Here’s the thing about being both a head case and a fan of musical theater: ear worms.
ear·worm noun \ir-wərm\: a song or melody that keeps repeating in one's mind
I had never heard the soundtrack to Billy Elliot, the Musical until I downloaded it after buying tickets to see the show last week. My girl and I had just a few days to listen while driving hither and yon, but we became familiar enough with the songs to develop favorites and know which would be the big numbers.
The show was fantastic. Really so good and funny and poignant and relevant and awesome. We loved our seats, we had a great night, we were so happy we had decided to go.
We continued listening to the soundtrack over the next few days, reminiscing about the show and comparing the original Broadway cast to the one we had enjoyed.
A couple of nights later, I woke up in the wee hours and had a hard time falling back to sleep. This is not unusual for me, I’m a
case deep thinker. I’ve learned not to get too caught up in worrying
about the fact that I’m not sleeping, cuz whaddayagunnado? Just get comfy and
chill, next thing you know it will be morning.
I settled in, and found myself singing (inside, where it counts) one of the songs from Billy Elliot. The Letter. I had mentioned this song to my family earlier in the week, because it’s a sweet, sad song and it made me cry. I joked that I could not listen to the song without crying, and I felt sorry for my girl for having to sit next to me through what promised to be an ugly blubberfest during the live performance. I wasn’t that bad. I cried quietly, it’s not like I cried so much that my tears actually drenched my bra. Cough. Anyway.
There I was, awake in the night, just chillin. Singin inside.
Deeear Billy… la la da da beeee. Hmm hmmm hmm knoooooow-oh yoooou.
It’s just a letter from his mum. A letter she wrote him before she died. He was meant to read it when he was 18, but he couldn’t wait.
Proud to have known you. Proud that you were mine. Proud in la laaaaaaa daaaa hmmmm mmmmm.
Love you forever. Love you foreevvvvvvvveeerrr.
It wasn’t not that I did not know the words, I’m used to making up lyrics. The problem was that I couldn’t stop the tune from repeating in my head.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
A few hours later, I wanted to kill Billy and his dead mum.
I was a wreck the next day, cranky and tired and so very annoyed with my stupid self and my stupid dumb stupid brain. My girl tried to put the music on in the car and I screamed and freaked and bellowed NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO in fear that I would never ever ever sleep again if I heard that goddamn song one more time.
I wasn’t likely to get any work done in that state, so once I got to the office I did a little research on the phenomenon that was eating my brain.
I discovered some interesting facts about ear worms. Most everyone experiences them, but no one is quite clear on why. A researcher named James Kellaris says that women, musicians and people who are neurotic, tired or stressed are most prone to earworm attacks. Fuck you too, James Kellaris.
I found loads and loads of quippy, fun lists of people and their ear worms on the internet, and just as many suggestions about how to get rid of them. Everything from engaging in brain teasers to chanting to listening to the most annoying song you can think of. One thing that made sense to me was the idea that I was stuck on the song because I didn’t know it, and my brain was trying to make sense of the music so that it could complete the melody.
I knew what I had to do. I put that bitch on repeat. When I picked her up after school, my girl was surprised, but game. We listened to the shit out of that song. We nailed every harmony and mastered every run. We sang with perfect Geordie accents.
Maybe it was the science, maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was just an ear worm. But it worked, and the song is now out of my head unless I invite it in. Which I do, quite frequently. It’s a beautiful song. It’s "very fookin special". And I still cry every time.