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30 More Songs: Day 5: A song you hear when you’re shopping–The Vapors, “Turning Japanese”

January 25, 2012

I will confess to you that the soundtrack greatly influences where I buy my groceries. The local family-owned, non-chain market back home in Illinois plays a lot of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. I stuck it out for a long time, before I realized they didn’t have a lot of the things I needed and I’d have to duck into the smooth jazz supermarket to round up the rest on the way home. Now I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe’s, which has a soundtrack that both Mr. Spy and I can stand behind.

I have never heard this while shopping there:

More’s the pity.

But I do hear a lot of songs I used to listen to in college, which tells me that I am the target audience for that store. Grocery store soundtracks are generally designed to do one of two things: 1) calm you down or b) hit you in the gut with nostalgia. I have a strong preference for the latter, and so does Trader Joe’s. I look around and everyone around me is about my age (or a child of someone about my age). And yes, there are a lot of beautiful moms in their yoga clothes. But there are also regular moms and plenty of people who, like me, have been known to dance in the aisles or at least walk in time to the music.

The day after I wrote my first post in this meme, I had to run to Trader Joe’s to pick up a few things. Almost as soon as I walked into the store, I heard one of the songs I mentioned, “Save it for Later” by The English Beat. In case you missed it last time, here it is again:

This song takes me straight back to the fall after I graduated from college. After spending the summer working as a violinist for a summer stock theater company a five minute walk from a Cape Cod beach — a perfect summer job for transitioning into the adult world –I moved into the top floor of a Boston three-story walk-up with two college friends and an acquaintance. I learned that I loved the feeling of living on my own without even the low-level of college dormitory supervision. I liked paying the rent and walking to the Star Market (pronounced Stah’MAH-ket, no lie — when I first moved in, I asked someone on the street where the nearest grocery was and she gave me directions to what I thought was the Stomaket, which sounded like a vaguely New Englandy name like Naragansett or Nantucket; I laughed out loud when I caught sight of the sign). Such responsibilities were challenging. I graduated feeling like I was on the top of the world. However, the world wasn’t interested in hiring me. I signed up with three temp agencies and found steady work at a different place every week until I landed a long-term assignment at Hah-vahd and, when that assignment wrapped up, a permanent job as a sales rep for a theater company. I celebrated my first day at Hah-vahd by buying myself a copy of Special Beat Service, The Beat’s last album, which I’d recently discovered, despite the fact that it was released eight years earlier.

It was the frenetic pace of the album that drew me in. It seemed to fit my world view at the time, of everything saved from flailing apart only by sheer will, of the sense of trying to jump onto a treadmill already moving at top speed. I also liked the titillating pause between “Just hold my hand where I come” and “to a decision on it,” which is just long enough for you to consider the less family-friendly interpretation for the lyrics. Pete Townshend gets rid of this pause in his version. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like it.

Last night, on my way home from work after moving box after box of enormous books to my new desk, I stopped at my favorite grocers, the Westside Market. Westside Market is one of the things I miss when I’m in Illinois. I love shopping here. It’s a maze of narrow aisles that’s sort of like an epicurean funhouse. You keep thinking you’ve found everything and then you make a turn and there’s an aisle that you swear you’ve never seen before even though you’ve been in the store dozens of times. They have great produce and lots of organic options, but they still carry regular food. They also play great music.

Even the cheese sings sometimes. Yesterday I headed in for parmesan, but ended up with a wedge of Raw Milk Gouda instead because, well, see for yourself:

And in case you’re unfamiliar with those lyrics:

But the song I heard when I was standing in line was a one-hit wonder by the Vapors (can the song be the one-hit wonder or is it only the band?), “Turning Japanese:

At 7:30, the checkout lines were packed with tired looking people on their way home from work. The lines were long. And because of the store’s space limitations — a problem for every Manhattan space — some of the checkout lines aren’t even wide enough for my shoulders to pass without touching the sides. Cramped and crabby we were when that song came on. I looked around on the first chords. No one budged. But by the time the chorus rolled around, I saw the man with the briefcase two lines away put down his phone and crack a smile. The checkout girls were dancing. The woman in the camel coat behind me, who looked to be about my age, started singing along under her breath. She caught my eye and grinned. I grinned back.

Grabbing my groceries and heading out onto 7th Avenue, I sang along in my head, each beat a step.

Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2012 12:11 pm

    I do like that song, too —

  2. January 25, 2012 1:38 pm

    To be honest, I think that I’d take “Shadows of the Night” to a desert island before “Turning Japanese.”

  3. January 25, 2012 8:37 pm

    I’m not sure I’d want either of them on a desert island. Both are best in small doses. But Turning Japanese is so completely ridiculous, that it was a perfect standing in line song.

  4. January 26, 2012 7:22 am

    Everyone in my family sings the line at the end of your post almost any time the word “Japanese” comes up in conversation. It’s kind of like what happens when someone says “Finland” (Finland, Finland, Finland…the country where I want to be…eating breakfast or dinner…or just watching TV)

  5. January 26, 2012 3:38 pm

    once upon a time, i spotted a sign in fairway, next to the monterey jack: “like everything else in california, this has no taste”.

  6. freshhell permalink
    January 26, 2012 5:23 pm

    I love the English Beat. They play on heavy rotation on Pandora. Them and Fine Young Cannibals.

  7. January 27, 2012 8:03 pm

    We don’t have music in supermarkets at all, more’s the pity. I love The Beat too. Did you know that ‘Turning Japanese’ is about the pleasures of onanism…

  8. January 28, 2012 5:51 pm

    The TJs song cracked me up.

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