Monday, May 05, 2014

COLUMN: Earworms

Two weeks ago around this time I was sitting in a dentist's chair, waiting to get a tooth pulled.

Wait, let me rephrase. Two weeks ago around this time, I was hyperventilating in a dentist's chair, trying super hard with all of my might NOT to have a panic attack, vomit, and pass out.

When it comes to things like needles, doctors, and hunks of calcified dentine being forcibly ripped out of your skull, let's just say I'm not a fan. I am a classic example of what the medical community refers to as "a big fat weenie." Every fiber of my body wanted to leap from that chair and run away screaming to the nearest dark corner where I could snack on Advil until my tooth just rotted itself into oblivion at its own leisurely pace.

Instead, I toughed it out (and it turned out to be no big deal.) But on the way to the dentist's office, I had a game plan in mind. The minute that any painful-looking dental apparatuses came swinging towards my mouth, I would close my eyes and meditate. Thanks to some feature articles I had written on the subject, a few years back I became officially trained in the endlessly interesting technique of Transcendental Meditation.

So as that needle came inching towards my poor gumline, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and waited for my trusty TM mantra to come to mind.

Except it didn't show up. Instead, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and what immediately popped into my brain was the chorus of the recent Lady Gaga/R. Kelly duet. By this time, novocaine was already being shot into my gums and it was too late to focus on ANYTHING, so I held onto that Lady Gaga song for dear life, and that tune saw me through the entire procedure. I'm pretty sure that when Lady Gaga sings, "Do what you want, what you want with my body," she's NOT talking about tooth extraction -- but then again, she's kinda weird, so who knows.

All day every day, my head is assaulted by earworms -- scraps of tunes and bits of music that roll in from the ether, plop themselves directly between my ears, and hold my brain hostage like a vindictive DJ locked in a cerebral studio. Sometimes they stick around for minutes, sometimes they play on repeat for weeks. But they're always there.

Normally, I'd be okay with daily earworm attacks. I'm a huge music fan and I moonlight as a DJ, so I suppose it's natural for songs to get stuck in my head from time to time. But the tunes that end up on auto-repeat in my brain aren't songs I hear in the clubs or the car radio. Quite often, they're not even songs I like. Heck, sometimes they're not even songs.

Recently I spent an entire day with a two-second jingle on infini-loop in my brain. "GET-A-PIECE-OF-THE-ROCK!" I'm pretty sure that was a Prudential TV ad when I was a kid (and a kid who was apparantly concerned with insurance and investment management needs.) Where do these things COME from? What vital part of my brain matter is being wasted storing TV jingles from the 1970s? Is this why I'm bad at algebra??

The repetition of earworms isn't just mental torture -- sometimes, it's downright embarassing. Last month, inbetween a broken ankle and a toothache in what has become the winter of my regret, I was grocery shopping when I suddenly realized I was getting some mighty weird looks from a couple of passing shoppers. That's when I recoiled in horror. Not only had I been unaware that I was under an earworm attack, but it was of the worst variety. I was actually humming it out loud while absent-mindedly perusing salsa. And this particular earworm? Exactly what you'd expect to hear out of a 43-year-old man in the salsa aisle:

"I'm gonna wash that man right outta my hair! I'm gonna wash that man right outta my hair!"

Now, I had to look this one up. I didn't know this was a song from the musical South Pacific. I hate South Pacific. I've seen the show precisely ONCE in my life, and that was two decades ago. I sat through it for the sole reason that I was deeply in love with Girl In Chorus #2 in a hometown production, and I thought that bringing her flowers on opening night would get me somewhere. It was pure torture. Seriously, to this day, I have nightmares soundtracked by "Some Enchanted Evening." Worse yet, Girl In Chorus #2 went home that night with the guy who played Cable and left Loser In Audience #1 with a wilted bouquet and a broken heart (and, apparantly, a spirited feminine anthem to sing in the salsa aisle some twenty years later.)

I was worried that I was insane. I wondered if I was the only one who had daily problems with earworms. So I took to the internet and posed the question to Facebook nation. Do earworms drive EVERYONE crazy? The answer was a resounding YES. Replies came in by the droves, and it turns out I'm not alone when it comes to weird earworms.

"The sun'll come out tomorrow! And the day after that and the day after that! When I whistle, that's what comes out every time."

"One night, I fell asleep with a music channel on TV. I woke up with 'Turning Japanese' in my head, and it took years to get over it!"

"I somehow got 'Rock the Casbah' stuck in my head and it stayed there for at least six months. And now it's back. Thanks, Shane."

"Once a year or so, I get the Monchichi jingle stuck in my head for days. It's horrifying."

"Me too! Whoever wrote that Monchichi song should be recognized. Recognized as the most desperate, unapologetic [expletive] on the planet."

"My husband can implant songs into my internal jukebox without my noticing until it's too late. His favorite is Hot Butter's 'Popcorn.' I think he might be after a divorce."

"No one knows that every time I walk down a sidewalk, I'm usually doing it to the beat of 'Car Wash.'"

"Amy Grant's 'Every Heartbeat' has in some ways ruined my life."

"I can't remember birthdays or appointments, but somehow I can recall the lyrics to so, so many songs. Whenever I try on bras, I hear 'Bennie and the Jets' because I used to think the lyrics were 'She's got electric boobs, a mohair suit...'"

And nearly a dozen of my friends agree that the song "Let It Go" from the movie "Frozen" should be an acceptable legal excuse for euthanasia. It's trapped in the skulls of so many innocents that it may need to be outlawed from society.

I'm just (TURNING JAPANESE) glad (I THINK I'M) I'm not (TURNING JAPANESE) the only one tormented (I REALLY THIIIINK SO, nuh-nuh-nuh NUH nuhh nuh nuhhh!).

Uh oh.

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