Ear Worms

Maarten wrote some time back about a phenomenon in music we call “ear worms,” though I cannot locate that specific piece. I’ve been suffering a bad case lately. Two songs have haunted me, one that I resent, the other that is just fun.

The one I resent is “Paul” McCartney, the original Paul, singing “For No One” from their 1966 album Revolver.  It is a haunting melody about losing a lover, that devastating feeling most of us know when after deep emotional involvement, we simply don’t matter anymore. Nothing can be done but get over the pain and move forward.

Have you been there? Me too. The problem I have is that “Paul” at the time this song was published was the most famous rock star on the planet. He was publicly dating Jane Asher, a fake relationship designed to misdirect us from there being two Paul’s. There is no photographic evidence of any deep emotional attachment between the two. I doubt either “Paul” experienced rejection after attaining their (“his”) fame. The true author of that song, I think, knows the pain, but our “Paul” is merely credited with authorship because he, or they, are public faces who are given credit for far more talent than they possess. That was the deal they signed on to, and I often wonder about the silent talent behind them. Is there resentment?

Did Pauly get dumped and sit down and write this engaging melody? Nah. The man is a phony, but I would like to know the true author of that song, and if if he is still among us, give him due credit.

Ever since I wrote my piece titled “McCartneyism,” a play on the word “McCarthyism,” that song has been haunting me. My solution is to substitute a different ear worm, one more to my liking, and I stumbled upon it watching a TV series called Bosch, season 3, episode 5. The Bosch character is not easily unraveled, the son of a murdered prostitute on a lifetime mission of avenging injustice. He’s a straight arrow, but complicated, and in this episode, as he bonds with a young man sharing a similar troubled past, that boy is murdered. Bosch has to ID the body, and as he does in the background they play Going Home, a lovely piano piece by Charlie Haden and Chuck Jones.

The song invokes deep sadness, like, maybe, you know, getting dumped by a lover. Going Home is actually a popularized version of Largo from the New World symphony by Antonín Dvořák. It is a twelve minute movement which, if you’re in a reflective mood, can be enjoyed here. Classical composers, for the most part, worked without benefit of words and so had to impart emotion by instruments alone. That takes lifelong work and serious talent.

I can live with that ear worm,  as it is lovely and does not promote a phony personality. But I have been troubled by yet another.

We live in the foothills above Denver, and rely on well water. The aquifers are difficult to comprehend, but this much I know: The well ain’t always reliable. We have a 300 gallon tank because our well is so slow that we need a reserve. We draw on the tank, and the well replaces our use with new supplies. Sometimes, as now, during a drought, replacement is slow. The tank is made of heavy plastic, and we can see the water level at all times. We worry as it runs low and does not refill. We constantly check it. Having to re-drill or deepen is a spendy proposition.

As a joke I took some tape and wrote on strips of it “Oh gee,” “Oh fiddle,” Oh heck” and “Oh dread.” I put the tape at various levels on the tank. I wanted to make my wife laugh, as she would instantly understand that these are words from the Boa Constrictor song, as in “I’m being swollered” by one, performed by Peter, Paul and Mary on their album for kids. I thought it would take days for her to stumble on the joke, but within minutes she was in my office and laughing.

Now that song is stuck in my head.

We’re off on a hike today, and either For No One or Boa Constrictor will be in my head. Try as I might, Going Home, which I cannot get into my head, will not be there. Ear worms are a mild form of torture.

17 thoughts on “Ear Worms

  1. You can condition a person to receive any sequence of tones as being melodic by suggestion and repetition. There was a scientific research back then demonstrating that any melody created out of random sequence of tones can be perceived as what you call Ear Worm. I just don’t find it on the net now. It does not mean, there is no high quality music at all. It’s like with wine, you drink it the first time it tastes sour and unpleasant. You drink it regularly you’ll learn the difference between cheap and quality wine pretty fast. The difference between quality wine and very expensive wine is a different matter. It’s also merely a suggestion. I tried some rare wines in my life and it was a good experience but not worth the money if I had to pay for it myself. We are absolutely fine here with the Spanish Grand Riserva wines we buy in our Aldi which taste great and are not expensive. But I’m digressing. As for music it matters if you play an instrument yourself. If you don’t, any person who can play some accords will impress you. But it takes some own experience to recognize the quality and balance and fines of for instance Keith Jarrett’s play even if you don’t like his kind of music personally. Try The Köln Koncert, if you’re interested. It’s the finest piano music and totally improvised. I know every tone by mind and can replay it in my head even without hearing it directly.


    1. I never took time to develop a taste in wine beyond chard, and honestly, beer is my favorite beverage, but I cannot drink it due to weight gain. I have one can of beer daily, at 4:30 PM on our deck with my wife, and look forward to that time.

      Here’s how the hike went: I started out with Going Home firmly in place, playing peacefully in my mind as we walked and chatted. We walked about 7 miles, and probably half way through my mind was taken over by For No One again. It was so dominant that I could not think of the initial notes to Going Home to reboot it. It was For No One all the way back to the car. Tortuous.

      Köln Koncert – will give it a listen.


      1. I know that feeling when a song suddenly occupies your mind for a day and you cannot replay the previous melody from memory. I play acoustic guitar and have some favorites which I play by mind. Joe Satriani’s “Tears in the Rain” for instance. I play it automatically without thinking. Recently I once tried to focus on the finishing accords and suddenly I couldn’t play it anymore. I had to replay it many times from the beginning then trying to play it automatically without thinking at all until I got to the finish again. As for the Köln Koncert, there is this story: Keith Jarrett didn’t want to play because the piano was not up to his standards but he was forced to do so by contract and he for fun took the gong sequence from the Köln Theater where this was happening as a leading melody. This are the first tones he plays there. You hear some people laughing. He then improvises for an hour using this simple tones. It is just a gong calling people back from the break in the show and he has made it into an ear worm. Not to mention that many skilled pianist study his improvisation till today and learn to play it as he does.


            1. Could quote this episode all day.

              I am more familiar with sinners than Saints, my dear, and sinners ALWAYS look good!

              This muggy November weather gives me the horribles!

              By the way, the Golden Richards joke is so funny if you understand it. God, I love KOTH.


  2. I look forward to every one of your articles. You are a brilliant writer. You remind me of suddenly finding an author you cannot put down, and especially if that author has many more books to read. The pure joy, knowing you have so many more afternoons of sitting on the front porch, listening to nature, glancing up to watch the occasional hummingbird, then diving back into the written word. That sir, is what you remind me of. Thank you.


    1. I was going to let that comment go by, as it was so highly complimentary that it made me blush. But then I thought hell, I’ve been taking it in the shorts these past few days, and let it through. Thank you. You are very nice to say those things.


  3. I’ve noticed there are many ” this was one of my relatives,husband’s, wife’s favorite songs or movies, he or she recently passed from COVID” type comments on youtube.


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