I have read about this phenomenon. I can’t remember what the book in which I read about it was called but I think it was by Oliver Sachs. The Germans have a word for this phenomenon: ohrwurm. The best translation in English would be ‘earworm’ (there is even a website which collects people’s earworms). I like this idea. The image of a parasite in my head replaying the music of my waking hours appeals to me. It is a little creepy. It is slightly akin to madness, something I feel I teeter on the edge of most of the time. But it also puts the endless music playing out of my control. It’s not me, it’s my earworm.
I think I am very vulnerable to the evil of my earworm. I’ve spent quite a few sleepless nights thanks to my earworm’s antics. Memorably one night it played this song at me until 3am. At which point I was ready to pay good money to get some peace.
I also remember one night, circa 1983, spending a few hours hitting my head with a pillow in an attempt to get this song out of my head.
The earworm is cruel. It rarely plays the whole song. More often than not it just plays one or two lines or just the chorus.
There are a number of theories about the earworm. Researchers at Dartmouth University in the US discovered that when they played part of a familiar song to people, their auditory cortex automatically continued to play the song. Playing the song in your head is a bit like scratching a mosquito bite, the more you play (or scratch) the worse the itch is. Another theory is that the brain likes to replay songs when it’s left idle for too long. That is all well and good but when I’m asleep or trying to sleep I want my brain to be idle not playing One Direction at me.
James Kellaris from the University of Cincinnati College of Business Administration reckons that women, musicians and people who are neurotic, tired or stressed are the most prone to their earworms. That’s me doomed then.
I wonder what my earworm will play tonight?