Disco Worms And Earworms

Given the ubiquity of punk rock recently (both in the blog and in NY culture at large — Ladies and gentlemen, give it up one more time for Ian Rubbish; didn’t he do well?), it’s been odd to find myself recently surrounded by disco. Anyone aware of Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park could be forgiven for thinking the Disco Wars were fought and won many years ago. But you’d be wrong. It’s back. And now, it’s coming for your children. Exhibit 1…:

Disco Worms

Or, to give it its full name, Sunshine Barry and the Disco Worms.

“Either this isn’t Studio 54, or these drugs are really good!”

We were babysitting for a very charming moppet the other day, and, before I swept in to assist, she and Beth had dropped a cartoon into the DVD. As summarized by the NY Times, with revisions by yours truly, Sunshine Barry And The Disco Worms (for it that was it) proceeds as follows:

A young earthworm named Barry is fed up with being at the bottom of the food chain. All the other insects in the backyard consider earthworms to be major losers: no arms, no backbone and no brain! Barry’s only future prospect is a boring “career” as middle manager in the composting business. But, when he hears about a TV song contest, he realizes that winning could mean fame, fortune, and a different way of life. So Barry and his best friend decide to enter the contest with a hastily cobbled together disco band. The confused messages, such as they are, are that (1) earthworms are special and (2) one should follow one’s dreams, work hard and earn respect.

Interesting messages for the kids, there. You can tell it’s not a US/UK production, because being a middle manager at a composting business really gets done down, whereas in Anglo-American culture, our kids are brought up to believe that working hard, obeying authority, and doing what is generally perceived to be “the right thing” will bring their own rewards, following your dreams be damned. Unfortunately, if you ask my therapist, it’s more important to see things as they really are. That is, working hard and doing what is generally perceived as the right thing will get you a case of depression, the sack, and a massive hemorrhagic stroke.

“This isn’t Studio 54, either. But this is great stuff!”

In other observations, when I found the lead worm was named Barry, I was really hoping his worm sidekicks would be Maurice and Robin (and maybe Andy — then we’d have a message!). Still, I could hardly complain when one of the Disco Worms turned out to be called Tito.



Speaking of worms, let’s get back to earworms. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, Ian Wiki gives the definition as “a piece of music that sticks in one’s mind so that one seems to hear it, even when it is not being played.” And to preempt the question, “What does that have to do with strokes?”, suffering an earworm is worth discussing because, while “[t]he phenomenon is common in normal life,” it should be “distinguished from brain damage”. In this case, palinacousis. Brilliantly, palinacousis “is an auditory form of perseveration — Hey, I perseverate! — continuing to hear a sound after the physical noise has disappeared. The condition is often associated with lesions of the temporal lobe.” Hey! I’ve got brain lesions!

The first earworm for today is U2’s With Or Without You. U2 are kind of sui generis, so, like disco, it seems fair to describe them as another genre that has been subject to the disdain of the musical cognoscenti.

While oor Billy makes a fair point, it’s hard to dismiss Bonio and the lads quite so sweepingly. Case in point: With Or Without You. That was on in the van yesterday morning as I was heading off to my latest therapy appointment, and it never ceases to transport me to a street with no name, in a desert I’m riding through on a horse with no name. Or, March, 1987, if you prefer. It was on the telly, on Top Of The Pops. In a hospital, natch.  But in the good old days, when appendicitis was what felt like death. Why seeing it should stick with me seems obvious. The video was striking, sure, all stark black and white. But the reason was the very reason that Paul McGuinness was against releasing it as a single, and the reason Adam Clayton thought “[y]ou wouldn’t expect it [on the radio]. In church, perhaps”: It was sonically unusual. The history of its recording makes interesting reading. If that’s your bag.

I heard The Four Tops’ I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) in the pub the other day, so that’s been rattling around my head, too. It’s throwaway, sure, but the lyrics sounded oddly poetic, and universal:

Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,
You know I love you.
I can’t help myself:
I love you and nobody else.

So, what is it about a song that makes it an earworm? It’s more likely to have lyrics than not. And to be a simple tune. And a final thing about earworms for now: Scientists have found that engaging the working memory in moderately difficult tasks (such as anagrams, Sudoku puzzles, or reading a novel) is an effective way of stopping earworms and of reducing their recurrence. That’s something that I’ll revisit, I think….

“Quick! Do a sudoku!”
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2 thoughts on “Disco Worms And Earworms

  1. I tend to agree with your therapist these days, except it manifests as a mid-life crisis rather than anything stroke-y… Protestant work ethic is puritanical Purgatory! But I still want my kids to work hard and all…

    1. I prefer “re-evaluation of priorities”. Have you considered a tattoo? Beard? Red BMW from zipcar? And, again, many happy returns! [“Puritanical purgatory”? I like it!]

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