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.”
My sister, who lives in the Eastern time zone, sent me a cryptic Facebook message last night, less than an hour before The Good Wife was set to air on my coast. She advised me of watching it like this: “Have your sedatives handy and for God’s sake, stay off of Twitter and FB until you’ve seen it. Not even remotely kidding. I’m in shock.” She told me to brace myself.
I got excited—let’s face it, the show has never been better. Five seasons in, the writers, directors and actors are all at the top of their game. I thought she was preparing me for another roller coaster episode like October’s “Hitting the Fan.” I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The episode began and it was solid. Alicia was cocky and confident with the pesky investigators; Kalinda was threatening to walk and Will was turning around a case that seemed to be tanking. It was solid, but not yet remarkable. Just when I started to yearn for my favorite guest regulars (Michael J. Fox and Carrie Preston) to appear and spice things up, the unfathomable happened: shots were fired and Will Gardner was gone.
It’s a testament to the writers that I felt like I’d had the wind knocked out of me. In fact, I went through all of the physical things one goes through when they receive traumatic news: chills, tears, nausea (in that order). The stages of grief were beginning. Denial was evident in the amount of times I re-wound my DVR to make sure I’d seen what I thought I’d seen. And I tried so hard to un-see it.
After I believed what happened, I settled into Anger. How could this show do this to the fans? Why couldn’t they just send him to New York? Didn’t anyone else think that Alicia and Will would end up partners again—in law and in life? Peter can’t get the girl. He doesn’t deserve her.
Next was the stage of Bargaining. Well, they surely will resurrect his character. I mean, he could come back as a ghost, right? It could have been a nightmare, right?
Of course not. The writers are too classy for that. And the scene was captured with such a haunting grace (we didn’t see him get shot; we only heard the firing of the gun and watched the horrified reactions of his two colleagues) that to make it all for nothing would be to disrespect the art.
This realization, of course, brought on significant Depression.
I couldn’t sleep. I watched a few more shows (comedies) and tossed and turned and had a dream about JFK with Will Gardner after I finally dozed. I think my subconscious was telling me I will always remember where I was when I saw Will die (or that Kalinda’s comment to Louis Canning in an upcoming episode had a “You’re no Jack Kennedy” ring to it).
As I awoke this morning and talked with more friends and fans about the revelation, I settled into Acceptance, proud of the show for being so fearless and intrigued by what must lie ahead.
As I cope with my Good Wife-induced post traumatic stress disorder, I hope that everyone involved in this epic twist will be handsomely rewarded for their genius. I can’t imagine what the show will be like without the sexual tension and chemistry of Will and Alicia, but I will stay the course.
Philip Seymour Hoffman Death Shines Light on Darkness of Addiction
In Seattle, we have a radio show hosted by former child star Danny Bonaduce that I often listen to on my way to work. He has a segment called “Danny Bonaduce Life Coach” where he helps callers with their various problems: divorce, unemployment and most often, addiction.
On this morning’s show a man called in, distressed about getting help for his substance abuse problem in light of financial difficulties. He thought that because he had a disease, his insurance would cover some or all of his treatment for it. But of course, as Danny told him, that wasn’t the case.
Though The Mayo Clinic (and every other notable medical group) validates alcoholism and drug addiction as a disease, our country treats these individuals as lesser members of society.
Though I’m not an addict, I’ve loved and hated addicts all my life. It took me over 30 years to truly understand that they couldn’t control what their bodies were telling them to do, but I got there.
Though their actions may seem selfish, on a purely biological level they are not.
Imagine yourself walking through the dry desert, the hot sun beaming down upon you, dehydrated and starved for even just a drop of water.
At that moment in time, you’d probably trade your clothing, your electronics—anything for a precious drink to quench your unimaginable thirst.
That’s how addicts feel every minute of every day: they’re thirsty for their poison because their bodies are telling them they need that poison to survive.
I was devastated to hear of the recent passing of genius actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. So young, so talented, so unfair.
Even more devastating has been the commentary emerging in the days following his death. Instead of letting his family, friends and fans grieve in peace, our community of haters on the Internet has to shame him, prove they amongst the living are better than he could have been because they’re not laying on a floor with a heroin needle in their arm. At least not yet.
Entertainment Weekly put him on the cover of their next issue, and I applaud them for doing so. What infuriated me were the comments that bubbled up when they posted said cover online on Facebook. Folks who were angry that they were memorializing someone who died of an overdose. They called the deceased “stupid” and worse.
I can’t imagine that those stone throwers have never had to deal with addiction, but boy they’re lucky they dodged that bullet if they haven’t.
From those of us who have experienced it: It’s a horrible existence. For those who deny they have a problem, it’s a constant uphill battle just to keep them alive; for those who admit they have a problem, it’s a struggle to get them help (even if they have the means) because they fear the repercussions to their reputation. They fear that jackasses like the haters on the EW Facebook page will prevent them from getting work, or being accepted at church or attending social functions with loved ones. They fear they’ll lose their dignity, so often times they continue abusing to mask the pain of that fear.