Friday, March 8, 2013

Springsteen's Answering Machine


Throughout this decade, as Generation Y begins to get married, have kids, get fat, and lose their hair, we will all be inundated with 90s nostalgia.  While some of the focus will be on the pop culture of the time, such as movies, television, and fashion, I think people will reminisce more about the technology of the era.  In the 1990s, you had to choose between being on the phone, watching television, or being on the internet; now, we do all three at once.  Though it sounds cliche, it truly was a simpler time, where technology enhanced your life, but did not consume it.

With this in mind, allow me to wax nostalgic about one forgotten technological relic of the 80s and 90s: the answering machine.  Granted, voicemail greetings are not extinct, but more often then not I receive the default "You have reached 555..." rather than any personal greeting.  Calling it an afterthought nowadays is too nice; I have no idea what my current greeting says, and probably can't even figure out how to change it.  However, answering machine instructions were drilled into my head as a small child, and I'll never forget them.  I even remember answering machine "safety tips", such as using a man's voice and mentioning multiple names (but not your last name).  These tips were allegedly to detour burglars or stalkers, but looking back, it seems insanely paranoid.  But, my mom still shreds her bank statements into fine confetti to prevent her identity from being stolen by "dumpster divers", so perhaps these "tips" were just unique to my family.

But, back in the day, conversations about your answering machine were just as frequent as conversations about your Facebook profile.  Nearly every sitcom had an answering machine moment in their show, most notably Seinfeld, which had an entire episode based on switching the tape on an answering machine and had a classic gag involving George's answering machine.  With answering machines in our collective conscious, it stands to reason that our beloved entertainer would make a contribution to the answering machine world.  And that he did.  The results will amaze you:



Before sharing my thoughts, I'd just like to reprint the lyrics for those who may have not caught them all:

Hey there ain't nobody home
Hey there ain't nobody home
Hey there ain't nobody home
To come to the telephone

I don't know when I'm coming back
I don't know when I'm coming back
I don't know when I'm coming back
If you got something to say 
You better spit it out, Jack

Now, objectively, this is hilarious.  There's the element of the goofiness and awkwardness already associated with 90s Bruce.  Here is a campy, lighter side of this rocker who made his mark singing about the souls of the departed, preserved forever in Internet history.  But for me, the funniest part of this is not in the message itself, but in imagining the process that led to Bruce recording this message.  I imagine him slaving away at his desk, trying to come up with the right melody and lyrics, tossing paper after paper into a nearby wastebasket, trimming down the song from eight minutes to 30 seconds, arguing with Patti that this will be a fantastic way to greet his callers (while she reasonably suggests a more formal message), etc.  It is a wonderful clip that provides laughs, groans, and a rare "behind the curtain" look at our favorite entertainer.  And, for me, it is the perfect summation of the answering machine era: it was an amusing part of our lives that, while we may feel nostalgic for, nobody wants to go back to using.

(On a side note, it is good to hear Clarence's voice in the clip, if it was only so brief.  However, I'm always thrown off by the sound of his voice - I always expect it to be deeper, such as in "Kid you better get the picture" or "You better be good for goodness sake".  Is it just me?)