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I could sympathize with a recent news report of a woman in Oregon who called police after her neighbour wouldn’t stop whistling the 1990s song ‘Closing Time’ by a one-hit-wonder band named Semisonic. And it’s not so much that his choice of song was irritating, it was the sheer repetition of the tune that reportedly drove her to tell him to “shut up” and an altercation ensued resulting in the police being called.
After raising three kids, I empathize completely as I have a very short tolerance to anything that gets repeated… repeatedly. While things like drum kits and electric guitars don’t bother me (even if they’re not played well) looping electronic sounds are enough to make me rip out the batteries and, if necessary, hide the offending toy until the following drop-off at one of the donation bells with hopes that the future owner’s mom has more patience than I.
A gift from my middle son last Christmas was the book ‘Musicophilia’ by neurologist Oliver Sacks exploring the brain’s relationship with music and sound. In it, Sacks takes an in-depth look at earworms, those insidious aural parasites that infect our brains, often when we least suspect it. Sacks says the phenomena is a clear sign of the sensitivity of our brains to music that, like almost all popular songs, is based on repetition. Though I’ve tried replacing my own earworms with tricks like musical substitutions (counter-productive), chewing gum (doesn’t work) or relaxing (yeah right, I’d be relaxed if I didn’t have a frickin’ earworm) nothing, so far, has done the trick.
I have memories of attending concerts at the old Montreal Forum on the corner of Ste. Catherine and Atwater. After the final encore played and the curtain had gone up, it was only ‘bad’ music (meaning something of our parents’ generation) loudly piped in that would get us up out of our seats and out of the building.
Music as a weapon of significant force is, apparently, not new and last year it was reported that South Korea, in retaliation for an attack by North Korea that killed two of its soldiers, blasted K-pop (K for Korean) music to the north in an attempt to get under its enemy’s skin.
A quick Google search on the topic reveals a litany of other examples of music genres being foisted on an unsuspecting victim. The poor souls held captive at Guantanamo Bay were subjected to repeated rounds of Skinny Puppy until the band intervened by launching legal action against the US Government.
And the British navy reportedly used snippets of Britney Spears’ hits ‘Baby One More Time’ and ‘Oops, I Did it Again’ to scare away Somali pirates, capitalizing on their supposed hate of western culture. Its efficacy was noted by an officer who said, “As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney, they move on as quickly as they can."
It’s that time of year when, at least for me, it’s not the crowded malls, the parking lots, or the pressure to have a perfect holiday that get to me. Rather, it’s the earworms of the Little Drummer Boy, Rudolph, Frosty, and partridges in pear trees, barely faded from last year, that are enjoying a cerebral resurrection and threatening to drain the joy out of the season. Repeatedly.