It seems that most of the new bands/singers I’ve found and liked recently have one thing in common; I love the singer’s voice. It’s possible that I like the music surrounding their songs, too, but the primary reason I bought an “album”/sought them out” was because I was mesmerized by the voice. One of the most entrancing voices I ever heard belongs to a man I can’t locate again. I was in Santa Fe during some kind of festival. There were musical acts in the square across from the portico where the Native Americans lay out their wares. I was in the art museum’s gift shop about a half a block away when I heard a singer. His voice almost literary scratched at my brain. I had no choice but to put back the item I was looking at and walk, almost run, as if he were the Pied Piper, to see who it was that was singing.
This was two or three years ago, and voice is difficult to describe. I’d say his was a purr like the best of Elvis Presley or Jim Morrison. And who was singing? A short, maybe 5’2″, rotund, slick-backed hair, middle-aged or older Hispanic man. I would have bought a CD, but they were sold out. “I’ll remember the band’s name,” I thought, but of course, I didn’t. They had recently won a competition in New York City, but that is all I remember. What category of music did they play? Salsa? Tejano? Mariachi? I don’t remember that, either.
Mid afternoon on Friday I was driving to work. I tuned in public radio, because I was too lazy to look for another station. As I got close to my office, a song came on. I had a similar reaction as I had to the Santa Fe voice, although I wasn’t 100% clear if it was a male with a somewhat high voice or a woman with a deeper voice. All I knew was that I was in love again. The song was “I Don’t Want to Be Loved,” and my car stereo said it was by Me and Appollo. Okay, I could remember a name as simple as that, especially since Appollo was spelled wrong. When I got home, I put that into Google and found a band called You Me and Apollo. (Maybe the ticker had the band name right, and I thought the song was called I Don’t Want to Be Loved by You.) Although an acoustic session, it determined the singer was a male.
The band played a recent show in my town! A little more research turned up that this was a local band! And they would be playing at our free weekend of music, Bohemian Nights in August! I also found a Facebook page. I liked it and posted a comment, and they responded almost at once.
When I scroll through my limited online library, I do find examples of songs/artists whose music I like even if I don’t think voice is the primary attraction. Here Comes the Mummies, Fela Kuti, and others feature a lot of horns, which might substitute for voice, but others have different characteristics I respond to.
For me, voice is all important in fiction, too. Voice is most often the characteristic that makes me read a book beyond the first page. It’s an intangible quality that can’t easily be quantified and not every book with great and appealing voice exhibits the same characteristics. Of course, all books I read and like don’t have what I’d consider a great voice. The book I’m currently reading is science fiction. I’m not sure it has a voice I’d be able to identify, but it has an intriguing enough premise and odd enough alien characters I’ll probably read the whole book.
I’d attempted reading two other novels before I settled on this as my next read. Two of these I picked up as freebies at the recent Crested Butte conference. One is a fantasy set in early 1900s San Francisco and is another candidate in my search for women’s fiction. The idea of ghosts attaching themselves to people and the woman who was able to see them seemed intriguing, but I didn’t get far before I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to read at that moment. Maybe I’ll never go back to it. The synergy between character/voice/story wasn’t there for me. The book before that, Mark Helprin’s In Sunlight and in Shadow, very well might have extreme voice, but it’s another tome. Although I found the voice mesmerizing, I knew it was going to take awhile to read, and I wanted to get in at least one more quick book before tackling it. My thoughts after only reading about six pages is that the voice is magical, a bit old-fashioned as befits the time period of the novel, and full of astounding language.
The Given Day, which I wrote about in an earlier post, had a voice that at first interested me, but which I tired of toward the end. I’d Know You Anywhere had a mixed voice, part dull and boring, part exasperating, each attached to different characters. The other book I spoke of recently, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, had a smart-ass voice that made me not like the first person narrator but probably did keep me reading.
Can you identify books that you read mostly because you liked the voice? What sort of qualities would you say the voice had? And is that one of the reasons you like the artists and songs you do?