Voice, Tone, and Diction Separate the Artists from the Artisans.

I have a confession to make that has gotten me into trouble in the past.  I don't like Beyoncé.

"Oh, hi Beyoncé, I didn't know
you were reading this...I, I, I think
you're beautiful.  
"What? Are you a racist!" People scream at me every time I mention this musical preference. "No, No...it has nothing to do with race...and she's a pretty girl, and a good dancer and all, I just..."

N.I.N. was about as heavy as I liked
my music in my angst years.  
"Oh, you're one of those rock guys, who hates all pop music, aren't you?"

"No, I mean pop music isn't my thing, but I can respect a good song by Pink or Lorde or Rihanna..."

"How can you say that!  Those artists aren't even in the same category of singer as Beyoncé! You have sucky taste in music!"

Well maybe I do. But I know what I like, and I don't like Beyoncé's tone. Her timbre and vibrato and basic "oversinging" of songs has always turned me off. I recognize that she has talent, I just don't care for her sound. Christina Aguilera is another female singer whose voice, while obviously superior to 95% of pop radio, has never won me over.

Because tone, that hard to define (but obvious to the discerning ear), characteristic that makes singers unique, is interpreted differently by each ear. Obviously some people need their ears cleaned out, like those who think Bob Dylan is anything other than a great songwriter, but still, we all have our tastes.

Sound, like art, is subjective. I remember in school there where the Metallica kids who hated Megadeth and the Megadeth kids hated Metallica. As just a casual listener of the genre of heavy metal, I didn't care for Megadeth but thought Metallica's slow songs were pretty good. I didn't realize that true Metallica fans hate all the slow songs...and you can't be a true Metallica fan unless you love speed metal, specifically off Kill Them All, and their other, pre- Black Album, music. I don't.

Which is why I never got invited over to their leather jacket patch making parties, and never got got close enough to run my fingers through their Suave-washed headbanger hair.

That's fine. Heavy metal has its place, but I don't enjoy it everyday. I like hearing people's voices. I like noticing the lyrics. I like picking out every instrument. I like complexity and clarity and rhythm and tone. I like a well-defined sound with depth.

Like being able to decipher that the guitarist is B.B. King after only two notes. Or hearing a Stevie Wonder song I've never heard before, but knowing, KNOWING, it's him before the first verse is done. (Do you sense some White guilt, yet?  I promise I like music of every color and nationality, except Canada).

Some artist's sound--their tone, their phonic articulation, is so unique to them, that we (the listening audience) can tell within seconds wether we like it or not. Which is why I know what I like, and I'm picky about what music I listen to.

Not so different from the way singers emote passion from lyrics, are the way writers pull meaning from life in carefully crafted words.

I'm even more picky about authors than I am with bands/singers. I fall in love with authors. I fall in love with their diction. I love their voice. I crave their sentence structure. I am an author snob. Plot is nice, plot is good, but plot alone is like sex without foreplay Thanksgiving dinner without the sense of smell. And if I'm going to invest between five and fifty hours reading someone's story, it better be marinated in beautiful passages while it slowly cooks (aren't you glad I traded the sexual simile for the food one? Imagine this last sentence had I continued on my original path).

Steinbeck ponders, "I wonder if I wrote enough stories about immigrants in Salinas County?"  

It's because of VOICE, that I love F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Steinbeck, and Sherman Alexie, and Mark Twain, and Ian McEwen, and Alice Munro (A Canadian? Yes, only their music sucks), and Vonnegut, and a few more.  Not only have I read their major works, I've read their entire works.

Because If you woo me with your words, I'm forever yours, faithfully. (Now Journey...that was a band with a great female lead singer).


  1. My interest in authors seems to come and go. I get into their stories and will read 2 or 3 books, then change direction like a dog that just noticed a squirrel. Maybe that's why I've taken to non fiction. I read about a topic and that's what fascinates me more than the ability of an author to web a world for me.

  2. I am the same way with authors. I move through a catalogue by an author like a locust.

  3. Don't be too hard on Canada. It's just damned hard to sing with your lips frozen. Though Barbara Streisand was quoted as saying that if she had the vocal apparatus of Anne Murray, she'd actually use it. And let us not forget "The Band."

    Here's a writer to take a look at - very interesting voice from the not too distant past, Donald Hamilton, his Max Helm series. His style fascinates me. By the by, I agree with you for what it's worth, voice is everything. It includes style but adds a personal marker unique and unrepeatable, the mystery, the allure of that particular artist, if in fact they have any.