The only reason I knew who Roger Ebert was, as a Uruguayan, is because I am in the film industry. I hadn´t read much from the guy, just a few excellent reviews of films here and there. I had seen him mentioned in Variety and other film industry publications, but that was it.
My idea of him, the one I had been able to gather from the media, was that he was a powerful man, who could make or destroy a film with the power of his pen (or keyboard). In my mind, this was a very knowledgeable man, but not necessarily a “nice” man, more like a Neptune with his trident, letting films pass in front of him, and decreeing which ones would live and which ones would be sentenced to death.
This was more or less the construction in my mind about Ebert when I got my first twitter account. I soon found out that some of the most interesting tweets available from all over the world were none other than Ebert´s. Perhaps because I like films, literature, and a deep analysis of current affairs, I was immediately hooked. I often found myself retweeting his quotes, links and observations, and you could say I became a fan of his twitter, and later Facebook, personality.
At this point, I had heard something about Ebert having fought a battle against cancer. From what I had pieced together, he was fine now.
So, a couple of days ago, after I had started reading more and more of Ebert´s articles and blog entries, becoming increasingly fascinated with this brilliant Neptune´s ideas, I found out he was no God of the seas at all. In fact, he was a totally approachable guy with a degree of generosity that is extremely rare. I learnt this when he said some nice things to me about my writing, and was genuinely humble when receiving my extensive compliments.
One day, browsing through his Facebook, I saw that many people referred to his TED talk. I had heard about TED talks, but I didn´t really know what they were. So, I went and Googled it.
This is what I saw: Ebert, surrounded by his wife and a couple of friends. He had lost his ability to eat and speak to cancer, and he had a computer, just like the one I am using right now, which would deliver his words via a standard computer voice named ALEX. He had also chosen to have some of his words read out loud by his wife and friends.
After seeing how active this guy was online, how he was always ahead of everybody else, and always putting new ideas out there, I just couldn´t believe what he had been through, as he minutely and humorosly! described his failed jaw-reconstruction surgeries. I thought to myself, this must be one of the most powerful spirits I have ever come in contact with.
The way he played down, or rather up, his health problems was just so endearing… My tears don´t flow easily in front of sad stories on the melodramatic side, but to see this man, who was ever so lucid, who hadn´t lost his sense of humor, after going through such an ordeal, at an age when many people are hardly thinking of expanding their horizons; it all brought helpless, yet joyous, tears to my eyes.
Ebert told the fascinating story of how he had been in contact with the beginning of the Internet in Urbana, his hometown, and he went on to play a sample of a computer-generated voice based on his own, which, by the way, I had never heard in my life. The original Ebert voice appeared to be really worthy of a dubbing artist, and I could see how someone with less to say might have seen their world shattered at losing such a perfect voice.
Ebert´s whole speech was brilliantly constructed, and its closing about wanting a computer voice that would be able to deliver a joke made me realize that, in any of its physical and spiritual forms, this was, by all means, a beautiful voice.
PS: As Ebert bluntly accused me of being a muse when he tweeted my blog about muses, this poem I was inspired to write today returns the favor, or as I wrote to him, “who is the muse now?”
A beautiful voice (To Roger Ebert, Montevideo, April 18th, 2011)
the lips are still
but words heard
loud and clear
with power to kill
but all they want
the poor of heart
and those who have
really lost something important
and thoughts like that
who needs the sound
out of their mouth,
when there is music
come from the heart
trade their voice
and charming prince
you gave your talking chords
you learnt to sing
with the most beautiful voice