Left Of The Dial: Answering Machine (Live), 1989

If this song was held up for review today, what tastemakers would point at and deride as an anachronistic shortcoming (if a 20-something even knew what an answering machine was) is actually what makes this song so arresting. Maybe even more so, now.

Because what do we have these days? Smartphones, with user-available settings that could recognize St. Paul calling at 2 a.m. and would then funnel his pleas to voice-mail hell or worse, an employee/robot app, telling him his call could not be connected.

Answering machines, though? Full of tape, and hope. No doorman here. Whatever the caller could fit into their message had a life. The recipient could, after hearing a bit, toss the message aside as a whole, but they could not ignore who sent the message in the first place. And in that bit that the listener couldn't unhear was hope. What love built its rooms and houses and bridges on. Hope.

Oh, the wonders of unrequited, analog hope and love.

"Answering Machine" is stunning in its original form, but it's even better in this raw setting with its just-before-it-goes-obsolete cliff. I just wish I could call it timeless. Maybe he should've tried for some sort of vacuum cleaner metaphor. Vacuum cleaners are still around.



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