I mentioned in a few posts a while back that, at certain points in the process of a job, I listen to audiobooks in my studio via my iPod. As I also mentioned, I can only listen to audiobooks I have either already read or have listened to before. This is because I cannot devote the kind of attention necessary to follow every word and action in the book… I have to be able to zone in and out just a little or it would be a distraction rather than a way to stay focused and on task. A while back someone in a comment asked what audiobooks I was listening to lately. Quite a few, actually.
Recently I listened to a few books I had read as a kid or in college. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” was one… what an interesting book that is. It’s far more than a vampire story. It’s really a study of what happens when modern technology (what was then modern technology: wired messages, locomotive travel, advanced medicine, newspapers and fast communication of news to the public) collides with old world myth or belief. In the ordinary run of things, modern technology would lay waste to old myths and legends, disproving them. But what if they were real, and could not be disproved but rather proved true? Even Stoker’s writing style of telling the story through the journals, letters and recordings of various characters was a statement about the forward thinking of the day and it’s reaction to facing the supernatural of the old world made real. Great story.
Another I heard for the first time and had not read since late high school was Truman Capote‘s “In Cold Blood”. The hype and success of the film “Capote” got me thinking about the book. It was as haunting as I remembered. Listening to it now knowing somewhat of the behind the scenes of it’s writing (of course, that was Hollywood so who knows what was accurate and what was not) did not change much for me. I could hear Capote’s sympathy for the killers the first time I read it. I also listened recently to the Dan Brown books “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels and Demons”. They are engaging time passers, but not my favorites. Anna loves them.
What I’m listening to right now, yet again, is Stephen King‘s “The Dark Tower” series. This is a terrific story arc over seven books that is remarkable in many ways, not the least of which is that the first book was written by King back in 1970, and the final volume completed in 2003 (those are dates of writing, not publication). King wrote the first three volumes within a reasonable timeframe, then the fourth a bit later, with the last three coming over 15 years after book four. Even so, the story remained largely within continuity. After he began the final three books meaning to complete the story, King saw fit to go back and revise book 1 in a manner that he felt made the story more cohesive. I have both the original version of “the Gunslinger” and the revised one, but have yet to go through them and see where all the differences are. Some are obvious, some were very much needed and do make the story more complete and, some are (sorry Steve) ham-handed and unneeded references to later species, characters, places and events that seemed out of place and forced. King calls “The Dark Tower” his “Lord of the Rings”, and although he does not mean that statement to compare his skills with those of J.R.R. Tolkien, he is not exaggerating.
As you can see, I have a lot to say on this subject. “The Dark Tower” is one of my favorite series of books. It is meaty, full of symbolism and contains an odd mixture of the western, sci-fi and mythology that makes it unique and utterly captivating. I’m a sucker for long and detailed epics, also loving Tolkien and Frank Herbert‘s “Dune” books. However, I am not quite ready to write about the Dark Tower just yet… perhaps when I am done listening to it again in a week or more I will do so. For now I will just mention something that struck me as I finished book four, “Wizards and Glass” on audiobook tonight, and started on book five, “Wolves of the Calla”. That something is Frank Muller.
Frank Muller has done the reading on a large number of audiobooks from classics like “The Great Gastby” and “Great Expectations” to several of Kings’ Dark Tower books. I didn’t know how many books (and how many famous and excellent ones) Muller had done until I started downloading books from Audible all the time for the studio. I downloaded Thomas Harris’s “The Silence of the Lambs” this summer and listened to that. Narrator? Frank Muller. I recently started downloading some John Grisham books to listen to down the road sometime. Narrator? Frank Muller. Now that I knew of him he seemed to be everywhere.
I am not surprised. The man had a gifted voice. He could alter it in fundamental ways so that you could instantly tell the difference between characters, but not in a way that he seemed to be doing “voices”. It’s hard to explain… it was like hearing the same voice but in different accents and pitches that made you believe different people were speaking without sounding like there was a room full of voice actors doing a dramatization. It was amazing, and his voice also had a hypnotic quality to it. He could really bring you into a story, and keep you there. He had an incredible talent.
I say “had” and “was” and “could” because Frank Muller won’t be doing anymore audiobooks barring a miracle. On November 5, 2001, Frank Muller was in a very serious motorcycle accident near Los Angeles, California. He sustained multiple fractures, lacerations and abrasions, and went into cardiac arrest three times. He also suffered severe head trauma, which was subsequently diagnosed as Diffuse Axonal Injury. Few people who suffer DAI ever leave a vegetative state. Frank has done better than that, but will need long term care for the rest of his life, and his voice will likely never grace another audiobook recording again. You can read about Franks accident and his courageous efforts at recovery here. I was reminded again about Muller’s tragedy when I started listening to “Wolves of the Calla”. Muller had read all four of the previous Dark Tower books, and according to King he was scheduled to read the remaining three when the accident occurred. George Guidal took over and read the last three Dark Tower books as well as the revised first book. Guidal does a terrific job, but it was still jarring to hear the words of Roland from another’s voice after so many hours of Muller’s superb readings.
King was a good friend of Muller’s, and he started a non-profit organization called the Wavedancer Foundation originally to assist the family of Frank Muller, but it has evolved into a resource for any artists or performers who become disabled and unable to work. It’s a very worthwhile cause, and other authors like Peter Straub and John Grisham, whose books Muller had graced with his talents on the audio recorded versions, have worked with King doing benefits and such for the Foundation. I wrote about a trip Anna, I and three of the kids took to NYC this summer to see King (and John Irving and J.K. Rowling) do a evening of reading, and one of the charities benefiting was Wavedancer.
As sad as I am when reminded that Frank Muller won’t be reading any more books for me to enjoy, that sadness pales in comparison to that which I feel for Frank and his family. Our loss of the future enjoyment of his talents is utterly small and inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. I cannot imagine the hardships their family has endured since that terrible night in 2001. My heart goes out to them. I will always be able to revisit what I know of Frank with just the press of a button… they lost so much more. Frank is far from gone, however, and he has bucked many odds already in his recovery. I wish he and his family every blessing.
If anyone is interested in helping the Wavedancer Foundation by donating, follow this link for more information. Oddly, the Wavedancer Foundation has no website, but others have stepped up on the internet to tell folks where they can donate to help the cause. Also several audiobooks, at least at the time of their release, donated profits or portions thereof to the Wavedancer Foundation in honor of Frank. I know King’s “Wolves of the Calla” was one, as well as the recording of the benefit done by King, Straub, Grisham and Pat Conroy called The Wavedancer Benefit: A Tribute to Frank Muller. I am not sure if that is still the case.
If nothing else, do yourselves a favor and go get an audiobook that Frank has read, find a comfortable chair, put on the headphones and prepare to be lost in a way that tired eyes and wandering attention sometimes prevents when reading yourself. Experience storytelling by a master of the craft, and afterward remember to be thankful for what you have, and do something to show you don’t take it for granted.
755 My cover art for the next issue of MAD, exclusive sneak peek from @entertainmentweekly website
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