And I’m sorry, but I’m not home

So, this post is about the slightly weird synchronicity that happened  when I was “researching” for my previous post (by research I mean, Googling the lyrics to “Hello, this is Joanie”)

There are a lot of handy Lyrics websites out there, but this time I googled the song and happened to select a personal website that had posted the lyrics. (I’m not going to name it here and you’ll see why in just a moment.)

When I landed on the website, I was focused on the song, so I read over the lyrics. They really confirmed in my mind that the inspiration for the song was the newness of the answering machine at that time. As I mentioned in my last post, I know the technology that made recording voices possible had been around for yonks (or possibly even longer),  but it was still a fairly new and strange event to encounter a recorded message when you rang someone.

This was the period when the average person was unused to recording messages and therefore terribly self conscious about it. As a phone rang, you hoped NOT to get an answering machine. When you did, you were disconcerted. Suddenly you had to try and formulate whatever you had been planning to say, into a quick, succinct and clearly enunciated message that would capture all the salient points – hampered all the while by feeling completely self-conscious about the fact that you were talking into a telephone and there was no human at the other end. (At the time, this felt quite strange!) You knew that however stiff and self-conscious your message was, the machine would capture its every nuance and your friend would be able to play it back at high volume, listening as you rambled with barely any coherence, “Ah…ummmm….hi Mildred…..umm…..(cough)….err….I just….ummmm…when are you…..I mean, ummm……can you call me back? ummm….you can get me on……(Beep!).

Naturally these days we speak to machines so frequently that no-one has any self consciousness about it any more, with the exception of my father.

It’s such a mundane thing, isn’t it, a casual, cheery, recorded greeting on an answering machine? Paul Edwards,  the writer of Hello This Is Joanie, realised that it was exactly the mundane and cheery, casual nature of the answering machine message that gave it the potential for some dramatic irony in the imagined situation where someone dies, and their recorded phone greeting is still accessible over and over again by someone who loved them. In the vein of the best black dramas or tragedies, the song’s tragedy is that the message is not a final and heartfelt goodbye, left by someone who knew they were going to die, but a casually recorded “Hi! You’ve rung Joe Bloggs. Leave a message and I’ll call you back”, recorded by a person who was blissfully unaware that their answering machine message would outlive them.

It was perfect material for a song of it’s era, with a tragic twist. If Shakespeare had lived in the 1970’s I’m sure that a similar scenario would have popped up in one of his tragedies.

After I’d pondered all of that, I wondered if the person who’d posted the lyrics on their website had any other interesting music, so I refocused my attention on the rest of their website. It was then that I discovered at the top of the page, a note to say that the owner of the page had passed away in 2010, and that the website was now a memorial to him!

That is what struck me immediately as weird synchronicity. I went looking for a song that’s essentially about a new (at the time) technology allowing someone to listen over and over again to the voice of someone they loved after the person has died. I found the song on a website that is now a memorial to  someone who had recently died.

It struck me that all the blogs, tweets and facebook posts out there now fulfil the role that journals and diaries always had,  the role of capturing and memorialising the every day moments of people’s lives after they have died. By way of example, a local paper, The Herald Sun, reporting on the last known movements of each of the victims of the earthquakes in New Zealand, reported that one young girl, who had just finished exams,  updated her facebook status to say “hoping for a happier future”, then headed into the city and was killed in the earthquake. Probably before most of her friends had read her latest update.

Hello, this is Joanie, and I’m sorry, but I’m not home.

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4 Comments

  1. cath

     /  March 6, 2011

    hey that IS weird I was thinking about that song the other day too – mostly because I was trying to deal with the phone company to get my new line connected and every time you call them you have to go through this whole system of a recorded voice asking you to select from different options until you can finally confuse it into putting you through to a real person and you kind of have to not swear at it in the meantime because it responds to your voice and I was thinking about how it would be great to go back in time and kill that guy before he ever made that recording…(it takes a long time to get put through to a real person)…

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    • cath

       /  March 6, 2011

      I also heard that the talking clock guy died

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      • Ah, the talking clock guy. What a shame. Who the hell is the talking clock guy?? Do you mean Grant Daniels, who played the role of a Grandfather Clock in one of our school Christmas concerts (a role designated to him so that he wouldn’t need to sing?) Or do you mean Tom Stoppard, who wrote a play about a man who is sure that the voice of the talking clock is his ex-wife? (She might have died, I can’t remember.)

        I guess what you mean is that this guy recorded all the talking clock times, then died, and now his voice will be for ever telling people the time when they ring to check it..? That’s a bit different to what I was talking about, I suppose, in that he’s not been memorialised for ever saying something cheery and/or ordinary about his own life, just what the time will be on the third stroke. But still, I guess that hearing him say the time would still be painful to listen to if you had known him and missed him.

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    • I admire your patience if you made it as far as a real human – especially without swearing! I doubt very much that I could have got that far.

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