Feb 18, 2023

Just Another Rush-Inspired Psychological Phenomenon

My brain does a lot of really goofy things that I don't fully understand.  One of those things it sometimes does is link two or more completely unrelated things together.  The example that I always go to when I try (and fail) to properly explain this to people is that my mind has forever linked the Sega Master System game Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars and Royal Dansk Butter Cookies.  I cannot physically experience one of them without mentally experiencing the other.

Now I know you're thinking "yeah dude, one thing reminds you of another... that's not a big deal", but this isn't the same thing.  There are plenty of things in this world that remind me of something else, but this goes to a whole different level.  I thought at first that this might be related to classical conditioning, but the thing I'm talking about doesn't require repeated exposure and there's really no physical manifestation.  It's just two external stimuli randomly becoming fused together in my memory.

I should probably also mention that neither of these things hold any special significance to me other than their bizarre pairing with each other.  Don't get me wrong, I like Alex Kidd and butter cookies just fine, but neither of them would crack my top 100 list of favorite video games or favorite things to eat.  Nevertheless, if I even look at a tin of those cookies, I swear that I can hear the music from that video game in my head, and when I play that game, I can taste those cookies in my mouth.  I'm sure that I must have munched some of those cookies while playing the game at some point in my childhood, but I've eaten lots of things while playing lots of different video games.  I can't think of any other combination of food and game that have smashed together in my mind like they were held together with crazy glue, to the point where I am incapable of experiencing one without the other.

The Alex Kidd / Butter Cookies link isn't the only example of this in my life.  One other example that comes to mind, although it's not quite as strong of a connection, is that I always hear the Belinda Carlisle song Circle In The Sand in my mind every time I see Garbage Pail Kids, and I always picture those stickers in my mind when I hear the song.  That song got a lot of radio play in the late 80's and it came out at around the same time that I collected Garbage Pail Kids, so I'm sure there must have been a time when I was looking through my sticker collection and the song was playing when I was a kid.  But why did those two particular things become so inexplicably linked on my brain?

The only other mental pairing that I can think of as I'm writing this is the one that I'm about to explain below.  It's not like my entire brain is organized in this way, but I'd estimate that there are maybe a dozen other pairs like these in my mind.  I should really start keeping a list of them as I notice them to see if there are any patterns.

The most recent time that this happened to me is the one that I've been thinking about a lot over the past month, and it involves the 1982 Rush song Subdivisions.  I have heard this song many times over the years, but on the night of September 2nd going into the morning of September 3rd of last year, it became a part of one of these mental pairings.  The thing that makes this pairing strange is that I think I could feel this one burning into my brain as it was happening.

It was during Night Two of Camp Blood at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater in between the screenings of Graduation Day and Blood Rage.  I forget who was DJing that night, but one of the songs that he played during the second intermission was Subdivisions.  I remember that it was just past midnight and the lot was packed with cars and people (Camp Blood is one of the most well-attended events of the year).  I was laying back in my camping chair in front of my car, and I was playing Pinball FX 3 on Switch - specifically the Space Station pinball machine.  I remember that as the synth hit in the beginning of the song, I looked up from my game and looked around for a little while.  I saw the people walking around and smelled their popcorn and burgers as they walked past me on the way back to their car from the concession building.  I looked up at the stars and felt the cool night air.  As the song played on, I had an overwhelming feeling of peace and serenity in which I felt truly at home, and I fully appreciated how special this exact moment in time was.  If life was a video game with save states, I would have saved my game right then and there so I could go back and re-experience this part of my game whenever I wanted.  It is very rare that a moment hits me as hard as that did, but when it happens, it feels other-worldly; almost euphoric.

As the intermission drew to a close, the feeling of that moment faded away.  It's not that I felt sad or that I stopped having fun or anything like that.  I enjoyed the final movie of the night and was still having a hell of a lot of fun, but the drug-like high of that moment had passed. 

I didn't think too much about this moment until I was playing the Space Station table on Pinball FX 3 recently, and I could hear Subdivisions in my head.  I've never been a massive Rush fan.  I've always liked them just fine and all, but unlike a lot of the things I write about, I don't have any strong childhood memories or decades-long fandom associated with the band or their music.  It was never a band that I connected with in the way that so many others have.  In fact, I didn't even know the name of the song that forced its way into my mind as I was playing pinball on Switch, despite the fact that it's one of the band's biggest hits.  I had to go through a few of their songs on YouTube before I found it, but as soon as I heard the synth in the beginning, I could almost feel the cool air on my skin and smell the popcorn from that night.  Once I noticed that this mental pairing thing had happened again, I started to pay attention to the song... not just hear it, but to really listen to it, and it was like a light switch in my brain got turned on.  I think I might have even said out loud to myself "oooh, now I get it".  Since that day, I've been listening to Rush quite a bit, and it's like I've unlocked a whole other world of music that I always knew was there, but somehow never truly experienced.

I don't know what the point of any of this is, but I wanted to write it down while I'm thinking clearly enough to put words to what I'm feeling.  Do other people experience these pairings and just not recognize them or talk about them, or these random moments of euphoria that seemingly come out of nowhere and then fade away just as fast?  Are these two phenomena connected and I've just forgotten about the euphoric feeling associated with the other pairings in my memory?  Is this just something that can happen with autism?  It's not the kind of thing that I can dismiss it by saying "it's all in my head", because it's obviously all in my head... but why is it in my head?  What the hell is this? 

Anyway, here's Subdivisions.
Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknown

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone

Nowhere is the dreamer
Or the misfit so alone

In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out

In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out

Any escape might help to smooth
The unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe
The restless dreams of youth

Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night

Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight

Somewhere out of a memory
Of lighted streets on quiet nights