ON BOOKS: Author/singer tells his story in ‘the Voice’

John Colapinto was a singer.

A self-taught amateur. He was probably pretty good, or at least probably had an interesting quality in his voice, because he was drafted as the lead singer in the Rolling Stone magazine band that Jann Wenner put together.

Rock ‘n’ roll requires something other than flawless precision and technique of stroking notes. it requires a quality that points to the soul, or at least a rich emotional inner life.

But like most writers who sing sometimes, Colapinto took his singing voice for granted. He did not take the precautions some professionals take, and did not consider the risk of thwarting and tearing garage tape standards like “Mustang Sally” and “Louie Louie”. He didn’t think about the fact that his vocal cords didn’t have pain receptors.

So he hurt his voice.

When he asked the lady in the elevator of his new apartment building which floor she wanted, she replied:

“You have a severe voice injury.”

She was a voice coach who worked with Broadway singers. She convinced Colapinto to see a laryngologist – a doctor who specializes in vocal cords. He did, but postponed a recommended surgical procedure that required Colapinto to maintain vocal silence for six weeks postoperatively. After a while his voice came back – kind of. It was scratchy and rattling.

“But despite all this inconvenience and inconvenience, I was not (as I told myself) disabled,” writes Colapinto in his new book, This Is the Voice (Simon & Schuster, $ 28). “I could talk. I could work. With these lights, the operation wasn’t necessary.”

A decade later, Colapinto works for The New Yorker and profiles Dr. Steven Zeitels, a vocal surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who treated any number of stars and celebrities and who recently removed a vocal polyp that threatened singer Adele’s career. She’d thanked him from the stage at the Grammy Awards.

I remember Colapinto’s piece about Zeitels. What he didn’t mention in this piece, but does in the book, is that Zeitels immediately caught Colapinto’s old voice injury and more or less insisted on “looking at” his neck. He found a polyp “larger” than the one Adele had that made it impossible for Colapinto to sing.

If Colapinto had decided to write a book about his injury and recovery, it might have made a good book. But “This Is the Voice” is more ambitious and more remarkable, a layman’s deep dive into the science and mystery of the human voice. It begins with a fascinating study of how babies begin to learn and express language even before they are born.

“The wall of the uterus muffles voices, even those of the mother, to an indistinct rumble that only lets the ebb and flow of emotional prosody penetrate,” he writes, “the same way you can tell through the wall that you are with yours Sharing Neighbors The people on the other side are happy, sad, or angry, but you can’t hear what they’re actually saying. “

Colapinto points out how babies are born who are able to learn and speak any of the 7,000 or more languages ​​in the world, but that it only takes a few weeks or months before they can easily learn how to use most that makes noises. We keep the speech sounds we need and let go of the others.

He delves into the origins of human language and argues convincingly that we “owe our planetary rule not only to language, but to our special talent for transforming this great attribute into sound”.

A tremendous amount of journalistic work – Colapinto does a lot of footwork, meets with doctors, observes political campaigns and travels up the Amazon to meet the Piraha, a secluded tribe with a particularly musical language – “This Is the Voice” does it very well too intimate, very much the story of a man who eventually regained enough of what he had lost to growl through some version of the “Brand New Cadillac” of the Clash, toneless but exuberant, perhaps.

What would be the final scene in the film that Hollywood could turn this far-reaching and insightful book? A film that could never be as good as what we read.

■ ■ ■

I promised some book recommendations from others in a recent column. The first is from my colleague Jack Schnedler, a retired feature editor for this newspaper who has a Masters degree in American history from Northwestern University.

He recommends Harold Holzer’s “The Presidents vs. the Press” (Dutton, $ 30), which he believes is “the most eye-opening book on my shelves for 2020.”

Jack writes, “The never-ending battle between the White House and the media from the Founding Fathers to fake news is subtitled in pretty extensive terms.” This action-packed story … claims that the essence of their confrontation is built into the fabric of the nation.

“Readers who believe that Trump has uniquely crushed this stuff with his relentless slander and slander against the Fourth Estate may blanch or resist some of Holzer’s claims. Here’s one: ‘Barack Obama may not have hostile journalists as Enemies of the people. But those His government attempted to isolate or prosecute might argue that some of his actions were louder than his successor’s words. “Https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/jan / 17 / writersinger-tells-his-story-in-the-voice / “

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