Who among us has not had a song stuck in the brain? You know that annoying fragment of a catchy tune that goes round-and-round and refuses to be quiet. It’s been called an “earworm,” the term first coined in Germany more than 100 years ago. Researchers at Dartmouth College have conducted experiments to test where in our complex brain this imaginary MP3 player is activated. Turns out it is in the auditory cortex (makes sense).
“It’s a small world after all” lit up in my auditory cortex after hearing two Mazama “small world” stories.
A couple on our lane spends several months a year in Southern California, where they become acquainted with many other RVing snowbirds. In the usual manner of striking up a conversation with a fellow in the same park, my neighbor was asked where their home base is. “A little burg in North Central Washington’s Methow Valley called Mazama,” she answered.
“Ah,” was the reply. “My daughter and son-in-law have a place in that area and that sounds like the town.” Once named, it turns out the daughter’s place is right next door to my friend. “It’s a small world after all!”
My son, while on a short sabbatical to Baja California, saw a young man at a taco stand. He was sure he’d seen the same guy behind the counter at the Mazama Store. Really – another small world incident? Sure enough, after querying the familiar face, the young man is the son of my predecessor to writing this column. Erika Kar and her family spend the summers here in Lost River and winters in Todos Santos, Mexico.
Meanwhile, back to the earworm. Brain scientists have found that people’s memory for music is incredibly powerful. We have all experienced the emotional response to a song that played somewhere in our life experience or to words that match how we are feeling in the moment.
Recently, John Prine’s song “I Remember Everything” (also covered beautifully by Brandi Carlile) brought tears to my eyes thinking of my sister who lost her husband after being with him for nearly 60 years.
When I was preparing to retire from the law firm where I had worked for many years, I wanted something tangible that could refresh my memory of the many and diverse co-workers who I had met there. I asked every current attorney and staff person as well as many who were no longer there but had made an impression on me, for a song to add to a Spotify playlist.
It was a study in human nature to hear the varied responses. Many immediately named a song and some gave the reason why that particular song was special. Others wanted time to think about it and make sure their choice was a good one and appropriate for the occasion. (One attorney chose “So Long, Marianne” by Leonard Cohen because he thought it was an appropriate “goodbye” song.) Still others were indecisive and could not land on just one song; so, they gave me two or three.
I was a little hesitant to ask two very tough, brilliant attorneys who were not necessarily the most approachable. Quickly, one responded “Hallelujah,” also by Leonard Cohen, and the other “Friend of the Devil” by the Grateful Dead. Another powerful dynamic attorney with a compassionate and soft heart told me the story of his teammate on a Memphis high school football team who passed away during the school year.
The song “Dying to Live” by Edgar Winter played at his friend’s funeral and has always brought tears to his eyes.
A Van Morrison song chosen by another attorney popped an earworm into my head while experiencing the dreamy fog lying in the valley and over the Methow River the other day: “And together we will float Into the Mystic.”
When I listen to the playlist now that includes everything from Pavarotti to Audioslave to Little Big Town to Nappy Roots, I remember each person and the story he or she told me. I am happy to share the playlist to anyone by link in an email. The meaning, of course, would not be the same, but there are some very cool songs.