My friend Jeff Driskell, a social work professor at Salem State University, recently gave a great TEDx talk called My Unique Relationship with Gumby.
If you are under age 40, you should watch this first — I love the groovy, trippy 60s music: Gumby show intro.
Just for kicks, remember Eddie Murphy’s “I’m Gumby, dammit!” on SNL?
OK, so where was I? Right, Jeff gave this great talk about how he used his teenage nickname of Gumby to help him manage his anxiety and rumination, which he defines as “engaging in the process of redundant and repetitive worrying or obsessing.”
I know I have done that on and off, although I think I am getting better about not doing it — one of the benefits of aging is that I have way fewer f*cks to give than I used to. But as I was thinking about it, I realized my mind does something else.
I believe a disco-obsessing, oldies playing, dance-loving DJ has hijacked my brain. He’s always been there, but I think he’s hitting the bottle more than usual. Last week, whenever I wasn’t engaged in work, or a conversation, or reading a book at home, and sometimes even if I was, songs kept popping in my head, one after the other. And not just snippets, the entire chorus and an occasional verse.
It started when I was a kid. Growing up, I remember my mother would start singing a snippet of a song in response to something we’d said. Mostly it was a sarcastic answer to our plaintive complaint about something silly. I’ve been wracking my brain for the most frequent one, but all I can come up with was that it had “sorry” or “crying” in it, but she wasn’t sorry at all. I think here were a fair number from “Fiddler on the Roof” –“Tradition” (why do we have to do this?), “If I Were a Rich Man” (can I have money for xxxx), and “Sunrise, Sunset” (It’s too early to get up/go to bed).
There were others that have disappeared into the mists of time, but the impulse remains. Words trigger a song. It can be fun if the person recognizes the song — my friend Lora and I discovered our mutual love of “Jesus Christ Superstar” by one of us saying something about the truth in a conversation and without missing a beat, the other sang Pilot’s words, “And what is truth? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths are mine the same as yours?” Not many people get that one. But most people my age get my random catalog of snippets from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. An oldie but goodie is when someone says, “It’s too late for that,” and I immediately sing Carole King’s “It’s Too Late Baby.” The song from the musical “Oklahoma,” “I Cain’t Say No,” has gotten a lot of mileage over the years.
As I get older, I noticed the catalog has not gotten any updates, so now I get a lot of blank stares from people who are on the younger side. To make it worse, at this point I often only remember the snippet, so I can’t even be the obnoxious know-it-all elder and tell them the name of the song, when it came out, and who sang it. But I amuse myself, and that’s really what matters.
But getting back to Jeff’s TED talk. When he explained rumination, it made me realize that the DJ in my head, who had been content with spinning snippets, has pretty much taken over most of my brain. On my walk to work, I’m not thinking about that mistake I made or that fart that came out in yoga class, I’m playing most of the refrain from any number of songs that get triggered by something I see, hear, or read. It will continue to play until the next trigger, and a new song comes on. It’s like he’s drunk and trapped and is going down singing. Mondays after being out dancing Sunday nights, he’s spinning 70s and 80s disco. I’m cool with that, but after Monday it’s anybody’s guess. Lately he’s been on an Olivia Newton John kick. He played “I Honestly Love You,” and “A Little More Love” so much, I finally downloaded the songs. Now I just listen to them over and over. That happened with Tears for Fears “Break It Down Again,” Talk Talk’s “Life’s What You Make It,” and Robin S. “Show Me Love.”
Playing a song over and over again is something I’ve done since I started listening to music. If I’m feeling a certain way, I find the matching song and play the crap out of it until the feeling has dissipated. As you might imagine sometimes that doesn’t happen until 15 repeats and an empty box of Kleenex. But sometimes it’s just 5, a brief sniff, and I’m good to go.
But lately, I’ve got songs playing all day long, and if I’m processing something, I’m the last one to know. The drunken DJ does a lot of repeating, but he also switches it up, so it isn’t driving me crazy like an earworm, and let’s face it, he’s me, so he’s playing songs I like, but still. What is up, dude?
I mean I think it’s better than the negative thought patterns Jeff describes in his talk, but of course the internet begs to differ. I looked up the word earworm to make sure I spelled it right, and here is what comes up. God forbid the rabbit hole be funny and not pathologized:
Seriously? Music in your head as a sign of mental illness? Don’t be stupid people, it’s obviously a drunken DJ hijacking your brain. Duh.
And to the Google search result question, “How do you cure an earworm,” I’d say Diana Ross has it covered with “I Don’t Need No Cure.” That and some sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet love.