Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Billy on the Brain

I returned from the Erma Bombeck Writer's Workshop renewed, refreshed, reinvigorated, and ready to write.

And infected with the mother of all earworms.

Oh, I've had songs stuck in my head before – goofy little musical snippets that come and go within a an hour (or so). But this is the entire Billy Joel catalog. All the time.

For more than a week now.

As earworms go, it's not that bad. Joel's richly layered instrumentals, his melt-your-panties voice and multi-genre mastery mean something different is always playing – in my brain. Rock, pop, do-wop, ballads, instrumentals, gospel, a Latin beat, classical....

But after a while? (Say... a week?) The novelty wears off.

I think that variety (and seductive voice) is what exposed me to the earworm in the first place. I listened to the Billy Joel channel on XM radio for the entire eight-hour drive from Eastern Iowa to Dayton, Ohio. I don't remember any repeats until half-way through Indiana, and by then I was a goner, hypnotized by that voice. Mmmmm, that voice....

Still, the soundtrack in my brain didn't start playing until after I listened to the same channel for the entire return trip as well. That's 16 hours of Billy Joel in 4 days, not including driving around while (getting lost) in Dayton. Technically I think you could say at that point the music merely provided a background for my eight-hour Billy Joel fantasy (in which we run away together and live happily ever after).

When I finally pulled in to the driveway at home, I felt kind of guilty about dreaming of running away. Then I realized the family had piled their dirty dishes on the counter right next to the empty dishwasher, and the baskets of clean laundry had still not been put away. I decided Billy Joel was right:

Sometimes a fantasy is all you need... to keep you from killing your family.

After a couple days of “All Billy Joel, All the Time” playing in my head, I had had enough. I tried to force him out by listening to other types of music. But XM radio was in cahoots with the earworm. Both the 80's  and Deep Tracks channels (my stand-bys) teamed up to promote the heck out of the Billy Joel channel by playing – what else? – Billy Joel songs.

When I finally did find something else to listen to, it triggered a sonic smackdown in my brain. It was bad enough when one Billy Joel tune tried to forced out another (Rootbeer Rag is particularly tenacious), but when I introduced a new artist things really got ugly. The reverb from “Billy vs. The Bangles” gave me a headache that left me whimpering in the driver's seat.

Then I switched to the “if you can't beat 'em, join 'em” method. It may seem counter-intuitive, but I've resorted to playing Billy Joel music on my iPod while I try to work. Having his music in the background seems to pacify some auditory gate keeper while freeing up functional brain space for other things. Things like writing, reading, carrying on a conversation... breathing.

My Darling Daughter, the Princess, decided this was a sign of weakness and instituted a cold-turkey, “No Joel Anytime” intervention. Her “cure” caused a variety of withdrawl symptoms, including a physical craving so severe I tried to sneak out on a totally unnecessary errand just so I drive the XM-equipped car. She caught me and commandeered the keys, because in our family the driver gets to choose the radio station.

Unless Mom's driving.

And that may be the real cause of my current Billy Joel obsession. On my fateful Iowa/Ohio/Iowa roadtrip I had complete control of the radio. And I chose to listen to Billy Joel. For 16-plus hours.

And that may be why my family doesn't let me control the radio when they're with me.

The influence of this earworm has gone way beyond normal. It was bad enough when I started unconsciously changing lyrics (Midwest girl, She's been living in her corn-fed world...), but then I realized the earworm was getting involved in my internal monolog:
Me: “Gosh, I've had these Billy Joel tunes running through my head for a long time. I wonder if this is normal, or if ...”
Earworm: I may be crazy.

You may be thinking I need to lighten up, or at least sit back and enjoy the free mental downloads. Sooner or later this earworm is bound to pack up and infect someone else. Someday I'll wake up all bleary-eyed and fuzzy-eared with a nasty musical hangover. I'll shake my head at my iPod filled with Billy Joel tunes and wonder what came over me.

You may be wrong, for all I know. But you may be right.

1 comment:

  1. Bwah ha ha! Well, at least Billy gives you a ton of options. A bottle of red, a bottle of white? Whatever kind of mood you're in tonight.

    It could have been so much worse. There's a reason why there isn't a Starland Vocal Band channel on XM.