Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lost in the Supermarket

While I generally find any kind of shopping an onerous chore, I happen to love grocery shopping, especially when I can do it alone. It is a secret pleasure for me to roam the aisles of a big, clean, well-lit store and look for bargains; it’s probably the closest thing to hunting that I will ever experience. I love to cook and bake, and I love the challenge of planning the week’s menu out of what I might find while stalking the sales. I try to find the freshest, best things for the lowest prices, and feel a sense of accomplishment, and even delight, if I can pull something off like happening upon a rack of Angus steaks on the day before expiration, when the manager is offering them for two bucks off, or finding Yuban coffee at two for four dollars (I would prefer to drink something more coffee-snobbish on a regular basis – my favorite coffees are Peets whole bean and the Route 66 Blend from Misha’s in Alexandria, VA – but Yuban is actually quite good for what it is, and I feel virtuous when I buy it because they include some fair-trade beans in the mix).

But if everything can be a catalyst for transcendence, then everything can also be a cause for heartbreak. Shopping alone gives you ample time to concentrate on the soundtrack being piped over the supermarket’s PA system. I’ve always wondered how these stores choose their playlists; I’ve heard music while shopping that I can only call astonishing, and a great deal of music that, as music does, evokes memories of the past, and those not always happy. Last night I had the whole store almost to myself, and I heard the Beatles song “You Won’t See Me” from Rubber Soul, one of my favorite albums of all time, which I received third-hand in childhood, and was flooded with cringe-inducing memories of my adolescence. Then, as I was checking out, an unidentifiable song by the Cocteau Twins came on, which evoked all kinds of painful mental images of my college days, when that band was all the rage among sensitive, artistic, goth-leaning girls because it featured the sort of wordless keening that seemed to express what we wished to call up out of our own souls, but could not in words.

As H.R. Haweis wrote in 1872, “When memory is concerned, music is no longer itself; it ceases to have any proper plane of feeling; it surrenders itself wholly, with all its rights, to memory, to be the patient, stern, and terrible exponent of that recording angel.”


CGHill said...

Once - just once - a particularly painful memory left me weeping among the frozen foods. I didn't go back to that store for three weeks.

Jan said...

Just last week a song on the muzak had me searching for the door. I couldn't get out of there fast enough as the song was sad and brought out painful memories.

Really, who DOES choose these songs?

Pentimento said...

You'd think that the marketing departments of the grocery stores might do a little research into the effects of what they play, so they don't drive shoppers out the door. But then again, pop music is so painfully particular. Classical music calls forth universal emotions -- while it's much more abstract than pop music, the feelings a classical piece evokes will be pretty similar across a listening audience (when my sister was a baby, for instance, she used to weep uncontrollably when my mother played a recording of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, rightfully called the "Pathetique"). But a pop song, while its intentions are much more specific because it has words, has the abililty to evoke a wide range of emotions; a pop song is frozen in time, in a sense, and when you hear it, you always experience all over again the feelings and circumstances of your first hearing. This has been one of the most poignant aspects of adult life for me. I'm glad I'm not the only one crying in the supermarket.

marina said...

you know what cocteau twins reminds me of? being in a fetal position in the corner of a college dorm room. not me of course, my roommate.