Island Life by David Slack

How low can you go?

This afternoon I listened to Russell Crowe making life difficult for Paul Brennan on National Radio. I didn’t hear the whole thing: I presume he had graced the show with his presence to promote his new CD and/or the tour that will be supporting it, but he didn’t sound very happy to be there.

Perhaps he’s just a victim of the merciless marketing machine carting him from one meaningless publicity gig to another.

Perhaps the otherwise-genial Brennan had said something deeply provocative just before they came on air.

Perhaps Crowe was simply striving to be his uncompromising self.

Whatever the truth of the matter, it didn’t make for a very appealing exchange. This is truly a man who puts the “curt” into discourteous.

None of this will be news to anyone who has read even a little about him. He has a reputation for making people who don’t suffer fools gladly look positively Buddhist in their forbearance.

But I can’t help wondering whether the whole thing isn't just one great big performance. I listened to him speaking in a pitch so low it would surely vibrate the Lladro off your mantelpiece, and I wondered if that masterful voice really was his.

There are many men who speak with a genuinely deep voice. The nation has only heard David Bain deliver about half a dozen words in all the years we’ve been debating whether he is a mass murderer or not, but those five or six words established without a doubt that he has a remarkably deep voice. I can tell you that our own Dr Che sports something of the DJ’s deep boom, and I don’t think he affects it just to improve his appeal with the layyydeez. But I’m willing to wager that The Gladiator actually has a voice that sits a little closer to middle C than he would like us to think. It sounds to me as though Russ has taken it down an octave or two for effect.

Try it for yourself: try to read this paragraph aloud in a really deep voice. You’ll notice two things: your voice slows down, and you find that it’s easier to speak in short bursts. Grunts, even.

And that, my friend, is how you end up sounding curt.

In other words, if I’m right, the man could be a Victim! Could it be that he’s not rude, but that he’s in fact grappling with some kind of voice box fixation? Could it be that he’s doing all he can to keep any hint of a girly-man squeak out of his delivery?

Mr Brown might be able to bear this out: he interviewed the guy back in his Go Russ Go! days in the early 80s, when Russ LeRoq was just another rockstar wannabe in a leather jacket with big shoulder pads. These days he's Mr Crowe to you, me and the pool boy. He can write a Hollywod contract as big as you like and he’s living a life that, I’ll freely grant you, might leave a fellow like me tainted by the old green monster. But truly, there’s no envy in this. It’s just that the phoney-meter hits the red line whenever I hear him in action, and I’m intrigued to know if I’m right or not.

Do we have anyone in the audience who knew him before he sported a 3-packs-of-Rothmans-a-day John Wayne drawl? Has anyone ever been in a room with him when a mouse appeared?

I might be 180 degrees off beam, here, but I’m intrigued. There’s something fishy here and I think it might be the Bass.


Now we're getting serious. Jen Hay, whose day job is in linguistics, kindly took some time last night to analyse changes in Russell Crowe's pitch.

Click here for an honest-to-goodness graph.

She took interviews from the web and calculated the median pitch from a random excerpt.

"Looks like there might be a downward trend, as you suspect," she writes, "but - weirdly - the two most recent interviews I looked at actually show his pitch going up again.

If anyone sends pointers to early Russ Le Roq recordings, then do pass them on, and I can try and test your hypothesis more systematically..."