2011-10-21

Ron Thal and a Lost Phenomenon

This morning an old favorite song popped into my head: "Hang Up," by Ron Thal. If I'm not mistaken, the song was released in 1997, and while cellular phones existed back then, they were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are today. As with most such technologies, they first appeared for rich and fast-paced businesspeople, and then the market for them gradually expanded to more or less every human being on Earth.


This is important, because what I want to discuss today is the fact that the situation described in the song basically no longer exists in human society. It was, however, very common at the time Thal released the song, and probably even more common a decade earlier.

The song describes what used to happen to a lot of shy kids in the dawn of their teens. At that time, kids are still just trying to wrap their heads around love, trying to suss out how to communicate on that level with members of the opposite sex. These days, kids have a lot more exposure to that kind of thing on TV and in music. They also have cellular phones and Facebook with which to text and flirt and figure out relationships by testing the waters using written notes.

Back then, though, we basically had to figure it out at school, in person. Just when we thought we'd figured it out, we'd spend hours working up the courage to pay the object of our desire an unsolicited social telephone call. By that act of admission, we essentially proclaimed our unabashed like for that person.

The phone calls were often pretty funny, too. Imagine two very shy, very awkward teenagers who may get along pretty well at school, but over the telephone, with nothing to talk about other than the fact that they like each other, they get even more shy and even more awkward. Only over many such difficult phone calls did they make it to the point where they would consider going together.

On the other hand, in some cases we'd call someone up only to discover that they didn't (gasp) like us back. What followed was torment and anguish and embarrassment. Perhaps someone would have heard about the phone call and would tease us over it. This deepened the embarrassment.

Given that these were the two possible outcomes of the first telephone call, the very shy among us would often work up the courage to call someone, only to discover that once the phone had been answered, we didn't have that much courage after all. In silent, terrified embarrassment, we would hang up the telephone without uttering a word.

Well, that's a funny situation in child development that will eventually disappear from society altogether, if it hasn't already, thanks to cell phones, texting, social networking, and so on. Those of us who remember it can only look back on it fondly, with a laugh.

Which means that Thal's brilliant ability to encapsulate this situation from the boy's perspective in a rock song will never really get the appreciation that it deserves. But truthfully, it's brilliant.

And of course, the musicianship is out-of-this-world.