In her response to my blog yesterday, fellow photographer and blogger Debra introduced me to a new term; earworm. I was pretty sure I knew what she meant; one of those insidious songs that worms its way into your consciousness and remains there, gnawing away at your sanity.
I don’t know who coined the term originally, (the phenomenon itself is not new, and occurs in 19th Century literature), but it does bring to mind the Ceti eel (and by association the Centaurian slug) of Star Trek mythology, a creature that burrowed into the ear and made the host susceptible to suggestion, so I wonder if worm inspired eel or vice versa.
When I awoke this morning I was mentally singing a fragment of Cassandra Wilson‘s Gone with the Wind, but I have no idea why as I haven’t listened to the song for a while? The brain’s capacity for latching onto a piece of music and then refusing to let go is one that has fascinated psychologists, neurologists and psychoanalysts, yet seemingly all we can say about earworms is that they are a consequence of a repetitive melody which lacks some sort of climax to break the cycle.
Much as I love Cassandra I found my own way of breaking the cycle by reaching for my trusty iphone and opting to set the controls for shuffle, bombarded my auditory cortex into submission.
That said, there are times when a repetitive mantra can be helpful as a means of changing your focus. A bit like nipping yourself to take your mind of toothache! In Joe Simpson‘s superb account of fighting for his life after a horrendous fall on Siula Grande (Touching the Void), he describes how at one point on his painfully slow descent he becomes delirious and imagines he can actually hear Boney M singing Brown Girl in the Ring. Whilst that’s a song that you don’t want to be stuck with, his mental battles to be free of it seemingly took priority over the pain of dragging his shattered leg over glacial ice and moraines.
Though nowhere near that level of suffering, I know that when cycling up hills I find a similar technique can help focus on the rhythm of pedal rotations rather than the burning thigh muscles. When I cycled in Nepal I found Joe Jackson a constant companion, which culminated in the rather surreal moment when an American cyclist called Eric Forsthoefel and I burst spontaneously into an acapella version of “Is she really going out with him?” which we sang from first to last note. I’ve often wondered about the reaction of the villagers who witnessed us do this, for once complete we got back onto our bikes and rode away into the dust.
This is Mark, a former colleague out boarding today – I should have asked him what tunes drive him to distraction, but I only just caught him before he was back in the water for the day’s final session.
Back to this morning and I found appropriate relief in Happiness by The Blue Nile which appropriately enough contains the lyric:
Now that I found peace at last
Tell me, Jesus, will it last?
I’d be interested to know if there are earworms that get to everyone – leave me a comment with your least favourite! Now then, everyone sing with me:
I know a song that’ll get on your nerves,
get on your nerves,
get on your nerves.
I know a song…
- The Philosophy of the Earworm (slowmover.wordpress.com)