Association game


We all have been associating music with other senses and memories for a long while now.  Ever since the birth of music, probably; it’s in our makeup to remember things in sensory clusters and tangles.  It’s how we deduce patterns and cull meaning from seemingly random experience.  I hear my cat meow and I associate that with the watery, panicked look in his eyes and the particular poofiness of his tail and strident clip of his walk, and I have learned that these things, added together, = my cat wants me to crack open a can of meat factory sweepings for him.  I’ll never hear “rrrrROWWR?” again without instinctively reaching for one of those pull-tab hockey pucks.

So it goes with music.  We tend to associate many songs with the striking contexts in which we first (or second) heard them.  Anybody who ever made out with the object of their puppy love in a friend’s finished basement while listening to “Pictures of You” can attest to the strong associative properties of memory.  That song for me comes with a powerful package of soft lips and faintly-recalled perfume scent.  It’s been sixteen HOLY SHIT, SIXTEEN? years, and that is still part and parcel of “Pictures of You” in my mind.  Others in the same vein are significantly less pleasant, though.  Listen #158 of “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam took place in my apartment-of-approaching-divorce in Chicago, in the middle of an especially cold and snow-buried winter, and that tends to be how I hear it now.  I had to have listened to hundreds of songs in that unhappy time, but for whatever reason “Jeremy” is the one that got ruined.

Whatever.  I had kind of stopped liking it mere seconds before then, anyway.

It’s not all sensitive memories of yesteryear.  Hollywood is responsible for, I think, 90% of my song associations.  I believe that, in fact, the very process of association strengthens my mental fixation on these songs.  My theory is simple: any arbitrarily-selected catchy song that I like is about .5% likely to pop into my thoughts through the course of any one day, but any show or movie that I’ve seen in the last ten years is equally as likely to pop in as well – so when you tie the two to each other, song to movie or TV show, the likelihood that I will think of either has effectively doubled.  The list of songs that I mix up in my mind with movies or TV shows is staggering; here is just a small taste, with a parenthetical description of how I feel about it:

~ piano coda to “Layla” by Derek & the Dominoes/dead body montage in “Goodfellas” (awesome – well done, Mr. Scorsese)

~ “We Used to be Friends” by the Dandy Warhols/intro sequence to season 1 of “Veronica Mars” (great! Kristen Bell looks like girl candy)

~ “Down for Whatever” by Ice Cube/bank software hack scene in “Office Space” (fine on its own, but kind of ruins the experience of listening to “Lethal Injection” straight through)

~ “Caught by the Fuzz” by Supergrass/”Hot Fuzz” (made this song for me; I liked it before but now when I hear it I can only picture Simon Pegg chewing a toothpick and shooting two guns whilst jumping through the air, which is completely brilliant)

~ “With or Without You” by U2/Ross trying to placate Rachel after one of his many stupid betrayals in “Friends” (a real fucking shame – I had survived years of overexposure to still like this song, and then THIS is how it gets wrecked for me?)

~ “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones/opening sequence of “The Departed” (Scorsese again, and damn can this guy pick the right song for his movies.  I loved it before, love it just as much today)

I could go on and on endlessly – really I could – but I think I’ve made my point.  I think this intersection of how the human mind works and how the entertainment industry packages their product has affected my life in a profound way.  Not profound like finding religion or losing your virginity or killing a man is hypothetically, definitely, and probably profound (respectively); rather, profound in the way that anything that runs through your conscious or unconscious mind ALMOST CONSTANTLY is profound and meaningful.  It has probably shaped my personality and sense of self in a way that I can’t explain, or even make sense of.  It is an essential part of my being that over the last decade I’ve hummed Sinatra’s “Summer Wind” a couple thousand times, and every time I was picturing a naked Martin (of “The Simpsons”) in my mind.  I don’t know what that essence has to do with the rest of me, but I’m sure it’s something important – if only I could stop humming and focus for a while on figuring it out.


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