And If You Said, "This Life Ain't Good Enough."
I am so sorry. I just need to say that right off the bat. I'm really genuinely sorry. Today, I am writing about earworms - you know, songs that get stuck in your head. Oh God, I'm so sorry.
Let's me get this out of the way, too. No song has caused me more internal suffering than the one I'm about to share. Its not that its a bad song, its just once I even think about it, its in my head forever. Especially the part about the moon and the ocean. I will be thinking about it as I complete this entry, as I read your entries this weekend, and probably for the rest of the month. Its in my head now. There's no way to get it out. Here it is.
I just almost gave up on finishing this entry. I am this close to taking a "Bye" right now because the only words I can think of are words in this song. No, no, must soldier on. Even if I don't finish this entry the song is already in my head, just like the ocean under the moon. No, stop brain stop. That's the same as the emotion that I get from you. Please, no more.
Pop music is at least partially constructed out of hooks, described here in song form by Blues Traveler. In essence, a hook is a series of notes in a song that draws you in so you'll remember it. An obvious example of this (that isn't especially painful) is the refrain in "Da Doo Ron Ron" by The Crystals. You hear the phrase repeated and your brain starts anticipating it in the verses. By the second or third time through, even if you've not heard the song before, you can sing along. When the pattern is temporarily broken for the chorus, your brain has a little "OH WHAT" moment that is also satisfying before the pattern continues in the next verse.
I've discussed the concept of sweet anticipation before in context of sad songs but it applies more broadly to all music. Most human brains feel rewarded when they get what they expect. A pop songwriter recognizes this by building hooks into their songs. This is both an artistic and an economic decision - if the song lodges firmly enough in your brain, you're more likely to purchase it.
So, really, hooks are a good thing. They're part of what we like about music. But what happens... when hooks go wrong? (imagine dramatic music from a news show here - I'm sure some tune immediately came to mind for most of you)
The problem for us as humans is that sometimes our brains like the hooks so much that they decide to keep the song in our head for days or weeks or, you know, forever. There's actual research that attempts to explains why this happens. Apparently, the size and shape of one's brain may impact how susceptible one is to earworms. There's even some fascinating research on how chewing gum can disrupt earworms.
This is especially amusing if you've seen Inside/Out - the way to get that gum jingle out of your head is to chew the very same gum. Insidious! And so smooth, just like the ocean under the moon. Argh! Stop stop stop stop. Is there no gum in this house?
Earworms are a very personal infection. Songs that drive you nuts might have no effect on me and vice versa. Some of the specific songs that have plagued me over the years include "The Thong Song," "One Week" and the opening piano of "Nobody Does It Better (The Spy Who Loved Me)." I can't explain why my brain seems to get such a kick of saying "thong th-thong thong thong" to me for hours at a time nor why it likes "Chickity China the Chinese chicken" so much that those words occasional spill out of my mouth at inopportune times.
And I certainly can't understand why I'm just like the ocean under the moon but that's the same as the emotion that I get from you. I surrender, Rob Thomas and Santana. Go ahead and turn my brain to mush.
Indeed, my brain has a bad habit of getting snagged on hooks of songs - particularly those with obscene lyrics - and then tricking my mouth into singing them. For example, this NSFW Nine Inch Nails song has a colorful little two-word description of a non-standard sex act that will occasionally echo through my brain and find its way out of my mouth while I'm standing in a grocery store or sitting in the dentist's office. Don't even get me started talking about all the times lyrics from this equally NSFW Tenacious D song have started forming in my mouth during work meetings. When my brain switches into idle mode, it wants to share every nasty (but catchy) lyric I've ever heard. Thus, my brain switches my mouth from silent to speaker.
Sometimes, I'll hear a little snippet of music in my head and not know what song its from. This makes me crazy and sends me on frantic searches for every song that it might be. Once, I heard a little guitar lick in my head and all that I could remember about the song was that it was a rock song by a band fronted by twins. I asked my incredulous friends to help me figure out what song it might be and we spent a week brainstorming up a list of over 300 candidates. Then my brain kindly recalled that the song was "Emotion" by DFX2. That wasn't on our massive list. I don't know that that song would be on anyone's list of anything.
Right now, there's a song in my head that has been there for 10 years. It was an 80's college radio song (maybe by a band local to New England or even super local to Fairfield County, Connecticut) that featured the lyrics "someone lit a fire under you/now you lit a fire under me." I don't know the band. I can't remember the rest of the song. And I might be getting the lyrics wrong. Lyrics often flow through the seive of my brain like water. Just like water in the ocean under the moon.
Currently, I've been listening to the Hamilton original cast album for like nine straight days. Its a lovely album with many amazing songs and some tremendous dramatic moments. When I think about what songs I really love from it, I can name six off the top of my head that I go out of my way to listen to multiple times. However, when I close my eyes and drift off the sleep, the hook that has been plaguing me is the harmonized "most disputes die and no one shoots" section of "Ten Duel Commandments." Its an especially brilliant hook - uptempo, harmonized, repeated at two key points in the musical and the lyrics are a great little piece of dramatic irony. This doesn't bother me - yet. However, I know its going to be stuck in my head (competing for space with oceans and moons) for probably the rest of my life.
And that's the biggest problem, I think. We all get old and these songs never leave us. My biggest fear is that as I slip into dementia, I'll forget events and names of loved ones and everything I've ever loved and all that will be left in my brain are lyrics and melodies to songs that make me crazy.
I imagine my end will go something like this:
Doctor: How are you feeling today, Mr. Prog_Schlock?
Me: Why, I'm just like the ocean under the moon. (Me dies)
Nurse: I think we've lost him doctor.
Doctor: We lost him a long time ago, but... that's the same as the emotion that I get from you.(Both shake their heads sadly and nod knowingly at the same time, which looks really weird. Lights fade to the tune of a Carlos Santana guitar solo)
Now, grab some chewing gum, because I've got to know: what songs stick in you head forever? Join me in the comments for more horror. And, once again, I'm so sorry.