Voices from 98 Bowery

Messages from the Telephone Answering Machine, 1982-87

My world in the 1980s lives on in part through a collection of answering-machine tapes that I recently retrieved from storage. Unlike the digital variety we use today, the old machines recorded messages on cassette tapes purchased separately and placed in the machine. Most people reused their tapes, letting new messages record over the old. But being the pack rat that I am, I kept all messages, and when both sides of a tape were filled, I dated and saved the cassettes. I had no special reason to do this. They were simply archival debris that I couldn’t part with. Hearing the messages again has been revealing. Some are from men and women I knew well, some were left by passing acquaintances, and others, by complete strangers. Some allude to significant occasions, others to frivolous moments, the search for diversions, and the mundane realities of everyday life. Individually each message is a record of a specific person and moment. Together they form something more -- a sound portrait of my life in the 1980's composed of the voices of the people who were in it.