Friday, March 20, 2009

The Terry O'Quinn Phenomenon

What do you think of when you hear or see the words "John Locke"? Do you think of ideas like the social contract or the time of the Enlightenment? Do you think of a dead guy sometimes depicted as having white hair? Or do you think of a tall, muscular, bald actor on a hit TV show?

In my last post I talked about the phenomenon of knowing a derivative before an original. What happens when large portions of society have this experience?

A friend once quoted the movie "My Best Friend's Wedding" as being the source of "This too shall pass." I never went to church as a child, and even I knew that this phrase was older than Julia Roberts' career.

But does it really matter if we don't credit the Bible where credit is due? What harm is done, especially if it's an honest mistake? Besides, the Bible, like any old work, has been the inspiration for countless other works. Those can be enjoyed without knowing their source.

But from Kurt Vonnegut and his Paul Proteus to J.K. Rowling and her Dolores Umbridge, creators are winking at us knowingly when they name their characters, when they make allusions, and they're trying to say something larger about the universe they've constructed. What happens when we don't get the reference?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

When The Cover Song is The First One You Hear

A few years ago, my brother made me a mix CD of people performing covers - Billy Corgan singing "Landslide," K.D. Lang singing "Joker," etc. My favorite was Toots and the Maytals doing "Country Roads." West Jamaica!

Another song I loved off of this album was Social Distortion's version of "Ring of Fire." I'd never heard Johnny Cash sing it, and when I did, out of a jukebox at a bar, I thought it was too slow and, well, kind of boring. The fact that I had made it to my mid-twenties without becoming familiar with Johnny Cash was seen by some friends as blasphemous in and of itself. But to not like "Ring of Fire"?

I know I'm not alone. My mother knew the Fifth Dimension's version of "Wedding Bell Blues" before she knew that Laura Nyro had done it first.

We all have first loves. But sometimes your first love isn't technically first.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Sound of One Mouth Yapping

Yesterday on the bus I overheard a young man on his cell phone telling someone that he had agreed to let a stranger shave his head and that he was going to get $150 for it. Intrigued, I actively tried to listen, to learn more.

Why was this one-sided conversation not annoying or grating? Was it merely a matter of volume and content - he spoke at a normal level and had unusual things to say - or was he just a fluke exception to my hypothesis: a pair of people talking on the bus is never as annoying as the sound of one person on his cell phone?

I would like to see a study wherein participants must ride a bus and listen to two people talk in the next seat and then listen to one person talk on her cell phone. It would be the same conversation topic, with some identical words or phrases, and then the participants would rate their level of annoyance. I would like to see if my theory holds up.

And then there's the otherwise-charming kid who emitted the sound "Ahhh" continuously for 3 minutes on the # 5 yesterday. You win, kid.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Near Mistake

When I get ready to send a text message, sometimes I notice that the person to whom I want to send it is immediately preceded or followed in my phone book by someone who I would absolutely NOT want to receive that message. This same danger lurks in many filing systems and of course in the common "reply" and "reply all" email option.

The way I see it, there are two terms here waiting to be named:

-The incongruities provided by some items in proximity. Even the national weather listings in the newspaper can provide this feeling. Miami and Milwaukee, anyone?

-The fear, before, during or after the fact, that your action will be done to the nearby thing and not the intended recipient. Shivers!


Many times over the years I have turned to a friend and said, "There should be a name for -" followed by a description of a situation, combination of emotions or event that I couldn't think of the name for. Of course, in any given moment I may just be ignorant of the relevant terminology. Feel free to submit the vocabulary I'm missing - or the word you think would make the best label, or your own ideas for Things that Need Names. Thanks!