cover image Let Me Clear My Throat: Essays

Let Me Clear My Throat: Essays

Elena Passarello. Sarabande (Consortium, dist.), $22.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-936747-52-8

In this funny, visceral collection of essays, Passarello explores the ways our voices can entertain us, connect us, ruin us, vent our pains, and tether us to a place or tradition. Subjects range from sports announcer Myron Cope’s pretzel-mouthed Pittsburghese to Marlon Brando’s gut-wrenching “Stella!” in A Streetcar Named Desire and the punctilious mouth diagrams of Frank Sinatra’s “Tips on Popular Singing” pamphlet. In the most moving essay, an account of Judy Garland’s legendary concert at Carnegie Hall meanders forward and backward through the diva’s troubled life, taking us from the “little red-walled room” of her mother’s womb, filled with her voice, to the glittery blue velvet that lined her final bed after an overdose of Seconal. Passarello isn’t afraid to get personal, either, revealing how years of her own mother’s “harpy” bellowing prepared her to win the 2011 Stella Shouting Contest, and musing on the cawing of the crows that populate her wintry Iowa backyard as a metaphor for the tougher grit that rock ’n’ rollers like the Fendermen injected into popular music’s songbird melodies. The essays are interspersed with brief monologues from voice-over artists, auctioneers, singers, psychics, American Idol contestants, and Holy Rollers, discussing what voice means to them. This striking debut is graceful even in its portrayal of the most barbaric groans and yelping cries. (Oct.)