The question is hot, honestly dumb. And all the more poignant that – having asked about it – Charlie Byrd’s voice is already indistinct and slowed down by a disease of motor neurons, which he was only recently diagnosed.
Charlie Byrd: Loud and clear filming began immediately after the devastating diagnosis of a veteran journalist last October.
It is a rich, multi-layered documentary: an overview of key events over the last four decades of Irish history, from the front lines of which was reported by a much-loved broadcaster; a love story in which he openly expresses his grief for his wife Claire – “I want to hug her, try to protect her and make sure that the whole life she travels in the future will be fine.”
It’s a story of meeting an illness and turning into a phoenix, when Byrd sets himself the task of climbing Patrick’s Blood and raising funds for others traveling the challenging roads.
But above all, it is a tribute to the voice. A voice we’ve heard in our homes for years telling us about powerful, pivotal historical moments: the Stardust tragedy, the IRA ceasefire, the NIB scandal, the election of our first woman president, Mary Robinson, the marriage equality referendum – we heard the news in the voice of Charlie Byrd.
Claire honestly tells us that her role is to keep them both afloat in this dark place into which life has thrown them. It is she who launches the search for a digital voice for Charlie when illness deprives him of speech.
Charlie doesn’t want a computerized robotic voice. He wants a voice with “a little communication, humanity, emotion”. It’s a moment of pure joy when they finally get great technology – an avatar for a voice bank – and hear Charlie’s real voice, collected from a huge archive of recordings he’s created over 40 years.
Here is the voice that saves the voice, and there is a strong resonance when Charlie says later in the documentary, “I believe in good karma.”
At this stage of his life and in this documentary Charlie uses his voice to tell his most personal story. And he shows how to tell the truth: love for Claire, regret that my mother “never hugged me or said, well done,” a sense of loss (“at some point you’ll all be here, but I’ll leave”).
The documentary has many moments of humor and pure tenderness. Charlie’s powerful and compelling voice, which he uses to be vulnerable, raw, authentic. He allows his voice to be the highest voice, to do what he was born for: to be an open expression of humanity.
- Charlie Byrd: Loud and clear is now available on RTÉ Player