Tunes that take over

I have a disease. An inflammation. A virus. What’s even worse, I’m about to pass it on to you. You will be infected by the following four-word paragraph scant moments after you read it. Are you ready?

“The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

Can you feel it yet? Is that eerie falsetto weeheeheehee dee heeheeheehee weeo weem away ricocheting through your cranium? Are the lyrics “In the jungle, the mighty jungle” bobbing up in your subconscious like so many aural deadheads?

Sorry about that. I was suffering from STS and, according to Professor James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati, the very best way to cure oneself of STS is to pass the malady on to someone else. And you’re it.

STS? Stuck Tune Syndrome. The condition with which a piece of music – usually a bad piece of music – screws its way into your earhole and won’t depart no matter what you do.

The Germans have a word for it: ohrwurm – literally, “earworm.” The Portuguese are even more graphic. They call it chiclete de ouvido, which means “ear chewing gum.”

Whatever you call it, it’s a universal condition and a pain in the … ear.

Prossor Kellaris reckons 98 per cent of us have suffered earworm infestations at one time or another.

Me? I’ve got an entire necropolis of the wriggly buggers bucking and writhing between my sideburns. Check this out:

Just one location: five-oh-nine on Danforth Avenue
For the best used car buys in town
Try Ted Davy. Ted Davy. Ted Davy.”

Or how about:

“Presswood bacon and Presswood ham
Presswood bacon and Presswood ham
Come, gather ’round children,
and hear what I say
Get Presswood ham from your grocers today
There’s wieners and sausages, bacon and ham
Get Presswood ham just as quick as you can!”

Those are radio jingles that I first heard when I was on hands and knees and wearing nappies more than half a century ago! There they are, still roiling around in my head today.

Professor Kellaris claims that most earworms disappear after an hour or two, but that’s not my experience. I hate to think of the cranial shelf space I’ve squandered by filling it up with worthless flotsam like “Brylcreem – a little dab’ll do ya!” Not to mention “Winston tastes good like a [bap bap] cigarette should.” And not just radio jingles. I may be the only person you know who can sing (sort of) “The Auctioneer” – including the chorus which goes:

25 dollar biddle now a 30 dollar
30 widdle ya gimme 30 make it 30
Biddle’em all a 30 dollar, who’dla bid a 30 now, who’dla bid a thirdy dollar bill?
Thirdy dollar biddle now a 35 a widdle ya gimme 35 make it 35 biddle a 35,
Who widdle a biddle that 35 dollar bid?”

Can’t remember where I left the car keys, but I’ll take the lyrics of Leroy Van Dyke’s ballad to my grave.

How to get rid of a really stubborn earworm? The Professor recommends chopping wood, jogging up a mountain, getting an early start on your income tax return – anything that will distract and refocus your mind. He also suggests substituting another song for the one that’s driving you batty – but that’s playing with fire as far as I’m concerned. I tried substitution once when I couldn’t get the song “Delilah” off my mind. What replacement tune could possibly be sufficiently hideous to cancel out Tom Jones ululating in my head? 

Which is how I came to spend the next three days humming Paul Anka’s “You’re Having My Baby.”

There is even a website for the earworm infected. It’s called Maim That Tune. Punch it up on your computer, and it will play you a song even more execrable than the one that you’re trying to download from your brain. And if the first song you hear isn’t horrible enough, there’s a button entitled: Try Another Tune, Sailor!  

Maim That Tune might work for some, but I prefer the sadistic, personal approach – namely, cornering someone and passing on the earworm directly. It doesn’t have to be confrontational. This is a game you can play over the phone. 

Here’s my advice: the next time you’re suffering from a musical brain cootie, think of somebody really annoying. Phone them at a time you know they’re not home and then hum, whistle or warble your deadly ditty directly into their answering machine.

And if you’re thinking of slipping your serenade on to my answering machine, be forewarned: it’s programmed to answer calls with William Shatner singing “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.”