Walnut Street Theatre (WST) continues its 213th season with a world premiere adaptation of a classic mystery with Sherlock Holmes – The Adventure of The Speckled Band. Written and directed by Walnut favorite Bill Van Horn, the production begins previews February 22, opens March 2, and continues through March 27 on the Walnut’s Mainstage. Read on for more details.Continue reading
There are two videos at the end of this post: One is a live clip from Michael Des Barres’ concert in New York City on March 7, 2013 at the Bowery Electric, and the other is Michael’s music video for his terrific new single, “Life Is Always Right.”
When it comes to how to distribute your music, how do you decide what works best for you?
Well, what works best for me is ownership. Autonomy is everything. As you can imagine, I’ve been owned for 40 years as a recording artist. And I don’t like that. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now…so I don’t do it. I’m in the position where I can sit down and figure out how I want to get my music out to people and bandcamp is fantastic. iTunes and Amazon clearly have an infrastructure that works, and I have my own infrastructure. We do our own artwork. Photographers, for some reason, like to take my picture, so I have an enormous amount of content to turn into the graphics required.
People enjoy working with me because I’m enthusiastic and it’s fun for them. It brings the best out in them. Half of this endeavor is being able to inspire others to do great stuff. And I don’t mean great in the sense of being better than anybody else. I mean just great, fun work that they enjoy doing.
And in terms of distribution, there are a particular ways to go. You have iTunes and Amazon, and then it becomes about building a fan base. I fully accept the notion that music is free. And I have no problem with that; I think it should be free. Then it becomes about selling other things, t-shirts and merchandising or licensing songs for TV shows or movies – whatever it is to make a living out of it. But let’s not forget, I am 65 years old, I’ve got 45 movies, 100 hours of American television and I’ve sold a lot of songs to people. I am not struggling in the back of a van. I have autonomy, in that I can do whatever I want. What a great place to be.
With your rich body of work in acting and music, I think of you as a Renaissance Man. You’re just an artist at heart, right?
Yeah, I just want to express myself. The trick about self-expression is knowing who the self is that’s doing the expressing. So, you have to work on who you are to be an authentic artist. You can be anything. You can be a sculptor, a painter, a photographer, a choreographer, a rock and roll star, whatever. What do you want to express, and who is doing the expressing? If I’m coming from an inauthentic place and I’m trying to be somebody else and I’m writing songs for an audience, or through a persona I’ve invented, it’s inauthentic. The audience doesn’t know why it’s inauthentic, but they know that there’s something wrong. So, half of the work as an artist is figuring out who the fuck you are – who’s doing the expressing. That’s why they say a writer “has a voice.” A writer has a voice because it’s true; it’s a true voice. Whether it be Hemingway or Voltaire, they had their own form of expression. They knew what they wanted to say – a point of view, about art and life and the human condition. And if you feel that way, you’ve got a shot at other people feeling the same way. If’ it’s authentic then it will reach the authentic part of the audience and you’ll have a career.
That’s why Hollywood is such a tainted place. The houses and cars are leased. It’s a land of fantasy, smoke and mirrors and illusion. And that’s why the movies suck and the majority of the music sucks – because they’re trying to figure out what the people want, rather than creating what they love. And I’m not interested in mainstream success. I was never interested in the mainstream. I drown in the mainstream. I have no desire to be there, none whatsoever. And yet I continue to do the TV shows, and I’ve got a couple movies in the can coming out. Of course I do…because I’ve got to fund the work that I love.
If you could collaborate with any musician, living or dead, who would it be?
It would be Booker T & the M.G.’s. I would sit with them and write songs. These were the guys who were responsible for Wilson Pickett records and Otis Redding records. I would love to play with them: “Duck” Dunn, Steve Jordan and Al Jackson. And the other band I would have loved to play with is Muddy Waters and Little Walter Jacobs’ band. I would have loved to have played with them.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, but I love Vintage Trouble. They’ll drive you crazy, they’re so good. They’re a young black singer and three white rockers, and they’re fantastic. Their influences are clearly the blues, and it’s exactly what I’m talking about on my radio show. And when they really get it right, it’s beautiful.
Poison, god bless them, was a parody of the New York Dolls, as were most 80s’ hairnet, Aquanet hairspray bands. They had catchy little songs with the same riffs since time began. My favorite band of them all was Motley Crue – I thought they were fantastic. I’m very generous with this stuff. I can honestly say that I admire anybody that plugs in because it’s so dreadful. You’re putting yourself, literally, in an execution firing line – they can shoot you. It’s very brave to get up and play, so I never put anybody down. God bless anybody giving it a go. Having the balls to to stand up and say, “Look, this is what I do!” That’s great. Do I have preferences? Yes. And I’ll get on the bike in the gym and listen to Motley Crue. Sure, why not?
You mentioned the two movies “in the can.” Can you reveal any details about these projects?
One has just come out. It’s called California Solo with Robert Carlyle, which is just fantastic. He’s the actor in Trainspotting and he’s on ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Wiry Scottish actor, you’d recognize him. Fantastic movie – very fun to make. Grab a DVD and watch it with your girlfriend. It’s really one of the good movies about rock and roll. I play his manager and it’s all very sinister. And there’s this movie I just finished that’s being edited. It stars Gina Gershon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Molly Ringwald, and myself, and it’s called Me. And it’s improvised. It was incredible to work with those 80s’ ladies. It’s going to be a hell of a movie. Very sexy, very troubling – very much about what’s going on today. It’s about a guy who thinks he’s in a reality show. I can’t tell you anymore about the story, but it’s going to blow your mind and it’s called Me.
How do your various acting opportunities come about?
I have to audition like every other actor, and if you get it, you get it. For NCIS, I believe they called me in, but they want to see you. They don’t know if you’re 300 pounds or if you’re a junkie. They want to speak to you, and that’s fine; I’ll go in. If there’s something really cool and it has the potential to reach a lot of people, I’ll stand in a parking lot naked to get it. If it’s something I don’t want to do, I simply don’t go in on it. That’s the bureaucratic side of it. Then, there are friends that I’ve worked with and if they think there’s something right for me, they’ll get in touch. That’s usually followed by the sentence, “There’s no money in it.” (laughs) But you do it anyway because it’s challenging and a labor of love and lust.
The way I discovered you was through MacGyver. When you were on the screen you brought gravitas to the scenes.
I’m so glad you said that, and I’m so happy when someone says, “Hey, Murdoc!” It happens every day. I’m in Trader Joe’s with my girlfriend and there’s a guy shaking with item in his hand and I said, “What’s going on? Are you OK?” And he said, “You’re Murdoc!” I said to myself, oh god, that’s so great, and I gave him a hug and an autograph – signed the Trader Joe’s bag and moved on. I loved that character, it was great. And people still dig it to this day. How fabulous is that?
Were you able to make it your own, or was the role of Murdoc already defined for you?
Oh, fuck no! What happened was I just came off The Power Station tour, and I remember I had this big vintage white Rolls Royce and drove onto the set at Paramount for the audition to play Murdoc, a killer in one episode. And the producers were all smoking outside the MacGyver offices and I pull up in my Rolls Royce. I, to this day, know that I got that job because of that entrance. (laughs) They saw me getting out of a white Rolls, all dressed in black and said, “There’s our guy!” And I did it for the next few years, as you know.
Did you have a good working relationship with Richard Dean Anderson?
Oh, I loved him! Sweet, soulful, generous dude. And it was a hard job – being in a TV series. Wow! Hard work. 16 or 17-hour days, especially if you’re the star. You have to know about pacing, and he did. He paced himself well for such a physical role, and he did a fantastic job. And it was a huge show for many years. It wasn’t an under-the-radar show. It wasn’t a pop culture Twin Peaks, water cooler show. But it had a steadfast audience and I was very grateful for the opportunity.
Over the past year I’ve become obsessed with audiobooks. They’re a great way for someone with a busy schedule (i.e., me) to enjoy books on the go. Whether I’m walking around town or brushing my teeth, I’m almost always listening to an audiobook on my iPhone or Kindle Fire HD, through the Audible or Overdrive apps.
Audiobooks are a magical form of entertainment because of the narrators that read them. These men and women are legitimate actors that breath life into the stories they read with a variety of intricate character voices, accents and dialects. The right audiobook narrator can make a mediocre book good and a great book excellent.
One of my favorite audiobook narrators is Dick Hill. Most famous for being the voice of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, Hill has nearly 500 audiobooks on Audible – including classics, sci-fi and fantasy, mysteries and thrillers, you name it. Hill is one of the most prolific audiobook narrators in the business and his ability to turn words into theater for the ears is impressive.
I recently had the honor of interviewing Dick Hill, and I hope the questions and answers below provide you with a greater understanding of this interesting profession. Enjoy!
How did you get involved in narrating books?
A friend of mine, Brit actor, was narrating for Brilliance Audio. They were looking to cast a WWII combat novel, and he suggested I get in touch. I did, recorded a couple pages of something similar I got off the supermarket shelf on a crappy little recorder and sent it to them. (They weren’t looking for audio quality, they’d provide that, they wanted to hear me read). Booked the gig, and knew I’d found my niche. Never looked back.
On average, how many hours does it take to record a book?
Depends on the length of the book, type of text etc. Generally I finish an hour of recorded book in around 75 minutes.
Do you read chapters straight through, or do you stop and start and edit the pieces together later to establish a seamless sound?
Susie is upstairs engineering and directing, and whenever I stumble or miss a word, we stop, roll back to a likely spot, then do a punch edit. She plays back for me to hear a lead in, then does an on the spot edit and I come right in and do it right. Generally.
How many audiobooks do you narrate each year?
I’d guess around 40 a year now, give or take a dozen.
From a business standpoint, do you have long-term contracts with publishers where you have to narrate a certain number of books a year, or are you hired on a book-by-book basis?
I’m paid per finished hour.
How are audiobook narrators compensated? Is there an upfront payment, a monthly retainer, royalties based on sales, or a combination of all three?
There are some works being done through ACX on royalty share, but I work strictly for fee. If Lee wanted to do a royalty share, or Stephen King, I’d be happy to, but those are not the kind of authors hoping to get someone to narrate their book on spec.
How do you make sure your recordings don’t include any background noise from inside the studio, like turning pages?
I’m quiet. I’ve developed a technique for moving from one page to the next that’s mostly soundless. If I do screw up, we just do an edit.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job and what is the most rewarding?
I find all the aspects I deal with challenging, but in a very good way. I relish the challenge of presenting the listener with the best, most compelling delivery I can achieve. It’s of the moment work, which I love doing. I don’t pre-read things, with a few exceptions. Susie preps the books, makes a vocabulary list to check, and gives me a character sheet noting gender, age, any accents mentioned or implied, etc. I use those to guide my performance. Since she’s prepped the book, she can alert me to any potential traps (e.g., don’t make the mystery caller too this or that) so the voice seems reasonable to fit the character it turns out to be. She generally doesn’t tell me just who those people are, or really, anything beyond performance guidance. I like to discover what happens right along with the listener. I love flying by the seat of my pants, doing cold reads. I’m good at them, and I think the sense of discovery helps with my work. Most rewarding?…pretty much all of it. Plus the checks. Getting paid to have fun, in large part.
Without naming it, have you ever had to narrate an awful book? If so, did you have to work harder or approach it differently than a book of higher quality?
Yes. Harder work. A couple were so bad I felt like a five dollar whore faking passion. I turned down any more work from those authors. Pretty lucky now, the publishers I work with most often have a very clear idea of the sort of things I like to do, and I’m seldom offered work I’d find offensive.
I’ve noticed that some of your books feature interesting audio effects to immerse the listener in the story. For example, Jack Reacher might be talking to someone on the phone and the voice on the other end is altered to sound as if it’s coming through a phone line. How is this done?
Those were probably earlier books. I prefer eschewing that sort of thing myself. If you’re gonna’ have a phone effect, then how about ambient noise, traffic, door slams, gunshots? I don’t include any effects or ask for any. I’m not aware of any publishers adding them any longer, though I’m not sure. I don’t listen to audiobooks myself, my own or anyone else’s. It’s immensely pleasurable to record books, but once I’ve done that why would I want to listen to them? Been there, done that.
What kind of personal preparation goes into getting to record an audiobook and how do you preserve your voice?
Occasionally if Susie gives me a heads up about a particular accent, I may go online to find samples of 15-year-old Malaysian girls with lisps raised in Irish Catholic orphanages till age ten then indentured as servants to a family of Germans with a Spanish head of the household. Other than that, I pretty much have a handle on how I approach accents, etc. Might not be Meryl Streepalicious, but then she has to perfect an accent for several hundred lines in a few projects per year. I do many more characters, many more books, so while I do try to do a good job with accents and dialects, my primary concern is to create characters and narrators that feel well motivated and interesting and further the author’s intent.
Recently, three of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, Die Trying, Tripwire and Running Blind, were rerecorded by another audiobook narrator, Jonathan McClain, and released on Audible. There was a backlash from fans for you not being the narrator. Do you know why your versions of these books were replaced and will you continue to be the voice of future Jack Reacher audiobooks, including Never Go Back, which comes out in the fall?
Yes, I’ve heard from a number of concerned folks. I think what that is, audio rights for the UK are issued separately, and Mr. McClain has been doing those. I will be doing the latest Reacher, and unless something happens I expect to continue doing so. Folks just have to look carefully to ensure they’re getting the reader they prefer, I guess.
Aside from narrating books, what other kinds of acting have you done?
I’ve worked regionally in live theatre, onstage. No film, some commercial video, ads and the like.
You and your wife have extensive experience in the audiobook industry. How did you two meet, and have you had the opportunity to collaborate on a project?
We met when she played Guinevere and I played Arthur in a production of Camelot. In addition to our work onstage, once we entered the audio world I directed her several times, she’s engineered and directed me on lord knows how many projects, and we’ve recorded a number of dual reads, one of which won us both Audies, the audiobook equivalent of an Oscar or a Tony. Or a Westchester Kennel Club best in show I suppose.
What projects are you currently working on that fans should look out for in the months to come?
Expecting that Reacher script soon, think there’s a fall release. Doing the last of the Stephen White series about Dr. Alan Gregory, which is heartbreaking for us. Love his writing and character insight, and one supporting character, Det. Sam Purdy, is one of the characters nearest and dearest to my heart. Susie’s prepping it this week, and is raving about how good it is and wailing about the fact that it is the last.
John Lithgow is one of my favorite actors, and I’m currently enjoying listening to the audiobook version of his autobiography, Drama: An Actor’s Education. Whether he was playing a serious Shakespearian role or a hilarious goof, Lithgow’s versatility as an actor garnered him numerous awards and fans over the years.
Below are two videos: One is a fan-made compilation of some of Lithgow’s best work on 3rd Rock from the Sun, and the other is an interview about the aforementioned autobiography.