They come from the most unexpected places. A recent piece on the National Catholic Register’s web page noted the fifty year anniversary of a hit song named Walk Away Renee’, written by a guy named Tony Sansone. The angle of the piece was Sansone’s faith and some of the musical influences that led him to write the song made famous by The Left Banke in July of 1966. It was an interesting article, because firsthand accounts of those in the music business are something I am drawn to. However, the piece had an unintended side effect: Walk Away Renee’ was cued up and put on replay in my brain for the next three days.
I guess there is no other way to say it, but I think I have a DJ in my head. And he’s not very good, because he will sometimes walk away from the equipment for hours or days at a time while the same song plays and plays. Or, even worse, just part of the song.
I have always loved music, and my tastes cover a wide variety of styles. If my iPod goes to full shuffle, I can whipsaw from Gregorian Chant or renaissance era polyphony to pre-1960s jazz to hits from the ’80s, though I will admit that those dramatic stylistic shifts can make my head hurt a bit.
I have also noticed that whenever music is playing, I can have a difficult time treating it as white background noise, as most others seem to be able to do. Instead, I have to listen to it. Which can be a challenge during a conversation or when trying to concentrate. My very first job as a law clerk involved working in an office where elevator music was playing out of ceiling speakers all day long. I found that for any serious research, I had to get out of there, because having to break concentration every three minutes was killing any ability to get anything done.
Like a dog to a whistle, I could recognize when a song was finishing up. Then came the Hitchcock-like suspense as I waited to see what was up next on the playlist, and finally, the game to see how quickly I could recognize the song. The last part was not easy as it was always some generic vanilla orchestra playing some generic vanilla arrangement, which can sometimes cloak a well-known song in anonymity. Then, with that final task accomplished (which I could manage about 95% of the time) came the final “Yes, I like this” or “Meh” or “Gaaaaa, not this again!” And then back to work. For three more minutes.
This situation is probably not helped by my listening method whenever I get something new. Some people will breeze through a piece or a collection a couple of times and move on. My way is to listen maybe fifteen or twenty times through, particularly for jazz or classical, where there is so much going on in the piece that it is difficult to pick it all up as though it were all on a single layer. After doing this for a long enough time, there are a lot of very detailed playings of music burrowed way down deep in my brain, ready to be retrieved and played by my mental DJ at the first request.
I had a kindred spirit in my college roommate Dan. Neither of us was above using our common gift/curse as an offensive weapon. All that was necessary was for one of us to be studying for a test and the other to sing a line from the victim’s collection of most hated songs ever. “Feeeee-liiiiiiings, woah woah woah feeeee-liiiiiings . . .” was usually as far as one of us needed to go, and Boom, concentration broken for the next three minutes and the fallout from the awful song that could last for the rest of the day as it would go on eternal repeat until something else would take its place. It really was sort of like a very small atomic bomb, but without the radiation.
Today, a song can be pulled up in a hundred ways. The death of a recording artist can be a bad time or a good time, depending on who it was. There was a lot of David Bowie being played in my noggin a few months back. And again as I write this paragraph as Golden Years is the random selection. When one of my kids was sharing a roommate issue not long ago, on popped Count Basie’s 1947 novelty hit Open The Door Richard, which is a mostly spoken record (backed by a piano and rhythm section) that finishes with the great trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison lamenting “That’s th reason why Ah don’t like ta roooooom with nobody.”
And sometimes no trigger is required at all. A couple of weeks ago I woke up one morning and was surprised to be thinking about (and mentally listening to) Canadian Sunset, an early ’50s record that my mother liked, something that I had neither chosen for myself nor heard in decades. Well, it is hard to fault the relaxed jazz piano of Eddie Heywood.
Or just to shake things up, my mental DJ can cue up The Talking Heads (Burning Down The House is always popular) or James Brown (have you ever heard his 1960 version of Night Train? I have, and quite a few times.)
Handheld devices and data plans are both a blessing and a curse with my conditions. When something lands randomly on my mental playlist, hey make it possible to find the song and listen to it afresh. The downside is that this can give my mental DJ the rest of the day off work while the selection stays on auto-repeat.
TV themes and commercial jingles are always in the mix as well, and they are usually less pleasant than the regular songs. Really, who wants to listen to “Brush your breath with Dentyne” over and over. Like I am right now.
In fact, just writing this has proved to be a very, very bad idea, because bits and pieces of every one of the selections mentioned above are fighting for mental air time right now. There is only one way to deal with this, which is to close with a really good and strong earworm that I won’t mind listening to for the next day or so. Nothing too loud or too bland, so . . . got it. Let’s go with Route 66 by the Nat King Cole Trio, which I like for Nat’s piano playing even more than for his silken vocal. (Sorry for the version on the link, as this genuine Lo-Fi version played old school through steel and shellac is the only one I could get to play on mobile devices.)
If you suffer from my condition and don’t like my selection, well I’m afraid you’re on your own for getting rid of it.