The palette cleanser

mennenIn 31 Songs, Nick Hornby writes about catchy songs that get stuck in our heads:

Dave Eggers has a theory that we play songs over and over, those of us who do, because we have to ‘solve’ them, and it’s true that in our early relationship with, and courtship of, a new song, there is a state which is akin to a sort of emotional puzzlement.

This is a nice analogy, and nicely stated. Still, I’m more inclined to think about this phenomenon of songs getting stuck in our head in sensationalized medical terms: the song is like a alien body that infects us (albeit pleasantly, though maddeningly at times) with curiosity. Over time, the mind develops a resistance or tolerance (boredom, basically) to the alien body as we become accustomed to it that eventually forces it out.

So what, then, to make of the situations where this comparison is more accurate than we’d like and the song that gets stuck in our head is really something unwanted and annoying, and how do we get rid of it? Until a few years ago, I would turn in desperation to the Meow Mix song (‘meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow’), confident that it would blot out anything that was running through my head. Of course, the Meow Mix song then has a strong chance of getting lodged in your head instead, which is basically like trading heroin for methadone. Then, a few years ago, someone introduced me to the magical properties of the Mennen deodorant tagline jingle, ‘Byyyyy …. MEN-NEN,’ which somehow acts as a palette cleanser: it manages to clear out whatever is stuck in your head without getting rooted there itself. In the medicine analogy, it’s like Ambien or one of those other wonder drugs that makes you sleepy but politely packs up and clears out of your brain when you want to be alert again.

William Eggleston and Big Star

Speaking of flying lounges, here’s William Eggleston’s beautiful ode to in-flight beverage service:


Eggleston’s red ceiling photograph was used by Big Star for the cover of their Radio City album. 


Given that Eggleston and Big Star were both from Memphis and both broke through around ’73/’74, it’s little wonder that Big Star basically sounds just like how Eggleston’s photos look. Still, I can’t think of another example of musician and visual artist who remind me so clearly of one another. 

More Eggleston here.

Fortnightly check-in

This blog is two weeks old today, which suggests the following info-graphic:


Blog: 14

Son: 10

For better or for worse, this blog seems to be lacking two types of content that are staples of the blogosphere:

1. Embedded youtube videos

2. Sex

Maybe the lack of such gives this blog a refreshing, distinctive personality. Or maybe it gives it a stick-in-the-mud, stuck-at-home-on-the-Sabbath feeling, as I suppose neither multimedia nor promiscuity has any role in a properly-observed Sabbath either. We’re beginning to stray into the territory of Pennsylvania!: my imagined comedic musical about a community of Amish manning a power plant outside of Philadelphia.

Lastly, since the blog is 14 days old, I can link to this Grizzly Bear performance of ‘Two Weeks’ on Letterman in good conscience without feeling like it’s a complete non sequitur.


Priorities, and birds with ears

Bob Dylan, on money, 1962:

If I had a lot of money what would I do?” he asked himself, closed his eyes, shifted the hat on his head and smiled:

“I would buy a couple of motorcycles, a few air-conditioners and four or five couches.”

Asked to list his likes and dislikes for a British teenybopper magazine around the same time:

Miscellaneous Dislikes: “Hairy firemen, toe-nails, glass Mober forks, birds with ears.”

Earl 'Ska' Campbell


Jamaican music has the strangest stories of any genre I’m aware of.


Ska was a genre of music that predated reggae by several years and was basically the Jamaican equivalent of big-band jazz. The aural calling card of ska was an insistent ‘oom-pah’ upbeat played by horns. Apparently, the ska sound was largely indebted to one Earl ‘Ska’ Campbell, who did the oom-bah upbeat thing better than anyone else. His epigram:


“It’s said that his style was so taxing to his structure that the first time Ska Campbell got a solo, he died shortly thereafter.


‘I think he really did die a few months after the Skatellites fell through. What he did just became obsolete and no one needed it anymore. He had to try something different, but what he did just about killed him.'”




Ska sample here.

Only a Dan

Most of the time, being named Dan is annoying because it sounds too much like ‘Damn!’ and other grunted exclamations, such that you’re constantly whirling around in response to false alarms.

However, one enjoyable thing about it is that you can substitute it with almost any song lyric and the results are fun. (For example: ‘LET’S DAN… put on your red shoes and Dan the blues’.) Even works for riffs (Zeppelin, Heartbreaker: ‘Dan Dan Dan Dan-Dan Dan…’). Probably the best is ‘Stand By Your Man’. Not only do you get the deeply stirring (for me) chorus of ‘Stand by your Dan’, but there’s also the profoundly wise line at the first verse: ‘After all, he’s only a Dan.’

Words to live by. If your name is Dan.

Nerd time: "The Well-Tempered Nitwit"

The New Yorker has a great article on giant Russian bells. From this comes details of Konstantin Saradzhev, Moscow’s most famous bell-ringer, who can hear in ‘microtones’ and whose contempt for the piano led him to refer to the instrument as “The well-tempered nitwit”. 

If I hadn’t settled on the Mock Duck theme, I definitely would have called this blog The Well-Tempered Nitwit.

More here:

As for Konstantin Saradzhev, he was forgotten altogether – until the nineteen-seventies, when Anastasia Tsvetaeva, the sister of the poet Marina Tsvetaeva, published a memoir about his life and fate. As it turns out, Saradzhev really was Moscow’s most famous bell ringer, known not just for ringing but also for his superhuman natural acuity: between two adjacent whole tones, he perceived not just one half tone but a half tone flanked on either side by a hundred and twenty-one flats and a hundred and twenty-two sharps.

When Saradzhev was seven years old, the sound of a particularly powerful church bell caused him to lose consciousness, and he was captivated for life. Although he was a skilled pianist, he always referred to the piano as “that well-tempered nitwit”: a piano can produce only twelve tones per octave, whereas Saradzhev perceived one thousand seven hundred and one. This sensitivity perhaps explains Saradzhev’s intense delight in Russian bells, which are unparalleled in their microtonal complexity. Each bell sounds a unique cloud of untempered frequencies, producing intervals unplayable on any twelve-tone keyboard. By such acoustic fingertips, Saradzhev could distinguish all four thousand of Moscow’s church bells. He described his hearing as “true pitch” (by contrast with perfect pitch). The capacity for true pitch, he said, lay dormant in all humans, and would someday be awakened. But in the meantime he was, like a superhero, cruelly isolated by his own powers. He spent more of his time working on a theory of the future of music that was incomprehensible to anyone who couldn’t hear a thousand or more distinct microtunes in an octave.