THE ROMANTICISM OF THE ANSWERING MACHINE
I've been listening to Such Great Heights by the Postal Service a lot lately; it's a really great song. But there's a line in it that really struck a note with me "I tried my best to leave this all on your machine...". And the more I thought about it, I realised I know several songs which romanticise answering machines and messages in this way: In Nice Dream by Radiohead, Thom Yorke sings: "I called up my friend the good angel but she's out with her ansaphone". Mark Linkous's aunt leaves a message on his answering machine about a dream she had, which Linkous incorporates into the song Spirit Ditch on the Sparklehorse album vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot. The Replacements have a song called Answering Machine, Pulp have a song called Ansaphone. And, as DejaMorgana pointed out, Green Velvet also have a song called Answering Machine, which is a week's worth of answering machine messages. Anyway, it all just got me thinking about the answering machine, and what it is that is so romantic about it.
I suppose everyone must still get a little thrill on coming home and seeing the light on the answering machine blinking back at them letting them know that there are mysterious messages waiting to be listened to, holding who knows what news from whom? Old friends? family? long-lost lovers? who knows what new and exciting opportunities and proposals might be waiting coiled up on the tiny magnetic tape in the machine? What familiar voice might bring the past flooding into the present?
The day before a friend of ours died, he left a message on my sister's answering machine asking us if we wanted to go for a drink. My sister has never deleted this message, and often, if she is thinking about our friend, she will phone her service and play back the now several-years old message, just to hear his voice. It's no different to looking at a photograph I suppose, but it seems more intimate because it's his voice, dynamic, just as we always knew it, not a frozen image in time. People often save answering-machine messages for these kind of reasons; to have someone's voice cheer them up on a dark day.
Who amongst us isn't guilty of deliberately waiting until we know that a person will be out; specifically so we can choose that time to phone, so that instead of talking to someone we can just leave a message on their machine?
Although I've started to wonder if mobile phones aren't ruining the romanticism of answering machines for us? Ruining all this? Because there is little need for answering machines when callers can just try cell-phones when they can't reach someone at home. Thus killing the innocent thrill and anticipation of an un-listened to message.