Founding member Jesse Valenzuela's first thought upon hearing the name "Mrs. Rita" is, "Is she still happy about the song?" That's probably because when he visited her after it was released, she said business was booming. Enough so that she was able to afford a new sign. "I used to live down the block from her in a little apartment, and I used to walk to the gigs and always passed her sign. It was kind of nasty and worn out," says Jesse, who co-wrote the song with Jim Swafford, after they'd seen the sign in front of her business so often. "It's such a fun three syllables, 'Mrs. Rita.' And I kind of liked it. So anyway, it just sort of stewed for a while. And I had a terrific gentleman friend of mine, Bill, we grew up together, and he was a tarot card reader, and he used to read my cards. I never actually went to Mrs. Rita, but I loved having my tarot cards read by my friend Bill, so I just kind of put the two things together."
While Jesse never had Mrs. Rita read his cards, other band members did. "I suppose that some of the guys have gone. But, I mean, we all lived in that neighborhood for years and years and years. It wouldn't surprise me if somebody stumbled in there one time or another. The great gag is, if you're a songwriter, you're always looking for an interesting character to sort of write something up and try and just use it."
"I think everybody's been that miserable one time or another" says Jesse, by way of explanation for the inspiration of the body of the song. He wrote the line, "There's no swimming in the bottle, it's just someplace we all drown," and laughs when he remembers, "Yeah, there was a lot of drinking back then." (read the full interview with Jesse Valenzuela)
Mrs. Rita Miller is a palmist and tarot card reader in Tempe, Arizona. Located smack in the middle of the Arizona State University campus area (called The Normal School when she first moved in), she set up her palm reading business in 1969 in the small clapboard house out of which she still does business. About this song, Mrs. Rita says, "It's been so long that I don't really remember the details." She doesn't remember which Gin Blossom it was that came in that day, but says she did a tarot card reading and a palm reading, at the end of which, she says, "they asked my permission to write a song." (Her version differs from songwriter Jesse Valenzuela's about this fact.) Mrs. Rita heard the song and says she likes it. As the song climbed into the Top 40 on mainstream radio, people began thrusting their palms in Mrs. Rita's direction faster than she could count. Since then things have slowed down a bit for her. She's still doing business reading tarot, reading palms, and sometimes providing psychic interpretations when called upon. It's been over 15 years since the Gin Blossoms immortalized her in song, and it still gives her a smile.