Thursday, July 5, 2007


I think they call them "earworms." Have you heard that term? Now that you have, you can’t get it out of your head, right? And that’s exactly why I can’t listen to music when I write.

Don’t get me wrong. When I was in high school, much to my mom’s chagrin I insisted I could not do my homework without listening to music. I had my little transistor radio, and I would put that plastic earpiece in, and bop around to Da Doo Ron Ron or I Get Around or It’s My Party. Dancing in the Street. And then: The Byrds, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins… And then the Beatles Beatles Beatles. I cried when they were on Ed Sullivan. I was president of the Midwest Chapter of the National Beatles Fan Club. (High school. A blog for another day.)

But I digress.

Now, older and wiser. I’m a television reporter, have been for 30 years, and there’s not a moment of my workday when the television is not on. Sometimes three of them, all turned to different stations, all humming and buzzing in the background. And I ignore it, until my brain (is it the hypothalamus?) picks up on a word or phrase or sound that drags me to the remote to zap up the volume. Extraneous noise? Nope, it’s just the music of the news, and I’m used to it and embrace it.

But in my study, at home, at the computer, working on the next Charlotte McNally mystery--(Which, ta-dah! Just sold to the wonderful Harlequin Next line, and will be called Air Time. There’s Prime Time, on the shelves now as I hope you know, and Face Time, coming out in October. Then Air Time, and then Drive Time! So go meet investigative reporter Charlie McNally, age 46 and counting, savvy smart and successful—and just a tad worried about her age…)

But I digress.

Anyway, at home, working on the computer, I cannot, cannot listen to music. It’s the earworm thing.

What’s an earworm? Let’s say you’re in the grocery, and that Muzak is on. Just in the background. And you have the misfortune to hear "It’s A Small World after All." Ahhhhh. That darn song is going to stick in your brain, humming over and over, forever. It’s an earworm.

How about Saturday in the Park by Chicago? (Saturday, in the park, I think it was the fourth of July…) Ah…stop. Oh Mickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind…

There’s a commercial for sour cream about "a dollop of daisy." Have you heard that? I heard it once, and sang it for about a week.

Hey, Macarena.

And so, that’s why no music when I write. Or read, even. If it has words, they stick in my brain and play where my own words are supposed to be.
Otherwise, bring it on. Turn it up. Radio. CD’s. Records! (remember those?) But not while I’m thinking about Charlie and her adventures.

Do you have your personal earworms? Tell me—if you dare!

Hope you’re having a prime time of a summer…

Hank Phillippi Ryan

PS. Someone told me: if you get an earworm, the only cure is to sing Jingle Bell Rock. Okay, I know. It sounds weird. But it does seem to work.


Virginia said...

I used to be able to read with the TV on or music but not anymore. I think as we get older we have to concentrate more and we get distracted to easy. I have to put ear plugs in my ear to read while my hubby watches TV.

aromagik said...

I have more earworms than I wish to count, but my sanity won't let me think about them enough to type them.

"NNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! Get out of my head!!!!!"


One of my hubby's favorite things to do is cause other people to have earworms. Evil man. *grin*


[I think we usually call them "stickers" but I like earworm much better. I've got to pass that new term along to my better half]

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yes, it is evil! I've been known to hum: na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye. And then run away, smirking. Because it always works.

We will, we will, rock you.

But your husband--if I might tread on dangerous territory--what earworms does he sing? No, no dont tell me.

Yes yes, do.

Stacy S said...

Congrats on the book sale!! I listen to music sometimes when reading, but not often. Just depends on what it is.

Tamara said...

When I worked in a mall, every spring there was a display I had to pass by with a dummy wearing a yellow slicker and little rubber ducks around it. The song Rubber Ducky by Bert and Ernie would get stuck in my head and only completely went away when they took the display down.

aromagik said...

Oh, do you *really* want to know? Heeeeeeee! If you're familiar with the movie "Four Rooms", that theme song is a favorite of his (to stick, that is).

The Chicken Song is another... Found this positively insidious version (complete with instructions) courtesy of (oh, my lord) The Lawrence Welk Show

Ouch! Ha!


deseng said...

Hi Hank!

Oh my gosh I get the earworms all the time! I listen to the radio everyday. Sometimes it is the stupid songs that stick in my head. Then it will be an oldie from the 60's. Then I will hear a rock-n-roll song and it will get stuck. I can listen to music while I am writing, reading, studying, etc. I love music!

Also, guess what?! I got lucky and I am reviewing your book, PRIME TIME. I review books for I am to the 4th chapter and can't wait to read what happens next! Don't tell me! I am not a peeker because I like to figure it out for myself.


RubyD said...

Earworms.......I don't get many of those, but it sure is hard to make them go away. I usually wind up singing the song (when no one else is around) :D

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Wow--thank you so much, Michele! I'll await your review with crossed fingers. Terrific...

Meanwhile, Betty Betty mo-Metty Banana Fanna fo-Fetty...

Anyone know it?

xo Hank

Susan said...

Congratulations on the book sale!

Thanks to reading your post those songs keep playing over and over in my head now! lol

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yes, Susan..I'm sorry. I knew that was a risk...

But remember, just sing Jingle Bell Rock. And let me know if it works.

And, oh! Thanks for to you and Stacy S for the kind words!

Pat Cochran said...


Never heard them called earworms,
but I guess it will do as well as
anything else. My problem: I sing
in our church choir and find myself
singing "Amazing Grace" (or any
other hymn)for days. No pop tunes
for me! Of all the types of music
in the world, my "earworms" have to
be church hymns!!

Pat Cochran

Sarah Grimm said...

Aargh, I knew I shouldn't have read through the comments.

Buddy you're a boy, make a big noise
Playing in the street gonna be a big man some day.

Donna Birdsell said...

My earworms are all my kids' music these days. Songs from High School Musical, anyone? A little Hillary Duff? How about Hannah Montana?

I'm going to try the Jingle Bell Rock thing...

Okay, now Jingle Bell Rock is in my head!! I'll get you for this, Hank!!

Susan said...

Hank, I tried singing Jingle Bell Rock and it worked. Although, now I can't stop humming Jingle Bell Rock! LOL

Ashley Ladd said...

I'm the opposite. We still have four very noisy children at home, thus I often escape to Borders, Barnes & Nobles, or the library to write. Still, it's not quiet. I can't stand to hear other people's conversations. Instead, I plug myself into my MP3 player with my songs. I know my songs so well, that I barely notice the songs but yet, they drown out the other noise. I'd be lost without it.