by | Aug 24, 2003 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Iregret to inform you that I will be giving up this column to turn my brain over to science.

Apparently, I am suffering from an affliction. I didn’t realize it was an affliction until I read an article last week that said 98 percent of us, at some time or another, suffer from it. In my case, alas, it is almost nonstop, and I can hide it no more.

I hear dead people.

I hear live people, too.

Sometimes I don’t even know if they’re dead or alive. All I know is that they are singing, and they won’t stop. Sometimes it’s Tony Orlando. Sometimes it’s Barry Manilow. Sometimes it’s the Archies (are they dead or alive?) and sometimes it’s the 1910 Fruitgum Company.

Sometimes it’s whoever sang the Macarena. Sometimes it’s the Bee Gees. Often, I don’t know who it is, but whoever it is is singing about a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or a Ford truck.

The voices are in my head and they won’t go away. They have urged me, over the years, to “love my Good & Plenty,” to “let the dogs out!” to “write the songs that make the whole world sing” or to “twist again, like we did last summer.”

Yes. I suffer from “song-stuck-in-my-head-itis.”

And I am not alone.

‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’

A recent study at the University of Cincinnati (“WKRP in Cincinnaaaati”) found that most of us, at sometime (“everybody loves somebody sometiiiime”) are bewitched or bothered (“and bewild-errred”) by a song (“sung, blue . . .”) that won’t go away (“little girl”). The study labels songs like these as
“earworms.” That’s right. After all these years of evolution, we have worms. Somewhere, my old dog is cracking up.

These earworms get inside your brain and circulate, much like laundry in a coin-op machine, except that the laundry sounds better. The terrible twist of this curse is that the earworms are rarely good songs. The earworms are almost always the terrible, corny, overplayed, tortuous songs that you’ve been trying desperately to forget. Apparently this dates to Mark Twain, who in 1882 wrote a story about a cursed man who couldn’t get a “jingling rhyme” out of his head. Lucky for him, that was before Dr Pepper was invented.

My case is even worse. I have a song in my head every minute of the day. The slightest thing sets it off. If someone yells “hello” I hear Lionel Richie singing it. If someone says “don’t worry” I hear Bobby McFerrin echoing “be happy.”

My mother, when I was a child, used to smack my bouncing legs and say, “Stop tapping!” And I would reply, “But, Mom, I got ‘Wipeout’ playing in my head.”

And I did.

And — argh! Now I do again.

‘It’s a Small World After All’

It can be seasonal. (In winter, for example, my brain gets stuck on “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” and in the summer, I keep hearing, “Let’s go surfin’ now, everybody’s learnin’ how, come on and safari with me . . .”)

Or it can be meteorological, during storms (“I see a bad moon rising . . . “) and bright skies (“You are the sunshine of my life . . . “).

According to the Cincinnati study, there is no medicine I can take for this. The article actually quoted Neil Diamond, who apparently has earworms, too, and he says, “I’ve tried everything from cold showers to listening to other people’s music, but nothing helps.”

And that’s Neil Diamond! And I’m hearing HIS songs in my head!

Until now, I kept quiet about this. At least as quiet as a man can be when a song is playing in his cranium. But now, having read that I have worms and that I am part of an epidemic, I feel compelled to share the jukebox in my noggin with science. So here’s what I will do: I will slice off my head at the neck. And I will turn it over to the authorities.

“On, no, you won’t,” I hear you say.

Oh, yes, I will. I will take it to Cincinnati. And when I drop it on the examining table, you know what I’m gonna say? “Whoomp! There it is!” That’s what I’m gonna say.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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