It's tempting to imagine what sort of person would have a voice so intriguing. A voice that lulls and captivates, low and deep, almost smiling as it recites local news on the National Public Radio's syndicated news magazine All Things Considered.
One soul was so taken, he called the station during pledge drive to ask how much money he needed to contribute to get a date with the voice.
A date with Laura Taylor.
The would-be suitor didn't know what Laura Taylor looked like. He couldn't guess what kind of personality she might have. But he felt he could love any woman who had that voice.
Back in the real world, the would-be suitor knew what he didn't like. And what the sound technician at a Tampa nightclub didn't like was working with the glam-rock Tampa band, the Baskervils, whose lead singer had "an attitude."
Over 6 feet tall in her platform boots, she was a daunting figure with arachnid eyelashes and teased red hair cascading over form-fitting vinyl. On stage, she was outrageous. A whirling dervish of dancing, she rolled on the floor and shouted obscenities flirtatiously at the audience. She was not friendly. Her voice didn't smile. It taunted and growled.
The would-be suitor was neither lulled nor captivated. He was annoyed.
When someone mentioned the lead singer of the Baskervils and the voice of WUSF 89.9 news were one and the same, his jaw hit the floor.
"Few people know about my dual life," Taylor says, rolling her eyes in spite of herself. "All Things Considered usually attracts an older audience. Not many of them attend rock shows."
Like the sound man, those who find out who the voice belongs to are often taken aback. "They think I'll be an older, more business-type woman."
Whether she is reciting the news or owning the stage in her new band, Thee Crypt Kicker 5, it's all the same to her. "I have no problems separating it in my mind," says Taylor, who turns 30 in April. "It's all performance."
In person, she is 5 feet 11 and larger than life _ an amalgam of self-effacing charm mixed with a knowledge of music and pop culture that spans decades, and a fashion sense that challenges the imagination.
When she speaks, Taylor is eloquent and clear, as a career in news radio demands. She answers questions so completely one seldom has to ask follow-ups. But there is a shyness about her, perhaps nursed by the same teen ostracism that inspired her to be outrageous.
Taylor's pale hands, which seem too delicate for the large silver and plastic rings on her fingers, wring ceaselessly. Yet she rarely lifts her light brown eyes. From the corner of her grandmother's ornate, wood-trimmed settee, she agrees that she is shy. She does not take compliments easily. She would rather discuss her purchases at a record show earlier in the day than talk about herself (Stan Getz, Quincy Jones, Peggy Lee and Julie London).
On stage, the shyness is gone, invisible in the frenzy of her performance. When Taylor is not teasing the audience or yowling into the microphone, she is shaking her plastic death's head maracas and playing her theremin, an electronic instrument with ear-piercing tones that are controlled by waving hands around air-sensitive antennaes. (Think the Beach Boys' Good Vibrations or the soundtrack to The Day the Earth Stood Still).
At work, she is all business, with heavy makeup and stunning costumes giving way to a bit of foundation, a hint of eye-liner. She wears jeans for a casual day of news gathering. Suits when something serious is going on, such as a meeting.
"I always knew I would to be in the media somehow," she says. "I kind of fancied I'd go into print journalism."
Which is where she got her start. She wrote for Creative Loafing (now Weekly Planet) and the Oracle, University of South Florida's school paper.
At WUSF, Taylor worked her way up from the bottom of the news ladder while earning her broadcast news degree from the University of South Florida.
"People say you have to sweep floors to get into radio," says Taylor, who started at WUSF in 1989 for $3.50 an hour. "I'm sure I've swept the floor at least once."
Acting news director since 1995, Taylor has four reporters under her supervision and she also participates in the news gathering process. A little before 4 p.m. every weekday, she enters the broadcasting booth, reviews her script, makes last-minute changes. At 4 p.m., she slips on the headphones. For the next two and a half hours she engages in the most beloved part of her job: The Performance.
"Even though it's an anonymous audience, it's still an audience," says Taylor. "You have to convey something and give a script meaning. Even though you don't see them, thousands of people are listening. You're still on stage."
And while she loves what she does, the thrill of being on the air five days a week takes a back seat to the adrenaline rush she receives with The Band _ even if it is usually only twice a month.
Taylor was in her late 20s before she hit the stage. "I don't really have any strong musical abilities, so I couldn't really offer anything besides me being a show-off, which is what I do best."
"Before I was ever in a band, I always dated musicians," Taylor recalls. "They always wanted to be rock stars when they grew up and I thought it was silly. Now that I'm in a band, I'm like, "I want to be a rock star when I grow up!' "
Just as her voice draws listeners to the radio, Taylor's stage persona in the Baskervils, her first real band, earned her a strong local following.
"Laura Taylor is . . . eclectic," says Nicholas Richardson, 18, a onetime regular at Baskervils shows. "I like her because she's campy. I never see anybody around here doing anything like that."
Leaving the Baskervils last year, she now fronts a '60s garage punk band (Think Louie, Louie, only obscure), Thee Crypt Kicker 5.
In planning her new look for the band, Taylor took her cue from Russ Meyer, director of the most notorious and campy sexploitation films of the '60s. Dressed in go-go boots and fishnets, breasts spilling forward from the cups of a Wonder Bra, Taylor is a supervixen straight out of Meyer's Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill!
Born an Air Force brat in Fairborn, Ohio, Taylor traveled everywhere from Alabama to Germany before her family finally settled in Tampa in 1975. When her parents divorced four years ago, Taylor moved with her mother to a tiny house in South Tampa to help her through the transition.
It is her mother who teases Taylor's hair into an immovable bubble before each performance. It was her mother who named her Laura, for the standard ballad, and Michelle, for the Beatles song. It was also Taylor's mother who first objected to the whole band idea, fearing band life was too close to exotic dancing.
"I was just afraid she was going to do something to tarnish her image," says Jackie Taylor, following her comment with a loud "HA!"
"Now I understand it's showbiz," Jackie Taylor says. "I'm proud of her."
As close as they are, Jackie Taylor can still elicit an embarrassed, "Mother, please!" from her adult daughter when new people are in the house. A gregarious woman, Jackie is the kind of mom who spends all morning cooking a turkey, then runs out to the Hyde Park Kash n' Karry for sushi a half an hour before Taylor's brother and his girlfriend arrive for Sunday dinner.
Brian Taylor, 27, a multimedia artist of local renown, considers his sister one of his best friends. The two grew up together inventing comic book characters and cultivating abstract tastes while watching mind-bending movies such as Blue Velvet.
A poster for that movie hangs in Taylor's bedroom, next to her special shelf of Pee Wee Herman and Nightmare Before Christmas figurines. There's a box of CDs, cassettes and a space for records. More records are stored in the spare room down the hall.
In a tour of her clothes-choked closet, Taylor pushes aside the mundane "day wear" to reveal the "stage array."
Quick descriptions accompany each clinking hanger. "Angora sweater, gotta have those! Red vinyl pants, black vinyl pants, striped bell bottoms, leather miniskirt, Morticia Addams dress, pink pants, black vinyl shirt, some kind of leopard thing, another angora, silver hot pants, some sort of '60s geometric print, silver dress, groovie op art pants, a sort of a Monkees-type collar shirt, NAUGAHYDE! OH MY GOD!"
The tour ends finally with the dress that started it all; a lemon yellow shift with brass buttons, a "Jackie O. kind of thing," which once belonged to her mother. She was a senior at Leto High School in Tampa when she decided to wear it to school.
"It's hard when you're going through those awkward years, people say, "you're so lucky that you're tall, you're so lucky that' _ how can I put this in a genteel way _ "34D.' But walking down the hall, people would make fun of those very things that were my physical attributes."
Her physique, combined with a penchant for punk rock in the decade before Manic Panic, already drew enough attention to make Taylor a bit of a social outcast. The dress didn't help.
"It's nothing too extreme, but it sure caused me a lot of hell," Taylor says. "The more people made fun of me, the more I wanted to be more outrageous and showy."
It was her second lesson in performance. The first came from the radio. "Even in first grade I romanticized radio. I always picked a favorite station, formed mental relationships with the DJs."
In the adult world, her body, her deep voice, all things ridiculed as a child, she uses to conquer. She is on the radio, a job she always envisioned for herself. Not a bad way to pay the bills.
If she has survived where others have crumbled, she believes she has music to thank, the one thing she says has sustained her when nothing else has.
While she hasn't decided what the future holds, she contemplates it with a clear head. Being in a band fulfills a dream. "But I'm realistic enough to know you have to have a job to fund your dream."
For Taylor, everything has come full circle. "Nothing has really just reached down into my soul like being in a band. It's not that I have the urge to create. I have the urge to perform."
At a glance
Thee Crypt Kicker 5 will perform with Orlando rock-a-billy duo the Del Spektros at 10 p.m. Saturday April 26 at the Oak Barrell courtyard, 1901 N 13th St., Ybor City. Admission is free. Call 247-1164