There is a psychiatric disorder called musical hallucinations, serious business. Sufferers sometimes hear tunes nonstop — the jukebox never short of quarters.
Even if it is the Moonglows singing "Most of All," or Johnny Ace crooning "Pledging My Love," or the complete works of Willie Winfield and the Harptones, or anything from the 1950s rhythm-and-blues canon associated with slow dancing and subsequent behavior that our parents warned might ruin our lives before they barely had begun — even that wonderful stuff would be terrible if you couldn’t turn it off.
A person I knew had MH, as it is called in professional circles. "Never stops," she said. For relief, the woman, who dealt with schizophrenia, would play Christmas carols and Irish melodies — loudly — to drown out the unwanted selections. A defiant stab at personal choice, but futile and exhausting.
I do not have MH but lately find tunes — or the remembrance — arriving unexpectedly, a phrase or two summoning the past, the way the taste of pistachio ice cream or smell of turpentine can remind you of a roadside stop at Howard Johnson’s or afternoon watching your father clean paint brushes and wrapping the bristles in newspaper.
And while I am devoted to the sweet, three-chord, I-love-you-so, won’t-let-you-go music of a Brooklyn boyhood, the stealth selections that show up by surprise are remarkably eclectic and, frankly, grown up — at last!
It is true that while shaving on several recent mornings, I was slippin’ and a-slidin’, peepin’ and a-hidin’ with Little Richard, singing falsetto on the Nutmegs 1955 R’n’B hit, "Ship of Love," and adding my certain, er, something to, "Tears on My Pillow," hooray for Little Anthony and the Imperials.
Since, the playlist has expanded.
The other day, I joined Joan Baez for a nostalgic folkie rendition of "There but for Fortune" and summoned the show tune "Ol’ Man River," by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein, and interpreted "Love is Here to Stay" in a way the Gershwins might not have intended.
" … the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they're only made of clay, but our love is here to stay." Even the most off-key bathroom baritone could not ruin lines so sublime.
For no reason lately, too, I might start singing the Lutheran national anthem, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," and think back to the triumphant flourishes of organist Henry Bottenberg that thrilled the earnest parishioners lending voice in the half-empty pews of St. John’s Church, Prospect Avenue, Brooklyn.
"A trusty shield and weh-heh-heh-pun."
OK. So what?
It’s just that with Thanksgiving almost here and winter lurking, a certain melancholy is inevitable — or maybe I should just speak for myself.
Holy cow, I think, wasn’t I just eating Impossible Burgers in the backyard on Fourth of July? Weren’t the Mets in first place last week? Where is that big, tall-masted sailboat we saw so often in the harbor?
Especially in these "later" years when we are apt to look back as much as ahead, when we search for the lasting and, yes, the everlasting, music can be balm and blessing. Maybe that is why the old and beloved songs occur to me so often. I am not so much recalling music as life.
At the funeral of former Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington, D.C., an Army brass ensemble played one of his favorites, "Dancing Queen," by the Swedish pop group ABBA and, in a tribute to Powell’s Jamaican background "Three Little Birds," by reggae legend Bob Marley.
It was a glorious way to go — a blast of joy amid the sorrow and sobriety at the National Cathedral, a sense of the man that might not have been captured in any testimonial.
I think again of the distracted woman, dear soul, who, hallucinating, could not escape the renegade tunes playing endlessly in her head and cruelly persisted despite "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Danny Boy" cranked to full volume.
The songs that come to me now in the shower or driving the car or sometimes just staring out the window are welcome guests, not intruders, and reason to give thanks.
A new addition to my subconscious catalog showed up, by the way, straight outta’ 1959 — "A Teenager in Love," by Dion and the Belmonts. "Oooh, oooh, wa-oooh, oooh."
Grown up? Me? Not quite.