Category Archives: Earworm

Hot Air: Torture & Tyranny, Happy Monday!

Two things, today. First:

Stuck

Back when I was a kid, I’d heard of Sérgio Mendes and Basil ’66. It was a small combo featuring a pair of female singers that produced a few bossa nova/jazz/funk singles and some LPs that the kind of self-identified sophisticates who read Playboy had on their hi-fi’s.

I didn’t pay much attention to the group because I was too busy listening to the Beatles and the Stones and even the Turtles. Or, I should say, especially the Turtles.

The Turtles, the Coolest Geeks Around.

Over the ensuing decades, my musical tastes have broadened and I’ve become extremely partial to the Brazilian sounds of samba and its stepchild, bossa nova. I delve regularly into the recordings of Joāo Gilberto, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Walter Wanderley, Elis Regina, Gilberto Gil, and Gal Costa, among many others.

So, the other night, I was surfing through YouTube looking for new songs and came upon something called “Pretty World” by Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66. Hmm, I thought, let’s give it a spin. I did and the thing turned out to be the biggest earworm I’ve experienced in years.

It’s the most insipid tune imaginable, in terms of lyrics, melody, and arrangement. Here’s a sampling of the words:

Why don’t we take a little piece of summer sky,

Hang it on a tree.

For that’s the way to start to make a pretty world,

For you and me.

And for the sun we’ll take a lemon bright balloon, You can hold the string.

Oh, can’t you see that little world of ours will be,

The prettiest thing.

I want to scream!

Later, the two female singers harmonize that in this prettiest of worlds, “Nothing must be made but breakfast and love.”

I want to break things!

There’s a little one-measure keyboard bridge, repeated twice, that’s about as musically vapid and inane as the tinny canned calliope in a carnival merry-go-round.

I’ve got to control myself!

Turns out Sérgio Mendes and Brasil ’66 churned out a kind of Disney-version of South American music. It’s sort of like the real thing but, all in all, it’s not really. That’s no sin. All I have to do is not listen to it — and I haven’t.

That is, I haven’t clicked the play button on my laptop. But the damned song has been playing over and over and over and over and over in my head for the last week! It’s insane, I tell you.

Get out! Get out! Get out!

Earworms are torture. It’s no wonder the US Army used blaring music to drive Manuel Noriega out of his compound back in January, 1990. Apparently George Orwell never thought of it, preferring his character O’Brien to torture Winston Smith to the point of madness via a face-cage containing a rat rather than, say, playing for poor Smith over and over and over again something like “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else but Me).”

I believe I’ll survive this bout of psychosis. “Pretty World,” one day, hopefully soon — very soon, dear god please! — will be forgotten. But, honestly, what a bizarre thing it is for us to flagellate ourselves so.

At least nine noted researchers and psychologists have studied and written about earworms, Oliver Sacks among them. There’s even a formal medical term for the phenomenon: Involuntary Musical Imagery, or INMI. Some 98 percent of people experience earworms. A study sponsored by the American Psychological Association actually found that the most common earworm among those polled was Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” I’ve never heard the song, thank goodness.

One group of scientists suggested in a paper doing anagrams or Sudoku puzzles can break the cycle or even reduce the occurrence of earworms. Another group actually advises sufferers to chew gum.

I’ll try anything.

Second:

Baby Steps

All great advances come incrementally. The electric lightbulb wasn’t invented without the discovery and understanding of electricity, the means to generate electric power, the ability to create a vacuum inside the glass bulb, the resilience and brilliance of a charged tungsten filament, etc. The automobile depended on the discovery and refinement of petroleum, the interworking design of pistons, rods and the camshaft, the transfer of torque energy though the drive shaft to the wheels, etc. That is, is if you consider the age of the automobile an advancement. As the planet warms and species die off and the weather becomes a horror show, we really have to reconsider whether it was all worth it for every-damned-body to have an SUV so they can go four blocks to the Kroger for fifty-five pounds of steaks and ground beef, which itself is destroying millions of acres of rainforest and arable land that might otherwise produce a healthy grain or two.

Whatever. Countless seemingly insignificant inventions and developments precede any great achievement. Nothing happens like magic, like a miracle, popping into existence so suddenly, so unexpectedly that people gasp in shock. Yeah, they may gasp in awe at, say, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module landing on the Moon in July, 1969, but no one was surprised because humankind had been toying with rockets for warfare and fun for the previous half century.

Robert Goddard and the First Liquid-Fueled Rocket, 1914.

Same goes for horrible happenings. Hitler didn’t climb out from a cave. Wars don’t start in the snap of a finger. And, of course, climate catastrophe has been racing toward a climax ever since the first internal combustion engine was built.

This year, today, the President of the United States is refusing to acknowledge that he lost the general election, both by popular vote and in the Electoral College. He’s tweeting and pouting and raging and suing everybody in sight. His federal administrator in charge of presidential transition is refusing to get to work. He’s moaning about voter fraud without producing any evidence. He’s shrieking about some huge, vague conspiracy involving the Democratic Party and the mainstream media and everybody else up to and including the Mexicans, BLM advocates, and Tom Hanks.

His gambit is not going to work. He will vacate the White House at noon, January 20th. We’ll say, Hurrah, democracy works!

But Li’l Duce, as he has in countless ways since he won the presidency on a technicality in 2016, has moved the bar, lowered the standard, muddied the waters. Pick a metaphor; it doesn’t matter. What does is the next guy who comes along and thinks himself greater than the nation, greater than the very idea of democracy itself, will stand on Pres. Gag’s shoulders and bring us even closer to authoritarianism, to tyranny than the outgoing president. He may very well push us over the edge.

So, yeah, cheer nine and a half weeks from today when Joe Biden swears out the oath. But don’t think we’re home free. The term of the disgraceful 45th President of the United States very well may be merely an incremental step toward a glum and alarming development.

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“I was told by the general manager that a white player had received a higher raise than me. Because white people required more money to live than black people. That’s why I wasn’t going to get a raise.” — Curt Flood

HERE COMES THE SUN

The second-best bookstore in town is Janis Starcs’ Caveat Emptor.

Trust me, this is no backhanded compliment. Naturally, I’m going to vote for the Book Corner as the best in town. So, my choice for number two in Bloomington is really high praise.

You’ll find stuff in Caveat that you won’t find anywhere else in Indiana, I dare say. For instance, if you’re looking for any of the works by seminal community organizer Saul Alinsky, it’s a good bet they’re on Janis’s shelves.

Starcs In His Milieu

That said, Signor Starcs may be one of the most curmudgeonly humans in South Central Indiana. And that’s no insult, either.

He possesses a virtually encyclopedic knowledge of books and he stays out of his customers’ way. Just be prepared when you ask for help: the answer will be authoritative and direct — but it will be terse.

You ever hear the old line about the loquacious man who, whenever somebody asks him the time, he tells them how a watch is made?

Janis Starcs is not that guy. He is, in fact, the precise opposite.

If you ask him what time it is, he’ll likely point at the sun, the unspoken instruction being, Figure it out.

It’s part of his odd charm.

Anyway, this (Saturday) morning, the WFIU booth announcer was talking about the day’s sponsors. And at one point, he said, “In appreciation of a contribution to this station we present today’s programming in honor of the birthday of Janis Starcs.”

Janis Starcs? I can’t imagine him calling up the radio station and saying, “I’d like to donate a hundred dollars in honor of my birthday. Now make sure to mention my name, okay?”

Even more astounding would be that someone else would kick a c-note over to the local NPR station in Starcs’ honor.

But wait. It gets more bizarre.

The announcement was followed immediately by the bumper song, “Here Comes the Sun.”

This is a funny town.

If you stop in at Caveat Emptor Monday, wish Janis a belated happy birthday. Then ask him what time it is.

“GOD GAVE THE BILL OF RIGHTS”

Sweet lord above, have you seen that song about Rick Santorum that’s going viral-ish on Facebook and You Tube?

A couple of flamboyant virgins from Oklahoma sing about god’s candidate. They’re called First Love, which is sort of a creepy name considering they’re Christian singers and have penned a heartthrob lilt dedicated to this holy land’s most prominent closeted man.

Apparently, First Love wrote and recorded the song Sunday night and Monday morning. Then, their aiders and abettors made the video Monday afternoon. By Tuesday the thing was all the rage.

I’m posting the vid here because I’m a vengeful man. A few FB friends posted it and, unfortunately, I listened to it. It’s been a goddamned earworm ever since.

If I have to suffer through it, so do you.

Misery loves company, babies.

Sample lyric:

Oh, there is hope for our nation again,

Maybe for the first time since we had Ronald Reagan.

Here’s a confession: I’m not normally a violent man but the minute I laid eyes on these two smug little shits I want to punch them repeatedly. Sorry.

Do I have to justify the above statement? Okay. They’re the whitest people I’ve ever seen. And that’s no compliment. They radiate a privileged aura that says, Hey, everything’s just ducky from my vantage point, so why are all you poor people complaining?

TAKE IT AWAY, PORKY

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