New Orleans Authors, Audio Books… And The Hereafter

In NBC’s raucous 1960s LAUGH-IN, Arte Johnson, as “the dirty old man” Tyronne Horneigh, would sidle up to Ruth Buzzi’s frumpy, old lady character on the park bench and ask her if she believed in “The Hereafter”.

When told, “Sure!” he’d retort through lecherous laughter, “Well, I guess you know what I’m here after!”

Jokes aside, being human, as we all make that journey from womb to tomb, sperm to worm, maternity ward to crematorium … we all wrestle with this issue… THE HEREAFTER.

The issue of existential angst.

But none more skillfully than Ms. ANNE GISLESON.

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New Orleans Author ANNE GISLESON records her audio book at Airlift Productions NOLA

Anne has dealt with more grief, heartache, pain & loss than anyone should have to deal with in one lifetime, and yet found her release – and relief – in the keyboard of her computer.

A gifted writer, Anne today divides her time between teaching creative writing at our NOCCA (New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts), raising Silas & Otto, and caring for her ultra-cool & talented Hollywood South set painter/artist & husband Brad.

I didn’t even know Anne when first hired for this job.

I sure do now.

Contracted by Hachette Audio Books in NYC, together with the Listen Up Audio Book krewe in Atlanta, it fell upon me to work with Anne, record her, and give LIFE to “THE FUTILITARIANS”.

Oh. My. God.

Opening up the pdf from New York on the iPad, it quickly became apparent what I’d signed-on for.

Suicides. Yes, two. The twins. The babies of the family. Cemeteries. Bourbon Street. Oncology wards. Father’s death. Hurricane Katrina. And Plato?

You see, what Anne, Brad & friends had done to survive through all the pain and loss was to form a club. The Futilitarians.

Sub-titled, “Our year of Thinking, Drinking, Grieving, and Reading.”

Forming what amounted to a 21st century, old-fashioned reading club, they bonded through weekly readings of Tolstoy, Kafka, Sartre,  & Kirkegaard.

Each week, comparing notes and discussing what they’d each gleaned from their studies… over wine, scotch, and other libations.

Group therapy. Without a lettered shrink to assist.

So, day-by-day, through the third week of July 2017, Anne & I, together with Listen Up’s director Jennifer Nittoso via the phone-patch, doggedly plowed through painful story after story, chapter after chapter.

Available now, from Hachette Audio/Listen Up, sample a small excerpt from Chapter 3 here ….

** Anne Gisleson reads from Chapter 3 of “The Futilitarians”

Well, light, frothy summertime reading/listening at the beach this ain’t.

But for those of us who wrestle, perhaps in those early morning pre-dawn hours staring at the ceiling, with those “Why are we here? Where do we go when we’re gone?” issues ….

This one is an exceptionally essential existential must!

And, Anne, next time I catch you around the bar at the Napoleon House in the Quarter, the Johnny Walker’s on me.

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“Working with Airlift Mike in NOLA was an utter pleasure. I was in town for business for a month and needed to maintain my audiobook recording schedule. Mike was accommodating and a pure professional. He mastered the punch and roll technique in 24 hours to be ready for our first session, and over the course of the month we laid down 5 books and a number of auditions. His studio sounds great. The vibe & atmosphere can’t be beat. You’d be hard pressed to find a better recording studio in the southeast – no matter what your needs. I wish I could have stayed!” ~ Amy Landon

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Airlift Productions ~ Telling America’s Greatest Stories from New Orleans, since 1984

MLK Meets JFK Meets Abraham ~ AirLift Style

Abe-Martin-JohnVerily, all the highest aspirations of all mankind have always been towards PEACE. And Brotherhood.

And the dream that lay closest to the heart of the Nazarene was the manifestation of the Kingdom of Heaven – not far-off in some dreamy otherworld but right here in the physical plane, in your neighborhood and mine, here on  planet Earth.

Martin knew that. Jack knew that. Abraham really knew that.

dr-martin-luther-king-jrSo, on MLK Day, 2021, let’s go there.

My Airlift Productions here in NOLA has always been about more than just ‘selling stuff’ or ‘telling stuff’;  my mission, for what is now nearly forty years, is one of serving as a catalyst for positive change.

Henceforth, today’s entry…

As we celebrate and commemorate the life of this visionary peacemaker, and the stock markets, banks & post offices close, I’m flashing back on this MLK Day to a very special ‘homework assignment’ from days gone by.

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Katy & Dad, Iberville Street, NOLA, 1992

My then-ten year old Katy was visiting dad for the Christmas holidays, and after the dinners, movies, and playtime, we went down into the Airlift Studios on Iberville to record.

Imagine, if you can, one of the most powerful speeches ever uttered on these American shores – The Gettysburg Address – dramatically interpreted by a ten year old!

Then, put these words wrapped around the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, and support all this with the inspirational and soaring music of the late, prolific James Horner from the “Glory” motion picture soundtrack.

Oh, my.

** “Is Anyone Home at the Gettysburg Address?” * Airlift, 1992 **

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Peace? Brotherhood?

What, to me, is so extremely saddening is that the success of this dream, the manifestation of true PEACE on earth, will never ever (as in ‘not ever’) be settled on a battlefield.

For the answers, as Martin, Jack, and Abraham all knew too well, lie between the left ear and the right ear of the reader of these very words.

And the only true battlefield… is the human heart.

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L-R, Heath Allen, Theresa Andersson, Micheal Ziants, Rich Lenz – during a break from the original HEALING HOUSE sessions, Airlift Productions 2004

“For ten years now I have worked with Micheal Ziants and Airlift Productions recording songs for Children’s Hospital & the Children’s Miracle Network.  He’s unique and a constant… solid as the rock in rock ‘n roll.  Mike’s attention to detail is legendary, but his commitment to the kids and the challenges they face goes far beyond that.  He gets it.  Professionally, he’s as good as it gets.  Everyone SOUNDS better after a session with Mike.  And no matter what the audio project, you FEEL  better after a session with Airlift.  That’s ‘Z’ truth!” — HEATH ALLEN, Long-time WDSU/NBC New Orleans News Reporter & veteran guitar picker

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984

Airlift Productions ~ Recording With Mood & Attitude!

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Airlift Productions Recording Studio & PROduction House, New Orleans, 2021 Panoramic Studio Pic. Check it out … “Weapons of Mass Production”

With all the equipment in the Airlift Productions studios – bouncing meters, glowing lights, ‘bells & whistles’ – the one thing visitors and clients seem to remark the most about is, strangely enough, the Window!

Its custom-cut, stained glass beauty captures every New Orleans sunset from it’s setting in the western wall of the studio, and gives constant feedback on current sky conditions as it reflects the tempo of each and every recording day.

Inspired by ancient Mayan illustrations and pyramid hieroglyphics, it was custom-designed to carry the colors of the Airlift Studios into it’s intricate artwork – from the passionate purple of the walls to the midnight blue carpet & charcoal grey acoustic foamed walls.

“The Gift of Life”, as it is called, symbolizes the spiritual journey of man.

At the center is the flame-like symbol of God who is Light & Life, the Creator of All.

The Triangle – symbolizing Mind, Spirit & Soul enlightened by God in its midst – is within the circle that signifies God is All in All, without beginning or end.

And surrounding the circle are the glyph signs for sky, earth’s abundance, and precious water.

And this magnificent artwork accomplishes all this spiritually without being overtly religious, to say nothing of ‘choosing up sides’ –  favoring one religion, faith,  or approach over another.

“The Gift of Life” also serves as the perfect backdrop and vibe for all the intensely creative audio projects & work being recorded and captured at the Airlift Productions Studios.

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The Airlift Productions “Engine Room” ~ a view into the studio control room, as seen from the Talent room, along with the “Gift of Life”, Myron’s Discobolus … and the Laughing Christ.

Catch the Fire!  At the  Airlift Productions Recording Studio  ~ Audio Alchemy from NOLA since 1984

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Airlift’s Micheal Ziants (Right) with actor Joe Renier, On-Camera with TLW Productions for Seacor Marine … deep in the Gulf of Mexico

“We’ve worked with Mike for over 20 years, both as voice over and on-camera talent in more than 50 films.  Not only is he a great guy and a super talent,  but he has the coolest recording studio in the South.” ~ TIM WESTON, President TLW Productions, New Orleans, LA, USA

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WLAC, Nashville, 1980 – and John Saint John

NashvilleStreetScene1980In early 1980, Nashville was a very different place. Today’s Country SuperStars were on the playgrounds, if they were even born yet… Conway Twitty was very much alive, George Jones was still rattin’ the Printers Alley bars… and yours truly  was ridin’ herd on the afternoon radio rodeo – as John Saint John!

Think about it: Forty years ago, Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office,  John Travolta’s ‘Urban Cowboy’ was huge at the box office, and my “office” was the afternoon drive “air chair” at WLAC, Nashville.

The internet, world wide web, digital audio and mp3 downloads weren’t even dreams yet in a tech head’s head.  Radio – and AM at that – was king!

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~ 15-WLAC Logo, during it’s final hurrah as a music station, before yielding to changing times and becoming All News & Talk in late 1980 ~

Picked up ‘on waivers’ from KSD radio in Saint Louis, I was freshly hired by Billboard Magazine to do the afternoon drive shift  from their swanky showroom studios at 14 Music Circle East every afternoon on the legendary 50,000 watt blowtorch –  WLAC Radio.

Together with RJ Harris, Spider Harrison, Dennis John Cahill, Smokey Rivers, ‘Captain Sunshine’, Randy Davis and Jeff Warren,  we held court as the last bastions of music on WLAC. 

What an exciting and truly awesome gig this was.  To work for Billboard Magazine in Music City, USA and broadcast every afternoon to the entire mid-south. No tape delay, no second takes…it was all LIVE – from my mouth into tens of thousands of ears in a split second!

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~ Airlift Productions’ Micheal Ziants as alter-ego John Saint John, in the WLAC, Nashville Studios in 1980 ~

As most know, but few give thought to, Nashville is not only Music City USA, it is also the capital city of the great state of Tennessee, so much of the talk was centered around politics. In early 1980, that talk revolved around Carter, Reagan & Bush.

And do you remember the music of the 1980s? No, we weren’t playing country. It was more like Donna Summer, Boz Scaggs, Doobie Brothers, Michael Jackson, Eagles, Christopher Cross, Kim Carnes and the Electric Light Orchestra!

That John Saint John guy served them up like this —-

~ WLAC Radio & John Saint John, Wednesday July 30th, 1980 – broadcasting from Nashville’s Music Row ~

Without question, the most fun I’ve ever had with my clothes on!

And the doors that were opened to me as afternoon air personality for WLAC ;  to talk with – and get to know – the Legends of Nashville music:  Brenda Lee, Charlie Daniels, George Jones, Dottie West, I even co-emceed an auto show benefit for Nashville’s Humane Society with Conway Twitty!

During my brief tour of duty at WLAC, I interviewed and sat down with Eddie Money, Ted Nugent, Terry Bradshaw,  Eagles’ lead guitar Don Felder, the comic Gallagher … and Lawrence Welk ran his music publishing company in the offices upstairs – in fact, when he was in town, he’d occasionally knock on the studio window, make faces, and wave at me!

But you can never separate the words Radio & Business.  And in the early 1980s, the handwriting was on the wall – FM penetration, together with it’s stereo & higher fidelity proved the death knell for music-formatted AM radio.  And with it went my job.

In the Fall of 1980, in fact it was Halloween weekend that year,  thirteen months after I was hired, WLAC fired it’s entire air staff- “Trick or Treat”!! In favor of new owners… and a new all News/Talk format which forty years later it still is today.

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As I look back now, across all these forty years, I have to admit that it was in the subsequent days of unemployment in Nashville that the seeds of one day being my own boss, having my own business – a recording studio – were first planted.

But there were still fields yet to plow, and Airlift Productions and New Orleans were not even on my radar yet. But we’ll save Philadelphia, WIFI-FM and that wacky city of Brotherly Love for another day. 

That’s a story for another blog and another time.

In the meantime, the creative juices still bubble over daily at the Airlift Productions Studios on Pomona in New Orleans. Stop by for a cold one when you can. We’ll leave the mics hot for you!

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BoWalkerAirliftProductionsNOLA“I met Mike in the mid 80’s when I was first starting out in the business … a consummate professional and just a really nice guy. He has seen me through the highs and lows of this business during my 33 year career. I walked away in 2014. He has produced countless air checks for me when I was fired and looking for a new gig. I have recorded in all 3 of his studios from a closet at Rock Creek in Metairie, Mid City, and just recently when I recorded a few pages of an audio book as a demo for a friend/author who just released a new book. Mike is a true friend.” ~ BO WALKER, New Orleans radio legend & Former Production Director, I-Heart Media, NOLA

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Airlift Productions ~ Audio Alchemy from New Orleans since 1984