Intro from Jay Allison: The Nadeaus were, to most eyes, an ideal family--enlightened, brilliant, prosperous. But then things turned upsidedown. In a remarkable series of events, Doug and Lynn Nadeau were forced to re-define their identities, to confirm the foundation of their love.
About How Are You Who You Are?
In November 2004, I contacted Lynn Nadeau and asked if I could chronicle her late husband Doug’s life in some fashion. To my surprise, she was open to the idea. Although I’d known their son Greg since grade school, and had occasionally been a visitor to the Nadeau’s grand Victorian in my home town of Marblehead, Massachusetts, I had no information at my disposal – no recordings of Doug, Lynn, or their sons, and had spent little time with the man himself. What I did know was that Doug had lived an extraordinary life, and that he had a story worth telling.
Lynn delivered on her promise, turning over piles of documents from Doug’s life, in particular the last eighteen years, in which Doug had done battle with the encephalitis that changed and ultimately claimed his life. I set to work formulating a narrative and was granted access to videos of Doug’s memorial service and to a documentary that appeared on Marblehead’s cable channel in 1998, six years before Doug’s death. Selected clips of this material were presented to Emily Botein of PRI’s “The Next Big Thing” in the spring of 2005, which was around the time that I discovered Transom.
Emily encouraged me to interview Lynn Nadeau, and Transom showed me how to make it happen. Spending every dollar of my tax refund, I purchased a Marantz PMD670 digital audio recorder, a Shure Beta 87C cardioid microphone, and Sennheiser HD 280 Pro headphones. I downloaded Audacity (at Transom’s urging) and ventured north to Marblehead to capture Lynn’s remarkable voice.
Soon after this, I was accepted into the month-long National Playwrights Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. Although ostensibly there to spend a week developing a new play, I utilized the rest of my time to work on audio projects, including the Nadeau piece. (I think it’s fair to say that I was the only writer sitting in his room that month experimenting with Audacity.)
I came away from the O’Neill with a half-hour-long edit featuring audio of Lynn from the interview, barely audible clips of Greg and Ted from the memorial service, and only-slightly-better-sounding audio of Doug from the cable documentary. Music was by a mishmash of composers, among them Radiohead, Angelo Badalamenti, and Clint Mansell. It packed an emotional punch, but it was also a bit of a mess.
The piece lay fallow for some time. “The Next Big Thing” folded, and a blind submission to “This American Life” yielded only a curt form response. It was then that I mailed the piece to Transom, where I’d started the journey two years prior. (Note to self: when you think a piece is done, don’t send it out blindly. Send it to people who know radio. Believe it or not, they’re out there, and willing to listen.)
In November 2007, three years after I’d first approached Lynn with the idea, I received an e-mail from Jay Allison inquiring as to whether I had any desire to continue working on the piece. I immediately answered “yes,” and contacted Lynn to let her know that the story might see the light of day after all.
Months of discussion via e-mail ensued in which Jay encouraged me to rethink the piece – perhaps, he suggested, it wasn’t a documentary about one man’s struggle with a disease, but the story of a marriage, told by an outsider impressed by a family so unlike his own. Jay questioned my music choices, pointing out something that had not occurred to me – that with radio documentaries, it’s not necessarily about what “sounds good,” but what is most organic and germane to the piece.
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In May 2008 I accepted Jay’s invitation to come to Woods Hole and work beside him in his studio. It was there, over the course of three and a half days, that we painstakingly re-edited the piece, re-wrote and recorded the voice-over, removed pesky “p-pops,” chose new music (Beethoven, from an e-mail detailing Doug’s eclectic musical preferences), and removed the scratchy audio of Greg and Ted. The latter decision was by far the most difficult for me, but upon reading through the script, we realized that the piece flowed better, and felt more focused, when it concentrated on Lynn and Doug. The boys would have a presence, of course – one couldn’t tell the story of the family without them – but they would appear in the narration only. These changes resulted in a much-improved edit that ran twenty-one minutes, down from the original thirty-one.
I am deeply indebted to Lynn Nadeau for allowing me the opportunity to describe her amazing, frustrating, inspiring life with Doug. And of course I have nothing but praise for Jay Allison and the staff of Transom, for believing in this piece and for giving me a platform to share the story. Having initially consulted Transom as a definitive source of information about audio tools and techniques, it feels natural and appropriate for the piece to find its home here.
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