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Like a Rhinestone Earworm

By Tim Hayes

Hunched over the keyboard, a deadline bearing down upon me, the search for the perfect word proved elusive.

Even wearing my well-worn Radio Shack headphones, tuned to pure white-noise static to block out any distractions, my brain cells refused to click, connect, or cooperate.

And it sure as hell didn’t help that the last song I’d heard on my car radio – a full 36 hours earlier – was Glen Campbell warbling…

“Like a Rhinestone Cowboyyyy…Riding out on a horse in a star-spangled rodeoooo!”

That accursed tune had burrowed so deep into my consciousness that it postponed falling asleep the night before, and bounded to the front of my cerebral cortex the second I had awakened that morning.  It clung like flypaper, rotating over and over, the whole three-minute aural torture rack, an infinite loop of despair.  Like the boring, boorish last guest at a party who won’t leave and go home, when all you want to do is turn the lights off and go to bed.

Old Glen just kept it up, singing about this poor sap with a dollar bill stuck in his shoe and a subway token to his name, daydreaming about strutting around in a shimmering Roy Rogers getup, who had somehow hijacked my life!

Is there anything more annoying than an earworm that will not, cannot, and does not go away?  I think not, Gentle Reader.

“Oh no, not I…I will survive…oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll be alive!”

Some earworms achieve Hall of Fame status, lasting for weeks on end.  I can remember the Great Siege of 1999, when this little ditty set up housekeeping inside my skull for the better part of a month:

“Hey now, you’re an all star, get your game on, go play…hey now, you’re a rock star, get your show on, get paid…and all that glitters is gooooold, only shooting stars break the mo-ooo-old…”

That particular musical shiv pierced my head so thoroughly almost 20 years ago that, even to this day, when it comes on the radio, I don’t just change the station – I shut the whole damn radio completely off.

“Sweeet Caroline…Bah-Bah-Bah…good times never seemed so goooood…”

The melodic malady of the earworm has actually been examined by researchers.  A 2016 study conducted by the American Psychological Association* tried to determine why certain songs cross the recorded Rubicon into infamy.

“These musically sticky songs seem to have quite a fast tempo along with a common melodic shape and unusual intervals or repetitions like we can hear in the opening riff of ‘Smoke On The Water’ by Deep Purple or in the chorus of ‘Bad Romance,’” said the study’s lead author, Kelly Jakubowski, PhD, of Durham University.

That all sounds well and good and completely scholarly, until you get to the official recommendations of how to extract one of the bloody buggers out of your head.  Along those lines, the best that the esteemed Dr. Jakubowski can offer is the following:

  • Engage with the song. Many people report that actually listening to the earworm song all the way through can help to eliminate having it stuck on a loop.
  • Distract yourself by thinking of or listening to a different song.
  • Try not to think about it and let it fade away naturally on its own.

Uhh, yeah.  Okay, so you’re supposed to either listen to the song or not listen to the song.  Wow.  Thanks a lot, Science.

“Hello, Darkness, my old friend…I’ve come to talk with you again…”

And again, and again, and again.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the deadline hasn’t gone away and I still can’t think of the right word for this piece I’m supposed to be writing.  It’s absolutely maddening!

“I dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel drive, carved my name into his leather seeeeaaats…”

Damn earworm.  I’d like to do that to its leather seats.  Maybe next time it would think before it seeps.  Into my head, that is.  A man can dream, can’t he?

Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes

* http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2016/11/earworms.aspx