“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”. – Friedrich Nietzsche
Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? Sometimes it hangs around for a relatively short time: a few hours, a day or two or maybe a little longer? It’s called an earworm. It’s not a real worm. It’s a musical memory that will not stop playing in your head. I was afflicted with an endless melody for 5 weeks. It finally faded, but just when I think it’s gone, there it is again, doing its best to spoil my day.
I tried all manner of things to distract my mind– interrupt the repetition. I attempted to replace the song with another, hoping that would break the hold it had on me and its ability to evoke my active participation. No luck. I felt I was doomed to sing that song in my head until I snapped and had to be taken away in an ambulance to a place where I share a room with an old woman named Bambi, with a Guns and Roses tatt, right where her diaper meets her business, and she talks dirty at night to her dead husband who ran off with the pool boy–taking the orange-chiffon bridesmaid dress (with hat, gloves and matching accessories) she wore for Mimi Scorsese’s marriage to one of the Garibaldi twins. I knew only a few words of the song and was surprised I knew any at all. I was so preoccupied with struggling to fill in the gaps. Ultimately I decided to meet the demon head on– try the hair of the dog that bit me, so to speak.
I researched the song, “See you in September“, by TheTempos, 1959. Later, in 1966 it was revamped (the beat was taken up a few notches) and released by The Happenings. I didn’t even know these groups. The Happenings are still alive and together. I found them on YouTube— in a video of them performing on a cruise ship. If nothing else, the video provided me with the missing words of the song so there would be no impediment for the earworm to properly drive me mad.
Surprisingly, The Tempos‘ version of the song was showcased in the 1973 film, “American Graffiti“– a classic film, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never seen. I watched a video clip of that part of the movie employing the song and, I have to admit, I prefer The Happenings‘ version. It’s the one that’s been in my head. I don’t have any idea where I picked up the earworm, but it does know my taste.
Individuals who acquire earworms often pick them up in passing– without conscious recognition.. The offending melody could be with or without lyrics (most often with) and could be background music at a restaurant or store or even on a radio from a passing car. Television commercials with their musical slogans and catchy tunes are notorious for instigating earworms..
Popular justification for individuals repeatedly suffering from earworms is that anxiety is to blame and that persons with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) are the most likely to develop the condition. It has something to do with the acuity of an individual’s “musical memory”.
Unfortunately there are no preventative measures that one can take to keep from being infected by earworms other than a lobotomy.
In my opinion, the best protection would be to decrease the amount of time the offending melody spends in a person’s head– by early intervention– by engaging the victim’s memory in mentally challenging tasks. Even reading a book would help. These are the things I wasn’t doing, for whatever reasons, prior to my 5 weeks of musical torment. Maybe our brains have to be gainfully occupied or they fall prey to something else that will occupy them. Our brains didn’t get to be as large and complex by being idyll. That means less mastodon hunting, more blogging.
Parts of this article originally appeared in Sapient Chronicles, September 2013. That particular earworm did eventually fade but reappeared one year later. The knee replacement surgery kicked it out of the park. However, I am currently overcome by another earworm, which is the reason I believe this post to be relevant, superficially entertaining and mildly informative: “Summertime”, composed by George Gershwin for the opera Porgy and Bess, 1935 is the culprit this time. I am a fan of the Gershwins, so it was inevitable. What am I doing to safeguard my sanity? Listening to electronic music like Two Steps from Hell and Audiomachine. Earworms can’t live on electronic music without sustainable vocals.
“None but ourselves can free our minds” – Bob Marley