Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Earworms: When Songs Get Stuck in Your Head

After watching Paul Simon's documentary on the making of his album 'Graceland', I have had the song 'You Can Call Me Al', stuck in my head for weeks, months really. The chorus goes around and around in my brain, eventually involuntarily coming out of my mouth in short bursts or I'll find myself humming it. Although the words are simple it's easy to leave some out:

  If you'll be my bodyguard
  I can be your long lost pal
  I can call you Betty
  And Betty when you call me
  You can call me Al

I get almost all the way to the end and then usually mess up on the '...and Betty when you call me' line.  Obviously, if you don't get all the words in there, you end up with too many notes, which means you must start the song again until all the words land in the right spots, or at least until all the notes have words attached to them. Sometimes I will settle for this imperfection. But even settling can take a while since only a small portion of my brain is actually paying attention. Then, when I know I've got the song right, around it goes again, and again, and again, ad nauseum.

I finally bought the stinkin' CD, thinking that if I could listen to the whole song whenever I wanted I might be able to purge it from my mental replay list.

I couldn't resist looking up the phrase, 'songs get stuck in my head' in Google, and, omg, Betty, there's a name for what causes it (at least according to one website): earworms. Not like real worms, but rather, and I quote: parasitic in the sense that they get lodged in your head and cause a sort of "cognitive itch" or "brain itch" -- a need for the brain to fill in the gaps in a song's rhythm.

I feel better.

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