Monday, February 25, 2008

Earworms and Midnight Cowboy

Working long hours, listening to the oldies station, and now have several old songs lodged in my head. For days. How does that happen? If you didn't know the official term, they are called earworms:

Earworm, a loan translation of the German Ohrwurm, is a term for a portion of a song or other musical material that becomes "stuck" in a person's "head" or repeats against one's will within one's mind. Use of the English translation was popularized by James Kellaris and Daniel Levitin. Kellaris' studies demonstrated that different people have varying susceptibilities to earworms, but that almost everybody has been afflicted with one at some time or another.

Earworms may be songs or tunes that become stuck in the phonological loop, the part of the brain that rehearses verbal information in Baddeley's model of working memory. This usually happens when a person sings the song or hums the tune once and then repeats it in his or her mind.
I am especially prone to this phenomenon, as is Delusional Precious, my daughter. This makes me think it's actually physiological. For some of us, there is always an earworm, at any given time.

This is the overwhelming earworm, right now. The theme to Midnight Cowboy, titled "Everybody's Talking," originally recorded by Harry Nilsson. If you remember a medley of movie-songs several years ago at the Oscars, you may recall Garth Brooks singing one verse, just like an angel. I wish he had recorded the song in its entirety.

I also love the movie Midnight Cowboy, and so I've chosen the opening credits (the song is played throughout the film), because I totally swoon over the antiquated signs, the old cars, the general appearance of the 60s; my childhood. Aside: Notice how much Angelina Jolie looks exactly like her father, Jon Voight... since he has aged, it is much less apparent. But in this clip, he is closer to the age she is now and the resemblance is striking.

The novel Midnight Cowboy was a work of art, written by James Leo Herlihy, who committed suicide in 1993. It has never surprised me that someone with such a sad, wistful sensibility would take his own life. I am grateful he left us his art, and such a powerful story of love between poor men.

The song fits the story perfectly.



La Lubu said...

I always have background music playing, too. Sometimes so loud, I think other people ought to be able to hear it! ;) Right now, it's Erykah Badu's new one, "Honey".

Jewel said...

Beautiful old song. Thank you for playing it!

Rosa said...

Yes, it is a great song and film. You make me feel like watching the movie again, it's around here somewhere. NYC was so gritty and dirty back then, it's fascinating to watch.

Daisy said...

Just got an email from a reader, which I will share here:

You state that "Everybody's Talkin'" was originally recorded by Harry Nilsson on your blog. That's incorrect. The song was written by and first recorded by Fred Neil, who also wrote some songs for The Jefferson Airplane (The Other Side Of This Life), Roy Orbison (Candyman), etc. and was quite the 60's Folkie in his own rite. As of the release of Midnight Cowboy, everybody came to associate the song with Harry and it's the version that got airplay. Personally, I like Fred's version better. My favorite Fred Neil tune has to be, "The Dolphins" though. Give his stuff a listen sometime.

I recently sold my old 1948 Dodge Touring Sedan to a guy in Garberville, Ca. that knew Fred and used to fish, drink beer, play and sing when they'd meet up in South Florida. Coral Gables, if I remember correctly. I don't know if I liked the stories better or selling him my car.

Fred passed away in 2001. He is missed by many.

I stumbled into your blog as I was doing some other stuff. Keep 'em flying!

Thanks so much for the correction--I have always loved the Roy Orbison song "Candyman" too, which my parents played in their band.

John Powers said...

Yet another reason I love this blog! I had heard Harry Belafonte sing "The Dolphins." But a couple of years ago listening to radio in the car--World Cafe--heard Neil sing it. And it hit me like songs sometimes do.

David Hajdu's "Positively 4th Street" is a great read if you haven't already. Neil was one of Hajdu's informants for the book.

John Powers said...

Opps also I don't know if you're a Jeff Buckley fan like me. Jeff Buckley really never knew his father. And the story of both their deaths is so sad. But you might be interested to see this video of Tim Buckley doing "The Dolphins."

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