By Joe Darby
Have you ever been plagued by a tune that your brain keeps playing in your head — over and over again?
That happens to me a lot. And it doesn’t have to be some song that I’ve been listening to lately. In the last week or so, my brain has selected from its playlist tunes ranging from Heart of Glass by Blondie (from the 1980s) to the haunting theme from Ken Burns’ TV production on The Civil War. It’s called Ashokan Farewell and if you’re not familiar with it, check it out on YouTube. But be warned, it might stick with you.
Another melody that has been going around in my head is the classic old folk tune Comin’ Through the Rye. But not just any version. What my brain has chosen to play is the version by Smithfield Fair, a Louisiana group that specializes in Celtic music.
I know that what I’m hearing is Smithfield Fair because I can clearly hear Jan Smith, their female vocalist, when she sings the line “And none they say have I.” What makes it distinctive is that Jan adds a special syllable or two that makes the “I” sound like “aye–ee–yai.” Well, maybe you have to hear it to appreciate it, but that’s how I know that what I’m hearing is Smithfield Fair.
So these songs can go through my head at almost any time. I might be cutting the grass, fixing a sandwich or even reading. The music, which I usually enjoy, can be a little irritating when I’m reading. Let’s say I read a sentence in my book, for example, “The New York Yankees were trailing the Arizona Diamondbacks two games to none in the 2001 World Series,” from a history of the Yanks.
So if you try to read the above excerpt to the tune of Comin’ Through the Rye you might see what I mean.
I’ve always had my own juke box in my brain, but the tunes seem to be coming more frequently the older I get. And there’s really not much I can do except just try to enjoy them.
And that brings me to a question that I ponder from time to time. What is it about music that we human beings love so much? I don’t know if scientists will ever be able to answer that question.
What is it embedded in my anatomy that makes me completely unable to keep my feet still when I hear Cajun music? Why can tunes from the 1950s instantly conger up specific memories of when I was a teenager? Why, when I hear Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, do I feel a soaring of my soul, uplifted by that absolutely magnificent music?
And then there’s the matter of rhythm. Every society and culture on earth, I suspect, featured some type of drum beat early in its development. There’s something primal about the sound of drums and I doubt if there are many people on earth who are not literally moved by them. They make us want to move our bodies in time to the beat of the percussive sounds, don’t they.
I had a basic drum set when I was a teenager, with the bass, snare, cowbell and cymbals. I never played in a band, but I spent a lot of time accompanying rock and roll on my radio in my bedroom. I still get excited when I hear drum solos by Gene Krupa or Cosey Cole.
As you will have gathered from my above comments, I like several types of music — Classical, Cajun, Oldies but Goodies as well as Classic Country and Dixieland and Modern Jazz. There is one genre of music that I know nothing about, and that’s the popular music from the last, oh, 30 years so.
Sometimes when I’m waiting in a doctor’s office, I’ll pick up a copy of People or Us magazine and look through them. They feature lots of photos of today’s entertainers. And I’ve never heard of 95 percent of them. The last pop music era that I’m familiar with is the 1980s when my daughters were teenagers and we watched MTV together. Some of those songs were not bad at all, I will admit. But anything after that? Nah.
Goodness! I promise you, I’m not just saying this as a neat way to end the column. Comin’ Through the Rye just started playing in my head again. It’s time for me to stop writing and start listening.