I Can’t Get No Sleep

At work yesterday, I received an email from my boss. Nothing unusual about that, I receive plenty of emails from my boss every day. Generally they are in a “Can you explain to me why on earth you’ve done this please?” vein, or “You filled this form in incorrectly again, I’ve amended it for you this time but next time I’ll just send it back to you” or, more frequently “Are you here yet?”

Anyway, today’s missive was a little different, reminding me that I needed to use up any annual leave that I had left before the end of the financial year, so by the end of March.

This, I decided, was basically her way of saying I deserve a day off.

So, I checked and found I had a little over one day left to take, and the idea of a long weekend popped into my head. I asked, she agreed, and I suddenly found myself with three days away from the office, and absolutely nothing of any consequence to fill them with. (Except to talk to you discerning folks, obviously.)

Bliss.

On my return home I decided to make some vague plans of what I hoped to achieve over the coming long weekend. After an hour or so of head-scratching, I had come up with three things:

  1. Write something, or some things, here
  2. It’s the 4th round of the FA Cup this weekend. I could go and watch one of the matches happening locally
  3. I could just slob out and catch up on all of the TV programmes and movies I’ve recorded (I think I’ve finally cracked the whole “not calling it taped anymore” thing) in the past few months.

Of these:

  1. Is a given
  2. Having checked the fixtures list, I find that my lot (the mighty Tottenham Hotspur, in case I haven’t made that perfectly obvious in previous posts) are playing away to Colchester Utd on Saturday lunchtime, and the game is being shown on BT Sport (can I have a free year’s subscription now I’ve mentioned you please…?), so I will doubtless rise from my pit in time to watch that instead, assuming I can stay awake through the utterly tedious commentary of Owen/Savage/Hoddle (Ok, I guess not…)
  3. The undisputed winner.

So, this evening I finally got round to watching the rather excellent “Moon”, directed by formally monikered Zowie (and son of recently-deceased-you-know-who) Duncan Jones.

After it had finished, I checked to make sure the alarm clock was definitely not set (this I felt compelled to double-check a further four times – OCD? Moi? – prompted by the voice in my head whispering “Did you cancel the alarm?” just as my eyes were closing. Grrr.)

Finally, I drifted off, before waking up at 1am, a full six and a half hours before I would have been getting up to go to work.

I’ve suffered intermittently from insomnia for many years now. There is little in everyday modern life that I find more of a downer than not being able to sleep. I love sleep, as anyone who has ever had the pleasure of sharing a flat, or a bed, with me will attest.

Insomnia is worse when you have to work the next day, of course. You feel every muscle in your body gradually tighten as the minutes tick by, until you’re just a thrashing grizzly bear, too tense to nod off, terrified of now falling asleep, missing your alarm and being late for work. Finally, you come to the conclusion that you may as well give in, get up and go get breakfast. And the next thing you know, it’s ten minutes later, your alarm is going off and you realise those interim ten minutes were the full extent of the shut-eye you’re going to get, and you feel worse than had you had none at all.

Alternatively, with a long weekend of nothing spanning before me like a virgin autobahn, unsullied by the chaffing of rubber on tarmacadam, I know my body clock is going to be all messed up for the rest of the weekend, and I will spend the majority of it now trying to get that back on track.

As I lay in bed tonight, tossing and turning and tossing some more (oh, c’mon…grow up…), an appropriate song has become lodged in my brain, and it occurs to me as I write this, that this is the second time in as many posts that I’ve mentioned a song which, to misquote Kylie, I can’t get out of my head.

I’m sure you are all familiar with earworms. Wikipedia describes them as “a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person’s mind”. If I take that definition as 100% accurate, then the ‘The “In” Crowd’ from my last post, and the one that is currently buzzing in my bonce, fit the bill.

(As an aside, have you noticed recently that people seem to be treating Wikipedia as a more credible reference tool than in the recent past? I mean, you wouldn’t want to include it as a reference point in a thesis or dissertation, but the general feeling nowadays is, I think, that it’s a perfectly viable one-stop shop of popular culture clarification.

Two examples for you: a few years ago, I was chatting to a work colleague about Gordon Brown, and I happened to mention that he was blind in his left eye. My colleague didn’t believe me, so I Googled it, and sent him the link to Brown’s Wikipedia page which confirmed it. “You can’t rely on that,” he scoffed, “it’s Wikipedia”.

To an extent, I could see where he was coming from, which leads me to the second example. One of the funniest things I have ever read online was on Wikipedia, and before I tell you about it, for legal reasons I should make it very clear that none of the ‘facts’ from that article that I’m about to mention are in any way true (if Jon Holmes can get away with publishing a whole book of mostly untrue rock and pop myths (called “Status Quo and the Kangaroo” in case you’re interested) and get away with it by adding that disclaimer, so can I).

On a page entitled “Arranged Marriages”, the following words were written:

“The marriage of celebrities Cheryl and Ashley Cole is an example of an arranged marriage, for Cheryl is a racist and Ashley is a homosexual”

Brilliant, even if, and I really can’t stress this enough, it is completely untrue. Which it is. Obviously.)

Anyway, I digress. Earworms.

Personally, I don’t think that definition (you know, that one from Wikipedia. Seems ages since I wrote that now, doesn’t it?) quite goes far enough; there are at least two other factors which, to my mind, produce the classic earworm.

Firstly, I think it must be a song which you haven’t heard for quite some time. Secondly. there must be no sensible reason that you can put your finger on to explain why the song is stuck in your cranium.

Every weekday, the 6music breakfast show has a slot dedicated to this phenomenon, inviting listeners to get in touch to request the song which is bugging them, and then at around 7:55am, Shaun Keaveny picks one to play to bring the first hour of his show to a close. To his credit, I think Keaveny gets the “I have no idea why I am thinking of this song” aspect of the true earworm. In the build-up to the day’s selection he will read out some of the other suggestions; often some are accompanied by an explanation as to why they have become lodged, but these are rarely selected. No commentary is provided for the ones that make the cut.

Here are the last couple of weeks’ worth of selections. Where I can, I have offered plausible rational explanations for the song being stuck in the listener’s brain.

Elton John & Kiki Dee – “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” (Listener has just lost a bet about Elton’s first solo number one single)

George Michael – “Freedom! 90” (Listener recently passed driving test…oh, c’mon, that could’ve been a LOT worse…)

The Wedding Present – “My Favourite Dress” (Why wouldn’t this be forever on a loop in anyone’s head? Alternating with “Kennedy”, obviously) 

TLC – “No Scrubs” (Listener has Wiki’d Gordon Brown and stumbled upon Lisa “Left-Eye” Lopes)

Blancmange – “The Day Before You Came” No complaints here. To be featured again soon.

Tears For Fears – “Shout” (Listener has recently seen Richard Ayoade’s uncanny impression)

Camera Obscura – “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” (Listener is probably Lloyd Cole attempting to get the “Call” song from the “Call/Response” combo played”)

Peter Gabriel – “Big Time” (Listener has been watching ‘Brian Pern: 45 Years of Prog and Roll’)

Elvis Presley -“If I Can Dream” (Listener has caught this unknown up-and- coming whippersnapper at an open mic night in Dalston)

The Smiths – “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”  (Why wouldn’t this be forever on a loop in anyone’s head? Alternating with “My Favourite Dress” and “Kennedy”, obviously) 

Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson – “Say Say Say” (Selected by a listener who has just inadvertently sold the publishing rights for their entire back catalogue to an ex-friend)

Fleetwood Mac – “You Make Loving Fun” (Listener wants you to know they went to one of the recent gigs, and you didn’t)

Steely Dan – “Reeling in the Years” (Listener has recently stumbled across a copy of the DVD of ‘Rob Bryden’s Annually Retentive” in a charity shop somewhere. £1.99 and worth every penny.)

Oh, and just so we’re clear: his appearance in that clip is the only time Bill Cosby will feature here.

Now look back at that list. I reckon maybe 70% of the records would not normally feature on a 6Music playlist, and would be more at home on Magic.fm.

Which makes me wonder.

Is the earworm section of 6music’s breakfast show not just the listeners saying “I like cool stuff, but I also like this”? Seeking justification in their choice of cheesy tune by getting it played on the coolest radio station? Vindicated by a Smiths record played on either side? By having it buried among more credible songs?

I hope so. For that’s exactly what I want to do here: reclaim records previously deemed uncool or unfashionable, and make it okay to listen to them again. Those pre-cool records you bought are not shit, or embarrassing – they deserve a second chance.

There is no such thing as a Guilty Pleasure.

About 20 years ago, I was working in Boots the Chemist in Cardiff. The only time I ever, truly, had an earworm that I could not rationalise happened there, and it was this:

With the benefit of hindsight: I was wearing a sash bearing the legend “Happy To Help” at the time, and offering advice on the Tights, Tampons and Panty Liners aisles, so I think we can explain that song’s significance away fairly easily.

And so, having mentioned insomnia (ages ago, remember?) and titling this post “I Can’t Get No Sleep”, there’s only one place for me to go to wrap this up, right?

And, it’s not where you think I’m going:

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Men At Work – Overkill

More soon.

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