Wednesday, 24 May 2017

That tune... going round your head now...

What's that tune going round your head right now? That song that keeps on pestering you? It's called an earworm. This mental phenomenon is a part of the human condition. Most of us get affected by this from time to time, to different degrees of annoyance.

Today, we're assailed by music from every corner - mobile phone ringtones, adverts on the radio with simple, whistled tunes designed to be catchy; snatches of pop songs in shops. But can you imagine the silence of the Middle Ages, where your communion with God each Sunday in the village church would bring hymns into your life that you'd hum and repeat over the week, or earlier still, in the African Savannah, literally inventing rhythm and song with the birth of humanity.

I remember discussing this phenomenon while at primary school with Raymond Guyon, who told me that the best remedy was to blast it out of your head was with a mental rendition of the Dambusters' March. Did the trick for me when that odious TV advert for Rowntree's Jelly Tots pestered my brain in the early 1970s.

My brother wrote to me the other day about an earworm that had been going around his head over the past few days - a section of the Roxy Music song Editions of You from their eponymous first album. It occurred to me as I read his email that I usually find myself with earworms at any time. If the song or tune is good, it will last with me for several days.

James Brown's A Blind Man Can See and David Bowie's TVC15 are two current earworms that have been with me since the weekend. You can guarantee that when I write about music on my blog, the song or classical composition in question has been going round my head enough times for me to want to write about it. Ralph Vaughan Williams, Genesis' Trick of the Tail, Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska... And if a tune has with it lyrics of profundity that touch on the essence of what it is to be human - then so much the better.

Returning to an earworm from years gone by brings back that precise atmosphere. If that song had been going around your mind over and over again for several days or longer, the memories of that time and place will return. There's a strong sense of seasonality to this - there are autumn songs and summer songs, and have been since I was a teenager. Roxy Music in the autumns, Pink Floyd for the summers. [Winters? Never really had them in my London years.]

As my brother points out, it's been 50 years since the Jimi Hendrix Experience released Are You Experienced - a milestone of rock music history. As with many other great musicians, the consciousness of Mr Hendrix transcended mere time and place, he is gone but that consciousness will be back again and again, on the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth that connects an evolving universe.

Below: my brother's take on a legendary album cover... Are You Employed, Sir?

Last month I woke up with a wonderful tune in my head - something composed in my subconscious mind. Determined to keep it, I tried to turn it into an earworm; this worked for a couple of hours, until... another song crept into my head, and I promptly forgot it, lost to the ages.

This time last year:
The eyes... the eyes... 

This time two years ago:
New old terminal open at Okęcie airport

This time four years ago:
Arrogance vs. humility

This time five years ago:
Warsaw looking good ahead of the football-fan influx

This time eight years ago:
Heron over Jeziorki

This time ten years ago:
Present rising, future loading

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