When a Song Refuses to Be Named

Chasing ghosts through the corridors of your brain.

Sometimes a song finds its way into your head and gets nice and snuggly, sleeping for months at a time, then waking to assert its territory at moments both opportune and unfortunate. Sometimes the song is a jingle from a cereal commercial you heard when you were six and sometimes it’s a modern masterpiece (but probably not).

Most of the time you know where the song came from and who wrote it. You can complain when it emerges and the people in your life will nod their heads in recognition. But there are other times when you don’t know any identifying characteristics and that is one of the most frustrating experiences a 21st century person can endure, outside of being put on hold by their insurance company for three hours, or, conversely, not having an insurance company to put them on hold for three hours.

In those instances the song becomes ephemeral, a ghost bopping through your brain cells, gaslighting you with its very existence. In the days of cassette tapes and radio it used to be really bad, but now the internet has made it easier to track down names for those ghosts and sort them into reasonable shapes. There’s even a whole subreddit dedicated to helping people identify their song ghosts.

But sometimes songs can be tricky ghost weasels and they refuse all attempts at identification. In those cases you can start to go a little mad. You wonder if your brain has begun to malfunction, or if the song is only a memory of a dream.

This happened to my husband a while ago. He had a particular song he couldn’t get out of his head, an adventury, Spielbergian tune that spoke of wonder and astonishment. It sounded like it came from a soundtrack, maybe Hook or Willow, but it wasn’t from either of those movies. My husband knew because he checked. He checked A LOT of old movies. Sometimes he hummed the tune at people and they nodded in vague recognition, but were unable to offer advice.

He hummed it at me many times and each time I said, “Nope. Still don’t know what it’s from.” Then I tried to divert him into thinking about other topics, but he doesn’t possess one of those easily diverted minds. The only thing that works is to start talking about craft beer, but my beer knowledge can be condensed and contained within a thimble, so it wasn’t an effective long term strategy.

Because this went on for years, my people. Years of a mystery song bouncing around in his head without resolution. Every once in a while he’d catch a whisp of it, maybe in a restaurant or a commercial. The world would stop and he’d do everything he could to try and name the ghost, including using SoundHound and bothering waiters, but nothing worked.

After a while he stopped talking about it, but I knew it was still tinkling away in there, haunting him. He’d hum it to himself while he washed dishes, or he’d stare sadly out the window and I knew he was thinking about it. They don’t give you advice for these sorts of things in the marriage books.

I went on doing the kinds of things I like to do, such as eating cheese and talking to people on the internet. In one of my friend groups we like to chat about movies. Somehow we got on the topic of Flight of the Navigator, a film which captured my interest because of the weird alien on the poster. I looked for a closer view of the alien. (Its name is Puckmaren and it looks like a friendly booger. This doesn’t relate to the story, but I thought you might be curious.)

At that point my husband came to join me in my rabbit hole. Rabbit holing is one of our favorite shared activities and the reason why frequently stay awake far after our official bedtimes. From Flight of the Navigator, we jumped over to Explorers, another 80s sci-fi movie. This one featured more weird aliens, as well as River Phoenix and Ethan Hawk at the ages where they were probably pretending to shave. There was a trailer and I clicked on it. There’s nothing I love more than a cheesy movie trailer. My husband and I laughed as the boys flew in a spaceship that looked like a discarded first draft from a Doctor Who episode.

Then, it happened.

Halfway through the trailer, my husband started to freak out.

It was THE SONG.

He whipped out his SoundHound. SoundHound did not recognize the song. Instead it returned a message that might as well have been, “your dreams are all dead.” We played the trailer again. This time my husband used Shazam. Shazam was the boss. Shazam did it. (Not an ad for Shazam.) We saw the name of the song appear and it was as if years of meaningless confusion were wiped away in one glorious moment. Immediately I pulled the song up on YouTube and we listened to it together. I saw my husband’s eyes grow misty as the ghost that had dodged him all these years, took its full shape and form.

Since then he’s continued playing it on and off. I’ve never seen him so happy. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the whole experience has given me a sort of hope as well. A hope that, in a world of questions, answers can and do exist. A hope that yearning doesn’t always go unfulfilled. A hope that the narrative threads of our lives can come to satisfying ends and we don’t have to stagger about, wondering forever. So, thanks for that, universe. I appreciate the help.

Oh, and by the way, here’s the song:

Thanks for reading. For more stuff I’m on twitter and I have a newsletter.

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Engaged in inadvisable wordsmitheries and other creative acts. http://sarahlofgren.com

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