Sunday, May 22, 2011

You know who I miss?

I miss Paul Winfield, the voice of City Confidential. In case you've never seen the show, it was on A&E from 1999 to 2006 and was ostensibly a true crime show. But when they hired Paul Winfield as the show's narrator, they inadvertently created a new art form.

There has never been a voice that dripped innuendo more expertly than Paul Winfield's. He created magic simply by saying his lines. There aren't many you can say this about. And it's not like the lines themselves were so devastating or so wry but through Winfield's urbane and sophisticated delivery, they gained power.

He could cut like a scalpel with that voice and turn even the most innocent line into its polar opposite. "She was such a sweet girl," didn't mean quite the same thing after Winfield had his way with it. Verbal disdain was one of his easy talents. It all seemed easy and smooth with Winfield and of course, you can't minimize the beauty of his voice. Velvet indeed.

As for the show, yes, it was sort of fun to hear the details of one lurid murder or another -- usually involving rich people -- but we wouldn't have watched if it wasn't for that voice. We hung on every word, a smile sitting on our faces as we waited for Winfield's lines. You knew what was coming. It was all about Paul Winfield. Though images cluttered the screen and there was ostensibly a story milling about, we were riveted by what he said and how he said it. His voice was the show.

I don't know how it went down at your house but in the days when City Confidential was in vogue, I'd have friends over to watch it. Every new show was an event and we would howl with laughter at the things Winfield said and the way he said them. It was a voice that was uniquely jaded, urbane, knowing and humorous.

The show was riding high and growing in popularity as more and more people recognized this new art form -- when Paul Winfield died. As Robyn Hitchcock so aptly put it in I saw Nick Drake -- "And when you're gone, you take the whole world with you." He did indeed. There was no possibility of replacing Winfield on City Confidential. Oh, they tried. They even hired a pale pretender as an announcer for a short time. The poor soul tried his best to imitate Paul, to be Paul but no one was buying it. The audience would not put up with this particular change in the cast. Without Paul, the show was over. The artistry, the magic, the time and the moment and the voice, were all gone.

There has never been anyone like him. I miss Paul Winfield. Some people are indeed irreplaceable.