My friend Vincent T. — the close friend of my recently deceased Uncle Vince — called me this morning and let me know that Vince’s cell phone is still on. He was not the first to try it. But he and others who have called it told me the same thing: It was therapeutic to hear his voice again.
I have not brought myself to call it yet. His voice is still clear enough in my head. But I have checked in and, recently, posted something on Vince’s Facebook page. I have also posted something at the memorial site set up by the funeral home. And when I was down in Miami, though his computer had been taken in by detectives looking for whatever they could find (story here, and here, for those of you wondering what I am talking about), I started thinking more about the digital footprint we are all leaving. There’s a voice, there are emails (I came across some funny fan mail and responses printed out, between Vince and Augusten Burroughs, e.g.), there are home pages, blogs, Amazon reviews, and so on. They are all still floating out there, perhaps forever.
I would like to say I have drawn some sort of conclusion, profound or otherwise, from this. But I think it simply is. And that hits us on some deep level. I mean, the shallowness that we associate with this digital culture, what we feel is fleeting and disposable, ends up to be very much the opposite. We are leaving bits of ourselves all over the place for others to stumble upon or actively seek out after we are gone. Sure, a Facebook page is not the same as leaving, say, the library of William Shakespeare (whoever “he” was) or catalog of John Coltrane behind as a legacy. But it is a lot more than the few crumpled and yellowed letters, photos, and press clippings of those who passed before 1990 or so.
There was a recent gag from the Onion about future “archeologists” discovering the lost civilization of Friendster. This is not so far-fetched.
This all got me thinking of a line I wrote and sang in 1990 or so, on the song “Porchlight,” which was written around the time that the burgeoning technology of “voice mail” was becoming more mainstream. This was one of those “written from the road” tunes, as Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade used to joke about bands coming back to record their first records after being on tour for the first time. We had a beeper/voice mail system in place for personal calls and business calls, to be reachable in the days before cell phones, email, etc.
The line is, “Your voice got smaller ’til I realized it was gone.”
The voice is only another trace, a ghost that lingers.
So, for this week’s cover, I cover Buffalo Tom’s “Porchlight.” And as a change, I do it live from the breakfast table this morning. You can see I really dolled myself up for this brunch concert. Buffalo Tom has played this live only rarely. Tom Maginnis does not like drumming to it for some reason. We have not quite figured it all out. We played it as a request of Jon Stewart on his final T.V. show in the 1990s, well before he took over and redefined the Daily Show.