friend, and we all enjoyed every minute, then when we left the theater a light dusting of snow covered the ground. It was nothing short of magic. The crisp, beautiful air acting as nature’s coda to a perfect evening.
One More Try by George Michael represents my middle school years, the hardest of my life, when my sister had gone off to college and married, and my dad decided we had to move away from the house I’d grown up in to a rougher area where we could afford property. I was devastated and every night to try to put myself to sleep, I listened to the album Faith. This was usually the song that I finally drifted off to, on the nights I actually slept.
Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 was a song that I knew as a small child, but didn’t fully grasp until high school. For nearly a year, every day on the way to and from school, I listened to the War album, and this was of course, the first song. It seemed to bring out the good (strong) Irish part of me.
Travelin’ Man by Ricky Nelson was pure joy. When my best friend Jen got her driver’s license, we made regular trips to Dairy Queen and TCBY for treats, always laughing and singing along the way. We did a hula car dance to this song, which was part of Jen’s regular car stereo repertoire.
Squeeze Box by The Who will always remind me of my first taste of independence. On a hot July day in 1992, I packed my things and ‘relocated’ to Washington, D.C. for a summer journalism workshop that taught me so much more than AP style. I made lifelong friends, discovered the thrill of air travel alone and realized that I needed to broaden my horizon farther than Portland. On one of the late nights in the dorms at GW University where we stayed, Jeff hosted Aaron, Lauren and I in his room for a blast through what was on his stereo at the time and this is one we all sang along to, not caring if we woke the neighbors.
Sea of Love by The Honeydrippers came out when I was in elementary school, but like so many other songs, I had to grow up before it hit me. On a dreary day in high school when I was daydreaming about the wedding I was going to have, I decided that this would be the song I walked down the aisle to because of its perfect intro. Though I haven’t married (yet), I hold out hope that someday I will and I still think it would be ideal.
Cowboys and Angels by George Michael is another song with an amazing intro. There is so much to it, yet it always seems to be over too soon. This song is calming and healing in so many ways, I pull it out of my arsenal whenever I need to reflect.
Dear Prudence by The Beatles was the song I was listening to the first day I was free. The day after my mom and her cousin dropped me off at the University of Missouri-Columbia to start my new life, and the afternoon that Lauren and I separated to go shopping and run errands before classes began the following week. The first time I was all by myself without anyone expecting me to check in and report my whereabouts, I put on my headphones and started walking across campus to learn about my new surroundings. The sun was out, the sky was blue, I was thrilled and I was terrified.
#9 Dream by John Lennon was playing the day Brendan and I went with David and Ann, his friends visiting from Kansas City, to Finger Lakes State Park in Columbia. The conversation was lively and lighthearted, but with Brendan driving and the sun beaming in on my passenger seat, I was content in a way that I had never been before. I was all grown up. I fell into somewhat of a trance as I listened to Lennon above the din of our happy outing and had to be snapped out of it upon arrival to the little patch of nature where we spent the afternoon. It was divine.
Wintertime Love by The Doors holds another good memory of my time with Brendan at MU. We had gone to the movies late one night in the winter of 1994 and were waiting for the shuttle back to our dorm from the parking lot where we left his car. We heard a loud sound and looked toward the woods to see at least 20 or 30 deer leaping in unison across the way. We both froze and watched them, looking at each other to confirm what we’d seen. It was one of the most majestic scenes I’ve ever witnessed; these amazing animals charging across the backdrop of a dark purple sky, disappearing into a cluster of bushes and low trees. We said nothing on the way back, and as we landed back in his room, he played this song as we sipped hot drinks to warm up.
It’s All Too Much by The Beatles reminds me of my 20th birthday. I spent it with Brendan at his parents’ house in Kansas City, and since it was Thanksgiving weekend, we were around his extended family for most of the time, but he made sure that one night we got to celebrate, just the two of us. He took me to my favorite Japanese steakhouse where I (illegally) sipped a Mai Tai (he could order it because he was a year older) and then we drove around and looked at Christmas lights. When we returned home, I stayed upstairs with his parents while he and his brother wrapped my gift in the basement, carrying it up the stairs to me ceremoniously. This song was playing as I opened his mom’s laundry basket (a trick to make me think it was something huge) to find the Sgt. Pepper watch I’d been coveting at the bottom, tucked into its wooden guitar-shaped case. I practically burst with happiness.
Heart-Shaped Box by Nirvana doesn’t bring up happy memories, but it’s a moment in time I’ll never forget. I’d come home from class at MU and heard Nirvana playing as I passed several rooms to get to my own. I went downstairs to Nick and Brendan’s floor (where we all hung out) and people were crying, watching MTV. I ducked into my friend Scott’s room and saw Kurt Loder break down and pronounce Kurt Cobain dead. I went across the street to where Brendan was working to see how he took the news (he was upset, but not surprised); I called Jeff in his room at Brandeis, as I knew he’d be affected as well. He was in shock. I went back downstairs to be near friends and watched the biggest Nirvana fan I knew completely melt down and slam his door to the world in a fit of tears. This song was playing. It would continue to play in the weeks that followed.
The Unforgettable Fire by U2 symbolizes the first time I left the country by myself. At age 25 I ventured to Ireland to see the band perform at Slane Castle and had somewhat of a religious experience. Because U2 had recorded this album there so many years ago, it was the one I listened to most in preparation for the trip, and the one that helped me heal when I returned, after losing my beloved Grandmother and enduring 9/11 just a few days after I landed on American soil.
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant is my favorite Billy Joel song. In the early 2000s my life was taking a new shape in Seattle and I often daydreamed my way out of my problems. I listened to this song almost daily on my bus ride to work and its characters came alive so vividly for me that when I saw them represented in the theatrical production of Movin’ Out in 2004, I felt like they got them all wrong. I’ve itched to write a screenplay about them ever since. Brenda and Eddie would be played by Bobby Cannavale and Annabeth Gish. Stay tuned.
Where The Streets Have No Name (Live Version) by U2 is the song that gives everyone goosebumps. I was never a big fan of the studio version (still am not, to be frank), but there is something about feeling the opening notes of this song live, and absorbing the energy of the crowd, that raises the hairs on the back of my neck. It’s something that shouldn’t be described; only experienced.
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band (Live 8 Version) by Paul McCartney and U2 brings back one of the most exhilarating moments of my life. My sister and I were in Hyde Park in London, watching the monitors as our favorite living band, along with a Beatle, ascended the stage to perform together. The crowd was electric, the vibe was peaceful and I was about as sonically happy as I’ll ever be. Brilliant, as the Brits say.
First Day Of My Life by Bright Eyes was the first time a man had ever chosen “a song” for me, to represent us as a couple. The sincere lyrics, the unassuming guitar, the gorgeous voice — all meant to symbolize our feelings, which were more intense than anything I’d ever experienced up to that point. My love for said boy soared, my joy became euphoric; my tears stung like a thousand wasps when he broke my heart months later. I couldn’t listen to it for years, and I still prefer not to, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still feel it to the core.
Hero by Family of the Year is the song I presently can’t stop listening to, the main theme from the film Boyhood. Though the narrator of the song is male, it’s stayed with me as I’ve struggled with some decisions about how to move my life forward. Its themes universal, its chords simple, its message profound.
I’m excited/thrilled/terrified/anxious to know what you all think of it.
It was so much fun to be a part of, and I find myself missing the alter egos from time to time. In fact, when I went to see A Brony Tale this weekend, I found myself hanging on every word of the voiceover artist featured in the film.
I was thrilled to see that some of the things she does with her arms and hands while she’s narrating are the same things I do, and even more excited to learn she also often models her characters on famous celebrities like I do.
I can’t wait to get better equipment and dive in to more projects.
Each year I wake up at dawn and head to one of my favorite indie music stores to participate in the annual holiday known as Record Store Day.
I’ve never been injured myself, but I have witnessed entire bins being knocked over (back in the glory days of the Queen Anne Easy Street) and have definitely gone home almost empty handed because I haven’t been aggressive enough fighting for what I came to buy.
And there’s always a list.
I check the final release announcement about 48 hours prior to the event, then prioritize my top three. For the rest, I group them into alphabetized lumps so while I’m looking for a priority find (i.e. this morning’s Soundgarden) I can also grab a second choice (Regina Spektor) since they’ll be in the same bin.
After my list is solidified, I begin calling around to see who has what stock of each. This morning, I went for the location with the largest Nirvana supply, assuming that’s what most would be in line to get. I was smart to do that.
I also try to focus on the suburban stores because the crowd is almost always lighter, but this morning, that wasn’t the case. I arrived 90 minutes before store’s open and I was #49 in line. It’s a wonder I got anything.
When they let us in, I made a fatal mistake by going around to the other side of the bin, thinking the alphabet would start closest to the window. It was the opposite. This blunder cost me the last copy of the glow-in-the-dark “Ghostbusters” single I saw being snatched up as I realized my error. Dammit!
Luckily, I wedged my way into the ‘N’ bin, and grabbed my precious Nirvana, while those around me shoved and won the last few Soundgarden sets.
Defeated, I shouted out “Anyone seen Regina Spektor?!” and a little guy, no more than 12, pointed right to them, just arm’s length out of my way. Someone handed me a copy of it in exchange for me passing over a sacred Nirvana before I got knocked out of that section completely.
Next was an entire shelf of CDs that tumbled over in the battle. Really, the store should have known not to place them anywhere close to the action, but still it was exciting.
The crowd was a 50/50 mix of helpful “I’ll find this for you if you’ll find this for me” music lovers and jackass collectors that have no music love whatsoever and will be heading to eBay directly after the event.
Though I’m disappointed I didn’t get the “Ghostbusters” and Soundgarden specials, stupidly thinking they wouldn’t be as popular as they were, I’m thrilled I went for Nirvana first and was able to score it.
John Lennon had an obsession with it. Unfortunately, I’m developing one.
The number 9.
When I recorded Chapter 9 of Schooled over a week ago, I was in a really good mood. The sun was shining, something good had happened to me that day and I couldn’t have been happier to morph into Lexy and all of her cohorts to deliver the story goods.
What I didn’t realize until I began editing on Monday night was my tendency to be louder when I’m happy. Just like the Pharrell song, I suppose I felt like a room without a roof. I sure sounded like one.
Trouble is, for the audio files to all line up nicely and become one book, the sound levels have to be exactly, precisely the same.
Think of it like this: It’s what happens when you’re laying in bed, half dozing, half listening to/watching a show. Its comforting din almost drifts you off to sleep until… a commercial comes BLARING ON and you’re jolted out of your peaceful state, scrambling for the remote to make it stop.
I don’t want to do that to Schooled’s readers, but once the file is there, without being in a state-of-the-art, $1000 per hour studio, it’s very hard to equalize those sound levels.
I employed a few of my best podcast editing tricks (my partner and I are never the same volume, so I typically put us on separate tracks), but separating out my “happy” voice from my normal voice was unsuccessful. The drop was too noticeable, and my enthusiasm within the reading too uneven.
I could choke my happy self.
So tomorrow I can only do one thing: scrap the happy file and start fresh. Make a new recording of Chapter 9 and forget it ever happened.
I turned the draft of chapter 7 into the author last night. There are 14 total chapters in Schooled, so I’m technically half-way done.
Important things I’ve learned along the way:
Don’t edit when there will be known interruptions (i.e. landlord stopping by to make repairs to the house; the oven beeping when it reaches its preheated temperature). You will kick yourself later for not catching duplicate pieces of dialog.
Don’t record on an especially sunny day. The birds will be chirping and the pitch of their shrill songs will be picked up by the almighty USB microphone. Edit in daylight and wait until the sun goes down for the performance time.
Don’t wear anything with a zipper while recording. When you get physically animated reading scenes back, the pull of the said zipper will make itself known by clinking against itself, causing you to re-record four pages.
When in doubt, look it up. I probably saved myself at least five re-records because when I was unsure about a product or celebrity name pronunciation, I simply looked it up. For brands I searched for commercials where someone spoke the product name; for celebrities, I searched for interviews where people introduced them.
Know when to take a break. If I’ve recorded for over an hour, my voice is probably beginning to sound like it, and my laptop fan will kick on because it’s too hot. Both of those situations make for bad quality recordings, so now I keep a book close by and read a few chapters while everything rests.
Watching a marathon of Inside Amy Schumer on breaks also helps. Amy’s hilarious, but she’s also a hottie, badass, voluptuous woman, just like Schooled’s Lexy. I think they’d be friends in real life if they knew one another.
Know your audience. I’ve never been a gaming sort of girl (unless you count my passion for Ms. Pac-Man and Centipede in the 80s), and gaming is a huge part of the Lexy Cooper series, so I’ve been reading up on that culture, watching old Xbox videos and lurking in some forums to see what it’s like. Realizing the nuances of the community is very helpful when developing voices meant to represent them.
I also just finished the second book in the series, Pwned, because I’m starting to feel so connected to Lexy, I just had to see where her life went next.
I’m a lucky girl to get the privilege of voicing her.
My group of college friends at the University of Missouri-Columbia were very music and film savvy. Most of us were journalism or psychology majors, and shared a lot of artistic commonalities. My freshman year, there were three albums seemingly on constant rotation in our dorm: Check Your Head by the Beastie Boys; the Reservoir Dogs soundtrack and Nirvana’s In Utero.
As a Portland native, my flannel outfits didn’t always seamlessly translate to my new Midwestern lifestyle, but my friends respected the Pacific Northwest, primarily because of Soundgarden and Nirvana, so I got along okay. Even though I only began truly embracing the bands after I moved to Missouri.
Around Christmastime in 1993, about six of us gathered in my friend Nick’s room to watch the first showing of MTV Unplugged in New York, featuring Nirvana. He was one of my only friends that had a VCR in his room, and he graciously let me tape the performance as we watched it.
The room fell silent at the first sounds of “About a Girl” and none of us spoke until the first commercial break. We were speechless. It was so beautiful, and Kurt seemed to be in good spirits.
Predictably, we watched my tape of the show repeatedly the rest of the winter. It became the tonic for breakups, college exam fatigue and general teenage discontent (yes, as freshmen, we were all still teens).
As spring emerged, we began making summer plans—most of us would go back to our respective cities for three months, but we were all committed to meet up for Lollapalooza, which was the concert festival of the 90s. It was our Woodstock. And Nirvana was headlining.
When Kurt Cobain attempted suicide in Rome on March 3, we were horrified. The man was the most successful musician on the planet. He was happily married to his grunge Goddess. He had a beautiful little girl he seemed to adore. Drinking beer as we discussed it, we all blamed the drugs and were thankful his attempt was unsuccessful. I remember us debating how long he’d be out of commission in rehab, etc. and my friend Matt saying they had better string him up like a puppet with his guitar if he’s not ‘present’ enough to perform at Lollapalooza. We all laughed because it was so absurd to imagine—Lollapalooza wasn’t until July and he had four months to get his act together. Surely his wife and band would see to it that he got well.
On a sunny April day in Columbia, I came back from an early class to our usually boisterous dorm, stopping on the boys’ floor to say ‘hi’ when I realized no one was in the hallway. There were doors open, but there was no one out chatting; no frisbees being tossed; no music playing except a few rooms which all coincidentally had “Something in the Way” watfting out of them.
I peeked into my friend Scott’s room, and two other friends were gathered with stunned looks and tears in their eyes, facing the TV set. What on earth was going on?
I quickly saw the loop of the MTV clip of a shaken Kurt Loder announcing that Kurt Cobain was dead. I was stunned; too in shock to cry, too sad to know what to do.
I immediately went across the street to the dining hall where Brendan was in the middle of his work study shift. He’d already heard the news by the time I arrived, so as he wiped down counters, I filled him in on all the details. He was sad, but not at all surprised.
From there, I went to my own room and talked with Lauren about what had been on the news since I’d been gone. She said they were still not formally identifying the body, but the news outlets in Seattle were sure it was him, so it probably was.
I called Jeff, who was at Brandeis back then, to see how he was taking the news. He said everyone around him was also in shock and they were following the story as closely as we were.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had reacted as if one of my own family members or friends had passed. I was in denial, in a haze of sadness, making phone calls and seeking community to deal with it.
I returned to the boys’ dorm as evening approached, and we all gathered in the hallway to collectively grieve. Bursts of Nevermind and the Unplugged album permeated the building, but none of us wanted to hear “Come As You Are.” The lyrics about Kurt swearing not to have a gun were too haunting in the moment.
One gentleman who was as obsessed with Nirvana as I was (am) with U2 came home from a work shift sobbing, stormed past all of us and slammed his door. Another friend went after him. Copycat suicides were inevitable and we didn’t want him to become one.
Soon we were watching footage of the spontaneous memorial at The Seattle Center and listening to Courtney recite his suicide note. That’s when the tears came. I wished so badly I could be there, amongst my people, to grieve properly under the Space Needle.
That June, during a visit to my sister (who lived in Seattle at the time), I went to his house to pay my respects. I left a bouquet of flowers at the entrance to his home, feeling nauseous as I caught a glimpse of the room where he passed.
I continued to love Nirvana, buying every ounce of music the studios could resurrect from the Cobain legacy, wearing black Converse sneakers like the pair he was found in, and absorbing every book that was written about his life.
My favorite among the biographies was Heavier Than Heaven by Charles Cross, a Seattle author who appeared regularly on shows discussing Nirvana.
And here’s where life gets interesting:
I moved to Seattle in 1999, and eight years later began working for an independent school north of the city. Each year, that school hosts a fundraising auction that boasts impressive ‘experience’ items to purchase, such as once-in-a-lifetime trips and meet-and-greets with famous celebrities. Though I enjoyed attending the annual event as a staff member, I was never completely comfortable when the bidding began because the items were always well outside of my price range.
In 2010, the volunteers needed some help cleaning up after the event, so I stayed the course and assisted them in carrying box after box of decorations and supplies out to their cars. As a result, I ended up being the last person out of the venue, well after midnight, which did not go unnoticed by some of my colleagues. When I arrived at work the following week, they surprised me with the ultimate “thank you” gift for my extra efforts: lunch with Seattle author Charles R. Cross. One of the auction prizes.
I was incredibly touched by their kind gesture and ridiculously excited about the upcoming meal. I exchanged many e-mails with him to set up the lunch and within a month was meeting him at a local supper club. I have to admit, I don’t remember a thing about the food.
After the usual pleasantries, Charles indulged me with many stories about his rock-and-roll reporting and I peppered him with U2 groupie tales. There was never a dull moment.
Following the fantastic meet-up, I blasted Nirvana as loud as I could from my car stereo all the way home. Hosting California friends many months later, I noticed a promotional poster as we strolled past the Seattle Art Museum. There was an exhibition called “Kurt” in tribute to Mr. Cobain.
I visited that display the following weekend, alone, in the quiet of a gloomy Seattle morning.
As I walked about the classic photographs and fan art, I was content, but not impressed. I had more of a reaction years ago when I saw his cardigan at EMP. Something about the essence of Kurt was missing.
I vowed to look at each and every piece of artwork no matter how silly (one “modern” display consisted of a woman who had filmed herself dancing to Nirvana music—oh, Seattle). I sat through footage of a concert I was sure I’d seen before. I had to read the description closely for another picture: it was a confusing representation of angel hair and baby’s breath in honor of the lyrics from “Heart-Shaped Box”.
Then, as I entered the final room of the exhibit, it hit me. At the farthest end of the space was a painting of the evidence photo that was taken of Kurt’s body as he lay dead in that Seattle greenhouse. His hand was in a fist; his denim jeans ending above a neatly tied sneaker that so many of us at the time wore. I burst into tears.
I’d stared at that crime scene photo for hours when it was repeatedly published in a parade of magazines in 1994. I was never okay with how alone he appeared.
Fast forward to a few days ago—I happened to read my Town Hall calendar of events and noticed that Charles R. Cross would be appearing in conversation with KEXP’s John Richards. It was 48 hours before the 20th anniversary of Kurt’s death. I had to be there.
The room was packed. The sense of community as we all sat there, glued to their heartfelt commentary, was palpable. Nervous laughter erupted when Cross made a joke about the God-awful Tori Amos cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”; many of us teared up at the sweet story of Kurt bringing his demo of “Love Buzz” to the Seattle radio station and then driving south, stopping at a gas station to call in and request they play the song from a pay phone. They did.
After the Q & A, I bought Cross’s most recent book and stood in line for him to sign it. Before I could get out the words, “You probably don’t remember me…” he was telling me that he did, and he specifically recalled my passion for U2. I told him I’d happily volunteer some PR time for a project he mentioned on stage, to bring proper honor to Kurt’s memory here in Seattle. He asked if I had the same email address. Luckily, I do. Writers, of course, keep everything, so I still had his too.
As I rode home that night, listening to In Utero, I reflected on some of the things the men had spoke about. Some of the last places Cobain had been in Seattle. The recording studio where his final song was made; the sketchy motel where he used to shoot up; the gun store where he bought the fatal bullet. Sadly, I live very near to all of them.
Today, as I was taking a break from voiceover work, I decided to get in the car and drive around, listening only to Nirvana music. I thought perhaps the car would take me back to his house, but I decided against it. I was still in my pajamas and there was certain to be a crowd—possibly also press—there. And besides, the greenhouse is gone anyway.
I drove South and ended up at the sketchy motel you see in the photo above. Seattle’s own Marco Polo, which is very much still a functioning establishment. As I saw the maids working their way down their route, I resisted walking up to room 226. Cobain’s favorite.
Heck, there were probably guests in it at that moment, and it was doubtful they realized they were in the shadows of rock royalty’s heroin den of choice.
I instead snapped a photo of the sign (it’s been updated since ‘94) and sat in the parking lot for a moment, sulking at the grey rainy day. The mood still somber after all of these years.
Of course I knew that Reg was an Aussie—I read Schooled twice before I auditioned to become its audiobook narrator.
What had escaped my brain was the fact that I’d be responsible for speaking a few pages of male dialogue in an Australian accent.
I’ve always been good at mimicking people. I can nail the pitch of someone’s voice after listening to them for just a short time and replicate their intonations to sound uncannily like their authentic selves. I can karaoke with the best of them. I’m also pretty solid at various American dialects because I’ve lived in three distinctive parts of our country. And of course, if anyone wants to know what a real Greek accent sounds like, I channel my own immigrant father.
But Australian? Yikes.
Absolute fear came over me when I came to the first stretch of conversation featuring the Aussie character. Would I just sound too cheesy?
When I’m preparing to speak in a new voice, I summon the sonic textures of someone I know close to their persona and pretend I’m them. This also helps with mannerisms, expressions, etc. that pepper the performance (though thankfully you’ll never actually see those since this is just an audiobook).
In some cases, it’s close friends I’m picturing; others are celebrities with distinctive twangs. For the Aussie, I could think of several female actresses (Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths, etc.), but not so many men. And it’s important for me to picture a man while I’m allegedly speaking like one.
I finally exercised my Google right (though that felt like cheating), and arrived at Hugh Jackman—this helped a lot since I’ve seen many of his films, and of course, his appearances on Oprah.
I started saying the lines and they sounded okay, and the more I got into the rhythm of it, the less self-conscious I felt. But I still wasn’t happy with it, so I re-recorded it about eight times until I finally began watching YouTube videos with Australian dialect coaches, etc. for more help. Those were wonderful too, but I kept getting stuck on single words that they weren’t necessarily demonstrating.
After another half an hour of Google mining I finally arrived at the solution: Forvo. This is a genius site that allows you to type in a word and hear it spoken in several different (real) voices from around the world. There’s almost always an Australian contribution, so I simply write it out on my script phonetically how I hear it played back and then mimic the pronunciation.
I wake up in the morning, drive to my day job, behave like Tassoula, sound like Tassoula and drive home as Tassoula, but when I step through Tassoula’s front door in the evening, I become Lexy.
Narrating my first book on tape, Schooled, by Christa Charter, has so far been an exhilarating, exciting experience. I’m using my voice in ways I haven’t since I was singing in the 90s; I’m enjoying the book even more than I did the first two times I read it; I’m relishing the escape of morphing into Lexy and the entire cast of characters who color her life.
There’s even a part of me that enjoys the rituals associated with this type of work.
To explain: On days that I’m recording, I limit my speaking—I don’t take phone calls (except texts), I forbid myself from singing in the car, and try to avoid unnecessary conversations in the office. I eat no dairy. I perform breathing exercises I used to use with my music students to warm up. I turn off all of my heat (electric furnaces make a lot of noise); I take the landline phone off the hook and put my obnoxious Smartphone under a pillow; I don’t run the dishwasher or do laundry; I saturate my immediate surroundings with blankets to absorb the sound and prevent echoes. I turn off the Internet so I won’t be tempted to look. I set my laptop on a kitchen trivet to keep it from overheating. I suck on Ricola and Luden’s cherry cough drops to clear my throat and keep water or hot tea with honey at the ready for my breaks. I coat my lips in orange ChapStick to avoid the sounds that dry mouths make. I remove my shoes so I won’t accidentally tap the side of my desk. I check the file settings six—maybe eight—times before hitting “record” to ensure all of the volume levels are equal to the other completed recordings. I turn the lights off except the one I need to read the script. All of this helps me transform into a living, breathing citizen of the Xenon culture.
As I begin to record, I read each page all the way through before I start speaking to ensure there are no pronunciations I need to look up or no accents I need to learn. Then, I place myself in the mind of whomever I’m about to become. Lexy is the easiest because I feel I know her best. I speak an octave higher to communicate her youth, give her a sense of urgency since she’s always hot on the trail, and (hopefully) add a little seduction in there to mirror her physical allure. Her uncle Mike is the most difficult for me because he would undoubtedly have a deep voice and as a soprano, deep voices are hard to achieve without sounding cartoonish. Kim is the closest to my own voice, etc. I have a key that I keep adding to (see photo) with little hints to remind myself what my voice should be doing. I also have to be careful not to “act” too much because as a reader I know how insanely annoying it is when the narrator is trying so hard, they overpower the story.
Schooled stands strong on its own, without theatrics.
When looking back at some childhood report cards not long ago, I noticed that I always got perfect marks in the category that stated, “Reads with interest.”