Hello, my New Media

This entry was posted by on Saturday, 7 February, 2009 at

Today I was changing my kid’s diaper and singing Hello my Baby to comfort him — I had learned the whole thing in college as part of a barbershop quartet. Everybody knows the first part of the song:

Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal
Why don’t you send me a kiss by wire? Baby, my heart’s on fire!
If you refuse me, honey you’ll lose me, then you’ll be left alone,
Oh baby — telephone, and tell me I’m your own.

Cliches aside, this song is fascinating to me. It dates back to the (prior) turn of the century and is all about the “novelty” of that crazy new technology called the telephone. It’s a bit like somebody writing a song today extolling the innovation of instant messaging or Facebook. When I got to the relatively unknown bridge part, I was struck by one phrase (in bold):

I’ve got a little baby but she’s out of sight,
I talk to her across the telephone.
I’ve never seen my honey, but she’s mine alright,
So take a tip and leave her alone.
Now every single morning you will hear me yell,
“Hey Central, fix me up across the line” —
he connects me with my honey, and I ring the bell,
and this is what I say to baby mine…

Wait a second. He’s never seen his baby? I’ve heard internet pundits make fun of chatrooms and dating sites… “oh ha ha, they met over the internet. They’ve never even seen each other!” But clearly this is not a new phenomenon! Given that this song is tongue-in-cheek humor, the authors were clearly mocking the telephone in exactly the same way. That’s a revelation to me. Maybe all new communication technologies go through the same stages of sneers and disbelief.

For your cheesy enjoyment, I’ve included an mp3 link of my college barbershop quartet singing this song so you can hear the obscure middle section. If you’re a masochist, I’ve included two more songs performed by our quartet. (The reverb is real: we recorded in a gothic stone foyer.)

And yes, in our quartet photo below (circa 1994) that really is me all the way on the right. We were trying very hard to mimic the famous Norman Rockwell inset. :-)

Hello, My Baby (mp3, 1.8MB)

Sweet Adeline (mp3, 2.2MB)

Love-Eyes Medley (mp3, 2.9MB)


8 Comments to Hello, my New Media

  1. David W says:

    February 8th, 2009 at 12:21 am

    The links are broken in the RSS feeds. Prepending “/sussman” to them makes it all work. Sounds wonderful. =)

  2. Ben Collins-Sussman says:

    February 8th, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Looks like it’s either a bug in WordPress’s feed-generator, or in Feedburner’s republishing of the feed. I’ll investigate.

  3. Karl Fogel says:

    February 8th, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    I wanted to say something about the deep point you’re making about technology, but instead I’m just blown away by how good the quartet is. Whew. You guys rocked!

    Transcription nit: I think in the key line the word is “honey” not “baby”, as in

    I’ve never seen my honey, but she’s mine alright

  4. Ben Collins-Sussman says:

    February 8th, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Whoops, fixed. Thanks Karl!

  5. Angela says:

    February 9th, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Adorable. Ben, was that you singing lead?

    I love the insight here about the fact that technology changes but human nature never does. Before the telephone were the mail-order brides and all manner of arranged marriages before that.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Ben Collins-Sussman says:

    February 9th, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Nope, I sing the baritone part in those recordings, a.k.a “the garbage part”.

    When you write barbershop arrangements, the lead (melody) and bass parts are pretty much fixed in stone. Then you write the tenor part to harmonize against the lead (typically moving up and down in teeny half-steps), and then whatever note is “left over” to make the chord complete goes to the baritone. The result is the most bizarre, random string of notes. Impossible to learn, full of weird tri-tone jumps and such. My quartet always referred to me as the “junk man” in pity. :-)

  7. Derek Mahar says:

    February 26th, 2009 at 6:45 am

    Thank you for sharing the audio recordings! I enjoyed listening to them. Note that the link to “Love-Eyes Medley” actually points to “Hello, My Baby” and I think it was “Normal” Rockwell’s brother “Norman” who actually painted the image on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

  8. Ben Collins-Sussman says:

    February 26th, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Thanks Derek, I fixed both typos. :-)