Geographic Onset Stuck-Verse Syndrome

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I've always suffered from a tendency to get songs stuck in my head. It's never been as bad as some people's, but it's there nonetheless. My particular condition might be called Geographic Onset Stuck Song Syndrome, since it seems to be place names in particular that set it off.

When I lived in LA, for example, I could expect that for hours after I drove through Hollywood (or along the Hollywood freeway, or past a Hollywood video), I'd hear a ghostly Ethyl Merman belting "Hooray For Hollywood" deep in the recesses of my psyche. Worse yet, this inner cabaret is not particularly literal minded. If a word sounds however vaguely like a word in a lyric--or even if it has the same rhythm--it's enough to start the performance. Seeing the name "Azusa" on a map , for example, always started my inner chorus of "Azusa! Azusa! The girl is hard to get!" (The song is from "The Music Man," and the original lyrics are "Shaboopie! Shaboopie! The girl is hard to get!" I am not sure whether substituting in "Azusa" makes it more or less ridiculous.)

In fact, "The Music Man" was a particularly blatant repeat offender. Driving by the Pic-N-Save would launch my inner Ethyl into "Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little. Cheep cheep cheep cheep cheep!" And the Wells Fargo banking corporation seemed determined to torment me by placing a branch on every street, with predictable results.

When I moved to London, I was therefore relieved to be bidding farewell to the song triggers I had long since grown tired. I felt as though I was finally prying open the lid of a CD player that had been glued shut for seven years, and, at long last, putting in a new disk. Oh, what a fool I was.

Admittedly, my Stuck Song Syndrome has gone into a bit of remission. Oh, occasionally, "My Fair Lady" will make an appearane on my mental soundtrack, thanks mainly to the fact that I live near Hampstead, where Hurricanes Hardly Ever Happen. (And, yes, I know it's actually in Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire that hurricanes don't happen. Hey, you try arguing with Ethel.) And, occasionally, I'll see them down in Soho Square, dropping "h"'s everywhere. But in general, there simply aren't enough references to English place names in songs to drive me batty. For this, I must give particular thanks to the Beatles; I live near Abbey Road, and pass it frequently, but they were kind enough to restrict all mention of the place to the cover of the album rather than to the contents therein.

The problem is that my grade school teachers made me memorize a good deal of English verse. At the time, it seemed harmless enough. Now, though, I curse the day I ever had to learn In Elegy On The Death of A Mad Dog. It's not very well know, except to those of us who had to memorize it in sixth grade and therefore can't pass through Islington, London, without the phrase "In Islington there was a man/ of whom the world might say/ that still a godly race he ran/ when e'er he went to pray." I haven't the faintest idea what those words mean. I just know that I can't stop thinking them.

It's not just Islington. There's Kew Gardens ("I am her Majesty's dog at Kew./ Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?") And most annoyingly of all, there is the Strand. As every schoolchild knows--or, at least, every school child who had the same peculiar education I did--Samuel Johnson once composed the following lines, to prove that poetry could have perfect meter and rhyme while remaining utterly banal:

I put my hat upon my head,
and walked out on the Strand,
and there I met another man
whose hat was in his hand.

It's bad enough having a song stuck in your head. It's worse having a verse. But a verse that was deliberately constructed to be a giant sucking void of catchy meter and empty contact? Curse you, Dr. Johnson!

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6 Comments

erin said:

Curse you. Now I have the entire Music Man soundtrack running through my head. Will have to torture my kids with it tomorrow in the car....

Love your blog.

Erin,
My evil plan has succeeded. Mwahahaha!

Sincerely yours,
Jacob

Scott said:

I seem to associate Geographic verse syndrome with airports. There's "Jerusalem"'s green and pleasant land" (I'm afraid its the Emerson Lake & Palmer version) when landing at LHR, "Coming Into Los Angeles" by Arlo Guthrie at LAX, "Viva Seattle Tacoma" from Robin Hitchcock, and those are just the memorable ones.

I enjoy your blog, keep up the good work!

Ah, yes--I forgot "England's green and pleasant land!" Interestingly, I can't remember any musical settings of it, so it's just the words that get stuck in my head, usually when I'm riding the train in one of the greener parts outside of London.

Thanks for the kind words.

fuzztone said:

hi folks, just done a google search on "song in head syndrome" 'cos i suffer from it bad + thought i'd try and track down fellow stuckees. john martyn's "may you never" is currently wedged in there. not so bad cos it's a great song, but my usual problem is "the girl from ipanema"!!!
i used to work in a photographic darkroom and i think this is where it started. anyway, cheers for now.

Lenna said:

I listened to one of the few compact discs I own the other day...it's The Eminem Show. I'm no longer a big fan of Eminem, but several of the songs clung to my head for a few days.

I read somewhere that songs get stuck in your head when you can't remember all the words, so it repeats in your head. I don't know if I buy that.

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This page contains a single entry by Jacob published on July 6, 2004 10:00 PM.

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