Mixed Bizness

For reasons that are not worth getting into at the moment, around five years ago I was spending at least an hour every morning on an elliptical machine at the gym. There was a wall of TVs in front of me and every morning I found myself staring up at the face of Regis Philbin while I climbed uselessly, listening to Beck’s Midnite Vultures over and over again, until finally I gave it up and went back to running outside. But something happened. From that point on the minute I put on that album, no matter where I was or what I was doing, I could not help but think of Regis. Every single time.

He's from the Bronx!


The mind can be frustrating like that. These types of mental associations have been very famously noted in classical conditioning studies (I can’t tell you how tempted I was to write “Does the name Ivan Pavlov ring a bell?”), and in terms of music, well, there is of course one extreme example involving Ludwig Van.

I used to marvel at how these associations happened every now and then (why can I no longer listen to a certain R.E.M. album ever again??) and then I realized that they happen constantly. In fact maybe there isn’t a minute in the day when we aren’t doing this. Maybe that’s how the mind works!

But what can we do about the associations we don’t want? I think most people have songs that have been ruined for them due to a bad association. I once had an entire decade (the 1960s) ruined for me by a certain boy. Maybe it’s simply important to be conscious of such things happening. If, for example, you are in the middle of a break-up, do not listen to any music that you might ever want to hear again because it just won’t be possible. If you find yourself on an elliptical machine and you don’t want to think about Regis when you don’t have to (honestly I have nothing against the guy. I’m just illustrating a point here), look away! Look away!

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