Apparently Perry Mason has nothing to do with Harrison Ford’s Air Force One and that upsets me far more than it should. But for twenty years, the stern face of Harrison Ford would conjure up the sultry saxophone of ‘Park Avenue Beat’ with Pavlovian immediacy and I still have no idea why.
I cannot for the life of me remember any of the major plot points of Air Force One other than the fact that the eponymous plane gets hijacked. That’s action thriller stuff; where on earth would an instrumental with the noir-esque quality of the Perry Mason Theme fit in? It’s a question I found myself asking recently after I semi-consciously began humming the tune.
“Wait. What was I just humming?” I asked my sister.
Blinking, she turned from her laptop to face me. Her eyes rolled back as she tried to remember but after a second she shrugged and turned back.
“Isn’t it the Air Force One song?” I pressed.
She nodded enthusiastically but I felt a mild nausea. Perhaps because it was next I said aloud what I’d already known for years now: “That tune has nothing to do with Air Force One.”
A myth had been bust wide open and what was left behind was this cavernous gap in meaning I needed to overcome if I was going to get rid of this anxiety. I opened Youtube and searched for the soundtrack to Air Force One. I clicked through each instrumental, only listening to the first few seconds, waiting for that burst of trumpet. But they never came. The harder I thought about it, the fainter it became until I got confused and started humming the theme tune to Diagnosis: Murder.
I knew I had heard it somewhere before. On The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I typed “fresh prince Will and Carlton vs Uncle Phil”. It was the first result. Uncle Phil, waiting in the courtroom to go to toe-to-toe with his son and nephew over unpaid rent. He laughs because he doesn’t expect them to even turn up. But then the courtroom doors open. Will and Carlton appear, dressed to kill, with those trumpets I’ve been waiting to hear accompanying them down the aisle. In unison they place their briefcases down on the table, sit and cross their legs. The music stopped so abruptly, I dragged the slider back to watching to again. I was practically bouncing. There it was. It was strange to hear s somewhere other than n my own head.
“What’s the name of the music?” user Dalek Sram asked. “I know it’s from another TV show but I can’t remember the title.”
That Girl came to the rescue, replying with an ease and nonchalance I resented: “It [sic] the theme from Perry Mason.”
Not a slither of recognition.
The video for the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra recording of ‘Park Avenue Beat’ aka The Theme from Perry Mason, isn’t really a video at all. Moviemaker titles in a “fancy” font accompanies the intro of frantic strings and the dramatic one-two punch of the trumpet before giving way to a moody saxophone and the brooding image of Raymond Burr, broad shouldered, hair slicked back. He looked nothing like Harrison Ford, really.
But there’s this early school of thought around memory known as Associationism … It suggests there are four laws of memory: contiguity, frequency, similarity, and contrast. I started with the most obvious thing: searching “Perry Mason Harrison Ford.” The frequency law of Assocationism suggests the more two things are experienced together, the more frequently recalling one will recall the other. Predictive Search filled in the rest and I imagined a group of us, scattered around the globe, ‘Park Avenue Beat’ on repeat, trying to find a connection between an old legal drama theme tune and a late nineties action thriller.
The first result was an IMDB entry for Series 2 Episode 1 of Ironside: ‘The Past is Prologue.’
Harrison Ford has a small role in it as the song of a construction worker charged with murder. There was no mention of Perry Mason, only Paul Mason one of the writers. His credits showed how was a producer on six Perry Mason TV movies. One degree of separation. I spent about another hour only finding the most tenuous of connections before coming to the uneasy resignation that there probably was no explicit link.
Memory is such a strange thing. It can make you swear you experienced something you only read about and the memory errors are so disturbing because we are an aggregation of our experiences and our memories of them. Oliver Sacks wrote of this in his essay ‘Speak, Memory.’ But he also wrote:
“We, as human beings, are loaded with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections – but also real flexibility and creativity. Confusion over sources or, indifference to them ca be a paradoxical strength; if we could tag all the sources of our knowledge, we would be often overwhelmed with often irrelevant information.”
Sure, it’s not important or particular relevant to my life right now to find out why for so long I associated the theme of a TV show with another move, but there was such a strong urge to fill the gap, to pinpoint the origin, to find the answer that would suggests some bits supposedly lost forever to early childhood, are in fact recoverable. It would have given me a “win” over my own sketchy memory. But to consider what Sacks says is to see an advantage to not being able to remember every random little thing.
Aida Amoako is a freelance writer from London, UK. She writes essays mostly on pop culture. You can find more of her work at aidaamoako.com and follow her on twitter.