OK, first things first.  You’ve probably all suffered from Earworms one time or another, but you may not know them by that name, or what they really are.

Image: bigbrotherearth.blogspot.com

An Earworm is a short bit of music or a lyric, often a jingle—the key is that it is short, catchy, and contageous—that is somehow infects your mind and refuses to leave.  Oh, the nights I have spent, eyes shut tightly, trying to sleep, while an unfinished bit of a song repeats, repeats, repeats.

I’m here to say I’ve found a cure.  Two of them, in fact.   But, more about that later.

First, a little tidbit of the history.

Mark Twain wrote a short story in 1876 called “A Literary Nightmare” (later republished as “Punch Brothers, Punch“).  It is the story of a man who boards a train, and catches an Earworm after hearing a bit of doggerel from the conductor:

Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

Punch brothers! Punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

The story goes on to say that the narrator found his mind attacked, as by a virus, and was unable to stop reciting this piece.  He eventually was freed from the “horror” by passing the jingle on to another person.

So much for that.  Earworms don’t really work that way.  They repeat because they are stopped before completion.  This happens if you hear a snatch of a lyric, but cannot remember the rest.   It is as though they strive to be finished, but barring that, they keep repeating in “hopes” that the rest of the lyric will be revealed.   

Cure One is this: FINISH THE DAMN SONG in your head!  The drawback with this method is that you may have any number of Earworms queued up, ready to strike to take its place.

You can spend many hours that should be reserved for sleep in this endeavor.

Cure Two: Being plagued by these most of my life, and having lost more sleep that I care to compute, you can imagine that I’ve tried any number of things.  Drugs, exhaustion, reading, but eventually, no matter what the palliative employed, the Earworms crept back to dance in my head. 

Image: www.buzberry.com

I hit upon the idea of replacing the earworm with a tune that I could recreate from first to last notes, and had marginal success using Peter’s theme from Peter and the Wolf.  The theme had no words to get pulled into the cycle, and it actually worked sometimes.  Call this Cure 1.5.

About three weeks ago the idea hit me that if I could listen to music—soft, calming, lyric-less music—while I tried to drift off to sleep that would perhaps work.  But even played at a low volume, the chances were that the sounds would bother others in the house that did not suffer from Earworms.  (The cretins.)

The light went on.  I ran to my computer, punched up Amazon.com. 

Yes!  There it was!  A “Pillow Speaker”.  I ordered a mid-priced one.  Found an extension speaker wire with a volume switch on it, and completed the purchase.  As I was in desperate need, I got over-night shipping.

The speaker came with a disk of sleep-inducing music, and I have since found others here and there on the Net.

Boys and girls, I have not spent a single night awake with a lyric chasing itself around my head since.

OK, fine.  This isn’t really a cure.  Granted.  The Earworms are still there.  They still rustle in my mind during the day, but this trick does the job, and falling asleep to the strains of pleasant music that nobody else can hear is worth the cost.

What a pleasure.

NOTE: This is not an advertisement for the pillow, the switch or for Amazon (although they are one of our sponsors).  If you want to know more about what I got, let me know.