Does the noise in my head bother you?

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”. – Friedrich Nietzsche



Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? Sometimes it hangs around for a relatively short time: a few hours, a day or two or maybe a little longer? It’s called an earworm.  It’s not a real worm.  It’s a musical memory that will not stop playing in your head.  I was afflicted with  an  endless melody for 5 weeks.  It finally faded,  but just when I think it’s gone, there it is again, doing its best to spoil my day.

rare image of earworm

rare image of earworm

I tried all manner of things to distract my mind– interrupt the repetition.  I attempted to replace the song with another, hoping that would break the hold it had on me and its ability to evoke my active participation. No luck   I felt I was doomed to sing that song in my head until I snapped and had to be taken away in an ambulance to a place where the doors are locked  behind me and I don’t have a key.  I knew only a few words and was surprised I knew any at all. I was so preoccupied with struggling to fill in the gaps   Ultimately  I decided to meet the demon head on– try the hair of  the dog that bit me, so to speak.images60

I went on the internet (a common phrase, as if the internet is a place, or maybe even a conveyance of some sort ) and researched the song, “See you in September“, by TheTempos, 1959. Later, in 1966 it was revamped (the beat was taken up a few notches) and released by The Happenings. I didn’t even know these groups. The Happenings are still alive and together. I found them on YouTube— in a video of them performing on a cruise ship.  If nothing else, the video provided me with the missing words of the song so there would be no impediment for the earworm to properly drive me mad.

Surprisingly, The Tempos‘ version of the song was showcased in the 1973 film, “American Graffiti“– a classic film, I’m ashamed to say I’ve never seen.  I watched a video clip of that part of the movie employing the song  and, I have to admit, I prefer The Happenings‘ version. It’s the one that’s been in my head. I don’t have any idea where I picked up the earworm, but it does know my taste for rhythm.

The Happenings

The Happenings

Individuals who acquire earworms often pick them up in passing– without conscious recognition..  The offending melody could be with or without lyrics (most often with) and could be background music at a restaurant or store or even on a radio from a passing car. Television commercials with their musical slogans and catchy tunes are notorious for instigating earworms..

lobotomy and a shave please

lobotomy and a shave please

A popular justification  for individuals repeatedly suffering from earworms is that  anxiety is to blame and that persons with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) are the most likely to  develop the condition. It has something to do with the acuity of an individual’s “musical memory”, but let’s not go into that right now. I promised myself that I wouldn’t lapse into academic mode. I’ve faltered a bit and I apologize.

Is that the macarena?

Is that the macarena?

Unfortunately there are no preventative measures that one can take to keep from being infected by earworms other than a lobotomy. We could produce young who never hear music and put them on a remote deserted island or a mountaintop in the Caucasus and deprive them of any form of music. I believe there was a Star Trek episode that addressed this same issue for different reasons. It didn’t work in their advanced culture–doubt it would work in ours.

In my opinion, the best protection would be to decrease the amount of time the offending melody spends in a person’s head– by early intervention– by engaging the victim’s memory in mentally challenging tasks.  Even reading a book would help. These are the things I wasn’t doing, for whatever reasons, prior to my 5 weeks of musical torment.   Maybe our brains have to be gainfully occupied or they succumb to something else that will occupy them. Our brains didn’t get to be as large and complex by being idyll.  That means less vegging, more blogging.

“None but ourselves can free our minds” – Bob Marley




When I was a kid I wanted to be an "atomic" scientist. Not anything my mother expected of me. Well, I became a scientist, just not an atomic one.

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November 2013
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