Monday, January 30, 2006

the earworms of youth

One of life's simple pleasures is reading something I identify with completely, written in a way that is as good or better than I might have expressed it myself.
Here is one of those stories.

And here, for those who don't feel like following the link, is a great excerpt:

Earworms breed in all kinds of musical environments—the gangrenous wound of a Coldplay chorus, the festering pit of a cellphone ring-tone—but the most fertile breeding ground, by far, is children's music. The genre is an earworm hatchery, the
aural equivalent of an overstuffed Dumpster baking in the August sun. Its grubs are uniquely robust and brain-thirsty: Kids' music is all hook, cutesy melodies pared to the most efficient possible sequence of notes and repeated until the recording studio runs out of tape. It's like a reverse parody of atonal jazz: Instead of denying us the pleasure of melody, kids' music heaps it on so heavily that our desire for it disappears, and melody disintegrates into pure pleasureless noise.
I know this because my daughter requires a constant stream of children's music to fuel her epic, mesmerizing dance-marathons. I've been listening to her music intensively now for almost two years—which makes it, sadly and easily, my most intense engagement with any music since high school.
Though our library of kids' albums is small—a handful of discs inflicted on us at baby showers—I have involuntarily memorized every note. I've listened to these albums so many times they've lost their status as music and become a kind of continuous and ecstatic holy mantra. Instead of criticizing, I just bask irrationally in the soul-cleansing repetition. My musical standards have eroded completely. I know it's just some kind of sensory trick, like submerging your hands in freezing water until it feels like they're burning, but I have started to love it. Even with adult friends around, I sing passionate a-cappella soul renditions of songs I once reviled.

I cannot believe I have not yet purchased this kids' album.


  1. What's that, Kate? Sorry, I can't hear you over the chorus of "Boom, boom, ain't it great to be crazy" in my head...

  2. I currently have the theme song from the Muppets Christmas Carol in my head which isn't so bad a tune, "There goes Mr. Humbug, there goes Mr. Scrooge," but the lyrics and muppet voices in my head are a bit much. I like the They Might be Giants stuff and I think the Putamayo kids stuff is awesome. And Dee has some way cool stuff that she plays while she tortures us on Mondays (otherwise known as 'workout class'). But Sophie gravitates most to the annoying voices and repetative nursery rhyme-y stuff and looooves to sing them over and over and over and play the music, dance etc. I don't think most adult music connoisseurs get as much out of music as kids do.

  3. stuck in my head forever:

    Have patience, have patience,
    don't be in such a hurry
    when you get, impatient,
    you only start to worry.

    Remember, remember,
    God is patient too.
    and THINK of all the times that others
    have. to. wait. for. you.

  4. Shh. not so loud. Amelia and I still have pipe dreams about exposing our kids to Mozart, Cole Porter and Motown -- but then all the kids at school would think they were weird, right? It's just asking for bullies to beat them up and steal their lunch money. We're not budging on Barney, though.

  5. Ha, ha, ha... Ahhh, it's so precious to see parents-to-be making these sorts of determinations!
    (Sorry, Jay. It's just that, I said that, too, about Barney. And I might have pulled it off, if it weren't for that rascally day care...) It helps marginally, if your child is obsessed with one ultra-annoying music/DVD addiction, if you have several of that variety around. At least there are different Barney songs to be played.

  6. Oh, Erin, I will always remember that one, too! Hm. Must be an especially powerful worm.

  7. Amelia, wife of Jay1:28 AM EST

    Kate and Erin, the Music Machine was the ULTIMATE LP! (Jay groans)

    When Herbert was much younger,
    He often got in trouble
    Forgetting that he was a snail
    He did things on the double
    The ants were always getting mad
    And the beetles - they would fume
    'Til one day Herbert's father
    Had him sing this little tune

    Have patience, have patience...

    And I'll willingly expose my progeny to the Music Machine, regardless of what Jay says! Shouldn't be too hard - I still own the LP. Or at least I did before I got married. My dad might have purged it in my absence. ;-)