Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Voice of America

Swankette and I continued with a little tradition last night...the 4th of July Minor League Baseball Road Trip. We're at the fifth annual now...and that's pretty cool. We didn't do a big doohickey like last year's trip to California, or even a little one like the previous year's overnighter in the Tri-Cities and Yakima. This year, we just headed to Tacoma, since my baby had to work today.

The game was tight and fun, and the fireworks were pretty good too, and I like Cheney Stadium. But what I found was interesting, was the sounds behind the fireworks.

Instead of the usual Sousa and Lee Greenwood, they led off with an excerpt from a stirring speech by President George W. Bush.

That's not the way to make me feel patriotic.

Not long later, there was a similar speech by President Clinton.

It's obviously not politics, because while I'm a fan of Bill and miss him terribly, I can't say that hearing his voice stirs patriotism in me.

Which led me here...Whose spoken voice (no singing allowed) do I most associate with America? Whose voice sparks patriotic stirrings in me, in the way that I imagine an Englishman is stirred by Churchill's voice?

Let's start with presidents. I wouldn't recognize FDR's voice were it not repeated so often in David Letterman's "Great Moments in Presidential Speeches" bit. Other than that, I could recognize the voices of every President from Kennedy to now except Ford. But which stirs my patriotism? They played Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you" snippet in Tacoma last night. But I can't say that Kennedy's voice itself makes me feel patriotic...too many strings attached, as with Clinton. Strangely, among Presidents, the voice that makes me feel most patriotic is probably Reagan's. I hated him as President, but he's an actor, so he knows how to produce emotion with that Midwestern baritone. Nevertheless, I'd get to thinking about Iran/Contra and would feel ashamed rather than proud or honored to be American.

It didn't take me long to come up with three nominees for The Voice of America.

The first nominee is Charlton Heston. What a voice. I'd listen to him read the phone book; I'd certainly enjoy him reading the Declaration of Independence or Emancipation Proclamation. But, like with Reagan, his gorgeous, expressive voice would fade as I imagined him saying "From my cold, dead hands." Too distracting.

Second is Maya Angelou. Her history as a singer and poet means she could make anything sound good. But I wasn't a big fan of her Clinton inaugural poem, and I guess if I disqualify someone for righty politics, I could disqualify someone for being lefty too.

But Angelou and Heston are also-rans. This competition wasn't close. There's no doubt who the Voice of America is.

It's James Earl Jones.

For starters, he's already the de facto voice of America. My kid sister pointed out that when she lived abroad (and when I lived abroad), it was James Earl Jones' voice that was inextricably associated with home. When I wanted American news, I'd hear Jones saying "This is CNN." (I have to bold face it...Jones always sounds like he's speaking in bold face.) When I'd call home, Jones' voice would say "AT&T"...he'd introduce me to home...the last voice I'd hear before that of my girlfriend or family.

His voice is so famous that I barely even associate it with Darth Vader anymore. I think of his big soliloquy as Terence Mann in Field of Dreams. I think of his work in August Wilson's plays. I'm reminded that he was Mufasa in The Lion King. Talk about a wide range. I don't know a stinkin' thing about his politics. In fact, as he says in his IMDB biography: "My voice is for hire. My endorsement is not for hire. I will do a voice-over, but I cannot endorse without making a different kind of commitment. My politics are very personal and subjective." I like that.

I poked around looking for a DVD of Jones reading patriotic passages. In the process, I found that he has read the Bible and some selected quotes used by Howard Zinn. I may need to get both of those.

In all seriousness, though...a voice treasured by regular Bible-listeners and by Howard Zinn? A voice that encompasses Darth Vader, Mustafa, baseball, and the struggle for Civil Rights? A voice that can be perfect evil and perfect good? A voice that is willing to do "Top Ten Words That Sound Great When Spoken By James Earl Jones," which included "Mellifluous," "Verisimilitude," "Guppy" and "Pinhead"?

That's my man. James Earl Jones, you are the voice that gets my patriotism cooking.

Happy 4th. My present to you, my dear readers, is this link.

May we become the nation we claim to be.


MCMC said...

Martin Luther King. Hands down.


PS: We read the entire Declaration of Independence at our barbecue last night, including the stuff Congress deleted from Jefferson's draft. That stirred patriotism in me.

tommyspoon said...

"...Cheney Stadium..."

Eww. I think if I saw that name on the sign, I'd turn around immediately.

TeacherRefPoet said...

MCMC: MLK has a wonderful voice and some beautiful speeches, but when I hear his voice, I feel shame in what we haven't accomplished--which, if anything, is the opposite of patriotism.

Spoon: Yeah, can't blame you. But Cheney Stadium is named for Ben Cheney, who was a lumber magnate around these parts from the 50s and 60s. There's a bronze statue of him occupying one of the seats in the stadium, which I like.

If you want disgusting, go to Minute Maid Park in Houston, which, as of my visit three years ago, had a massive exhibit outside it celebrating Halliburton. Ick, ick, ick.

MCMC said...


Wow. I don't hear that in King at all. Or rather, I don't just hear that. Of course there's a righteous anger in King's voice and in his speeches. But no one--no one--has ever done such a powerful job of creating a hopeful vision of what America could be, in my mind.

To me, James Earl Jones is the voice of CNN.