Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Song in My Head

It was the summer of 1972, and I was a ten-year-old Iowa boy standing on the shores of Lake Okoboji. Lake Okoboji is one of the Iowa Great Lakes in the northwestern part of the state, not far from the spot where Buddy Holly's plane crashed in 1959. It was late afternoon and the sunlight sparkled brightly off the lake's rippling surface. On the creaky wooden boat dock to my right a transistor radio crackle-hissed to life in the hands of my friend Juli Pohlman. She had white creme covering her nose and wore big round, black sunglasses. As she tuned in a local AM station, she turned to me and smiled.

The first song that came out of her small black radio was Heart of Gold by Neil Young. I listened to the acoustic guitar, the country-sounding rhythm of the song, and fell into a trance.

For the rest of that day, all that night, and for most of the rest of our week at Crescent Beach Resort, Lake Okoboji, I was humming, singing, or hearing Heart of Gold inside my head. There was something magical about Neil Young's high-whiny voice, the steel guitar in the background, and the imagery conjured by the line "Keeps me searchin' for a heart of gold. And I'm gettin' old."

This was my first experience with getting a song stuck in my head.

It has happened almost daily ever since. I am consumed with music--if I am not listening to it, I am playing it or thinking about it, so it's mostly a welcomed affliction. Some poor souls cannot abide it for a second. In fact, when I worked in a New York City advertising/PR firm in the mid-1980s my account team used to have contests to see who could place a song inside a colleague's head. Each of us would, throughout the day, whistle, sing, hum, or tap out a certain song that we thought was catchy enough to land in someone's cranium and stay there on an endless loop. Since I'd been cursed with song-in-my-head for more than two-and-a-half decades at that point, I was the undisputed champion. A few of my most insidious, can't-miss tunes? Burt Bacharach's Do You Know the Way to San Jose? is a great one. Sugar by The Archies, and of course, the greatest in-my-head tune of all time, My Sharona. You don't even have to sing My Sharona, just grunt out the opening guitar riff....

Da nuh-nuh-NAH, nuh-NAH, nuh-NAH, nuh-nuh-nuh-NAAH,
Da nuh-nuh-NAH, nuh-NAH, MY Sha-RONA!

Or just tap out the rhythm with your pencil. Someone nearby will pick it up and it will torture them for hours. I could walk down the main hall of our agency singing a catchy song, and by the time I was headed back to my office with my cup of coffee two minutes later, someone else would be singing that song. They finally asked me to stop doing this.

These days, when I get a song in my head--whether I like it or not--I find myself playing the song over and over again on my laptop, on my IPod, on my CD player, or even on my guitar. It's an OCD-like therapy, but it works for me. If I'm liking the song, I'll quickly tire of it after, oh, 40 listens over a few days. If I hate the song, and I cannot get it out of my head, I look for a song I truly love, maybe My Funny Valentine sung by Chet Baker, or Waiting in Vain by Bob Marley, and give it a very careful, attentive listen. The deep affection/connection I have for the beloved song always exorcises the evil, awful song from my brain.

I credit Neil Young's Heart of Gold, which tapped me on the ear that August day in 1972, with giving me the desire to play the guitar. In 1977 I finally bought "Harvest" the Neil Young album that features Heart of Gold. My parents always had music going, too, so my habit grew with their help.
So, to share with you some of the songs that get stuck in my head (I'll try to stick with the good ones), I'm launching a new mini-feature here on Bill of the Birds, called The Song in My Head.

If you are like me you might be curious enough to go right to the iTunes Store, to sample and even buy the song. I swear I drop so much dinero there that they have a yacht at Apple headquarters called Bill's Lust for Music.

The Song in My Head for the past week has been:
Casmir Pulaski Day by Sufjan Stevens

Thanks Neil!


At 12:27 AM, Blogger Bisbee Border Birder Bloggers said...

Damn you BT3! Now I have more reasons to spend money at iTunes.

The term for those stick-in-your head tunes is an "earworm". Unless it's on tape -then it's a tapeworm. Or if it's flat... or on earth... Have you heard Sufjan Stevens' song about the Ivory Billed WP(The Lord-God Bird) and have you visited

I'm sending you a cd with some of the earworms I've unearthed for my radio show on our local community radio station.

As always, I've beeen enjoying your posts, I even pulled out my Swinging O's cd. Thanks for mentioning our little blog.


At 9:24 AM, Blogger Rondeau Ric said...

We won't mention the Mville song. How about Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple?

At 12:03 PM, Blogger gaelic granny said...

I have been plagued for over a week with a wonderful Harry Connick Jr. song from Pajama Game, "There once was a man...".
But I can't find it since the play has not opened yet! I doomed to wait.

At 2:38 PM, Blogger BT3 said...

oh the pain....

Tom: 'earworm' is perfect!

Ric: Smoke on the Water is another one in the My Sharona category. No need to know the rods, just the guitar riff.

At 6:44 PM, Blogger Rexroth's Daughter said...

I like the idea of "Song in my Head" mini feature on your blog. It'll be a good way for me to pick up some new music ideas. I've never heard of Sufjan Stevens, but I'm heading right over to itunes for a listen.

At 8:27 PM, Blogger Face said...

Does your brain itch?


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