Amoeblog


Earworms, brainworms, and sticky music

Posted by Whitmore, June 28, 2008 10:05pm | Post a Comment

An Earworm is a term for a portion of a song or other musical bit that gets "stuck" in someone’s head and repeats continually against a their will. Often, relief comes only when it is swapped with a newer fragment from another tune. Research indicates that the people who get the most earworms tend to listen to music frequently and are more likely to have other neurotic habits, such as biting pencils or finger nails or tapping fingers. In Oliver Sacks latest book, Musicophilia, he defines the phenomenon as “involuntary musical imagery.”

I’m regularly haunted by fractions of tunes wandering between lobes. And more often than not, these are unfamiliar melodies incessantly repeating, tumbling about, until my slipping weak-ass sagacity cracks. Musicians tend to more susceptible to earworms, and it probably doesn’t help that I listen to scraps of songs all day at Amoeba as a I comb over the piles of used, alien 45’s littering my office. Yesterday, for example, I played snippets of possibly three hundred different singles just trying to figure what is what and what is not. I seem to have survived the experience, at least for the moment; in any case I won’t know until the next ghostly notes infest my synapses. Unfortunately some melodies or musical moods are so perfectly defined; my simpleton’s grey matter is rather easy prey to a full-on earworm assault. For the last couple of weeks I’ve been re-watching all 29 episodes of David Lynch’s 1990 -1991 television show Twin Peaks. And no, the Twin Peaks Theme is not the exact piece of music bouncing around my skull, but Twin Peaks is the source of the latest spell.

In the final episode, in the red-curtained room, legendary jazz singer Little Jimmy Scott makes an appearance, singing this hauntingly gorgeous song “Sycamore Trees,” written by David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti … and the song won’t go away, it just won’t go away … it won’t go. So here, you listen to it for a while-- it’s insanely beautiful. I mean insanely … OK, there it is, again. I hear the click and the 17 note phrase cycling around yet another time and yet another time.

I got idea man
You take me for a walk
Under the sycamore trees
The dark trees that blow baby
In the dark trees that blow

And I'll see you
And you'll see me
And I'll see you in the branches that blow
In the breeze,
I'll see you in the trees
Under the sycamore trees

Relevant Tags

Little Jimmy Scott (1), Blather (58), David Lynch (22), Twin Peaks (8), Television (44), Oliver Sacks (1), Angelo Badalamenti (1)