Thursday, April 12, 2012
You know how sometimes a song pops into your head with no provocation? That happened to me yesterday, when out of the blue I began humming a 25-year-old French pop tune called "Picasso."
Maybe you're thinking, "Wow, how impressive and worldly!" I wish I could say I know this tune from my deep and abiding familiarity with French culture, absorbed while wandering along the Champs-Elysees and lingering in cafes, making eyes at handsome Frenchmen named Pierre.
But no. The sad fact is, I know this song from going to the mall in Florida.
About 22 years ago, while on a weekend trip to Miami, I went with my friends Arthur and Sue to the Bayside shopping center. Bayside was (is?) a colorful place surrounded by swaying palm trees, with kiosks of fun, whimsical merchandise and a few waterfront cafes. But beyond the tropical veneer it was basically a downtown mall, with the same pedestrian retail stores found in many other malls. Among these stores was clothing retailer Express, a division of The Limited. We wandered in.
And there I heard, drifting down from the sound system, a bouncy French song. It seemed exotic, sophisticated and fun. I was psyched to find, next to the cash register, a stack of cassettes of French pop music that included the tune. The tapes were called "Musique d'Express," with a cover depicting a trio of Euro-ish young people riding bicycles. I bought one immediately.
I was 23 at the time, and I hadn't yet been to Europe, or even outside the United States, except for one brief jaunt into Canada. I listened to that tape over and over in my car, driving around Tampa, dreaming of faraway lands. Over time, "Picasso" by Claudia Phillips became my favorite tune on the tape. When I went into the Peace Corps a few years later, I included the song on the handful of mix tapes that served as a consolidated, portable version of my music collection.
I don't know what happened to my original "Musique d'Express" cassette -- I probably tossed it in a fit of cleaning -- and because I took "Picasso" with me overseas, that's the only one of its songs I committed to memory. After I returned to the states in 1994, leaving my mix tapes in Morocco, "Picasso" vanished into the dark corners of my brain, popping out only occasionally and usually entirely unbidden.
When it came to mind yesterday, I decided to try to get some information about my old "Musique d'Express" tape. Of course, I turned to Google. And wouldn't you know, someone has written an article about it, with links to some of the songs. Now that I hear them, I remember them too. They sound a bit dated and '80s, but still magnifique to my ears.
(Photo: Street art by Mobstr on Hackney Road.)