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Goodbye, Ruby Grapefruit

piso mojado 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.

From → Cut-Out Bin

  1. ““Cultural preconditioning” was Kimock’s explanation. He was also talking about our familiarity with western scales and harmonies.:”

    I am not sure how much I like that explanation… I don’t think it’s so much “cultural preconditioning” as much as the brain constantly acting like a fuzzy pattern matching engine. The reason you think of other songs when listening to something new is the same reason you see a man on the moon or a VW Beetle in a cloud formation… The brain is constantly analyzing new input and trying to relate it to what is already known…

    When you hear a new song, you can’t possibly relate it to something you haven’t heard, so you bend it to try and fit it to some model. You see this alot when people describe the music of bands like Secret Chiefs 3 as sounding “Middle Eastern”. While the band definitely adopts a vaguely middle-eastern aesthetic, and uses some non-traditional (in the west) scales and time signatures, their music doesn’t really sound like anything from the mid-east. But reviewers often relate their work to that culture because the only context they’ve heard some of these instruments and scales/signatures has been as background music in movies set in the middle east.

  2. That’s a great point. Camper Van Beethoven often imitated styles they had never studied just by hinting at the shards of received stereotypical impressions we all (mostly) share.

  3. shacker permalink

    Christian, you and Dali (and all of us, more than we realize) are bed-fellows in the paranoia-critical method:

    According to Dali by simulating paranoia one can systematically undermine one’s rational view of the world, which becomes continually subjected to associative transformations, “For instance, one can see, or persuade others to see, all sorts of shapes in a cloud: a horse, a human body, a dragon, a face, a palace, and so on. Any prospect or object of the Physical world can be treated in this manner, from which the proposed conclusion is that it is impossible to concede any value whatsoever to immediate reality, since it may represent or mean anything at all” (Marcel Jean). The point is to persuade oneself or others of the authenticity of these transformations in such a way that the ‘real’ world from which they arise loses its validity. The mad logic of Dali’s method leads to a world seen in continuous flux, as in his paintings of the 1930s, in which objects dissolve from one state into another, solid things become transparent, and things of no substance assume form. The Paranoiac-critical method is thus the reverse of the children’s ‘picture-puzzles’ in which people are hidden in drawings of trees etc, and resembles more the ‘double-images’ employed by psychologists. The two faces that become a vase, and other similar illusions such as faces seen in rocks, landscapes in marble and the anthropomorphic forms of plants such as the mandrake root.

  4. I enjoyed reading this article. And as a bonus, it called to mind the flavor sensation of eating a ruby red grapefruit. Not just any ruby red grapefruit, either, but an especially good tasting one. In my mind, I got little drops of grapefruit juice on my glasses.

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