I know how this title sounds. But, no, this isn’t an ennobling plea for you to boycott the music industry – we know they’re funding the Third World War in Africa already – or some commentary about how music and life are an essential symbiosis, one that could stop genocides and indecencies if everyone just joined hands.
No, on May 1, I did something radical (or that at least turned the heads of my friends). I didn’t listen to any music. None. Not a peep. Silence. I signed up with a primary care provider, biked to a river and read Hemingway on a tree stump. I found out that Sheldon from “Big Bang Theory” is 40 years old, and that his name is Jim Parsons. I saw the word “cunt” spray-painted on a dock that was caving in.
I expected an emotional piece, too. I assumed that the silence would affect me and that it would give me some greater appreciation for music and artists and yadda yadda. However, along the way, something different happened. My brain became its own radio.
I couldn’t stop the songs from coming in. It turns out that my mind is just too accustomed to a constant stream of music. When I was on my bike fumbling with the gears or chopping up onions for dinner, there’d be sudden, strange bursts of songs.
Sometimes, it was a few words or phrases, or an instrumental hook. But every time, the song played clearly, as if I had my iTunes on shuffle.
Now, this phenomenon has been scientifically documented. (A 2001 study from the University of Cincinnati and a 2005 project from Dartmouth College both looked into the “cognitive itching” that pop music causes.)
“Test subjects were played snippets of familiar songs that had segments removed. Participants said their brains filled in the gaps – in fact, they ‘heard’ the removed parts of the songs in their heads,” Keith Duffy, a composition professor at Penn State, told his university when speaking about the findings shortly after their release.
What was more interesting to me was the songs that my brain chose. Some I hadn’t heard in years and others I didn’t even like, or at least wouldn’t admit to liking readily in conversation.
For the purpose of discussion and furthering some scientific goal (in much need of funding, cough, cough) here are the songs that popped into my head, in order and without omissions. I promise I didn’t leave any out and that there are some embarrassing entries that even I can’t explain (but will try to anyway).
I’ll leave determining what this means to the future of our culture and mankind to you:
1. Kanye West & Jay-Z – “Gotta Have It“
Admittedly, this isn’t an embarrassing entry. The only parts that played in my head were the first few bars and the main hook.
2. *NSYNC – “Pop”
Maybe this was because JT has been in the news so much lately, or because I recently admitted to liking this song. Either way, it was probably about as creepy to me as the bizarrely sexual infomercial that starts this video.
3. A$AP Rocky feat. Drake, 2 Chainz & Kendrick Lamar, “Fuckin’ Problems“
This one isn’t surprising. It’s about the only good song on the radio right now. The hook is like bubblegum in your hair and Kendrick’s verse is lovably nonsensical. Also, try watching this video on mute. They all look like crazy homeless people gesticulating into the air.
4. Boston – “More Than a Feeling“
Yup. Deep down, the fissures of my brain are loaded with Brian Delp’s sweet voice and the uber-white melodies of Tom Scholz.
5. Ke$ha – “Die Young“
Given her friendship with The Flaming Lips and penchant for surprising covers, I tend to give Ke$ha a pass for essentially being Lady Gaga’s Cyndi Lauper, but this one blew me away. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to this song in full or if I have, it wouldn’t have been more than a few times. This is the power of pop music – the heart of the evil machine, people.
6. D.H.T. – “Listen to Your Heart“
Yeah, I have no idea either. I wrote down the lyrics that came into my head and am fairly astounded.
7. Kanye West – “Lost in the World“
I recently went through a huge My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy phase. Still, its the best album in recent memory. Good job, brain.
8. The White Stripes – “The Denial Twist“
One of the Stripes’ oft forgotten gems, even though it was a fairly big single. White’s always had mass appeal and strong pop instincts, so this isn’t surprising.
9. Gene Chandler – “Duke of Earl“
Just something you think of when eating dinner I guess… right? Everybody?
10. Lynyrd Skynyrd – “What’s Your Name“
I’ve never liked Lynyrd Skynrd. Not even in high school. Not even when I was listening to Boston. I guess they have staying power for a reason. They stay in your mind even if you don’t want them there.
11. Patti Smith – “Because the Night“
I know I mentioned her in the elevator at work yesterday, and said how she isn’t attractive enough for the modern music industry – or local convenience stores – and used the N-word way too much. Great jam though.
12. Christina Aguilera, Pink, Mya, Lil Kim, Missy Elliot – “Lady Marmalade“
Hey, I was a kid in the ’90s. Also, Baz Lurhmann is back in the news.
13. The Beatles – “With a Little Help From My Friends“
The kind of song you think about when you slam your hand in a sandwich press, apparently.
14. Eve – “Who’s That Girl“
I only remembered the chorus, don’t judge.
15. Ice Cube – “Check Yo Self“
Thanks, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I guess I really did spend a lot of time with you.
16. Wilco – “Nothing’sgonnastandinmyway(Again)“
This is the final song I heard before bed. I guess my brain has seen too many movies not to pick a fitting and slightly ironic concluding jam.
Pete Rizzo can be reached at prizzo@ thoughtpollution.com.