Reverb Questionnaire: NPR's Michele Norris On The Jackson 5, Steely Dan, and the Other "Stairway to Heaven"

2007 NPR by Stephen Voss
Michele Norris appears with Rosanne Cash at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 1, at The Moore. Tickets are $35 and $45 via
Michele Norris' may be the most popular voice in the city of Seattle. If there are radios in this town that her soothing voice doesn't inhabit weekdays during NPR's All Things Considered, their owners are doing a good job keeping them hidden. This week, Seattleites have a chance to see Norris--a woman who transcends all "face for radio" jokes--in the flesh, when she quizzes Rosanne Cash, Saturday at The Moore, for an installment of NPR On Location.

Here, the journalist, mother, and author of the forthcoming book, The Grace of Silence: A Memoir, writes in about not talking, Leonard Cohen, and why it would be a shame for Americans to be "colorblind."

Reverb Questionnaire is a list of (mostly) static questions we pose to folks outside the music industry. The questions are all answered via email. Previous participants include Michael Chabon, Larry Miller, and Cupcake Royale's Jody Hall.

What music have you been listening to today? Did you like it?

During breakfast I had to flip the station away from NPR to protect my kids from hearing a gruesome story, and when I switched to a local jazz station they were playing the saxophonist, Pharoah Sanders' classic song, "The Creator Has a Master Plan." Monday mornings are always a bit zooey in our house, and the song was so smooth and mellow and funky that it cooled everybody out.  As Pharoah Sanders would say, peace and happiness to every man (and women and children too.)

What's your preferred method for listening to music (iPod, car, home stereo, etc.)?

The iPod is my preferred delivery system, but I prefer to listen to music via speaker instead of ear bud. I like the feeling of music washing over me. Not the same when it's channeled inside my ear.

When was the last time you heard "Stairway to Heaven"? Did you turn it off?

The last time I heard "Stairway to Heaven" it was not the Led Zeppelin classic, but the soul ballad by the O'Jays. Both are cool by me.

Do you play an instrument?

I took piano lessons as a kid but quit before I got out of elementary school. I have spent a lifetime regretting that decision. I doubt I will ever go back to the piano. My dream is to learn how to play the electric bass.

Do you still listen to anything you were listening to in high school?

Thanks to iTunes and iPods I can carry around my music library with me wherever I go. So I listen to a lot of the music I used to groove on years ago.

What was the first band/artist you saw in concert? Would you see them again?

My parents took me to see Michael Jackson for my tenth birthday. I got a new pair of bell bottoms, a suede fringed vest, and at the bottom of the box were tickets to the Jackson 5 concert. I was over the moon. We lived in Minnesota and I screamed so loud they might have heard me in Canada.

Last year, my nine and ten year old kids begged me to take them to see the Michael Jackson concert prep movie, This Is It. How could I say no.

What was the last band/artist you saw in concert?

I saw Steely Dan at Constitution Hall. They've still got it.

Is karaoke an option for you? If so, what's your go-to number?

I am too much of a chicken for Karaoke. Let others take the stage for song. I will stick to the dancefloor.

How do you feel about ABBA?


What is the last song you want to hear before you die?

Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" performed by KD Lang, or "The Storm Is Passing Over" by gospel great Marion Williams

Second-To-Last Question: Your forthcoming memoir, The Grace of Silence, investigates the country's "hidden conversation about race." Are people who consider themselves "colorblind" kidding themselves?

Why would anyone want to be colorblind? One of the things that makes this country great is its rich variety of cultures and traditions and ethnicities. To become colorblind would be to enter a state where all the shadings and hues and textures in that tapestry are rendered in shades of grey. What's the point of that?

Last Question: Are there any things that you always do or never do during an interview (besides sending your subjects a list of static questions via email, of course)?

I never cease being surprised, amused, enlightened, educated or entertained by what I hear on the radio. I always listen carefully. Radio hosts are known for talking on the radio. In reality, the most important thing we do is listen.

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