British singer Linda Thompson was one of the most recognized names on the folk scene in the 1970s and 1980s, performing solo, and with her former husband Richard Thompson.
After a difficult breakup, the pair had one final, acrimonious tour to promote their last album “Shoot Out The Lights.” Linda then was plagued by dysphonia, which made singing difficult. Sometimes, her voice just wouldn’t come out.
Despite that, she’s managed to produce several more albums. The latest is “Won’t be Long Now.” Richard Thompson makes an appearance, as well as several other members of Linda’s family.
As Thompson tells Here & Now’s Robin Young, she still struggles with dysphonia: “It’s getting now that it’s worse when I speak. I think I’m more nervous now of speaking than singing.”
Thompson would like to hear from others suffering with dysphonia. She asks that they contact her on her Facebook page.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
It's HERE AND NOW.
British folk icon Linda Thompson has a new album out, her first in six years. Here's a little of the title song "Won't Be Long Now."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WON'T BE LONG NOW")
LINDA THOMPSON: (Singing) Here goes everything. No more lies. I'm too cool for everything. I think I better live before I die.
YOUNG: Her fans are heralding it not just because it's been a while, but because they didn't know if it would happen at all. Let's back up. In the 1960s and '70s, Linda Thompson was a folk superstar with her then-husband songwriter and guitarist Richard Thompson. Here's a little of the two singing together.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALKING ON A WIRE")
LINDA AND RICHARD THOMPSON: (Singing) I am walking on a wire. I am walking on a wire and I'm falling.
YOUNG: But then, Richard left Linda for another woman, and he seemed to take her voice as well. Linda learned she was suffering from what she calls hysterical dysphonia. It left her unable to sing for years although she managed to occasionally release an album.
Now, she has a new CD and dysphonia. How is it affecting her? You may have heard her story on "Radiolab." We'll link you to it - it's incredible - as we welcome Linda Thompson from the BBC studios in London. Welcome.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
YOUNG: How are you doing now?
THOMPSON: Well, you know, I'm doing good except for, you know, I do still have problems with my voice. You'll hear them a bit during this interview. But I just have to work through them.
YOUNG: How much of this was coincidental, that this was when you had this breakup with your long-time partner? Was this dysphonia coming because of the breakup, or was it just coincidental?
THOMPSON: Nothing's coincidental. But no. I actually got it when we got married. You know, that's when it first started. But it got worse when we broke up.
YOUNG: Yeah. And we know that after the breakup you had the dysphonia, and people were telling you, including Richard, we shouldn't tour. You did tour. And we hear it was an infamous tour because you were so angry at him, and you displayed that.
THOMPSON: I did. I did. I would sort of hit him and stuff like that. But actually, you know, I was able to sing during that tour. God knows why, but I didn't have dysphonia.
YOUNG: Couldn't it have been the anger and the fact that you were getting these feelings out? I mean...
THOMPSON: Yeah, it could have been. But I've, you know, I just spent so many years and so much money on therapists and primal scream and God knows what. I've just given up analyzing it now.
YOUNG: Yeah. But the singing is quite beautiful. Let's listen to a little more from the new CD. And the lead song in particular, "Love's For Babies And Fools," it features your ex, Richard Thompson.
THOMPSON: It does.
YOUNG: Let's listen to a little of that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE'S FOR BABIES AND FOOLS")
THOMPSON: (Singing) I care only for myself. Love's for babies and fools. Got better plans than mine. Extol the joys of love divine. Before I rule love out, I searched every north and south.
YOUNG: Here you are collaborating with Richard on this song. Has there been some sort of rapprochement since you, you know, punched him and...
THOMPSON: Well, I've worked with him quite...
THOMPSON: Yeah. I've worked with him quite a lot in the past few years. So yes, yes, yes. He's easy to work with. That is one thing I'll say.
YOUNG: But does the anger still come out? And I'm wondering maybe if it does, that's what helps the voice come out. I...
THOMPSON: No. It's just, you know, if you listen to the track you've just heard, I don't sound dysphonic at all. But it's getting now that it's worse when I speak. I think I'm more nervous now of speaking than singing.
THOMPSON: Hello, Sigmund.
YOUNG: Well - and here you are and with three generations of Thompsons.
THOMPSON: I know.
THOMPSON: My grandson's on this, so that's a joy for me. He's a very good guitar player. And it's lovely to work with one's family, really, is good.
YOUNG: Let's listen to a little of "As Fast My Feet." Again, three generations; your children and Richard's child. Is this from another...
THOMPSON: Yes. Jack's on it too. Yes, yes, yes.
YOUNG: Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS FAST MY FEET")
KAMI THOMPSON: (Singing) As fast my little feet can carry me. As fast my little wings can fly. As fast as automobile can ferry me. As fast as that thing can drive. The sum of rivet and aluminum banking in the setting sun, shining like a silver star.
THOMPSON: Kami is singing lead vocal, actually, and Teddy is singing harmony. And I'm singing harmony.
YOUNG: These are your children.
THOMPSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They're also playing the instruments.
YOUNG: Mm-hmm. You know, it's interesting. You are concerned about your voice. And we have a very beloved talk show host here in the United States on NPR - you probably know her - Diane Rehm...
THOMPSON: Absolutely. I've actually spoken to her about it. But she seems to manage beautifully.
YOUNG: Well, she does. And I'm wondering if that's inspiration for you.
THOMPSON: It is, yeah. I mean, it is. I, you know, she is inspirational. I should talk to her again, actually, because I don't know what she exactly does for her dysphonia.
YOUNG: Well, what do you do? We understand there were Botox treatments that might have helped?
THOMPSON: I did. I had Botox in my throat, and it works beautifully. But I don't want to do it. It's very invasive, and it's very painful. And it's very sort of hit and miss. But it does work because it paralyzes the muscles and you can't tense up. But I just don't want to do it anymore.
YOUNG: Yeah. But can you - I mean, we don't want to belabor this thing that is causing you problems, but what did it feel like when it was gone? I mean, you would open your mouth and it was gone.
THOMPSON: Oh, it's terrible. You know, it still happens to me in studios sometimes. You just have to deal with it. That's all.
YOUNG: Well, then it makes it even more brave that you do live performing. Let's listen to a little of "Blue Bleezin' Blind Drunk," recorded live at the Bottom Line on the new CD.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLUE BLEEZIN' BLIND DRUNK")
THOMPSON: (Singing) My friends, I have a sad story, a very sad story to tell. I married a man for his money, but he's worse than the devil himself. For when Micky gets drunk, I get battered. He batters me all black and blue. And if I say a word, I get scattered from the kitchen right bent to the room. So I'll go and I'll get blue, bleezing, blind drunk just to give Micky a warning. And just for spite I will stay out all night and come rolling home drunk in the morning. Of whiskey...
It's a good night.
YOUNG: Yeah. And - but a story about battering. Also on the CD, it's "Never The Bride," a woman sings about never being married. The songs can be dark.
THOMPSON: Well, that's what folk songs are. You know, there's a lot of murder ballads and all sorts of stuff about, you know, family killing each other. It's kind of what folk music is.
YOUNG: It's beyond the "Kumbaya."
THOMPSON: Yes. Oh, please, let's not play that.
YOUNG: Linda Thompson, I hope you hear from the many people who grew up on your records, are still inspired by them and by the voice, by this, you know, the clarity of your voice.
THOMPSON: Thank you. My voice has been so terrible tonight so, you know, I'd like to hear from people who have dysphonia. You know, that would be very useful. You could Facebook me. And if you've got dysphonia, tell me how you handle it.
YOUNG: We'll do that. Linda Thompson, who is handling it beautifully, with a new album "Won't Be Long Now." Linda, thanks so much for speaking with us.
THOMPSON: Oh, it's a very great pleasure.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NEVER THE BRIDE")
THOMPSON: (Singing) At 16 I fell for Billy. He was a tall and bonny youth. A friend to every pretty girl, but a stranger to the truth.
YOUNG: In awe of her and Diane Rehm.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
YOUNG: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Jeremy Hobson joins Robin Young as co-host of Here & Now in its new 2-hour format, from WBUR and NPR.
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