As I move about the garden, about the house, about my various chores, I often sing to myself. I am not one of those who you will catch at a stoplight singing to the radio…at least not often. It is more like I wake up in the morning with some tune in my head and it lingers there. Old songs mostly, varied as could be….sometimes just lines that repeat over and over…..”I don’t like you, but I love you. Seems like I’m always thinking of you…”…”Whatcha gonna do when the well runs dry? You gonna run away and cry?”…
Meredy must be used to it, as she never acts surprised when I stroll through the house singing “Oh, the water, oh, the water…get it myself from the mountain stream.” Yet it is I who am often surprised when I realize that I have been puttering around my workbench singing, ‘Shake hands with your Uncle Mike, m’boy” or “Freight train, freight train going so fast”. Where the hell do these songs come from?
Sometimes my mind feels like this endless jukebox. I stun myself that I can begin a song and suddenly recall all or most of the lyrics. Where have the words to “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My baby” been sequestered all of these years? Neil Young’s “Helpless” is perhaps understandable, but Sinatra’s “Young At Heart” or “Mack the Knife”…really?
I am sure that everyone gets songs stuck in their heads: ear worms like beer jingles or themes to old TV shows… but the songs that mostly come to me are not just those catchy little tunes. They seem to be obscure ones that knock on the door like old friends. While I will not allow myself to sing “Puff the Magic Dragon” all morning, I will get stuck on old Chieftain’s tunes like “Dublin In The Rare Old Times” and sing it to death. Sometimes the songs come from the rhythm of my morning hikes and stay with me through lunch. “(Living on the road my friend was gonna keep us free and clean. But now you wear your skin like iron; Your breath’s as hard as kerosene”) Other times I will simply be moving from mopping the bathroom to fixing an eave and burst out with Prine’s “There’s a big old goofy man dancing with a big old goofy girl. Oh, baby, it’s a big old goofy world”. Of course. Sometimes there is good reason for a song. When my friend, Lane, passed, I could not get the Subdudes’ “Carved in Stone” out of my head.
Yet, the mind is such a compost bin that I suppose these spontaneous tunes shouldn’t surprise me. (Truly, nothing much surprises me anymore.) I often struggle to remember any number of incidentals integral to my life, but words to songs that I have not sung in 50 years will suddenly present themselves.
Of course, neurological research suggests that this is the way the mind slides into eventual oblivion: you can’t recall where you put your glasses or the name of your dentist, but you know every word to “The Heart of Saturday Night” or “Angel from Montgomery”.
I suppose there are worse ways to go…someday drifting into the unknown with Sam Cooke’s “Yo-u send me/Darlin Yo-u send me/ Honest you do…”