DATE December 8, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Alex Knott of The Center for Public Integrity talks
about lobbying, lobbyists and lobbying practices
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
With several lobbying scandals in play we thought this was a good time to take
a look at how lobbying works and the increasing power lobbyists have in the
writing of legislation. Last week we focused on the investigations into
lobbyists Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. Today we're going to talk with
someone whose job is monitoring lobby groups. Alex Knott is the Lobby Watch
project manager for The Center for Public Integrity. Knott was also the
project manager for The Center for Public Integrity's investigative book "The
Buying of the President 2004."
Do you have an example or a story, you know, that crystallizes how lobbying
works and why you think it sometimes goes too far?
Mr. ALEX KNOTT (Lobby Watch Project Manager, The Center for Public
Integrity): Well, there was a situation where a former Florida senator named
Connie Mack put forward a legislation that would help out Bacardi on some
trademark issues that it was having with Cuba. And the bill was put forward
and was passed and was a special section, just a small, short section that was
put forth and written by Bacardi. Well, this legislation was passed and
Connie Mack when he retired he wanted to go work for--you guessed it,
Bacardi--working on the--to keep the legislation that he'd passed into law to
continue to be the law so that Bacardi would be helped on that legislation.
So it's a funny situation where sometimes members of Congress will take an
action which later gets rewarded when they move to K Street.
GROSS: It sounds like lobbyists are influencing legislators in almost
unprecedented ways. Some people are saying that lobbyists are almost writing
the bills with the legislators. What have you learned about new ways that
lobbyists are influencing legislation?
Mr. KNOTT: Well, a lot of times they will write legislation. Sometimes they
just write an amendment, which will get slipped in during a committee markup.
It'll only be a few sentences to a bill, but sometimes it can have a massive
effects, either in regulation, which will save an industry billions of
dollars, or sometimes contracts, which will be handed out through a
sole-source no-bid situation that will help a company directly.
For a long period of time there has been a lot of lobbyists that have played a
role in formulating legislation, but these days they are writing it directly.
Not every piece of legislation that's put out there, but there were 7,000
bills between the House and the Senate during the last congressional session
and many of those are written by lobbyists largely.
GROSS: The center did a yearlong study on global pharmaceutical corporations
and concluded that pharmaceutical corporations spent more than $800 million in
federal lobbying and campaign donations in the past seven years. What impact
did the pharmaceutical lobby have on the Medicare prescription drug benefit?
Mr. KNOTT: Well, there were a couple of those that were being put forth.
The Democrats wanted, you know, lower prices and things that would require
more regulation of the pharmaceutical industry. And the Republican-sponsored
bill was a little bit more industry-friendly. And this ended up being the
bill that passed. It was actually the president's initiative and it was the
president's prescription Medicare drug plan. This was the one that ended up
passing and everybody from pharmaceutical companies to the American Medical
Association to the AARP weighed in on this. And at the end of the day, the
pharmaceutical companies got at least a closer version of the legislation that
they wanted and it helped them out.
GROSS: What did they want and how did they get it?
Mr. KNOTT: There were many things that they wanted. One of the biggest
things is that they wanted patent extensions and this was part of the bill.
Another thing that they wanted was making sure that no drugs came in through
the exportation from Canada. This was another part of the bill. But instead
of making the pharmaceuticals lose part of their profits, what happened is
largely the federal government picked up the tab for this and it saved the
pharmaceutical companies from both regulation and loss in profits.
GROSS: I don't know if this is a question that you can actually answer...
Mr. KNOTT: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...but how much do you think the pharmaceutical lobby was behind--was
the inspiration for the Medicare prescription drug bill?
Mr. KNOTT: Well, there's a lot of situations where they list lobbying the
bill very early in the session so one would believe that people from the
pharmaceutical industry had a direct role with its inception. You know, there
are a lot of groups, pharmaceutical companies being--some of them, that lobby
the White House directly. For instance, the bioindustry organization--or
Biotechnology Industry Organization, rather, which represents many
pharmaceutical makers, has been one--they're the 13th largest group that has
lobbied the White House directly. So many of the things that come out in the
president's proposals are lobbied on directly by industries and then they take
the form of legislation or an initiative. Sometimes it could be even
something that could be an executive order that's put forth like the Healthy
Forests initiative was originally an executive order until it passed as an
act. So there are many little things like this that are, you know, that are
lobbied by lobbyists that come into the White House and come in and out and
sometimes even buy trips for people that work as staffers.
GROSS: Do you have any idea of what the pharmaceutical lobby did to influence
legislators who were voting on the Medicare prescription drug plan?
Mr. KNOTT: Well, sure. They hired a lot of well-connected people. I don't
have these figures directly in front of me, however. A lot of times they'll
hire people that have revolving door links to members of Congress. Revolving
doors is, you know, something that's understood inside the Beltway but explain
it. There are about 10,000 people that work for members of Congress as
staffers. And then, of course, you have members of Congress and then a huge
amount of people that also work for the federal government. We have found
that there have been 2,200 people that have registered as lobbyists that have
worked for the government prior and a lot of times they'll have a connection
to a member of Congress who's going to vote on one of these bills or amend or
support some of this legislation. So by hiring some of the friends and the
people that are well-connected to members of Congress that are going to weigh
in on this legislation, they are often able to change the votes and shift the
focus and shift the debate on legislation like the Prescription Drug Act.
So using revolving doors and hiring lobbyists that are very well-connected can
be the most succinct way of changing how things are viewed by Congress.
GROSS: So you're hiring people who have access to the people who are voting?
Mr. KNOTT: That's exactly it, some of the friends and the former colleagues.
We found that, you know, there are 236 former members of Congress that have
registered since 1998, and they can walk onto the House and Senate floor and
discuss things with members of Congress. Now they're not supposed to lobby
them directly there in the cloak rooms or in the speakers lobby or in the
President's Room, but these facilities that basically only members of Congress
can go to and former members of Congress that are now lobbyists are really
exclusive. And this is a situation where former members can have an
extraordinary power to influence a lawmaker's views.
GROSS: Now I want to get back to something we were talking about a moment ago
which is just that some bills are virtually written or some amendments within
bills are virtually written by lobbyists. I don't really understand how that
works. If you're a legislator, you just say to a lobbyist, `Hey, you write
this for me and I'll just put it in.' I mean, how do lobbyists get to actually
write parts of bills?
Mr. KNOTT: Well, a lot of times a member of Congress will weigh in with an
industry to at least understand their perspective before going forward and
proposing and writing legislation and--which is a good value judgment. You
kind of want to know what teach--how things are going to affect teachers so
you might want to talk to a teacher group and just talk to them and understand
that and that's something that takes place with some types of lobbying.
However, a lot of times lobbying groups will just put forward legislation and
they'll find a member of Congress who often values their judgment so much so
that they basically submit almost all of the language. And it'll get written
up by their legislative writers, you know, over at Ford in the House or
corresponding buildings in the Senate. And then the legislation will come
forward and you won't even see the lobbyist's fingerprints on it by the end of
the day. You won't know who put forward this bill.
GROSS: Is it hard to establish a direct quid pro quo between a lobbyist and a
Mr. KNOTT: It's very hard. One of the reasons that it's hard to get these
quid pro quos and really prove them is because lobbyists' disclosure is pretty
weak. You only have to submit every six months and if I started lobbying on
something in, let's say, January, you wouldn't find out about it until
mid-October probably at the earliest just because you only have to file every
six months and it takes a while for those records to get in the system. By
then the legislation could have been passed already and it's no longer
newsworthy. So the press doesn't have any reason to necessarily cover who's
lobbying on a certain issue and they don't have any way to really track it in
any real time.
There's a few bills in the House that are looking at this currently and
they're trying to increase the filing requirements, make them happen quarterly
instead of semiannually and also to try to make it electronically filed, which
is something that is being considered though we're not advocating anything
either way on that.
GROSS: My guest is Alex Knott. He runs the Lobby Watch project at The Center
for Public Integrity. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Alex Knott. He's the Lobby
Watch project manager for The Center for Public Integrity in Washington DC.
Let's talk about the K Street Project. From what I've read, it's my
understanding that this is an initiative to make sure that lobby groups are
staffed largely or exclusively by Republicans and to basically get rid of
Democrats in lobby groups.
What's your understanding of the K Street Project?
Mr. KNOTT: Well, basically this is an initiative that's been put forward by
former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Rick Santorum and GOP strategist
Grover Norquist. And the idea is basically that different lobbying firms on K
Street and otherwise hire as many Republicans as possible and almost exclude
Democrats from the process. Basically now since the Republicans have control
of the White House, the Senate and the House there's almost one more house
that could be taken and that would be the lobbying house, basically K Street.
GROSS: An article in the Washington Monthly said the lobbies have become a
Republican political machine. Does that sound accurate to you?
Mr. KNOTT: To a certain extent it is and there's a reason that there is so
much pressure to make these groups Republican. A lot of times when a member
of Congress wants to retire they want to get a very lucrative job on K Street.
Sometimes just being a member of Congress is a resume builder for an
ultimately much more lucrative job on K Street, such as members of Congress
only receive about $160,000--and it's difficult to say only attached to
that--but you can make, you know, well over a million dollars by being a
former member of Congress who lobbies. So this can really set them up. And
not only that--can it set them up, but it can set up their staffs. You know,
there's nearly 10,000 people that work on the Hill and Republicans want other
Republicans to staff those positions on K Street.
GROSS: Does the K Street Project represent a new direction in lobbying? I
mean, for example, in the classic relationship between lobbyist and
legislator, the lobbyist wants certain legislation passed that will help their
industry and in return they might give some kind of favor to the legislator.
But what the K Street Project is doing is they're pushing at the lobbyist to
do political things, to have a political direction. Does that represent
Mr. KNOTT: I think it does in that it's so organically partisan. You know,
lobbyists have always been in the business of providing favors to members of
Congress. Many times these favors take the form of a trip or possibly a
campaign contribution. But actually formulating staffs that would behoove a
lawmaker, well, that's kind of a new thing. At least, it's the first time
it's ever happened on such a massive scale as with the K Street Project. I'm
sure that, you know, there have been situations in the past where certain
lobbying firms are very business-friendly or more Republican-based or more
labor union-friendly/Democratic-based, but on a whole scale market when you
look at the lobbying industry--and that's really what it is, it's an
industry--to see something this massive and on this scale is--this is kind of
a new thing. This is a situation where they're actually actively going out
and changing their hiring practices to only hire Republicans, many times
hiring Republicans that were former staff members of the people that they are
trying to influence. So it actually somewhat behooves them because now they
can hire a lobbyist who is going to be able to go to that former member and
have this working relationship with him. But it also helps them out because
they're doing a favor for these members of Congress, which is, you know,
tantamount to any campaign contribution, it's also equal to any large favor
like a trip.
GROSS: Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon are involved in a big lobbying
scandal right now involving their work on behalf of Indian tribes who run or
want to run casinos. What do you--what would you say have been their
trademarks as lobbyists, like, what sets them apart from what other lobbyists
Mr. KNOTT: Well, I think the number one thing is the dollars that they
charged for their services. The amount of money that they charged these
Indian tribes were completely out of character for lobbying. They were so
high that many people on K Street laughed at how much they were receiving.
You know, I've even spoke to a former member of Congress who is a lobbyist now
and they've dealt with some of their clients and they just were blown away by
how much Mr. Abramoff was charging their clients. It was just amazing. And
even many of the people that are on K Street were kind of ready for, you know,
an indictment to take place because it was kind of giving the rest of the
lobbyists, believe it or not, a bad name.
GROSS: They've been indicted for defrauding the Indian tribes that they
represented. Do you see what they've done as just being greedy or do you see
it as part of a larger direction that lobbying has headed in?
Mr. KNOTT: Well, lobbying is--it is a direction that lobbying is headed in.
Lobbying has increased over the years to a larger amount. In 1998 $1.4
billion was spent lobbying the federal government. During 2004 $2.1 billion
was spent lobbying the federal government. Right now lobbying is unregulated
and you can charge as much as you want to lobby on behalf of somebody. And
it's kind of a free agency situation where if you feel that you deserve a
certain rate, you can ask for it. And as long as the corporation is willing
to pay for it, you can get the money and then the lobby. It's a new ground.
Companies have realized that lobbying equates to less than pennies on the
dollar whether it's a new initiative that could be environmental that could
cost energy companies billions of dollars or whether it's a situation where
pharmaceuticals have less regulation or even another situation where large
defense contractors can receive, you know, billions of dollars in contracts by
only spending millions of dollars lobbying.
GROSS: You know, in the relationship between lobbyists and legislators, how
much do you think that lobbies are just relying on their powers of
persuasion--they're experts in the field, they know what their industry
wants--and how much of it is actually like buying favor?
Mr. KNOTT: Well, a large amount of it is buying favor. We found that there
are a lot of lawmakers that have put lobbyists in charge of their campaign
committees and leadership PACs. For instance, you know, there's almost 80
members of Congress who have appointed lobbyists to be the treasurers of their
campaign committees. And basically since they control the purse strings of
their re-election, they have this overwhelming favor from that member of
Congress. It goes way beyond any campaign contribution, if you control a
member of Congress' campaign committee. And that's something that's happened
over and over on Capitol Hill--between K Street and Capitol Hill.
But sometimes a lobbyist's best friend is the information that they carry. A
lot of times the lobbyist knows the most about this bill, many times because
they wrote it, you know, because there's so many bills, because these bills
are hundreds to thousands of pages long. Members of Congress rely upon
lobbyists more and more to get their opinion so that they can comprehensively
understand what's in these bills. The only thing is while these lobbyists
are, you know, informing these members of Congress, they are often twisting
the facts to benefit their industry.
GROSS: Senator McCain said on our show this week that he plans to introduce
legislation to further regulate lobby groups. What kind of regulation of
lobby groups would you like to see?
Mr. KNOTT: Well, while The Center of Public Integrity doesn't advocate
anything, I think that a lot of campaign financing and lobbying reform
advocates would like to see more transparency to the system. Something that
happens semiannually it is not a real-time situation where a democracy can
have an understanding of who's affecting that democracy.
They probably would want a longer cooling off period so that so many of these
proverbial revolving doors that you hear about wouldn't take place immediately
and kind of negate many of the conflicts of interest that take place.
I think a lot of people are looking to stem the tide of trips that are being
paid for members of Congress so that situations where Jack Abramoff is paying
for a member of Congress to go play golf in Scotland wouldn't exist anymore.
And also you would probably see a lot more situations where the forms would be
more transparent so that you could actually see more or less what legislation
is actually being affected by the lobbyists as it was being affected.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. KNOTT: Thank you.
GROSS: Alex Knott runs the Lobby Watch project at The Center for Public
I have a correction to make. On Tuesday during my interview with Senator John
McCain while we were discussing how current ethics, bribery and corruption
investigations are affecting the Republican Party, I mentioned the name of
Congressman Bob Ney. I mistakenly said that the congressman had resigned. He
has not. Congressman Ney is still in office and is running for re-election.
I regret the error. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man: (Singing) You need ...(unintelligible). Baby, how about
GROSS: Coming up, how to growl and scream without damaging your vocal cords.
We talk with vocal coach Melissa Cross. She works with punk and heavy metal
performers. She has a new instructional DVD. Also rock historian Ed Ward
(Soundbite of unidentified song)
Unidentified Man: (Singing) I'm gonna give you my love. Oh.
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Want a whole lot of love? Want a whole lot of
love? Want a whole lot of love?
Unidentified Man: (Singing) You better learn it, baby, I mean learn it. Oh,
I got some good times baby, baby ...(unintelligible). Way, way down inside,
honey ...(unintelligible). I'm gonna give you my love. I'm gonna give you my
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Want a whole lot of love? Want a whole lot of
love? Want a whole lot of love?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Melissa Cross discusses her career as a vocal coach,
teaching metal and punk performers how to scream without ruining
their vocal cords
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Screaming punk and heavy-metal vocals may sound like they hurt, and often they
(Soundbite of song)
ANON(ph): (Singing) ...(Unintelligible).
GROSS: That's the band Anon. Now sounds like that can really damage your
voice. My guest Melissa Cross is a vocal coach who works with punk and metal
performers, teaching them how to scream and shout and bellow without hurting
their vocal cords. She doesn't want them to sound like Pavarotti or sing on
Broadway; she just wants to prevent them from hurting themselves and ruining
their careers. One of the bands she works with is Lamb of God. Here's how
the lead singer sounded after she coached him. It might not sound much
different from the previous scream, but it probably feels a lot better.
(Soundbite of song)
LAMB OF GOD: (Singing) Now you've got something to die for. Now you've got
something to die for. ...(Unintelligible).
GROSS: Vocal coach Melissa Cross has an instructional DVD; it's called "The
Zen of Screaming."
Melissa Cross, welcome to FRESH AIR. What are some of the typical problems
that you think metal singers and punk singers have with their voices?
Ms. MELISSA CROSS (Vocal Coach): Well, first of all, they imitate their
heroes, so they start young. They listen to their favorite CDs and they try
to replicate that sound in an imitative way. And what that does is it makes
them use the wrong muscles to do it. That's a big problem.
The other thing is the contrivance of actually making it sound violent or
sound like anything. They usually associate that sound with tension, so
they're unable to disassociate the tension of the emotion with the actual
execution of the sound. So that causes vocal damage. You can't finish a
GROSS: What's some of the typical damage that, you know, metal and punk
Ms. CROSS: Well, it starts out with, like, chronic swelling, and that
swelling often turns into nodules or polyps, cysts. And that is because of
the just overuse--in other words, the vocal cords tap together. And when you
bang them together because they're always swollen--in other words, to get a
result--the scar tissue develops on the actual vocal fold. That's called a
nodule. And sometimes it's a fluid-filled injury, which is a polyp. And the
results of those two things are the same; the actual polyp or nodule closes
before the vocal cords close together, and you get this air, so it goes like,
(with initial breathy squeaking) `Hi, hi.' See, like, there's the delay on
the cord closing. So they walk around like that and try to finish a tour, and
basically they end up not being able to say anything, just like, (hoarsely
whispering) `Hi, how are you? Blah, blah,' that kind of thing. So that's all
from poor execution.
But also it often happens when kids party a lot and they don't sleep well,
they get sick and they're compromised by some other health problem on the
road, and then they do that kind of a stressful, you know, scar-invoking
technique and it becomes problematic when there's a lot of money on the line
for the tour.
GROSS: Is there a way to scream without shredding your vocal cords? Maybe
you could give us a demonstration of a scream that you think is not damaging
and a scream that you think is damaging.
Ms. CROSS: OK, I'll explain. The scream that does not damage is the scream
that identifies the false vocal cords, which are actually located higher in
the throat. The true cords--(sings note)--those are the ones that sing,
right? The false cords are just distortion, and they're located higher in
the throat. It's almost as if the powers that be, whoever, whatever created
us, started an operation for vocal cords a little higher up and didn't finish
them. So they're--it's actually, like, higher up, and it sounds like
shrieking; it sounds like an animal. (Makes distorted vocal noises) Right?
That's the correct way. All I...
GROSS: Now that sounds to me like it might hurt.
Ms. CROSS: It doesn't hurt a bit. If it hurt me, I would be able to say `It
doesn't hurt a bit,' because I would say (very hoarsely) `It doesn't hurt a
bit,' because I didn't use too much of my true vocal cords.
Now if I get all excited and try to sound really bad, you know, like, really
violent and put the feeling in my throat that actually even I get when someone
takes my parking space, then I'll tighten everything up in my body and go
(screams) like that or (screams), like, and then using too much gag reflex and
too much pressure on my larynx, and that's what causes the swelling.
GROSS: Now the first way you did it, the way that you screamed that wouldn't
hurt your voice, it did sound kind of like a weird beast. Can you actually
make that into singing?
Ms. CROSS: When it has a note to it, I call that heat. And one of the
advanced applications that I try to teach my clients so that they can really
step up the bar on this particular genre of music is to be able to transfer
from scream to singing within a note. So it's like (sings syllable which
transitions back and forth between singing and screaming), you know, like to
keep going back and forth, so it's not all (screaming) `Doh, doh, doh' and
then (singing) `Ahh,' (screaming) `Doh, doh,' you know, not back and forth
like good cop, bad cop. But I really like the art of actually bringing that
stuff in and pulling it out and bringing it in and pulling it out and doing it
There is a faction of the genre that does not appreciate any kind of pitch at
all, and you will find as in any, you know, tribe-oriented music, that they
have--you know, they have, like, your death-metal tribe, you have your
metalcore tribe. You have these factions of kids that have separated
themselves by virtue of the sound of their music. There's all these names
they have for it. It's very funny.
GROSS: My guest is vocal coach Melissa Cross. She has an instructional DVD
called "The Zen of Screaming." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is vocal coach Melissa Cross. She works with punk and metal
vocalists, teaching them how to do screaming vocals without ruining their
voices. She has an instructional DVD called "The Zen of Screaming."
Now you were a trained singer, but then you ended up in a punk band
Ms. CROSS: Yes, first time around, in the late '70s.
GROSS: OK. So how did you go from being a trained singer--I mean, what did
you expect you'd be doing? Probably not being in a punk band.
Ms. CROSS: Well, you know, it was my spirit that was, you know, going the
punk way. I am a singer-songwriter and, you know, put down my acoustic guitar
and my Laura Ashley dress and my Joni Mitchell records and picked up and
electric guitar and started shredding and, you know, it was just around that
time that, you know, we had, you know, Sex Pistols. And I was living in
England at the time, actually, so it was like The Jam and 999 and Siouxsie and
the Banshees and, like, all these, like, you know, ori--Stranglers. And that
was beginning, and I wanted to be a part of it. Now what I had learned in
vocal training absolutely had no context in that at all. There was singing;
there was notes. But what I had learned to do was, like, all head resonance,
which is the difference between what--any kind of contemporary music involves
more chest resonance instead of head resonance. Chest resonance...
GROSS: Demonstrate the difference for us.
Ms. CROSS: Chest resonance is when I'm speaking to you.
(With different tone) Head resonance is this. Now that's in the speaking
content. This is head.
Now in singing, if I go from my head resonance, I go, (sings notes). And if
I--my full chest, it's like (sings notes), right? It's a whole different
sound. It's a higher larynx position. It sounds more like talking. Doesn't
sound like (sings notes); it sounds like (sings notes), you know, more of
that and the rock sense--remember the rock sense? I can do it, you know, a
little less, you know, extremely. I mean, I can go (sings notes). You know,
there's a different--you know, I don't have to go straight to the rock thing
to the opera thing. There are some things in between.
I had such a--there is a right way to do this, and my teacher taught me this,
and therefore I am supposed to do this and that to make a good sound. And
that is what I had to throw out the window to get on stage and scream at
CBGB's, and I hurt myself. I got a polyp. I did not have surgery. I healed
myself through speech therapy. And it was through the speech therapy that I
actually found out the missing link between the two. And that's why...
GROSS: What did you find out?
Ms. CROSS: The link between speaking and singing is the use of head resonance
in speaking. If you use head resonance in speaking, then you are actually
balancing the placement of the voice so that the throat is open. The
overtones are there. Head resonance is overtone. If you take out the head
resonance and put it all in your throat--you see, now I'm talking without any
head resonance whatsoever. I didn't change the pitch, but do you see? It's
like really brassy, you know? It's like really (makes noise) you know? But
now I moved it up with head resonance in my speaking, and I was able to
understand in a sensation way what it is to utilize head resonance without
singing opera. And that's what I teach.
GROSS: So had you been speaking in that more clenched-throat kind of way that
you just demonstrated before you...
Ms. CROSS: Interesting.
GROSS: ...before your speech lessons? Is that how you were talking?
Ms. CROSS: Interesting question. I went to acting school in England and I
had this, (in high, soft voice) like, really tiny little voice like this.
And people said, `You have to lower that voice.' (In deep voice) So I went
down like this...
Ms. CROSS: (In deep voice) ...and I tried to sound like Glenda Jackson, and I
was like, you know, very, like, `Oh, good morning, how are you? You know,
And it was actually the wrong placement for my voice. Again, I was going for
a certain texture or a sound which I thought is what they wanted. So I moved
my speaking voice down in my throat, which actually was not good for me. What
really hurt me, though, was the screaming at CBGB's without any head
resonance. Or--wait a second, let me back up here. There is no head
resonance in screaming. It is produced correctly with the feeling that I
produce head resonance.
In other words, if I do--I'm going to put a pencil in my teeth
now--Right?--and I'm going to demonstrate the vowel E above the pencil and the
vowel E below the pencil. Now when I say below and above the pencil, the
pencil's going to be in my teeth, and I'm going to imagine, simply imagine the
E going over the pencil, like this: (Singing) `Eee.' Now if I put vibrato
with that, (singing with vibrato) `Eee.' Right?
Now this is below the pencil: (Singing) `Eee. Eee.' Right? It
doesn't--it's squashier. It's more trebly. (Singing above) `Eee.' (Singing
below) `Eee.' (Singing above) `Eee.' (Singing below) `Eee.' Right?
Ms. CROSS: That's all an imaginative thing that I just did. All I did was
just put in my imagination that I was throwing my voice in a certain way, and
my body behaved. My larynx lowered in my throat. My breathing--my breath
pressure was absolutely in place. And I went (singing) `Eee beep' instead of
going (singing with vibrato) `Eee.' Right? And what that does is it places
the voice without you slamming with too much chest register. If I go
(singing) `Eee eee eee,' you hear my cords, like, bang, bang, bang, right?
I'm not using the whole cord, not using the whole vocal cord there, by the
way; I'm only using a portion of the cord, and I'm using it much too
GROSS: You give your students certain images to use to help them really
inflate their lungs and to take deep breaths from the diaphragm so that they
get that full air supply. What are some of the images that you would use?
Ms. CROSS: I absolutely tell them never to think about the diaphragm. The
diaphragm is actually a large muscle that is located up inside the rib cage,
and its sole purpose is to draw air in and release air. You don't really need
to think about it because when you were born, you came out and it worked just
fine. So really to, like, overthink that is actually to stop the whole
coordination or momentum of the process.
Now in exercises, you might want to, like, focus on how that works, but in
performance, you would never, ever think about your diaphragm. I prefer the
Wagnerian school or the German school of singing, which I think is more
conducive to rock singing. By the way, the diaphragmatic training is bel
canto. That is a very common classical--it's the way I learned how to sing
classical music. It's the most common vocal training.
The other German school involves the lower rib cage, and it is by virtue of
expanding the lower ribs out to the side without taking a breath and not
engaging the muscles in the upper chest that you get a full breath. And it
doesn't feel like a full breath because it doesn't--what people normally
associate with a full breath is the lift of the upper chest. You take that
big (inhales loudly), right? And your breasts come up into your chin, right?
You think that's a big breath. Actually, that is--that's too much air,
because you don't need that much air. Too much air makes you hold your
Just the right amount, which is determined by the expansion of the rib cage
coordinated with the intake of air--just the right amount is manageable for
this consistency. And that image--for women, I call it strapless bra, and the
breath is called a by-the-way. Now these two go together. A by-the-way is
if--say you forgot to say something, you go, (inhales) `Oh, by the way'--hear
that little breath? (Inhales) `By the way'--it's just a little tiny sip of
air. And at the same time that I take that relaxed little sip, I boost my rib
cage as though I need to keep a strapless bra from coming down under my
skirt--under my dress. So a by-the-way and strapless bra is all the thinking
my students are ever allowed to have about breathing.
GROSS: So ever since you've been teaching, do you listen to music
differently? When you hear a singer, are you hearing what's going right and
what's going wrong in their singing from a more technical point of view?
Ms. CROSS: Absolutely, but that's--you know, it happens to everybody. I
mean, when--I studied acting for so meany years, and when I go to a show, I
can't help but, you know, pull it apart. You know, it's just--I enjoy it, and
there are some singers that actually, you know, have allowed me to transcend
everything, and I can go there. I can be transported. If it's really good, I
won't be technical-minded because I'll be in so much awe of the feelings that
I'm getting from the performance. But...
GROSS: Who are some of your favorite singers now?
Ms. CROSS: You know, I like different singers for different reasons, and it's
usually the acting thing that really is what affects me; it's their phrasing.
You know, I like Pavarotti; I like classical singers; I like Renee Fleming. I
like--for opera, I like Kathleen Battle. I like all those singers, but within
that genre. I like Tom Jones; is voice is amazing.
Ms. CROSS: I don't like his material at all, but I think he has the most
amazing voice of a--I mean, one of the most amazing voices of all time. The
guy has the most--I mean, the overtone in that guy's voice is unreal, unreal.
He sings a C above middle C and it sounds like middle C because of the
strength and the overtone in it. I want to meet Tom Jones.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CROSS: Chris Cornell is my favorite singer. That's who my favorite
GROSS: Who is that?
Ms. CROSS: Chris--he's the singer from a band formerly known as Soundgarden.
GROSS: Oh, yeah.
Ms. CROSS: Now he's in a band, Audioslave. Chris Cornell has been one of my
favorite singers for a long time. But he's shredded himself to bits. He
should have come to me.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. CROSS: He's doing fine now, but way back when, he shredded himself up.
GROSS: Well, Melissa Cross, thanks so much for talking with us.
Ms. CROSS: Thank you so much for having me.
GROSS: Melissa Cross has an instructional DVD called "The Zen of Screaming."
You can find a link to her Web site on our Web site, freshair.npr.org.
Coming up, rock historian Ed Ward on the singer Nico. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: Life and career of Nico
TERRY GROSS, host:
Nico was one of those mysterious figures of the swinging '60s. Was she an
actress, a singer, or was she just a celebrity who popped up in the right
places? Rock historian Ed Ward sat down with her early albums to try to
figure it out.
(Soundbite of "Roses in the Snow")
NICO: (Singing) He came your way and when we had to go, there were roses
growing in the snow. Silently you'll go to the shadow of your soul and you
know that it was like this before we had to go.
ED WARD reporting:
In the history of rock 'n' roll, there are many odd careers, but few are as
odd as that of Nico, a pop star who was never a star, really, and mostly
didn't do pop. She obscured her past, but it's known that her real name was
Christa Paffgen of Cologne's Paffgen's brewing family, whose restaurants still
exist. Her parents were well enough off that she got a good education and ran
with the European elite, and this explains how, at the age of 15, she found
herself in Rome with a bit part in Fellini's "La Dolce Vita."
That led to a modeling career which scandalized her family but put her right
in the middle of the swinging '60s. She had liaisons with famous men,
including French actor Alain Delon, with whom she had a son, Ari. Moving to
London, she took up with Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, whose manager,
Andrew Loog Oldham, signed her to his Immediate label and tried to make a star
out of her.
(Soundbite of "I'm Not Sayin")
NICO: (Singing) I'm not saying that I love you. I'm not saying that I care
if you love me. I'm not saying that I care. I'm not saying I'd be there when
you want me. I can't give my heart to you or tell you that I'd sing your
WARD: Her voice wasn't really suited for Gordon Lightfoot songs like "I'm Not
Saying," nor was she suited for life with Brian Jones, whom she left for Bob
Dylan not long afterwards. By 1965 she was in New York, working again at
acting and appearing in Andy Warhol's infamous film "Chelsea Girls." Warhol
had other plans for her, too. He'd just taken on The Velvet Underground, and
after hearing her sing at a New York nightclub called The Blue Angel, he
decided the band needed her icy good looks to complete their image. It worked
for a while.
(Soundbite of "All Tomorrow's Parties")
THE VELVET UNDERGROUND: (Singing) And what costume shall the poor girl wear
to all tomorrow's parties. A hand-me-down dress from who knows wher to all
tomorrow's parties. And where will she go and what shall she do when midnight
comes around? She'll turn once more to Sunday's clown and cry behind the
WARD: To put it mildly, neither Nico nor Lou Reed were easy people to get
along with, and Reed considered her someone who'd been imposed on him. She
famously stomped out on the group with a typically outrageous and anti-Semitic
remark, but John Cale kept in touch. She put out a solo album, "Chelsea
Girl," featuring songs written for her by Reed, Bob Dylan and her latest
discovery, a 17-year-old kid from Southern California, Jackson Browne.
(Soundbite of "These Days")
NICO: (Singing) I've been out walking. I don't do too much talking these
days. These days! These days I tend to think a lot about the things that I
forgot to do and all the times I had the chance to.
WARD: By 1968, Cale, too, had left The Velvets and helped her put together
her next album, "The Marble Index," which was all her own songs. To say that
it was not what the pop world of the time was waiting for was no exaggeration.
(Soundbite of "Frozen Warnings")
NICO: (Singing) Friar hermit stumbles over the cloudy borderline, frozen
mornings close to mine, close to the frozen borderline, frozen mornings close
to mine, close to the frozen borderline.
WARD: Cale's arrangements brought out all of his avant-garde leanings, while
Nico's compositions and vocal techniques harkened back to medieval times.
Ignored totally by radio and the press, "The Marble Index" sold dozens of
copies at the time.
By now, Nico was living in a world of her own, and although she and Cale made
one more album in the mid-'70s featuring a version of The Doors' "The End"
which became her signature number, Nico's drug abuse had gotten worse and no
label or manager would touch her. Seated behind her harmonium, she'd pull
stunts like singing the banned verses of "Deutschland Uber Alles" at a concert
in West Berlin, or just droning away while her band tried to figure out what
was going on. In 1988, having cleaned up and gone on a health kick, she was
bicycling on Ibiza when she died of a massive heart attack, age somewhere
between 43 and 48.
GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. We'll close with a song sung by John Lennon, who was
assassinated 25 years ago today.
(Soundbite of "Stand By Me")
Mr. JOHN LENNON: (Singing) When the night has come and the land is dark and
the moon is the only light we'll see, no, I won't be afraid. No, I won't be
afraid just as long as you stand, stand by me. And, darling, darling, stand
by me. Yeah, now, now stand by me. Stand by me. Stand by me. If the sky
that we look upon should tumble and fall and the mountain should crumble to
the sea, I won't cry. I won't cry. No, I won't shed a tear just as long as
you stand, stand by me. And, darling, darling, stand by me. Oh, stand by me.
Stand by me. Stand by me. Stand by me.
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