Book Review: Sheet Music

Elena Passarello

Sheet Music

Let Me Clear My Throat

by Elena Passarello
Sarabande, 240 pp., $15.95 (paper)

While not exclusively about music, Elena Passarello's essays positively sing. She concerns herself with screams from Marlon Brando ("Stella!") and Howard Dean ("Yarg!"); a pamphlet on vocal training from Frank Sinatra; and songs, from songbird Judy Garland and her infamous 1961 concert at Carnegie Hall, to crows, since you probably think they don't actually sing. Tackled are subjects as odd as the Wilhelm scream, a sound effect from 1951 film Distant Drums that made its way into Star Wars, Quentin Tarantino flicks, and video games, plus the original "rebel yell," 18th century castrato opera singer Farinelli, and the peculiar brand of America dialect native to Pittsburgh. In between, she speaks with an Elvis impersonator and name checks Chuck Berry and Kurt Cobain, accomplishing it all in way that the reader is never quite sure what corner she'll turn into next with a confident new surprise. In 2011, Passarello became the first woman to win the Stella Shouting Contest in New Orleans. A fun moment no doubt, but Let Me Clear My Throat posits that her real talent lies in telling stories both offbeat and stimulating. (Elena Passarello panels up at TBF on Sunday, 2pm, at the Capitol Extension, Rm. E2.026.)

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Elena Passarello, Texas Book Festival 2013

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