The earworm: friend or foe?
My first earworm experience was long ago when I first started taking ecstasy. I was at uni, pissing my dad’s money away on some bollocky media degree, learning how to party. I’d been clubbing, scoffed a few mitzis, pulled faces at myself in toilets, gurned my face off at strangers, and danced into sweaty oblivion. Now alone in bed, the sun was coming up and I was coming down. That horrid stage of drug taking where paranoia creeps up on the fragile mind like a venomous snaked stalking its prey. And praying for sleep I was, when suddenly I realised the reason for my constant consciousness was the stereo I’d left on – which was blaring out tunes! Silly me! I got out bed and wobbled over to my stereo. The red off button was already staring its demonic cyclops eye at me. OFF. I was baffled as I had heard the boom-boom-boom of whatever hard-house track I’d been dancing to earlier that night, clear as day.
I’d just experienced my first aural hallucination. I was growing up. (Forgive the hard house, it was the 90s)
Science bods have done stacks of research on the phenomena of earworms and haven’t really come to any solid conclusions. Women, OCD freaks and musicians are more likely to ‘suffer’ from this affliction. Like hamsters cramming food into their cheeks for safe keeping, music folk need space in their brain to recall notes (women and OCDers just like obsess). Just as accountants have a fully functioning calculator wedged behind their eyes (mental arithmetic is nothing but a cruel myth told to naive school children), music people have a personal HMV slotted into their frontal lobe.
I am not a musician. I just have a warped mind and over-active imagination. (And I’m female) The inside of my head is like a messy rack in a porn shop before in the invention of the internet. Overflowing with massive tits, bulging cocks and sore looking bum holes. Except for (or as well as) the porn has been replaced with samples, riffs, hooks and lyrics. A junk shop straight of Harry Potter with all sorts of nuggets waiting for my inner ear’s needle to be dropped upon them by the native worm inhabitants.
There are two types of earworm. The one straight out of the movie, The Labyrinth; you want it as a household pet. It’s a welcomed presence. Something to be loved, treasured. A polite, softly spoken, monocle wearing chap, with a wispy white beard. He consultes his books of reason before pressing play on any songs he wishes my mind to play. A particularly useful breed when trying to find out the identity of a track at a later date – you know the one that goes ‘la la laaalala beep beep wub wuuuub,’ Or helping to identify music from only a second or two of the whole track. Your personalised (music) edition of the Royal Britannia Encyclopedia (remember those?!) is good to go.
Then there’s the worm from some kind of totalitarian regime, punishing you for war crimes from an era you weren’t even alive in. Oh, the torture of having Rihanna’s ‘Shut up and drive‘ or ‘Umbrella‘ stuck in your head. Worse – just the one line. I don’t know any other Rihanna songs, and mercifully neither do the worms.
Sometimes I imagine what goes on at these earworm fests. I see the chubby little blighters shouting at each other in over-the-top cockney accents; ‘Cor, listen to this – it’s faaackin’ ‘orible. She’ll faaackin’ ‘ate it. Give it a another spin will ya?!’ Holding their hairy bellies as they chuckle, knocking back neat whiskey, spitting their filthy phlegm on the floor of my mind, exploiting the inner workings of my helpless grey matter.
When insomnia strikes its evil hand, my earworms can be particularly thuggish. They force me to listen to entire tracks from beginning to end, at the correct speed, before they let me rest. I can’t even increase the tempo. It’s sooo annoying. ‘Murder on the dance floor’ – fuck off Sophie God damn Ellis Bextor, I HATE YOU! Once they know they have my attention, they start chucking songs on willy nilly, bullying me into listening note for bloody note, just as they sound out loud. Not even missing a triangle hit; Simon Cowell would be proud of my worms. I swear I’d owe millions in royalties if anyone else could hear the inside of my head. Fortunately such things are private; as upsetting as it is to admit, Nickleback are my worm’s house speciality. They’re partial to a bit of Michael Bolton too. Yes, I knooow it’s a dire situation.
While I haven’t yet declared the worms as sworn enemies, I can only hope they never receive a proper education from commercial radio stations. That will be the end of what remains of my sanity, and the beginnings of all-out war inside my head. Pass the valium, please.