' ' Cinema Romantico: An Ode to My First Earworm

Friday, August 30, 2019

An Ode to My First Earworm

Earlier this summer, after the latest bout of god-awfulness under the reign of Mad King Big Brain I, which might have been two weeks ago or two months ago so unrelenting is the god-awfulness that it begins to blur, I downloaded the new Carsie Blanton album. That’s because I’d heard the title track, “Buck Up”, and dug it. As much as I like that song, though, the cut that really wound up flooring me was another one – “That Boy.” And if Carsie was quoted saying the album coming out of “a tornado of grief and desire”, this song feels like throwing one’s self to the mercy of that tornado, pining over some dude, one who totally smoked in the boy’s room, not because he isn’t trouble but because he is trouble and she wants to make some with him. Indeed, she sings “I wanna make one last mistake.” And oooooh, the way she says it, really annunciating the hell out of mistake, really hitting the second syllable so as to raise the “ake” to tantalizing heights. And what gets me even more than the annunciation is the funky groove, the rhythm section swinging in such a way to evoke how Carsie’s just gonna go right ahead and take the plunge, thank you very much. I’ve been strolling down the street this summer with that groove not so much in the back of my mind as leading the way.

This, of course, is called an earworm and an earworm is one of this miserable world’s most joyful blessings. “That’s it!” I think, sometimes literally sitting up on the train when I hear the invitation to my newest earworm, the musical part of my brain scanning and then finding the right melodic frequency. Last year, when I belatedly, blessedly discovered Hop Along, Frances Quinlan turning the denouement of  “Well-dressed” into Earthrise through nothing more than a series of scratchy, revelatory do dodos echoed in my head for months. In the mid-aughts I’d walk around with the synth line winding its way through Low Skies’ sad-eyed shuffle “Palmyra” reverberating in my mind at all times. At the turn of the century I had endless sonic daydreams in my various barren cubicles about each individual part in Emmylou Harris’s “The Maker” – her vocal, Buddy Miller’s guitar, Brady Blade’s drums, and especially Daryl Johnson’s bass – until I could get back to my car, cue up the “Spyboy” album and listen once more to all the parts bloom in unison. I only survived high school because of whatever Tribe Called Quest song or Public Enemy Bomb Squad beat I was earworming any given week. Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”, meanwhile, the mother of all my earworms, I can still, sometimes, on a still winter’s night, hear murmuring just above my pulse.

With a lifetime full of earworms, it might seem difficult to pinpoint the first. Debbie Gibson? Samantha Fox? “Nightmare on My Street”? Nah. I know my first earworm through and through, and I thought of it again reading Melena Ryzik’s wonderful deep dive into How ‘Sesame Street’ Started A Musical Revolution for The New York Times. She went over the notable “Sesame Street” songwriter names, like Joe Raposo and Christopher Cerf, sure, and she was focusing primarily on collaborations with famous songwriters and performers, certainly, but one name unmentioned was Cheryl Hardwick. And Cheryl Hardwick wrote my favorite “Sesame Street” jam, a kind of post-punk celebration, with that piano shading from disco to new wave, of the cooperative spirit that thirty-six freaking years later I can still just conjure up for no real reason other than some part of it remains stuck in my brain.

In those ancient days with fewer school obligations I would typically watch “Sesame Street” when it aired in the morning. That same episode would always air again later in the afternoon. And when I heard “Street Garden Cooperation” in the morning, I remember – distinctly remember – singing “Co-operation / makes it happen! Co-operation / working together!” all morning and early afternoon, waiting, desperately waiting, for that rerun just so I could hear the song again.

Muppet Wiki tells us this song aired in 1983 and so the timeline matches up and it’s entirely possible that I heard this song on its very first run. That means before I even got my first cassette, before I saw I saw my first video, before I surfed the local radio stations, I experienced my first earworm. And that might be the first thing anyone should know about me.

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