When You Say Nothing at All

Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had were over before they began.

Jeremy Helligar


Photo: Raffael Herrmann/cc0.photo

“Most people have nothing to say — NOTHING to say. And most people give you the same conversation every single day. It’s just the same old pattern, and you’re none the wiser for knowing someone for five years. That’s why I do this music-business thing. Because it’s communication with people without having the extreme inconvenience of actually phoning anybody up.”

— Morrissey, The Importance of Being Morrissey

I have a confession to make that probably won’t surprise anyone who has ever caught up with me on the telephone.

Back in the days when phone calls were the only way to have real-time conversations with someone who wasn’t in the same room, I used to say a little prayer almost every time I had to initiate one: “Dear God. Please let them not pick up. I’d like to delay actually having to talk to them for as long as possible. Amen.”

As long as I’m being brutally honest, I might as well confess that I still have that little prayer on speed dial in my head.

I can relate to what Morrisey was saying about conversations and phoning people up in the 2002 biographical documentary The Importance of Being Morrissey as much as I used to relate to his loner lyrics and song titles (“Never Had No One Ever,” “Unloveable,” “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me”).

In fact, that’s precisely how I feel. Until I watched the film a decade ago (a few years before the former lead singer of The Smiths — one of my all-time favorite bands — became persona non grata in my head because of his rightish-wing proclamations), I struggled to put it into words.

If I never again have another conversation on the phone, I’ll be an extremely happy man. I hate making and returning phone calls so much that I haven’t bothered to set up an outgoing message on my mobile phone. But if I did, it would say, “Next time, don’t call, just text.”

People my age sometimes complain about how social media has raised an entire generation that struggles with oral conversation offline, but maybe it’s kind of for the best. Whenever the phone rings, I know it won’t be them calling. I can usually count on…



Jeremy Helligar

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj