On the Radio – April 1998

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by Dennis Daniel

Ever since Jack received his portable Panasonic cassette recorder, he had been experimenting with recording all kinds of sounds. Sometimes, he’d throw in the batteries, take the cassette outside, and give a tour of the backyard.

 “As you can hear, to the right a small group of birds is singing the praises of this lovely day. To the left, Mr, Baron is being screamed at once again by Mrs. Baron for being a lazy no good bum. Although it is off in the distance, it sounds as if she’s right here with us.”

Sometimes he’d pull up the little green hassock that his Dad used to rest his feet on and bring it close to the speaker on their RCA TV set. The deck’s condenser mike fit just under the speaker of the TV. From here, recorder armed with a 90-minute cassette, Jack would press “record” and “play,” thus catapulting him into an endless sea of recordable material!

All the classic movie comedians were recorded and studied—The Marx Brothers, Laurel And Hardy, W.C. Fields, The Three Stooges, the classic movie stars, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Cary Grant, Clark Gable. Classic films like The Wizard Of Oz, Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, The Grapes Of Wrath. Jack would watch the films over and over in his head listening to the playback every night as he lay in bed. All the images made themselves crystal clear in his mind’s eye. It was like seeing the movie over and over again. The words and images would seep themselves into his brain as he fell asleep.

“Of all the gin joints and all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” Bogart would lament from Casablanca.

Jack, lips distorted into a Bogart lisp, would repeat the famous quote again and again into the little hand held mike of his Panasonic. He’d play it back.

“Too much lisp.”

He’d try it again.

“Not the right pausing.”

“Jack, mow the lawn!” yelled Mom.

“Of all the lawns in all the towns in all the world, she wants me to mow mine.”

Mom laughed. The grass grew.

Jack prided himself on studying all the subtleties of each person’s voice, the phrasing, the timing. He memorized all the lines of dialogue. He then began to record himself repeating these lines. Constant exposure to the likes of Groucho Marx, Marlon Brando, and John Wayne gave him the ability to mimic them. He couldn’t understand why he could do it, he just did it. Friends and family were constantly delighted by his off-the-cuff performances.

“How does he know all that dialogue?”

“Where did he learn to imitate James Cagney? He’s only 15!”

“God given gift, I guess.” Jack’s Dad John would say.

Jack loved to record all the various sound stimuli that existed all around him. He lived to experience the miracle of playback! Wasn’t it cool how things don’t really sound on tape the way you hear them in real life? Every day was a constant search for more to record.

Jack Moriarty’s mom had a loud voice. Very loud. Very grating. Even in normal conversation, Gabrielle Moriarty’s voice would pierce through the delicate inner fibers of your ear like needles through a pincushion. Like hot molten lava through butter. Like crap through a goose. We’re talking loud.

The two floor ranch style family abode in the little hamlet of Islip Terrace, Long Island, New York, that the Moriarty family bobbed and weaved through was constantly vibrating to the deep dulcet tones of Gabrielle barking commands like a psychotic marine drill sergeant on steroids.

There were many phrases that bellowed forth in Jack’s direction from the motherly mouth that roared. These phrases fit well within the expected canon of adolescent reprimand expectations. All the “Mom” classics! The ones every 15-year-old constantly hears. In fact, one could not claim to be a 15-year-old without some knowledge of their existence.

“Jack, did you take out the garbage?”

“Jack, clean your room. It’s a pig sty!”

And that oldie but goodie, “Jack, lower that music!” All screeched out through the reverberating oral orifice of Jack’s sweet little mommy.

Here was a voice that demanded attention, a voice for the ages, a voice that Jack had to record in all its unbridled honesty, passion, and horror. It had to be done on the sly. She could not know that she was being recorded or all the natural intensity would be lost. The trick was…how?

Jack’s first stab at it was when his Mom had her friends over to play cards. From his downstairs room, he could hear all the cackling and caterwauling that went on when Gabrielle gathered together the tribes. He slipped in a blank tape and prepared to record.

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