When I was writing Telephone, I listened on repeat to O Superman by Laurie Anderson. It’s a song which conjures memories of watching it on Top Of The Pops as a kid with my dad, who loved it. So it opens a door in my head to my family home. And there’s something cosmic in its utter strangeness.
I’ve been listening to the song as part of my warm-up for each show. This Saturday morning, my mum’s coming to the piece. I open up the Coney zoom bar early, so my mum can get herself comfortably online. And she pops onto screen at the exact moment Laurie sings:
This is your mother
Are you there?
Are you coming home?
Its the second time for my mum to see the piece. My sister joins as well, for the first time.
Completely by chance, an old childhood friend of my sister, K – who I’m friends with on Facebook – now living in Amherst, Massachusetts, comes to this same performance. She’d booked for that early show in fact by mistake given her timezone, but decided to get up at dawn rather than change it.
In the show, K ends up placing a call to Coney 4315, 14 College Road Ripon. The same number she’d called many many times 30-something years ago to speak with my sister, who’d then take the phone from the hallway into the neighbouring room to shut the door, just as I describe.
Something in that confluence of presence; I feel my dad there. In fact, as I am about to tell the story about his ansamachine message, I hear him in my mind say: I am beside you.
The anniversary of his passing in early June, this email from Nick Cave’s Red Hand Files had landed in my inbox and floored me with that same message: I am beside you.
Later, my sister tells me that she’d already chosen dad to sit in the empty chair beside me, during the call to Coney 2020 which chanced to happen before Coney 4315.
I cry and laugh as she tells how she’d then imagined him playing the directory enquiries telephone operator in the later call to Coney 1996, just how beautifully seriously he’d always play his part.
In this same performance, there is an audience person from New Zealand, H, who had meant to come the previous weekend but had struggled with a zoom error, so I get her into this performance. Although she is still struggling with the zoom, so sits with video off.
Another audience, S in Leek Staffordshire, places a call to Coney 1876 and so casts herself as Alexander Graham Bell. While S is talking, H in New Zealand excitedly types into the chat – S, is that you? I cast H as Watson to bring her into the call.
It turns out they are old friends and colleagues, who haven’t spoken in ten years, now on opposite sides of the world. They figure out they must have been told about the show by the same mutual friend. Their recreations of the calls between Bell and Watson are joyous.
Later, me, my mum and sister stay on the line to chat with P, who is the mum of a friend in Hobart, Tasmania, who had sent her along. P’s drinking wine, my mum drinks water. They wish each other good day and good night, and we end the call.