Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Thoughts on Digging Earthworms: Part I

As I dig up planting beds around Bill’s place, I am always excited to find earthworms. They’re a sign of healthy soil, a good mix of organic material. So each time I find one, I carefully move it to a spot where I won’t disturb it again. It doesn't take me long to realize this activity has led to a song going through my head on continuous loop.
RED wigglers, the Cadillac of worms, HEE hee
The Cadillac of worms, HO Ho
The Cadillac of worms, HA Ha

For those of you who don’t recognize this, it was the jingle for the main (often sole) advertiser for the titular radio station of the TV show WKRP in Cincinnati. In one of the shows a DJ fails to cut off the jingle and we learn that, if left alone, it will run indefinitely, with slight variations (the Cadillac of worms, HEY hey/ the Cadillac of worms HAR har/the Cadillac of worms HOO Hoo) possibly until the end of time. Even if this wasn't a real product, it was an effective jingle. 

If for no other reason than having gone around the sun enough times, I've begun noticing my habits, patterns and triggers. Ear worms are one of the more innocuous ones I've discovered. The experience of them is universal, I assume, but the particular songs of my soundtrack are probably as personal as a fingerprint.  

That’s not to say I don’t suspect I share some songs with others.  Ear worms  undoubtedly have some relationship with age and cultural demographics.  I would maintain, for example, that anyone who listened regularly to American FM radio in the early seventies probably has the same reaction I do whenever they hear mention of the heirloom tomato, Cherokee Purple. But plenty of my ear
worms are a result of my own idiosyncratic history.

 If, for example, I hear a word or phrase of two equally stressed syllables (a spondee, for you poetry buffs) I’m likely to start singing Rag Mop in my head.

Ragg Mopp doodeloo DAAA de ah dah
Ragg Mopp doodeloo DAAA de ah dah
Ragg Mopp doodeloo DAAA de ah dah
R.A.G.G. M.O.P.P. 
Ragg Mopp.

For those of you who don’t recognize this one, it was written in 1949, was popular throughout the fifties, and has been covered or parodied several times. I know it because my dad was (probably still is) fond of singing it. Now that I think about it, I have to wonder if he has the same spondee-induced ear worm response I do. It’s a catchy little tune. What’s more, once the song is triggered I usually find myself unconsciously misspelling the trigger words involved, hoping they’ll scan right for the fourth line. Occasionally they will scan correctly without any creative misspelling, but I always find that a bit disappointing.

But this isn't the only response I have to a spondee trigger. For reasons I've never quite put my finger on, instead of Ragg Mopp, sometimes I'll be inspired to sing:

Swap Shop DAAA da
da da da da da da
da da da da da da
da da da da da da
da DA
(repeat until the end of time)

This one is probably even less familiar to most of my readers; it’s the theme song for a Saturday morning kid’s program in the UK called (stick with me here) Multi Coloured Swap Shop.  My family lived in London in 1976-1977, and Swap Shop (1976-1982) quickly became a regular part of our morning routine. I don’t remember much about it now, though I do recall each week the show would host a big gathering in some part of the UK for the purposes of (stick with me here) swapping stuff. So I would assume British folks around my age might have this theme song triggered for them, there are probably a few folks other than me who find themselves misspelling words in their heads to get them to scan right for Ragg Mopp, but how many people are there in the world who have both responses?*

Another rhythm-inspired trigger: three syllable words, stress on the middle syllable or an amphibrach, if you will. This is a fancy term for words that lead me to sing:

Shapoopi, shapoopi, shapoopi
The girl that’s hard to get
Shapoopi, shapoopi, shapoopi
But you will win her yet.

I suspect I am not alone in finding this song simultaneously irresistible, delightful and annoying (Family Guy used it to great effect in one episode). That makes it prime ear worm material. I’d be willing to bet however that few people are quite as easily prone to triggering it as I am. Amphibrachs seem to abound in my life; it helps if they end in a vowel sound, especially a long ‘e’, but that is by no means a requirement. They seem especially prevalent among foodstuffs for some reason. If I make it through a menu of Italian food (‘linguine, linguine, linguine…” “scungilli scungilli…” “lasagna, lasagna…” “Prosciutto, Proscuitto…” ) or Middle Eastern cuisine (“ tzatziki…” “ falafel…” “tabouleh…”) without singing Shapoopi, it’s something of a miracle. If I've had a few, I will almost certainly share it with my dinner companions.** 

Sound isn’t the only thing to trigger my ear worms. The experience of a good hot shower will often lead to singing. I know that’s a common response, since tiled bathrooms make such satisfying spaces acoustically, but even so, I noticed certain songs were on frequent rotation. Since I was introduced to Leonard Bernstein’s Mass as a child, several of those songs pop out when the hot water hits my body. Simple Song, Gloria, and God Said*** all have soaring notes that feel good to sing, but I think the fact that they’re also songs of praise and joy (well, maybe not God Said) isn't a coincidence. I'm not really a believer these days, but I believe in celebrating a good shower. Pink gets heavy play in the rotation too, special emphasis on her songs of gratitude (God is a DJ), but the bravado tunes (U and UR Hand) are regulars too.  Kate Bush also shows up in my shower frequently, more for her atmospherics (tiled bathrooms, remember) than for her jubilant lyrics, with songs like Cloudbusting, Sensual World, and especially Never Be Mine. That one seemed odd to be such a shower-time favorite (it probably is number one), given its melancholy tone and story of unrequited love, but then I realized I usually just sing the chorus: 

This is where I want to be
This is what I need
This is where I want to be
This is what I need
This is where I want to be
But I know that this will never be mine

All but the last line sum up my response to a good shower most days.

Jumping into a lake or ocean—one of my great joys—also comes with a theme song. The initial gasp for air once I surface usually gets vocalized as a bellow ("OOOOWWW!"), which naturally leads to James Brown’s I Feel Good.  The thing with this one, you have to sing the guitar licks as well as the lyrics, or it doesn't work.

I feel good (DA da DA da DA da DA)
I knew that I would now (DA da DA da DA da DA)
(repeat until yada yada. You get the idea.)

Then there's the song that most often comes to mind when I'm feeling goofy, exuberant, and especially delighted with something.The lyric "ooh baby, that's a what I like" issues forth, and the next thing I know I'm dancing to Chantilly Lace. For reasons that are lost in the midst of time, the dance I do to this number is the Funky Chicken. For most of my childhood I believed that was what one did to Chantilly Lace. But watching the link above, I realized the Big Bopper does not perform the Funky Chicken. He's got a little butt swivel that makes the crowd go wild at one point, but that's it. He's not responsible for the Funky Chicken. I'm pretty sure my dad is responsible for that conflation, as he is for Rag Mop. Actually, he always used to the do the knee-switcheroo move to Rag Mop as well, which I'm pretty sure predates it by a few decades. 

 So from red wigglers to funky chickens, that’s a survey of my ear worm top forty. And all of that just from digging in the dirt. Nor were these the only thoughts brought on by earthworms. Stay tuned for Part II.


*Actually, I know of at least one; my sister and I discovered we had these responses in common a few years back. 

**My sister has these tendencies too.

***I couldn't find a decent video for this one, and besides, I've probably used up my links quota for this post already. You all know how to Google, right? 

^ Yeah, that's not such an odd experience, har de har har. Just hush. 


Jess said...

Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one with such silliness running amok in my head! Yes, that particular tomato does, in fact, bring that song to mind, after which it plays in my head for hours!

I must admit that I needed to look up the word amphibrachs. Not surprising that you know words I don't. To paraphrase one of Khan Noonien Singh's dying men, yours is a superior vocabulary!

If you prefer a more lighthearted movie moment, we can use a line from the classic Blazing Saddles: "You use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore!"

Okay then, I probably should end this comment before I get in any more trouble! ;)

Eric said...

So I found a youtube video on the funky chicken and discovered I've been doing it wrong all these years...

Patrick said...

Jess: that's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about my tongue. :) And I don't have a lot of need to use words like spondee or amphibrachs, since iambs are just about the only feet I ever need for acting. And even iambs have been thin on the ground of late. Time to get back to Shakespeare.

Eric: I wonder if I found the same video. I had confirmed that I'd been doing it more or less correctly, just not to the correct song. Again, I blame Dad.