Goodbye, Ruby Grapefruit
In an interview I did once with psychedelic guitarist Steve Kimock, I asked him why, when I hear music that isn’t familiar, I often find myself relating it to something I do know. For instance, a song by his then-band Zero had a hook that reminded me of the chorus of a Beatles song. One of his guitar riffs reminded me of Mark Knopfler’s playing on “Money For Nothing.” Zero’s cover of “Baby, Baby” (aka, “Baby, I Love You,” made famous by Aretha Franklin) smacked of a Dead song (“The Love Each Other”).
“Cultural preconditioning” was Kimock’s explanation. He was also talking about our familiarity with western scales and harmonies.
I can’t help thinking there’s something a mite odd about the way my brain will take some string of music fed into and run this frantic search to find even an approximate match in my memory. But then, it’s not just me, is it? In the Onion‘s ’03 classic “I Have An iPod—In My Mind,” the fictional writer touts the superiority of his built-in iPod:
There are no firewire cords or docks to mess with. I just put my hands behind my head, lean back, and select a tune from the extensive music-library folder inside my brain….
You say those iPods have customizable playlists that allow you to line up songs of your choosing? Primitive! I can put together a playlist, say “Best-Ever Heavy Metal Anthems,” while I’m sitting in traffic. My mind is light-years beyond that, though. Does your iPod have the “That Reminds Me Of Another Great Song” feature? Well, my mind does!
But I can go the fictional Ted Lascowicz one better. Given an arbitrary string of words my mind will come up with a somewhat relevant lyric. For years I’d find myself humming “Ruby Tuesday” (in my mind, that is) while shopping at the legendary Berkeley Bowl. Eventually I realize this song recall was being triggered by the stacks of ruby grapefruits.
And just this morning I noticed a bilingual wet floor sign in a stairwell at work. I’m going to assume that piso mojado means what I think it does. But a good ten minutes later I caught my mind cueing up Janis Joplin as she broke into perhaps the greatest cover song of her career, and singing
I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take it,
Take another little piso mojado, baby,
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah.
Hey! Have another little piso mojado, baby, yeah.
You know you got it if it makes you feel good.
Oh yes indeed.