Image and Associations of the Idle Mind

An odd connection formed in my idle, driving brain this morning. I say “idle” because I was consciously seeking neither the image nor the associations. The 1998 song “I Think I’m Paranoid,” by the band Garbage, had queued on my Spotify Daily Mix, and I was going to skip it, but then it kind of drew me in as certain songs mysteriously will, and I ended up listening to the whole thing. Except I never really cared for that particular song. By 1998, Garbage had already pop-musicked themselves out of my zone of interest. There was something else at work.

The primary image, which, as far as I can tell, was raised by the song, is that of a steel, white bar, similar in shape to a 2×4, covered on one side by a row of large, multicolored lightbulbs. If what you pictured is part of a carnival ride, then you’d be seeing what I saw. It’s the arm or otherwise supporting beam of a traveling carnival ride, one of many on any given attraction, taxed with bearing the weight of carts and riders of all sizes, be they on the mixer or the Ferris wheel. This image, in turn, raised other associations: the sights and sounds of midway, where rough men with handfuls of darts try to taunt you into winning prizes for your spouse, date, friend, and/or kids; the smell of funnel cake and various other fried things; the general sweaty skeeziness that is somehow attractive and repellent at the same time.

Beneath these sensory details, a vaguer sense takes hold: that of the joys of youth–memories, probably half made-up, of walking the rounds with your friends at the county fair, hoping to see the girl you liked but afraid to let her know; the promise and possibility of the world beyond your town, the future which you were blossoming into, while unaware how safe and secure you already were, and how once you’d left, things would never be the same. So it’s not just the joys of youth but also the sorrows (though all of it has a rosy patina when you look back twenty years later, both the good and the bad).

All of this came to mind, because back in 1998, singer Shirley Manson thought she was paranoid.

Alan D. Tucker, MA
Content Writer, Essayist, & Novelist

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Something Heard at Thelma’s Skateland

Has this ever happened to you? You associate a song or a band with a particular era in your life, and so forthwith, whenever that songs is played (and it’s almost always unexpectedly, finding you in the dentist’s chair, for example, with some old 80s ballad falling softly from the overhead speakers, reminding you of a pre-adolescent crush—something you used to hear at Thelma’s Skateland during the ritualized and awkward hand-in-hand skating segment known as “Snowball Couples,” whatever that means), you’re filled with a nostalgia so potent it drives you to seek it out. And now that we have the technology to find exactly what we want and can listen to a band’s entire discography just by paying a small monthly fee, it’s become easy to find any and all songs we might want to hear at any time.

So say you put in the minimal effort of typing a song title into your Spotify app, and then there it is. You listen, and it’s great—it takes you right back to junior high, and memories of those girls or boys you thought you couldn’t live without. You can almost feel yourself slam into the skating rink’s carpeted walls.

But then something else happens: about two-thirds of the way through, the experience falls flat. That potent nostalgia that earlier threatened to floor you completely becomes a little too sweet, a little too artificial. Like a soda made with aspartame, it just isn’t the same. It’s like the song collapses under the weight of the associations you’ve placed on it; like the memory of the song now means more than the song itself. The song has become its own obstacle. Only in the human mind can such transformations occur: old songs defeat themselves, and we remain our own biggest mystery.

Nevertheless, I still find Peter Cetera’s voice compelling, though you’ll never catch me listening to him.