Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chalmers Johnson

Chalmers Johnson, the brilliant and famously contrarian foreign policy expert, passed away on Saturday. Steve Clemons has written an interesting summary of his career for The Washington Note.

Johnson published Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire just prior to 9/11. After the tragedy, the book was so much in demand that the publisher ran out of stock and had to initiate several new print runs. An updated edition was published in 2004. His other major books--Nemesis, The Sorrows of Empire and Dismantling the Empire--variously explore the perils of a militaristic, imperialist foreign policy. All have been produced for audio by Blackstone and are available at our website or digitally at Audible, iTunes and other download venues.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mr. Blah Blah Blah Visits Down Under

My cell phone rang last Friday evening. I didn't recognize the number and I almost didn't answer, thinking it was a robocall or something equally obnoxious. But curiosity got the better of me and I picked up. It was the Australian Broadcasting Company, of all things. They wanted to do a live interview with me the next day. One of their hosts, Tony Peacock, had decided to give audiobooks a try, and his first purchase was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, which I narrated earlier this year for Blackstone.

We arranged to talk the following day at 4 p.m. PST, which is 11 a.m. Canberra time. Of course, Saturday I was dithering around and almost missed the call, but we managed to connect and I did the interview, which lasted about 10 minutes. They sent me an audio copy, which I've posted so you can hear me blabbing away. The sound quality is poor, unfortunately, but if you listen carefully you can occasionally hear me say something interesting.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Captured

I was doing a vanity search on Audible tonight, typing in my own name to see how I'm doin' and what's sellin' or not sellin' (yes, I do this often; I'm not ashamed of it). I was surprised to see The Captured by Scott Zesch up there in the top ten. I recorded this back in 2005 for Blackstone and absolutely loved it. Booklist summed it up this way:

On New Year's Day, 1870, Adolph Korn, the author's ancestor and son of German immigrants, was captured by three Apaches near his family's cabin in central Texas. Adolph was traded to a band of Quahada Comanches, with whom he lived until November 1872, when the Comanches traded their captives for those held by the U.S. Army. Adolph was irrevocably changed. Considering himself Indian, he lived in a cave, and died alone in 1900. The author's search into Korn's sad life led him to the similar stories of eight other children captured in Texas between 1865 and 1871. Drawing on his tenacious research and interviews with the captives' descendants, Zesch compiles a gripping account of the lives of these children as they lived and traveled with their Indian captors. He delves into the reasons for their "Indianization," which for most of them lasted the rest of their lives, and discusses why they couldn't adjust to white society. A fascinating, meticulously documented chronicle of the often-painful confrontations between whites and Indians during the final years of Indian Territory.

If that sounds interesting, it is, and I was so fond of this book that I tracked it for some time following its release and was disappointed that it didn't get more attention. Now it seems to have re-emerged, I'm not sure why--perhaps a movie or TV series has sparked interest in the topic. Anyway I highly recommend it. The narrator is adequate but the book tells a fascinating story, and tells it very well.

UPDATE: It was part of a big half-price sale on Audible. Well, good, I'm glad it's getting a new audience.

Friday, November 5, 2010

There Never Was Such a Frantic Guy...

At the end of October, Blackstone Audio wrapped recording sessions for its audio adaptation of Hamlet, as originally presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

For years now, Blackstone narrator and OSF star Tony Heald has been encouraging a collaboration between the two companies, and his efforts have finally born fruit. Hamlet is the first of what will be an ongoing series of audio adaptations of OSF's distinctive, American-flavored Shakespeare. The current production incorporates some fascinating visual and interpretive touches. Stylistically speaking, the defining sequence is the "Players' scene," in which Hamlet engineers an entertainment designed to reveal his uncle's complicity in the murder of his father. In the OSF production, the hired troupe improvises a "hip-hop" version of the play-within-a-play, complete with wireless mics, electronic instruments and a scratch track, while the tonily-dressed members of the court look on in growing apprehension. The famous "nunnery" scene similarly references modern technology, Ophelia being fitted with a listening device, the better to capture Hamlet's presumed insanity; Hamlet discovers the "wire" mid-scene, adding fuel to his suspicious rage. The ghost of Hamlet's father is played by deaf actor Howie Seago, who signs his lines while the actor playing Hamlet (Dan Donahue) voices them for the benefit of the audience.

As you can guess, not all of these interpolations will translate effectively to audio. Working with OSF's artistic director, Bill Rauch, we've come up with alternative ideas that both reinforce and enhance the up-to-date concept.

Once in the studio, the actors adapted quickly and creatively to the challenges of working in a more intimate medium. It was fascinating to watch them adjust to their environment and discover things that were exciting and effective in the imagined world of audio.

The production is now in the mixing stage, which can take three weeks or more of intensive work to embed the voices in a convincing "soundscape." Blackstone plans to release the final product early next year. It's going to be a very exciting, uniquely American take on this most famous of Shakespeare's plays.

The title of this post comes from a Frank Loesser song written for the 1949 movie, Red, Hot and Blue featuring the inimitable Betty Hutton. Unfortunately, whenever I think of Hamlet I can't get the lyrics out of my head:

Was the prince of a spot called Denmark (mark my words!)
There never was such a frantic guy either before or since (he was a dreamboy)
And like a hole in the head, Denmark needed that prince!

'Cause he bumped off his uncle,
And he Mickey Finned his mother,
And he drove his gal to suicide,
And stabbed her big brother,

'Cause he didn't want nobody else but himself should live--
He was whatcha might call...uncooperative!

You can watch a video of it here. My apologies to purists.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What the...

Well, looky here. Harper Audio seems to have purchased another one of my ancient recordings from Books On Tape. Years ago they bought my performance of John Irving's The Cider House Rules, which is still doing service on Audible and seems to be quite popular. I still get emails about it. Now they've hijacked one of my Elmore Leonard recordings. I think I did all of Leonard's books for BOT, and they were all a blast (though my favorite is still Maximum Bob, but that is long o.o.p.). Looks like Harper did some picking and choosing between various publishers' versions of these warhorses. George Guidall's wonderful renderings were done for Recorded Books, for instance, while I was doing the same titles for BOT. Those were the days of non-exclusive rights and you actually had a choice of narrators for some of the more popular authors. And if you're wondering who "Alexander Adams" is, well, the fact is that a lot of us freelancers used to change our names to avoid trouble with competing publishers, who thought we ought to be working exclusively for them--without the benefit of a lucrative contract, of course. Those days are gone, happily. Not that we cared much. I mean, who would have thought you'd get famous doing audiobooks? Seems like Harper might have put my real name on it, it certainly has more cache these days than "Alexander Adams," for what it's worth.

Books On Tape has retired about 90 percent of the titles I did for them throughout the 1980's and 1990's. Not that I blame them, they were old things recorded on tape, most of them, and fashions have changed since then, when it was a point of pride to tally how many pages you could read without stopping. And to be sure the audio rights have expired and economics argues against renewing them. Still. Some of the top-tier stuff has been re-recorded, most of it by Ed Herrmann. People used to tell me I looked like Ed Herrmann, back when I wore wire-rim glasses. "You look like that guy that played FDR!" Ed and I don't look much alike these days, but he's doing all my old books now, and doing them beautifully--the David McCulloughs, the Scott Turows, the list goes on and on. But most of the others have disappeared into the ether. I particularly regret the John Gardners: October Light and The Sunlight Dialogues. I was awfully proud of those. Boy could that guy write. And Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb, one of the best books I've ever read about anything.

I certainly talked at a good clip back then! I don't think I could do that now. I see from the cover there's a new series on TV featuring the main character. I hope it's better than that Maximum Bob series with Beau Bridges from a few years back. Eek.

Here's a sample I saved from Maximum Bob all those years ago. I still think it's funny, but then I'm biased.

Halloween in Ashland

Halloween in Ashland is a trip. Everybody--and I mean everybody--shows up in costume to parade down Main Street. The crowd starts to form around 2 p.m. in front of the public library. At 3 p.m. a drum corp thunders and the marching begins! It's more like strolling, actually, because it's so darn crowded, and everybody stops to chat with bystanders and admire everyone else's costumes. I find it wonderfully cheering and relaxing and could have sauntered along like this all the way to Portland.

We brought along our Vampire Queen (Alicia) who met up with her friends the Vampire Cheetah (Macy) and a Dragon (Owen).

Guess who I went as? (No, I'm not the mummy.)

Afterwards we had martinis and pot luck with some friends (guess who made the martinis?) and then took the kids trick-or-treating.

If you guessed from the big pumpkin that our friends own a fly-fishing shop, you guessed right.