The Persistence of Music

by wjw on September 1, 2015

sick-1_279_282Bubonicon was fun, and I was fully engaged with panels, signing, reading, and hanging out with friends; but I came back with a bad cold, so the last couple days have been devoted to coughing, sneezing, gurgling, and swilling down cold meds.

Possibly because I’ve been taking it easy and staying away from distractions, I’ve been more than usually aware of the interior soundtrack that’s running through my head more or less all the time.

The other day I awoke with “The Chicken Dance” echoing in my brain, a tune that probably wins (out of a very large pool) the title of World’s Most Annoying Polka.  How this tune got in my head is a mystery.  I can only say by way of excuse that I didn’t put it there on purpose.

The only way exorcise this was to deliberately concentrate on a more pleasing but equally hypnotic song, which in my case was The Four Lads’ “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” which through a mighty act of will I kept in my head until the horrific polka was gone.

This made me more conscious of other tunes playing to my inner ear, and I tried to make a note of them as they passed by.  These include.

  • “Harlem Nocturne,” I think the Illinois Jacquet version, but maybe with a bit of King Curtis’ bite.

  • “I Feel Fine” by the Beatles.  The attractor seems to be the instrumental hook at the beginning.

  • “Mercy Mercy Mercy,” an instrumental version by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet.

  • “G Minor Fleas,” the ukelele classic by Brian Tolentino and Herb Ohta, Jr.  Though the song is meant to be acoustic, the version I have in my head is very much a kind of rocked-up Latino version, with lots of brass, and I can’t find that version online, so the arrangement may exist only in my imagination.  According to a previous post, I’ve had this song in my head since at least September 2012.

  • “Hocus Pocus,” originally a parody heavy-metal tune by Focus, though heavy-metal fans proved impervious to irony and made it a big hit anyway.  I’m sure it’s the only heavy-metal hit with yodeling.  At any rate, since I’ve had this one in my skull since November 2007, by now I have my own arrangement that bears only a tangential relationship to the original.

  • “Down the Line” by the Stones.  Again there’s something about the instrumental bits that stick in my head.

  • Spann’s Stomp,” by Otis Spann.  Spann made his career playing behind other musicians, but on this one he steps to center stage.

  • “Lok Baliyaan.”  This appears to be pretty popular on the Punjabi Top 40 and has been recorded by a lot of artists, but the version in my head is by Anakhi.  Just the thing to get me up in the morning, at least if I weren’t being dragged back to bed by a virus.

I conclude from this list that my subconscious is going through a retro phrase, and is including on its playlist tunes that were recorded before I was born.

What songs are in your head?  I’d like some suggestions to replace some of the moth-eaten oldies in my own brain.

mearsk September 2, 2015 at 9:19 am

Now I have “Istanbul (Not Constantinople),” the TMBG version, stuck in my head. Thanks for that!

Kathy September 2, 2015 at 11:08 am

Here’s what I woke up to every morning for four years : the Cornell Changes.

Phil Koop September 2, 2015 at 11:54 am

My wife, who abhors violence whether real or fictitious, is an improbable fan of the movie Once Upon a Time in the West, in part for an improbable reason: she likes that each of the archetypal characters has their own leitmotif.

Have you ever re-read a book, but in an illustrated version the second time around? I find that the experience is often jarring, no matter that the artist has produced a more finely realized version than I could ever imagine, and one that is completely faithful to the text; it seems that I subconsciously imagine appearances of characters and that they are different.

I sometimes form associations between fictional characters and popular songs, automatically if not subconsciously, where the lyrics can amplify the suitability of the music. It occurs to me that if books came with soundtracks, I would find the music as jarring as the illustrations. It always seemed to me that you must have had particular music in mind when you wrote some of the passages describing Cowboy’s panzer rides, and that this is a latent example of the sort of conflict I am thinking of. For I, too, associate particular music with Cowboy: it is in fact Dire Straits’ movie-inspired Once Upon a Time in the West (“Even the hero gets a bullet in the chest.”)

Although these musical associations are formed without conscious intent, the game still has rules. It would be impossible to completely capture the story of a character in a single song, even one written for the purpose. One fixates on one true thing about the character, which seems important at the time the association is made (though it may come to seem less important later.) So, for example, I associate Sarah with Soundgarden’s New Damage (“The wreck is going down, so get out before you drown.”) The star-crossed lovers of the Praxis also make me think of Chris Cornell songs, but in this case Audioslave: Moth for him (“I don’t fly around your fire anymore”) and We Got the Whip for her (“Just one life to bargain with, and admiration is due.”)

Not every character provokes these associations, and that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with how interesting or memorable the character is. Even consciously, I’d be hard-pressed to pick a song for my favourite of all your characters, Miss Aiah.

wjw September 2, 2015 at 3:30 pm

mearsk, I am always happy to share!

My method of writing back in the 1980s was to stack up a bunch of LPs on the changer and let fly. My neighbor and good friend Chip, on the other side of the wafer-thin party wall, got really sick of listening to Pretenders, the Clash, Springsteen, and Talking Heads, particularly the latter, but he understood my process, so it was okay.

So most of my characters don’t have soundtracks, they have a sort of musical archaeological layer. Though I will say that the B Side of “Remain in Light” was =very= important to Voice of the Whirlwind, and that “Listening Wind” is pretty much Steward’s theme song. (“He feels the power of the wind beside him/He feels the power of the past behind him/He has the knowledge of the wind to guide him on.”)

I wanted to quote a chunk of the song as an epigraph at the start of the book, but then I saw it wasn’t credited to a single person, but to the whole band, which meant I’d have to pay all four of them, and they were feuding at the time, which meant each would want more money than the last. So that was the end of that.

pixlaw September 3, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Since I’m about your age, and a major Stones fan before I discovered Johnny Rotten, I guess I’ll have to be the one to point out that the correct title of that song (I presume you mean the one on Exile on Main St.) is All Down the Line. Sorry to be all pedantic and everything.

On the positive side, they put out a live album a year or two ago from a 1973 concert (the Brussels Affair) which just rocks like nothing else and features that tune, and which reminds one of just how damn good Bill Wyman was as a bass player.

Shash September 3, 2015 at 8:40 pm

Thanks to you for Otis Spann. I love boogie-woogie.

Often, recent alt stuff gets in my head but I’ve only memorized about four lines of it so they loop like crazy.

I still find myself singing alto parts to choral music we performed in high school. I find it helps me concentrate when I am a flag marshal at sportscar races.

Camille Flynn September 4, 2015 at 9:57 pm

anything by Paolo Nutini

Robert Wright September 6, 2015 at 9:28 pm

Cherry Bomb – The Runaways
And We Run – Within Temptation
A.C.D.C – The Sweet
Fall at Your Feet – Jesse Cook
You Talk to Much – Sha Na Na
Highway to Hell – A.C.D.C.
Missing You – Tina Turner
Street Fighting Man – Rolling Stones
If I Had a Heart – Fever Ray
Bella Ciao – Modena City Ramblers

Brian Renninger September 7, 2015 at 5:30 pm

Also, WJW, did you have inspirational music for Angel Station?

wjw September 8, 2015 at 12:03 am

If there was special music for Angel Station, I’m afraid I don’t remember what it was.

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