Thursday, August 03, 2006

"Cell Phones Ringing in the Pockets of the Dead" - Willie Nile

What a strange image this line conjures up. I recently purchased the new Willie Nile CD and took it with me on a road trip up the coast. As I drove along enjoying the music, I suddenly focused in on the lyrics to hear dear Willie singing about cell phones ringing in the pockets of dead people. Hmmm.... How charming.

Of course I was driving, so I couldn't read the song lyrics without becoming a major road hazard. I really don't relish the thought of causing a major SigAlert. When I got to my destination, I reached for the CD case to peruse the lyrics of this most intriguing and disturbing song. But, alas ... in my fervor to keep the clutter down on this trip, I had pulled my CDs out of their cases and inserted the whole mess into a tidy CD notebook -- without the inserts that include lyrics and liner notes. I was just going to have to wait until I got home later in the week. In the meantime, the phrase "cell phones ringing in the pockets of the dead" just wouldn't leave me alone.

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I don't carry a cell phone. This was just one more reason not to carry one of these insidious devices. "YOU MEAN THAT THING'S GONNA RING EVEN WHEN I'M DEAD???"

If you know me, you know that I try hard not to be immediately and always available. I spend most of my days being immediately and always available. Sometimes I just need to be unavailable. After all, how else will I be able to concentrate on writing rants about cell phones if I have to keep answering a phone? I've got voicemail; I've got email; I check them repeatedly throughout most days. This is connected enough.

Then there is a little thing I find so very important. It's called "giving someone my full attention." When I'm having lunch or coffee with someone, I like to be fully present to that person. They deserve it. When I'm driving, I like to be fully present to others on the road. They deserve it. I think you can see where I'm headed with this. I'm all for multi-tasking when necessary, but do we really need to multi-task our relationships?

Well, enough ranting about why I don't carry a cell phone. Back to Willie's song. When I got home, I pulled the lyrics out and read them. I read them again. I finally went online to see what Willie himself had to say about his song. I was stunned. I'd been singing the refrain at the top of my lungs every time I'd listened to it. I'd had bizarre Bradbury-esque images float into my head. The song even got me thinking about my own personal rant, which you've just read. Willie was writing a commentary, but not about cell phones. He had something much more important on his mind when he wrote this song. He wrote this song for the victims of terrorism. Like many of us, he is saddened that people can't get along ... yet he understands how tough this seemingly simple act of getting along with each other really is. In Willie's words, "... [if] we'd try to help each other in all the different countries, it would still be tough. It would still be tough. But man makes it so hard."

To read what Willie Nile had to say about the writing of this song, see his interview at


  1. That is so strange about the cell phones... what a twist of technology that adds to the horror of an already terrible tragedy. How sad to think of someone on the other end of the line, hoping that phone would be answered. Very sad.

    I don't know if it is because I am jaded or what, but whenever I hear someone talk about people being nicer to each other in the bigger, let's-stop-blowing-each-other-up way, I have no hope that will ever happen. It would be wonderful but I can't see it. Also very sad.

  2. I don't think you're jaded so much as you know your history. It is wonderful to hope, but in the thousands of years of our existence we've not managed to get along very well sometimes. I don't think we're so terribly different than those who have gone before us, so I guess I just don't expect us to get along any better either. Yes, it is sad.

  3. Yes, this song really grips you. There's always something especially poignant when happy and sad mix (i.e., the lively rock sound of the music and the incredibly sad refrain). I read that the ringing was really difficult on the emergency workers, for all the reasons that Mary-LUE and Terri B. put forth. For despairing people, the American economist-turned-talk-show-host Fareek Azeez offers some hope that the world may be getting better.