Thursday, April 23, 2015

After the Vox.

Voices in your head, Part Two.

I'm starting this off with little or no humility.  My humble declaration: I have a Good Ear (my Right, I believe; the Left having been damaged by Hawkwind in concert).  An Ear for Musick.  And an Ear for Voices.  I think I missed making a small fortune doing voice work.  Ah, the failings of a less ambitious man. :)

So, my frustrations at not receiving regular royalty checks from The Simpsons or Star Wars Playstation games, relieves itself in spontaneous manifestations of third party individuals and upon my long suffering wife.  The poor darling has to tolerate waking up with any number of character actors, known or obscure.  One benefit of getting aged and infirm is a deep, whiskey soaked, sinus infested ability to do a wide variety of old geezers:

Jim Carter from DOWNTON ABBEY is a regular morning arrival, or late night tuck-in.  He has replaced John Huston with his exhortations of working with "Ore-sahn Welles."  Older Guden Repertoire Members seem on hiatus, like Sir Alec Guinness, Basil Rathbone, Turhan Bey, Boris Karloff, Jeremy Irons doing Boris Karloff, or Jeremy Irons saying "Sforza" from THE BORGIAS.

And it's not just throaty old men I subject my significant other to.  I do a pitch perfect Charlotte Gainsbourg, halting and breathy, sounding convincingly traumatized by Lars Von Trier.  I think I should use it for the phone answering machine.  I also do Jessica Lange as the wacko German proprietor in AMERICAN HORROR STORY- FREAK SHOW.  Complete with tobacco on tongue gestures, but that added effect is lost on the wireless.  One morning in the kitchen I was spirit possessed with a cabaret rendition of Bjork singing "I Miss You," complete with cracked octaves and kittenish pauses and phrasing.

Maybe I should use my Werner Herzog, explaining the fine line between dinner and death:  "Deese leefs are from de forests of Costa Rica.  Cook dem for 30 seconds and dey are a delicacy.  Cook dem for 40 seconds and dey are a lethal poison."

Recent travel experiences have birthed embarrassing (for my wife) public conversational possessions by the older Sir Michael Caine to his spouse, Shakira.  Or Robert Fripp in an endless lecture of absurd explanation to likewise partner Toyah.  The facial expressions of horror wishing an immediate cessation of my improvisational dialogue are well worth the price of the trip.
This problem has been with me for a long time.  I have never sought professional help to alleviate myself of this condition.  A curse for others, perhaps.  A blessing to yours truly.  It amuses me.

The Peter Sellers Syndrome, maybe.  Others, in earlier days, knew going to the movies with me was not a wise undertaking.  Not deliberately, but almost invariably, after exiting the film, I would be talking in the cadence of whoever had performed in the movie.  This was almost always assured if the film was British or foreign.  It could be Christopher Lee or Armin Mueller-Stahl heading back to the car with you.  Or in the restaurant, Max von Sydow or Marcello Mastroianni would order a tomato and cheese omelet.  Single words are enough to get an impression started.  Like the above mentioned Jeremy Irons, the word "torture" is enough to start my Bela Lugosi; the word "Tony" begins a Charles Boyer. 

My career in voice work was instantly derailed when I got a call from the Barbara Harris voice casting agency.  I had sent them my SPACE PIRATE RADIO album as an example of what my abilities were like.  A new Mel Blanc or Paul Frees in the making.  The secretary, sorting out resumes, asked me if I had done ADR work.  I didn't know what that term meant.  "What is that?" was my knee jerk, honest but jerkish reply.  We never heard from them again.

Being old school, I came from the Golden Age of Radio Drama or hip class of Stan Freberg voice mimicry.  Voice actor wasn't a term used.  ADR was a later, post production film term.  In the '50s and '60s, we were still calling such people dubbers: those who would dub movies.  Besides the already mentioned Frees aka Boris Badanov, the Pillsbury Doughboy and a ton of voices in the English version of RODAN, my favourite dub master was Robert Rietty.  He did more voices in movies and radio than anyone else.  Working with Orson Welles in the HARRY LIME and BLACK MUSEUM radio shows, where I first heard him as a kid, and progressing through all the early James Bond films (he redubbed Adolfo Celi's voice in THUNDERBALL), THE OMEN and just about every other film made in England or Europe with an English soundtrack during this time.  An irony is that he dubbed for classic mime Marcel Marceau in BARBARELLA.  I am saddened to find that he passed away on April 3rd this year, just before the death of Stan Freberg.

It is depressing to see that this man of a thousand voices got little recognition.  His sound is wonderful to mimic.  I love to imitate this imitator.

I am quick to point out that this madness got me my initial radio gig because I pretended to be English.  I foolishly spoke to Brits on my first flight to London, masquerading as a returning ex-pat.  They acted like they believed me, but who knows?  I may have sounded to them how bad Meryl Streep sounds to me.  Or Brits who try the "Herne-Herne" mush mouth attempt at a Mid-Western U.S. accent.

SPACE PIRATE RADIO was the perfect place for my multiple personas or silly putty reapplication of vocal quirks.  Where else could Henry Kissinger interpret Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side."  Or Rip Raw, Jake Off, Wally Wang and Doctor Wu-hu let loose a cacophony of politically incorrect stereotypes, yet be original beings too.

Today, Gollum works the Home Shopping Network.  "Scranton, Pennsylvania, good morning, Kathy."  Or Strother Martin talks about bladder control.  I do Jeremy Piven from MR. SELFRIDGE now.  Working on Mark Rylance, doing Terence Stamp from WOLF HALL.  If I sense I've lost the wife, I attempt to bring her back with both Sir Ian McKellen AND Sir Derek Jacobi in VICIOUS.  Or even more obscure British comedy like BLACK BOOKS or GARTH MERENGHI'S DARK PLACE. 

And nothing can stop a conversation dead in its tracks then an impression of Dirk Bogarde's thinly veiled contempt for women.


They say Monet was an Impressionist, but I don't think that's apt.  His Maurice Chevalier was passible, but his Jimmy Stewart was no where near the mark.