4.22.2008

With a song in my head

As I sit down to write this, I have only one thought on my mind -- the country-and-western song, "Stand by Your Man."

The song's been playing in my brain all day. Is this my favorite song? No, it is not. Yeah, yeah, it's a classic, but I'm not that fond of country music. I'm a fan of the blues and what my kids like to call "dinosaur" rock. Does "Stand by Your Man" have some special meaning for me? No. Have I even heard it recently? No, it's been months, at least, since I last encountered it.

Why, then, is that song going round and round in my head like Muzak from Hell? I don't know. If I did, maybe I could find a way to make it stop, because it's driving me crazy.

It's one of the great unsolved mysteries of psychology why one part of our brains always seems to be playing music. If you pause right now and let your mind drift, some song will pop to the forefront of your brain. Go ahead, try it. I'll wait.

Aha, you've got it now, don't you? Some song you probably don't even like, some song you perhaps haven't heard in years. But now it's stuck in your head like a 10-penny nail, and it'll probably be there for hours. Sorry.

Our brains have some sort of default mechanism for music. If they're not fully engaged with work or parenting or television or some other travail, our brains burst into song. Next thing you know, you're wandering around the house, humming the chorus of "Love Will Keep Us Together" or something equally nauseating.

Even people who have no strong connection to music report this problem. My best friend, who describes himself as "amusical," says his mind regularly slips into repeated replays of "Camptown Races," the song that gave us "Doo-dah, doo-dah." My mother, who admits she can't carry a tune in a washtub, hears "O, Tannenbaum" all the time, even when Christmas is months away. (Of course, she also concedes that, to her musically-challenged ears, every song sounds like "O, Tannenbaum.")

Imagine what it must be like for people who actually play music. Musicians, for instance. They must have a whole repertoire going in their heads all the time, probably in four-part harmony, distracting the heck out of them. How do they ever get anything done?

This mental soundtrack can cause problems in the workplace. If you go around humming or whistling or singing in your office, your co-workers eventually will snap and beat you senseless. Why? Because you're planting that song in their heads. And, unless you work for Seven Dwarves Inc., not everyone in the workplace wants to go around whistling the same tune.

Those of us who work alone have no such restraints. We can sing along all day if we wish, which means there's no getting rid of "Stand by Your Man," no matter how much we'd like it to go away.

Where do these songs come from? I blame car radios. If you listen to the radio as you're driving around, it becomes an exercise in punching buttons to escape familiar "oldies." Because it's usually the bad songs, the ones you really despise, that snag on your brain's antenna. Even if you hear only three notes of "Mandy" before you hit the button, you'll likely find yourself, days later, crooning like Barry Manilow, at least internally, and therein lies madness.

At our house, we've recognized this mental phenomenon and are learning to live with it. My wife regularly turns to me and says, "I need a new song in my head." This impels me to think up the catchiest song to inject into her brain, one that'll really make her crazy, something like "Bennie and the Jets" or "Copacabana" or "Up on Cripple Creek." She does the same to me.

This game tends to escalate, with each of us trying to top the other, until we're in an arms race of dreaded songs, a form of Mutually Assured Destruction.

Try it on your friends. Hum a few bars of some song, and you can feel confident that it'll drive them nuts for days. I recommend "Camptown Races."

Doo-dah.

1 comment:

Phil Fountain said...

Doo dah, doo dah.

Oh, great! Thanks a lot!
OK, try this, "Hey, hey, we're The Monkees! And we've got something to say!"

There. Serves you right.