May 11, 2005

A Musical Exorcism

I think I’ve finally done it! Gotten that accursed song out of my head. “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. (Don’t start thinking it. It’ll infect you.) It’s been nagging me longer than any such pointless song–torment I can remember. Two weeks, it seems like. Any time I wanted to relax mentally, its cloying melody and bouncy singsong rhythm would sweep in like a tide and drown any possibility of creative thought. When I took a break from the computer, when I took a walk – even at the gym, with its obtrusive upbeat rock soundtrack, “Teach Your Children” would come back when I stepped off the machine. (Contra Nappy40, I can stay on the elliptical trainer forever, because it takes that long to clear the restless wordstream out of my head.)

It’s far from my favorite song, although I love Jerry Garcia’s pedal steel guitar break – but Jerry’s part was not the part that obsessed me. The sung lyrics, with their lamebrained proto-Misterrogers advice for hippie parents, were the torment. I kept poring over them in my mind, wondering if they had any meaning for me as a parent. (After weeks, I still don’t know.)

Graham Nash, the author, is my fourth favorite of CSNY. Stills and Young are the musical giants and Crosby the best singer. Nash has a gift, but it’s a gift for catchy insipidity – a gift he used to its full in this stupid childish song.

Why this song? The obvious answer is that parenthood is a major part of my identity, that like most parents I sometimes feel insecure about my competence at the job, and that I was looking for advice or consolation. But I’ve been a parent for 24 years. (Synchronicity, man! Stills has that beautiful song “Four and Twenty”!) There’s no special reason why insecurity about parenting would have arisen these two weeks.

Why is it the annoying songs, the songs we have long disliked, that plague us with perseveration?) Is there a theory about it?

In many cases, the songs that bother me this way are novelty songs that became hits. I hate novelty songs. But maybe they became hits precisely because of their nagging, parasitical quality, their pestlike ability to gain a hold in the mind and remain there.

Well, anyway, this morning I dreamed myself out of the fever. I woke up with a different tune playing in my head. But this new tune was my own invention, and it was simpler and had no lyrics. It’s a six–note inversion of “Teach Your Children,” but with a slow tempo that makes it potentially easier to dislodge. A musical antitoxin.

Relief, thankfulness, rest. But does this new tune really work? Has it really driven “Teach Your Children” out of my head? The only way to know is to deliberately start thinking about “Teach Your Children” again and see if I can displace it.

“You who are on the road…” Oh, ∂ˆˆ†!