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By Pam Burke 

The devil's earworm made me do it


January 31, 2014

I hate to sound all hard-core, fundamentalist, evangelical religious, but it just may be true that music is the instrument of the devil.

And if that’s the case, the music website Pandora.com is the devil’s stomping grounds, and the earworm — aka the song stuck in your head — is his irritating little minion.

For someone like me who really enjoys music but is not an avid-enough lover of music to keep up on new artists and to actually spend money to buy music, Pandora is an amazing gift. Yes, I know I’m also here to make the argument that it’s a gift straight from hell — but I have to admit that it does have its charms. Things devil-related are like that sometimes.

The music website can do searches by musical artist, composer, genre, era and combinations of those. When you set it to play music from a specific artist, it plays music that sounds like your choice, too. That often leads to finding entirely new artists you’ve never heard of. It’s awesome.

It’s awesome, and then your brain becomes possessed and cannot free itself from this snippet of a song stuck in your head — the evil earworm.

This possession manifests itself an endless loop of a few lines from one of those haunting songs you’d never heard before, or you hear all the time but never learned, and all you have is a bit of the chorus and a few random lines from a verse or two. But it’s there — it’s in your head, it’s overwhelming your all your other thoughts.

Over and over it plays, but just that short little bit you know. Like water torture splattering your mind. And sometimes you hum or mumble a few words, off key again, while you try to go about your day, even while working.

You’re calm on the outside, but on the inside, eventually, the independent-thinking part of your brain is screaming for relief from the continual torture.

Or maybe that’s just me.

But in self defense against the daily onslaught of earworms, I searched the Internet for an explanation and, of course, a remedy, and I not only learned about the scientific term earworm, but also learned that there is a cure, a pesticide for earworms, an exorcism, if you will, for the devilish tune overtaking your thoughts.

In an online article, Telegraph.co.uk’s science correspondent Richard Gray reveals that researchers out of Western Washington University found that there is no consistency behind what songs get stuck in our heads. However, the most likely way to eradicate these songs is to challenge your brain enough to untrack it to think other thoughts, but not enough to overwhelm it causing it to fall back to the easier earworm tune.

Researchers found that Sudoku puzzles sometimes help, but words are more likely to perform the music exorcism than numbers.

Ultimately, they recommended either reading an engaging novel or working through anagrams — those puzzles that provide a word that you re-spell into a new word: “silence” becomes “license” or “canoe” becomes “ocean” or “devil’s earworm” becomes “warm evildoers.” That sort of thing.

I know, working in the industry, I’m supposed to be a strong advocate of newspapers, but I have to say I’ve had several earworms stuck in my head in the past few months and not one of them has been flushed away by reading the news so, armed with this new information, I’m trying something different.

If you notice a few funky errors in the paper today, it’s because I was either reading a good book instead of proofing pages, or I was busy re-spelling sentences like “Icy U.S. roads caused many accidents” into “Decadent inaccuracy dismays us so.”

(The devil did make me do it at pam@viewfromthenorth40.com.)


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