He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.

Ear Worms

It’s an odd phrase, ear-worm, because it conjures up many different images. A quick scan around the interwebs suggests it comes from the German phrase, Ohrwurm, meaning that you hear a melody that you simply can’t get out of your head - like it’s burrowed itself into your mind.

I also have this image. It’s not so nice, but probably does say an awful lot about how my brain works.

For the majority of people, having an ear-worm every so often is just an occasional annoyance of modern-life, damn those pesky marketing people. Chances are you’ve had a stupid advert rattling around your brain, or can’t stop humming the chorus to some other guilty pleasure. It happens to all of us, but for most the effect is temporary.

But what if the music in your brain didn’t stop? What would you do? Would you eventually go a bit mad?

I’d not given this much thought (let’s be honest, most wouldn’t) until a few months back - but I am one of those people. The music in my head is pretty much non-stop. If I were to give you an explanation of how the music plays in my brain, I’d go as far as to say it’s a bit like having an extremely large iTunes library. Tracks keep playing. They’re full and detailed, as though the music is playing for real. It plays without me thinking about it and I can usually change the track when I want, unless it really is a genuine ear-worm, of course. There’s only one way to stop it for good - and that’s to put real music on. Thankfully, I don’t get two songs competing into a big noisy mess - I imagine that would be horrible.

The music changes a lot. A song can be triggered by an action, an emotion or any external stimuli. I’ve never actually counted how many songs pop into my mind each day, but it’s certainly a three-figure number. I couldn’t tell you the day it started, but it’s been a long time, as long I can reasonably remember.

I was trying to think of some rational explanation for this. Am I just a complete fruit-loop who’s having auditory hallucinations? Don’t think so. Is this a different flavour of hearing “the voices”? Unlikely. But why? Well, for starters I can separate the sound from reality. I know I’m not actually truly hearing it through my ears - it’s simply buzzing around my brain. Secondly, I know that the volume control isn’t so irrepressibly loud that I can’t focus on anything else. It’s not invading my thoughts, it’s just like having a continual soundtrack.

And of course if it were that awful, I doubt I’d be able to sit here and rationally type a blog post. My concentration would be shot.

Perhaps it’s just a product of my upbringing. I’ve had an interest in music for as long as I can remember. Apart from paying a good deal of attention to my parent’s record collection, I remember my uncle giving me a small pocket-radio for my sixth birthday. A few years later, I got a tape recorder and attempted to make my own mix-tapes. A little after that, I had a cast-off record player - and by the time I was at secondary school, I was known as the kid that always had headphones on. During my teens and twenties, I used music to get to sleep. I’m still the same when I’m on my own now - there’s always something playing in the background. It also explains my general aversion to television.

When I mentioned this to my wife a little while back, I wasn’t entirely sure what sort of response I’d get. As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back, confessing that you’re hearing a musical version of the “the voices” isn’t the best way to start a harmonious relationship, but actually she’s been amazing. We’ve researched, and it seems I’m definitely not alone. There seem to be two versions of the condition (if I can use that phrase) - deaf people who still hear music regardless of their hearing impairment and hearing people who fall into the same category as myself. In one case, a chap about my age gets asked by his wife, “what’s playing at the moment?” at regular intervals. For a moment, I feel reassured to know that I’m not alone.

Do I want to be cured? No, I don’t. Music is such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine not hearing it. And if I’m ever presented with a situation where I either lose my sight or my hearing, I’ll opt for blindness, thank-you. Not everyone has an internal MP3 player. I’m pretty sure that there’s an awful lot of people out there like me, but stigma’s one of those things that stops people from speaking about it. Then again, that’s so often the case with so many mental-health issues.

Oh, and just in case you’re asking - The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”.
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