When I was a kid, my dad and his friends used to tell Traveling Salesmen jokes because, well, they were traveling salesmen. I didn’t really listen to much that my father said when I was young, so there’s not one of those jokes I could tell you today. I guess I should have been listening, because for some unfathomable reason I followed in my father’s footsteps. I didn’t want to be a doctor, too much blood. My father told me to be an orthodontist, “that’s where the money is, son,” but I didn’t want to have my hand in people’s mouth all day, tightening wires, although I could see where a sadist could get into that. I think I lean a little more on the masochistic side of the equation… for all you Dominatrix out there… ahem. I considered teaching, but I didn’t want to starve or worse drive a cab. Sales is where all the wretched refuse end up. The folks who don’t have that crystal clear vision when they’re 10 of what they want to be when they grow up, the people who’s major gets selected randomly, they all end up in sales. I’ve met more Psych majors, former teachers, and architects in sales than in psychology, teaching or architecture. You eventually reach that stage in life where you decide to, as Jackson Browne once sang, become “a happy idiot, and struggle for the legal tender.” Sales pays the bills. But sales also requires travel… lots and lots of travel.
For the last few weeks my life has been, in a nutshell, Planes, Trains And Automobiles. I’ve been in Austin, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I’ve been home just long enough to unpack and repack and head back out on the road. This week is no different. I’m here just long enough to annoy the Rock Chick and then I’m off to Denver for meetings. The problem with being a traveling sales guy or gal, is that your spouse most likely sits at home at night with the kids or in my case, a cat. When you get home from the road, (and I must say, the Allman Brothers were right, “the Road” truly does “go on forever”), all you want to do is lay down on the couch and eat a sandwich. Well, you should probably sit up while you eat, but to each their own, I don’t judge. I had the inevitable conversation with my bride just last Friday. She copped to being a little bored sitting at home while I’m out on the town in some faraway city and wanted to go out for drinks. This is the fallacy of work travel. No matter where I go, as much as I like the people I work with, my travel isn’t fun despite what my wife thinks. There is nothing glamorous about going to yet another restaurant to eat and drink with strangers whom you’re trying to convince to give you money. I will admit, there are rare occasions when I get to dine or have a few drinks and talk a little treason with a friend, like my buddy RK in Chicago, but those nights are few and far between.
Unfortunately all of this travel has kept me away from B&V and music in general. Sure, I have my phone or my iTouch, because it’s really hard to get the turntable into the overhead compartment on the plane, but it’s not the same as being here in the B&V lab, listening to obscure R.E.M. b-sides. Being on the road with my iTouch does give me time to reflect on playlist ideas. What else am I going to do on the noon flight from San Fran to Orange County. I will say, having my smart phone has changed my life. I get emails and texts so I can get up to the minute updates. Although in the old days, when my travel was just driving around from small town to small town peddling medical supplies, it was nice to get away from the constant noise and be “unreachable,” a concept that is sadly gone now. The phone is so much more these days – a camera, a virtual radio station’s worth of music and a forum for the social media… It wasn’t always that way.
Phones have become a uniquely personal experience. “Where’s my phone” are words uttered around here every day… It used to be “where’s the phone.” Even at concerts, people tend to view the live action through the lens of their phones – something that Jack White and I both deplore – rather than just being in the moment and being a part of the experience by actually watching and absorbing what’s happening on the stage. I mean, sure, even I, your intrepid blogger will snap a few photos at a concert, but that’s because I need a pic for B&V – if I don’t do it, who will teach the children about rock and roll? Anything for the people… Anyway, my point is, everyone has their own phone. We take our phones everywhere. I even heard a guy in a bathroom stall in O’Hare Airport taking a business call…he was sitting down. I’ll let you do the math on that whole scenario. I won’t be borrowing that guy’s phone any time soon. I watched two college kids eating at the Shake Shack in LAX (and lets all admit what an awful, primitive airport that is… I think I saw someone trying to board a plane with a live chicken under their arm), and these two kids were sitting across from each other and they were both in their phones, not just on the phones. I don’t think they even looked at each other.
In the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the phone was not a personal experience, it was a shared experience. Most homes had a phone, but it was on the wall. A rotary phone with a really long cord was a must have in every kitchen… you could cook or sit at the kitchen table and talk on the phone at the same time. You had to share the phone with your whole family, from parents to any siblings that were hanging around. I remember being on the phone talking to a girl and my brother, the insolent bastard, kept picking up the line because, in all likelihood he wanted to call a girl too. I seem to recall all of this inability to share the phone line leading to fisticuffs but that’s water under the bridge. My mother put time limits on us for how long we could use the phone at night. When school started everybody got a directory with the home phone of every student… it made dating easier. Or at least, in my case, trying to date easier.
If you lived in a rural area, the phone was even more of a shared experience. The Rock Chick lived so far out in the country she had to have what was called a “party line” where it wasn’t just you on the phone, you shared it with your neighbors. If Edna, down the road was talking to Enid, gossiping about the bowling league, you had to wait for her to finish so you could make a call. I can’t imagine what that was like. You were literally blocked from calling anybody until the neighbor got done. I can’t fathom the eavesdropping that went on in that small town. No secrets… I try to picture my daughter in that scenario. She would have run away from home.
If you were expecting a call, you couldn’t leave the house, to continue to live your life. You had to stay home, hanging on the telephone line, as they used to say, waiting for the phone to ring. If you were out in public you had to have a dime, and later a quarter, then you had to find a pay phone to make a call. I remember being a freshman in college, I had to leave the place I lived, we were all on top each other, so I could talk to my girlfriend in private. I had to walk two blocks to the convenience store, get change for a dollar, and call from the phone booth outside. I spent hours standing in phone booths back in those days. There was something romantic about that… late at night, standing in a small glass booth, making that long distance call… I think I was on a first name basis with the operator. Nowadays, I just text my wife when I’m traveling. It’s just not the same…
I was in a hotel room recently, shuffling on my iTouch, when I heard back-to-back songs about being on the phone. The songs took me back to those old days of late night calls from phone booths along the highway to either some place I’d been or to some place I was going. Even David Lee Roth said that the entire time he was in Van Halen, he’d known that it would end with him in a lonely hotel room, with nothing but a busy signal on the other end of the line… (Note to Millennials, if you didn’t want to talk to someone, you took the receiver off “the hook” of the phone, and it would produce a busy signal). I’ve been in that hotel room… I’ve heard that busy signal.
So without further adieu, here is my Hanging On The Telephone Line playlist. As with all my playlists, which I finally posted on Spotify, this playlist will be posted there as well. Go out and search on BourbonAndVinyl.net and you’ll find it… And as always, stylistically I’m all over the map here, but that’s what makes music fun… Enjoy.
- The White Stripes, “Hello Operator” – Visceral blues-rock with Meg White pounding out the insistent rhythm like an impatient caller on the line.
- Bob Dylan & The Band, “Long Distance Operator” – This is a Band song that Robbie Robertson grafted on the original 2 album release of The Basement Tapes. That doesn’t make it a bad tune…
- Robert Cray, “Phone Booth” – This one takes me back… many a night I spent in a phone booth.
- Kiss, “Beth” – “Beth I hear you callin’…”
- Blondie, “Call Me” – The theme song from American Gigolo. My mother once said to me, “I don’t know what all this talk about Richard Gere is, you’re just as handsome as he is….” Thanks mom, but I have a mirror.
- The Allman Brothers, “Please Call Home” – “…if you change your mind.” Sublime blues.
- B.B. King, “Waiting For Your Call” – We’ve all been there.
- Rod Stewart, “Oh, God I Wish I Was Home Tonight” – Rod imagines calling his girlfriend, from his neighbors apartment, which I’m pretty sure was breaking and entering and petty theft. Great song, tho.
- The Pretenders, “The Phone Call” – My friend Drew turned me back onto the Pretenders… those first two albums are priceless.
- The Kinks, “Long Distance” – What playlist is complete without the Kinks?
- Muddy Waters, “Long Distance Call” – The King of Delta Blues calling from far away…
- X, “You’re Phone’s Off The Hook, But You’re Not” – Kick ass, funny, Southern-California punk rock.
- Foreigner, “Love On The Telephone” – This is one of the two tracks that inspired me to write this screed…
- The Beatles, “No Reply” – This is really a song about an ex-boyfriend stalking his ex… which is not cool, but the Beatles were so cute people dug it still.
- Al Green, “Call Me” – Al Green did not record one sad song, even this plea for a lover’s call.
- The Vaughn Brothers, “Telephone Song” – Stevie Ray and Jimmy tearing it up. What a loss Stevie Ray was…
- Billy Idol, “Crank Call” – Is your fridge running? Yes… You better catch it, it’s getting away. Ah, innocence lost.
- Blondie, “Hanging On The Telephone” – Parallel Lines is essential listening, and this is a key track.
- Paul McCartney & Wings, “Call Me Back Again” – A jammy, rocky, big horns track from Sir Paul, Linda and Denny Laine.
- Lou Reed, “New York Telephone Conversation” – As brief as I would imagine a conversation in NY going.
- Chuck Berry, “Memphis, Tennessee” – Also done beautifully by the Faces. “Long distance operator can you put me in touch with…” Fabulous song.
- Cheap Trick, “She’s Tight” – A song where our hero receives a call from his girlfriend whose parents are apparently gone for the evening… ahem… I think we’ve all been there. Youth is sometimes not wasted on the young.
- ELO, “Telephone Line” – My friend Doug takes umbrage when I describe them as being derivative of the Beatles, so I’m going to say it, they’re derivative of the Beatles. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a great song.
- Jim Croce, “Operator” – The saddest, best song on this list.
Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while and just say, hello. It’s worth the quarter…