Singing Her Own Song: Profiling Ellen Lancaster
--by Jamie Easton, New York Times
Ellen Lancaster is a woman who refuses to be labeled. Eschewing recognition, this powerful Delta seeks fulfillment through helping others find their voice. While her tale might seem one of rags to riches, she sees only a lifetime of riches, many of them far more precious than material wealth.
Editor's Note: Ms. Easton has previously interviewed Mrs. Lancaster, and has interacted with her outside of her professional work. Subscribers may look up old stories related to these interactions on our web archives using keywords Song That Doesn't End; Song That Doesn't End, Part II; Viral; or Grammy Red Riding Hood.
April 15, 2021
In what must be deliberate, Ellen accepted my request for an interview and asked me up on her thirtieth birthday. Assured I would not interrupt festivities, I step off of the elevator on the ninth floor in the Washington Square Hotel. Before me, Ellen waits at her open door with a smile. I take a moment to compare my memory of that first meeting twelve years ago to the woman standing before me today.
I first met Ellen in 2009, when I arrived at her apartment to interview then-roommate Sarah Voltaire. At the time, while I focused mainly on Sarah, Ellen shyly sat to the side, dressed in loose-fitting clothes, hair partly hiding her face, listening for the most part, answering a few questions, rarely meeting my gaze. Still more girl than woman, still unsure, still hiding so much of herself from the world.
In contrast, today's Ellen stands straight ('but never tall,' jokes the five-foot-three Ellen), in a lovely casual skirt and blouse, soft pastel colors neither hiding nor placing undue emphasis on her curves. She meets my gaze, and greets me by name with a warm hug. I still see all the most important pieces of the shy girl in this self-possessed woman. She is still warm, still friendly, still welcoming.
After our greeting, she invites me into the spacious apartment she shares with her wife and two children. Inside, Ellen takes my jacket and escorts me down the short spiral stairs into the living room. She notices me admiring the view outside the two-story picture window and motions toward it so I can have a better look. I look out over the park through the east-facing window, the neighborhood stretching out before me.
'It's amazing to watch the sun rise over the city,' she tells me. Her voice conveys the awe so well, I almost feel like I can see it now. I let myself watch it a moment, then turn toward the living room, where Ellen is already pouring coffee. She offers me a seat on the sofa, then sits, not to close, not too far. Over what must be the finest coffee ever brewed, we begin.
The Closet Years
Born Ellen Stevens, Ellen grew up in a pretty normal home in Topeka, Kansas. Loving mother, hard-working but emotionally distant father. School, friends. But she was keeping a secret from an early age.
'I'm a lesbian,' Ellen tells me. She adds with a grin, 'But don't tell my wife.' After my laugh, Ellen talks about discovering her emerging sexuality in the middle of the bible belt.
'I was twelve when I first noticed little differences. Girls my age were starting to talk about boys, and I wasn't interested. I figured at first I was just slower than other girls. I mean, Sarah hadn't shown any interest in boys beyond occasionally beating them up.' Ellen smiles at the memory. 'Even as kids, before all the expressions and powers, she was standing up to the bullies.
'Anyway,' she continues, 'At first I just thought I wasn't ready. But then, I started to notice other girls. It's the 21st century, but this was the conservative midwest. I'd heard enough from our pastor and the congregation by then to be afraid to say anything so I played along.'
It wasn't long before Ellen realized she was noticing one girl more than the others. 'What can I say?' Ellen asks with a smile.'I know it's cliche, but I was in love with my best friend.' Ellen offers a brief shake of her head. 'By then, Sarah had started noticing boys were good for more than beating up. So I didn't say anything. I was afraid.'
Ellen's insecurity would inform many decisions. Hiding who she was became second nature. When Ellen expressed, turning Delta around the same time as Sarah, 'No-one knew. There weren't any witnesses. I'd already gotten so good at hiding. Being Delta became just one more thing I hid. From my parents, my friends... from the world.'
Like Sarah, Ellen's expression is deeply personal, not something she will discuss with anyone. What about Sarah? 'Except Sarah,' Ellen says softly. 'I only ever hid one thing from Sarah, and that wasn't it.'
So Ellen hid her expression, her growing power over sound. But she couldn't resist letting a piece of her new gift be heard.
'You've heard me sing? ' I have. It's a rare treat to hear Ellen sing. 'Well, if you'd ever heard me before I expressed...' She laughs. 'Really, I shouldn't have sung. If anyone had been paying attention, if people knew more about Deltas at the time, my new singing voice would have been a giveaway. I couldn't carry a tune to save my life before, though I always enjoyed singing.'
Ellen's singing would lead her to a new city, and a new life.
'The music teacher heard me, and recorded me. He sent the recording to a friend of his. One day, I was pulled out of class to meet with the school counselor and a man I learned was the Principal of the Warren Academy.' The Warren Academy for the Musically Gifted was and is a prestigious private school for the musically gifted, located in San Francisco. 'He'd heard me sing. He said I was a natural. He talked about perfect pitch, and perfect resonance, and asked me to sing for him. I did, and when I finished, he offer me a scholarship.'
Ellen had a rare opportunity, but that opportunity would create a rift with her father, and break up her parents' marriage.
'I wouldn't say, break-up,' Ellen says of the split.. 'More like... demolished.' Time has softened the blow, but it's clear Ellen still has some regrets. 'Dad didn't want to move. He had a good job, good pay, seniority. He wanted to stay right where we were, and not take a chance on this scholarship. But mom...' Ellen's eyes soften when she mentioned her mother. 'Mom has always believed in me, loved me, wanted to give me every opportunity.'
I spoke to Ellen's mother, Denise Stevens, in her apartment across the hall from Ellen. She dismissed any notion of having done anything extraordinary. 'A parent owes it to her child to provide every opportunity she can. This was a huge opportunity for Ellen. The decision was a no-brainer, really.'
But Ellen's father disagreed. 'Barry thought... oh I don't even know what he thought. But he made it clear, he wasn't giving up his security. When I told him I'd take Ellen anyway, he told me to go ahead.'
Denise shakes her head. 'Ellen thought it was her fault, but the truth is, our marriage was already in trouble. I've always thought Barry used it as an excuse to get out of the marriage. Especially since the divorce papers practically beat us to San Francisco.'
Coming Out West
So, with little money, Ellen's mother took her daughter to San Francisco, where they lived in a tiny, one-room apartment. Denise took a job with a cleaning service, spending her nights cleaning offices downtown. Mother and daughter took turns sleeping in the same bed for three years, making ends meet on only Denise's wage and babysitting money Ellen would occasionally earn. What about child support?
'Never saw a dime,' Denise says. 'I never let Ellen know how bad it got.'
'Of course I knew how bad it got,' Ellen tells me with a sad shake of her head. 'I could hear every note of worry in her voice, and I could hear crying sometimes. It got better, but that first year was especially hard on her. And all I could do was work as hard as possible. I needed to be worthy of the sacrifices she was making for me.'
Worthy she certainly appeared to be. She did well at her new school, despite her own doubts.
'At the Warren Academy, teachers loved my voice, and heaped encouragement on me, while students whispered behind my back, catty remarks aimed at undermining me. It worked, because I already felt like I was cheating.'
Cheating? Ellen nods. 'I can sing. I can sing better than... anyone. But it's all my power. Back then, I saw others working so hard, pouring everything into being the best they could, and I came along and blew them all away without even trying. I loved the singing, but I was already feeling like... like I diminished their efforts.'
One classmate encouraged Ellen instead. Ellen's entire demeanor softens when I ask about Katrina Yamato. The singer and actress formerly dubbed Corona is one of the great success and comeback stories of our time. But back then...
'Dear God, she could sing. And she was beautiful, and confident, A year ahead of me.' Ellen smiles. 'I had such a crush on her, but never thought she'd noticed me at all.'
But Katrina did notice Ellen. Much has been written of their friendship, their collaboration, and of the relationship they once shared (and still share according to supermarket tabloids). How did it begin?
'Pure chance,' Ellen tells me. 'We bumped into each other away from school. I recognized her, but she surprised me when she knew who I was. She complimented my voice, but I thought hers was better. She offered me a ride home on a cold day, and we became friends. I was reluctant at first, afraid of someone learning my secret. But when I learned she was Delta too, we bonded over a common secret.'
The world remembers today Mrs. Yamato's courageous decision to out herself as Delta to save an endangered child, a decision which nearly ended her career. But in high school, 'In a place as competitive as that, the kids are looking for any excuse to degrade a rival, any weapon they can use. We didn't dare. Well... until...'
The Shout Heard Round The World
'It wasn't the entire world. Just most of California,' Ellen laughs when I ask her about outing herself. 'It was... a stupid, impulsive stunt. Kat and I had grown closer and closer, friendship becoming more. High school sweethearts. One day, while we talked, She said she loved me. and I-- ' She can't control the laughter at this point. She pulls out a scrap book, and turns to a page with an old headline which reads Who Is Katrina Yamato?
'I went up to the roof of the building, and I just.... shouted. 'I love Katrina Yamato!' I guess I over did it a bit.' Just a bit. Reports of the day claim people as far south as San Diego, and as far north as Salem were left to wonder who Katrina Yamato was one lazy Sunday morning, and why the mysterious shouter loved her so. 'I was sixteen and in love, two things not known for their self control.
'Of course, the next Monday at school was a different story.' Some recognized the voice, and many at the school knew Katrina and of her relationship with Ellen. 'And the the talk of cheating began. Kat wanted to out herself and stand with me, but I made her stay quiet. I figured they already had one target.'
And of course, Ellen's mother found out her daughter was both a lesbian and Delta in one moment. How did she take it?
'I was shocked, of course,' Denise tells me. 'And a little frightened. Everything I knew about Deltas up to that point came from the news. But... Ellen is my daughter. I love her. That won't ever change.'
The next few months were hard. As idle talk and rumors escalated into open accusations, letters and petitions, Ellen lost her scholarship. Principal Ron Jones had to break the news to her.
'It was the decision of the board of trustees,' Mr. Jones tells me. ' And... well... I don't want to defend them, but it was a decision forced on them. Several wealthy donors had threatened to revoke their support if the school continued - these were their words - providing preferential treatment to Deltas through scholarships. A non-profit school faced with losing millions in backing really only had one choice. The trustees revoked her scholarship. The worst part of the entire ordeal was Ellen. She took the news... almost as if she agreed with it. Like she thought she deserved it. Broke my heart.'
'I did feel like that,' Ellen confirms. 'Like I said, I already felt like I was cheating, like I didn't really deserve to be there. The Trustees just... validated my insecurities.'
I attempted to call each member of the 2008 board of Trustees of Warren Academy for comment. All declined to speak on the record.
The Song That Doesn't End
No. not that song. Ellen is still embarrassed about that song. But Ellen's own song wasn't finished yet.
Ellen was ready to transfer to public school. An anonymous benefactor stepped in and paid Ellen's tuition, allowing her to remain at the Warren Academy. She felt bad about taking what she saw as charity, but her friends talked her into giving it her best. There are rumors about the identity of the donor, but none have ever been confirmed.
'It was Stella,' Ellen says, referring to the woman she would later marry. Ellen shakes her head with an affable grin. 'One thing I have never understood. My secret was out. Everyone knew what I could do. But they still all thought they could keep secrets from me.' Ellen laughs. 'I've known for years.'
Ellen completed high school, and was offered a scholarship to Julliard. Ellen accepted. What about feeling as if she didn't deserve it?
'Julliard was a little different,' Ellen explains. 'They knew all about me. They offered me a scholarship, because they didn't care how I came into my talent. They only recognized the potential it represented.' Ellen adds with a wry smile, 'although I've always suspected Stella secretly paid them, too.'
I asked Stella Lancaster, who denied the assertion vehemently. 'To be clear, I would have. But Ellen earned that scholarship. She says her gift gave her an unfair advantage, but it also made her work ten times as hard. Ellen earned every cent of that scholarship herself.'
Ellen moved to New York with her best friend and began at Julliard. Still, old doubts plagued her. But these were different, too.
'I still felt as if the ease with which the music came to me undercut the work of others. And... I wasn't enjoying it as much anymore.' But that would change one day, early in her second year.
'As part of a class, we each had to arrange a piece, putting our own flare into an old standard. I did mine, and it was flawless and beautiful, complete with a backing orchestra no-one could see. But I was in the hall while another student was working on his. He was brilliant, but the piece wasn't quite coming together. I heard where it was falling a little flat. So I screwed up my courage and went to him.'
Ellen brought gentle suggestions for improving the piece. After initial reluctance, the student tried it. The result?
'He got a standing ovation,' Ellen says with a smile. 'That's when I realized. The way I felt, knowing I'd helped bring someone's idea to life. That's what I wanted to do.'
Having discovered a new purpose for her life, Ellen pursued it. She changed classes, switching her major to Acoustical Engineering. She met surprisingly little resistance from the school. Ellen began spending as much time as she could spare listening to her fellow students' efforts, offering them help when she could.
'The difference was day and night,' says Sarah Voltaire. 'Ellen would come home, I'd ask how her days was, she'd mumble something. Then, this new thing happens, and she would come home... energized. She was excited about school for the first time in a long time.'
Ellen would never sing professionally, but the world would hear her voice again. Until then, Ellen pursued her degree, and an internship at a small production studio, Vocal Dynamics, LLC.
'Ellen was the most eager candidate,' says Robert McCallum, managing partner of Vocal Dynamics. 'At the time, I didn't know she was Delta. I only saw her grades and her... excitement.' I asked if he looks for more than that? 'For an internship? That's all I look for. Attitude is everything. If they come in actually knowing anything, I count that as a bonus.'
With her abilities, Ellen soon proved herself. Her internship became a part time job as a production assistant, and then as a producer. By the time she graduated, Ellen had a few minor production credits to her name, and several job offers. She chose to remain with Vocal Dynamics.
'They were small,' Ellen admits. 'But they'd taken a chance on me. And they were an easy subway ride from home,' she adds with a wink. However, Vocal Dynamics would not remain small.
The Rapper and the Choir Girl
It began with Ellen's first client. Famed hip hop artist Dolla Fitty, seeking a break from his old producer, signed with Vocal Dynamics, and Ellen had her first major production job. 'I hadn't had much exposure to the genre, or much interest, but a producer at the start of her career doesn't pick her clients. It was only later I learn he'd come looking for me specifically.'
Ellen laughs when I ask about meeting an icon. 'He walked into the studio. I'd prepared by watching some videos. I was expecting an entourage, all drinking Cristal, and everyone to be wearing rings and gold chains.' The stereotype had long been established, with Dolla Fitty's own music and videos helping to solidify it. But, 'In walked this man, early forties, wearing glasses and jeans and a Julliard sweatshirt. He offered me his hand, introduced himself as Daryl. He told me he'd heard a lot about me and was looking forward to working with me. When I asked where Dolla Fitty was, he laughed.'
Ellen shakes her head, and even seven years later her embarrassment still shows, but she also smiles. 'Of course, Daryl Friedland is Dolla Fitty. I'd bought completely into the persona, and this quiet, thoughtful singer-songwriter didn't fit the bill.' Ellen is quiet for a minute. 'The first thing he did was make me listen to his albums. Not just the songs which made it onto radio or into his videos, but the other songs. I learned a new appreciation for the medium from him. He hides an amazing talent behind those videos.'
Daryl told Ellen he didn't want to hide anymore. 'He played some of his more thoughtful pieces for me, and told me he wanted people to hear those, not just the ones the label execs chose. He asked me to help make that happen. And I agreed.'
Ellen did indeed help. Friedland's new album went triple platinum. Vocal Dynamics won its first Grammy for 'Best Engineered Album,' securing its reputation and beginning to grow. More importantly, 'I learned - relearned really - an important lesson about assumptions. And I made a good friend.'
Ellen has produced two more albums for Daryl, winning another Grammy along the way. Their fourth collaboration, the much anticipated Higher Calling, will be the first album to use Daryl's real name. I ask about that. 'Daryl has something to say. I told him it was time to say it. It's a departure for him, and some of the fans might not like it, but I hope they will listen. It's Daryl's finest work yet.'
Ellen's first client was far from her last. Between 2013 and 2016, Ellen worked with some of the finest names in the music industry. She quickly earned a reputation as a harsh taskmistress. Ellen laughs at the thought.
'I'm not that bad, really, provided you come to me ready to give it everything. If you're just there to cash in like so many acts out there, I'm not the producer for you. But if you want to be the best, and you're willing to work for it, I'm the woman you need in the studio.'
I ask Ellen about one rumor in particular. Still early in her career, she almost lost her job, the stories say. Ellen laughs.
'That's not exactly how it went. This woman... you know who I mean... she used to be great. Years ago, she had a voice that could make angels weep. But she made it big, and she got lazy. She drank and smoked and her voice left. She was still good, but she'd lost that awe-inspiring voice.'
Ellen almost seems sad as she continues. 'She came to the studio after the Grammy win, and demanded me. The first day in, I tried to get her to warm up. She blew me off, so I let her sing. She laid down a track. It was okay. I started to talk to her about where we could improve... and that's when she blew.
'The word Diva wasn't always a pejorative,' Ellen says. 'She's one of the reasons why it is now. She screamed, repeating her name over and over, like it meant I was supposed to just bow before her. She told me it was my job to fix it. She hired me to use my powers to fix her voice.'
Ellen takes the opportunity to make one very clear point. 'In the studio, I will use my hearing, and my perfect pitch, and my ability to feel vibrations, and I will tell my artist what I hear and feel, and make suggestions designed to come closer to the sound the artist wants. But I never use my power to manipulate the sounds you hear. I want each of my artists to be the best they can be, to find their sound.'
But Ellen's current client didn't like that answer. 'I told her I don't use my powers like that. She got even more personal and abusive, like a spoiled child who's never hear the word no before. When I told her to cut the attitude or find another producer, she tried to slap me.'
How did that work out? Ellen rolls her eyes. 'This is the best part. She says I used my power to whammy her. But she was a little drunk already, a little unsteady. She lunged at me, hand coming back... and one of her heels broke and she fell on her ass.'
And what if she hadn't stumbled? 'I spent years practicing fine control. I can scramble an egg in its shell with a touch. Or shatter a brick with the same touch.'
The Fallen Idol
In 2016, with two Grammy wins to her name and an impressive list of clients, Ellen took a sabbatical from the studio, and flew to the side of an old friend. Corona, amid controversy surrounding from her being outed as Delta, had suffered setback on setback. Her first album, pre-outing, went platinum and made her a household name. Her second, post outing, was praised by critics, but a commercial failure amid protests and boycotts. Several key stores refused to carry the album and many radio stations refused to play singles under threat of lost ad revenue. Corona had to fight a legal battle to force the label to honor its commitment for the third album. And that album...
'It sucked,' says Ellen. 'Kat has a beautiful voice, and a great talent for composing. But she's very emotional. Her third album carried her anger and resentment and despair for everyone to hear. It broke my heart to hear it. She'd given up before she ever got into the studio. And... I've said it before, but the producer who let her out of the studio with that... I hope he's enjoying a wonderful career in the fast food industry today.'
A critical as well as a commercial disaster, it seemed Corona's third album would be her last. 'This is where they'd cue the inspirational music,' Ellen jokes. 'I flew back to San Francisco and showed up at her doorstep. I offered to produce her fourth album, and help find a label, if she'd pull it together and put everything she had into it. She agreed.'
Ellen went into seclusion with her old girlfriend, working to produce a new album. 'We... it wasn't always easy. Not just the history, but the new dynamic, working together for the first time. She argued with some of my techniques. But... I told her at the time, this was Rocky III. Kat took the beating of her life from Mr. T. and just watched Burgess Meredith die. My job was to make her chase chickens until she caught one and run up and down the beach.'
'Which I thought she meant metaphorically at the time,' says Katrina 'Corona' Yamato. 'But she actually forced me to run. Like... every day.'
'I run every day,' says Ellen. 'And my clients need to be fit, and focused. Kat especially needed to clear her head.'
'I cleared my stomach after that first run ,' says Yamato.
'That is completely untrue,' insists Ellen. 'That happened during the run. Then I made her run home.'
But Ellen's drill sergeant tactics paid off. From the Ashes was Katrina Yamato's finest album. Still, they feared the same tepid public response. 'Not feared,' clarifies Ellen . 'Expected. But we weren't afraid. When we started I told Kat I couldn't promise people would buy her music. I only promised that if she worked with me, anyone who didn't buy it would miss out on something special.'
From the Ashes became Katrina's most critically acclaimed and best selling album, ultimately re-launching her career. The new label, anticipating low interest, scrambled to print new copies as the album sold out. Ellen credits Katrina's work, while Katrina credit's Ellen's work. Industry analysts credit the strength of the album for its long-term success, but say the real key to success was buzz created by Katrina's very public role in quelling the Lompoc riots in August, 2016, on the same day her album released.
'I wasn't involved in that,' says Ellen. 'But... they say there's no such thing as bad publicity.'
Ellen has produced two more albums with Katrina, renewing a friendship along the way. 'She's more than a friend. She's family.'
The Infamous Heiress
Ellen married Stella Lancaster in June, 2017. But their relationship began years earlier.
'I met Stella when I was still in high school. But I really got to know her a couple years later, right after I graduated. I'd been hurt in the crash (of Flight 238) and she helped me recover. Later, I helped her with... well, it's personal.'
Nothing seems too personal for Stella Lancaster, so I asked her. 'I lost someone very dear around that time. Ellen helped me grieve. It sounds strange, but growing up a Lancaster, I only knew how to repress my emotions. Ellen helped me work through them.
From this grew a friendship, which later blossomed into love, for one of the women. 'I still had a lot of growing up to do,' says Ellen. 'Stella and I became friends, talking on the phone, spending a little time together over the summer breaks. I grew up a bit, figured out a few things about myself. One afternoon I looked at her... and realized I loved her.'
Was it the same for Stella? 'Not even close,' she tells me. 'I think I was in love with Ellen from that very first night she held me, while I cried myself to sleep.'
Was the age difference an issue? 'No. Ten years seems like a lot, but... the ten years that matters is the ten years I've known her.'
And what about the twins? 'That was a little more daunting. But... I adopted them, you know? I love them, and they're growing up so nicely, with two parents who both adore them. It scared me at first, but that's something every new parent has to deal with.'
Black Friday Serenade & Viral
The world still remembers the events of Black Friday, 2017, and the outbreak of the Black Friday Flu. A nation in chaos, hospitals overloading, fear turning into panic as the virus jumped from Class Zero and One Deltas onto baseline family members and the number of infections skyrocketed. Unleashed deliberately in malls across the nation, urban areas were hardest hit by the virus. Among the worst hit was Greenwich Village, Ellen's home. With the highest per capita Delta population in the nation, the neighborhood was a powder keg.
'I had family who were sick,' says Ellen. 'There was nothing I could do for them, so I took to the streets.' Unaffected by the virus, which we know today died in the energy-rich physiology of Deltas classed Two or higher, Ellen walked the neighborhood. As fear grew, she helped where she could, calming, stopping looters. Looking at this quiet, gentle woman, it's hard to see the heroine. Ellen blushes at the word.
'I don't think the word applies to me. I don't go looking for trouble the way some do. The Village... it's my home. I've known some of the people there since I moved there for college. Suddenly fear and panic threatened to tear them apart. I had the ability, so I did what I could.' Ellen is quiet a moment, clearly thinking. 'As for what I can do... well... you saw.'
The entire world saw. In addition to reporters, there was one other camera pointed Ellen's way that weekend.
'I'm glad I didn't know Trevor was there. I probably would have gone all camera shy.'
A film student, Trevor Williams, living in Greenwich Village, also took to the streets that weekend. Recording scenes of tragedy and of triumph, Trevor would later use the footage in his award winning documentary, Viral. While the film is lauded for its visceral look at the events, and balanced handling of the subject matter, it was Ellen who unintentionally stole the movie.
'It's so embarrassing,' Ellen says with a smiles that suggests it is perhaps a tad less embarrassing than she lets on. 'He caught me on film, stopping a couple of looters with a snap of my fingers, helping a scared father with a sick child get to the hospital, knocking down a man who was about to attack another man by clapping my hands. He even caught me... singing.'
This was not the rare treat Ellen's voice usually is. As the fear and anger neared the breaking point where words would become violence, Ellen took to the top of a building in the center of the neighborhood... and broke the will of the mob in a way only she could.
'I was scared by this point. And mad. They just wouldn't listen. I... I snapped.' Caught on film, as she had years before, Ellen sang. From the roof of the apartment building, her voice blasted out over the neighborhood for forty-one unrelenting minutes of The Song That Doesn't End.
'I just couldn't think. And... people got mad back in '09, but it worked. And... people were going to be hurt and... I just sang.' Save for a thirty second break about ten minutes in, when Ellen's booming voice warned the people the song would only get louder until they were all safe indoors, Ellen's song continued. And it worked. Greenwich Village didn't riot that night, and only minor injuries were reported.
'Although I was sued for emotional damage by one rioter.' That lawsuit was dismissed by a judge in April of last year, citing Ellen's singing as the 'least horrific' of possible outcomes.
Ellen has always been sheepish about the first time she ground the neighborhood to a halt by singing The Song That Doesn't End. What about this time?
'Hell, no,' Ellen says.
'It started a couple years ago,' says Ellen when I ask how she became a partner in Vocal Dynamics. 'Business had grown faster than our ability to properly serve our clients. We were sub-leasing studio space around town. The guys wanted to expand, and to bring everything under one roof, but didn't have the capital to make that happen. But I did.'
Thanks to her marriage, Ellen had enough money to invest in the business.
'When Ellen first approached us,' managing partner Robert McCallum tells me, 'I was stunned. She could have bought into any company, or even started her own. Her reputation put us on the map. But it never even occurred to her. We were touched.'
Ellen waves away the sentiment. 'Loyalty matters to me. But Bob underestimates the value of the company if he thinks that's the only reason I stayed. Vocal D is a damn good company, with an impressive body of work. Everyone who works there is a solid pro, and many of them are good friends. More than loyalty, the company deserved to grow.
Nearing the end of our morning together, I have a few follow-up questions. Did Ellen ever tell Sarah about her feelings? Will this article come as a surprise? Ellen laughs. 'Ask Sarah,' she says.
'I think I knew before Ellen did,' Sarah says when I ask. 'I noticed her noticing me when we were kids, noticed her not noticing the boys. It was just never...' here she hesitates, searching for the right words. 'I love her. I always have. If it wasn't that way, well, I still loved her. Why should it be a thing?'
I ask Sarah about Ellen's best quality. 'Her taste in best friends,' she quips mirthfully. But then she gives me the serious answer.'Her heart,' she tells me. 'Ellen always talks about how she can hear a person's heart, how it helps her know that person. She doesn't realize, we can all hear hers, too.'
I asked Stella Lancaster about Ellen and Sarah's relationship. 'If I'm honest... I'm just the least bit jealous.' Stella quickly adds, 'I know that the love Ellen feels for Sarah isn't romantic anymore. But still... Sarah has a little piece of Ellen that will never be mine. I know Ellen loves me, and I never feel more special than when she smiles at me. But... we'll never finish each others sentences like she does with Sarah. We'll never... we'll never be one mind like she is with Sarah.'
Ellen can't deny the truth of it. But she says, 'Sarah and I will never be one heart. I love Sarah and always will. But my heart beats in time to Stella's.'
What's next for the terror of Greenwich Village? Ellen barks a laugh when I call her that, then becomes thoughtful.
'In the broadest terms, I'm already living my dream. I love my work, my wife, my family, and my friends. I love my home, my neighborhood, my city.
'More specifically,' she continues, 'I've cut back on my professional clients. I spend more time trying to find and nurture talent that might have trouble getting the ear of a major studio. I want... every new voice makes us all better. I want to find the voices.'
I ask about some of the more eclectic voices Ellen has produced. 'All that matters to me is each person I work with put everything they have into the music. If you have the talent and the drive, I'll supply the studio and the advice. But ultimately, the music is theirs, not mine. They create it. I only... run the birthing center.'
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? Responses (10)
Update: A few corrections, clarifications, refinements, and other nitpicking.
5.0/5 + Fav'd
As with Sarah Voltaire, I really enjoyed reading this submission. The detail makes it seem real. Either that or I spend more time in my head than is healthy :P
'One of us... one of us....' :P
But thank you.
I think I like the interview format. I think the series will continue in that vein.
Beautiful and well put together, a bit more lengthy and involved than Sarah's which was nice, and gives a real feeling of depth to her.
Looking forward to seeing one of these for Jenny, and the other prominent Delta Factor personalities!
I think, next up, the man, the myth, the legend himself, Congressman Jacob 'If you don't stop calling me Polaris I'll squeeze until your eyeballs pop' Richter.
Jenny.... maybe someday. But if you've read her entry on the website, you might notice its riddled with lies? Not much chance I post the truth here. :)
For the Genre, this is a great in-depth exploration of the character - really a work of fiction that frames her. I like the tone of your world and your writing - it is very coherent and very consistent. Top quality work here.
Thank you. I was worried about presenting characters in this style coming across as more story and less character. I'm glad people are seeing both.
I was looking for something to read on the fly and so I clicked on this thing. This has everything I have ever wanted to see on the Citadel. It is written with a consistent perspective, and it builds its world subtlety around characters. This might be the best thing I have ever read on the Citadel. It certainly has a lot of the qualities I have aspired to and experimented with, I truly admire this piece. Forget those banal self-important distinctions of whether or not this is 'useful' or the content ascribes to my biases or preferences regarding genre; I love what this represents in as much as it has the ambition to be a completely immersive piece. The bar at the Citadel keeps getting raised (which may shrink and change depending on the community), and I believe that you have raised the bar. I would say this is transcendent: You have character driven world building and story-telling in a speculative fiction genre (with a big bit of wish fulfillment thrown in). This is well-realized character and world, and you have communicated a great deal here with a single narrative. Thank you.
As for the content, I just want to note that I respect every choice you made in writing this.
The author/narrator clearly has a lot of respect and almost adoration for his subject. Only when noting that she may not have resented being so positively featured in the documentary does he ever dig into his subject or question her at level beyond face value. It would be an interesting experiment and very telling of the conflicts in your world to hear about the events alluded to and described from the opposition's perspective. Could you paint a sympathetic picture of one your villains or antagonistic characters?
Another thing I found jarring (another word would be notable), but not in a bad way per se, was your take on superheros here. The Silver Age fantasy of the superhero is some mild mannered or over looked person who can suddenly burst out and do something fantastic. The super powers become allegory for the overlooked potential, emotional turmoil, super-ego or inner life of the nerd or the put upon individual. Here your characters (including Silver's) are Grammy winning artists, best selling authors and beautiful young people living hipster lives in NYC. In many many ways they are departures from the lifestyles of people who plan than their lives around live chatting RPGs on a Saturday night. Are you really writing what you know?
Finally there is one thing I just don't buy. I don't believe that this Juilliard educated woman in her 30s who is thoughtful and considerate of meaningful communication, AND born in 1988 or 1989 could reference Rocky III with esoteric precession and complete assurance that her reference would be caught and understood. Even if she was some how a fan of early 80s pulp cinema, it was incredulous that this New York Times author and his editor were both on the same page and felt no need to explain this reference to his audience. In that moment I saw the aging fanboy behind the text. (But I completely loved it.) This is not believable...unless your alternate history promotes Rocky III to the ranks of Pooh Bear, Shakespeare, and Star Wars in terms of Western pop culture allusions. If Rocky III is a universal classic in your world... then well done sir.
Bumping this cause it has an innovative presentation.
Floored. I can only echo a bit of what axle said here, because this is a damned fine piece of fiction. It's a little hard to score because it's so incredibly different from a traditional NPC submission -- it's usefulness in a game setting is questionable. But I simply don't care.
This was an incredibly good read; you could easily publish this. As for the Citadel, I think it's time to lobby again for a 'Fiction' category, to encourage more pieces like this. Well done, Longspeak!